Church leaders say amen to vaccinesFriday, August 20, 2021
BY ALICIA DUNKLEY-WILLIS
Leaders of five major religious groups representing thousands of people across the island yesterday spoke with one voice urging Christian and non-Christians alike to accept the COVID-19 vaccines, arguing “it's a health issue, not a religion issue”.
The round-table event, organised by Health and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton and held at Jamaica Pegasus hotel in New Kingston, came as part of Government's efforts to woo Jamaicans to sign up for its national vaccination programme. Churchgoers account for a reported 67 per cent of the Jamaican population.
Yesterday, president of the Jamaica Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventists (SDA), Pastor Everette Brown; president of the Jamaica Evangelical Alliance (JEA) and senior pastor of Hope Gospel Assembly, Rev Dr Peter Garth; Anglican bishop of Jamaica and the Cayman Islands and head of the Church in the Province of the West Indies, Howard Gregory; head of the Roman Catholic Church Archbishop Kenneth Richards; and president of the Jamaica Council of Churches (JCC) Reverend Newton Dixon urged Jamaicans to arm themselves with facts, rebuke myths, and accept the vaccines.
The SDA head said the organisation had always, prior to the emergence of COVID-19, encouraged its membership to “live healthy”.
“I want to encourage the membership of the SDA and Jamaicans to take vaccines... the SDA believes in the science. The SDA does not teach and believe that taking the vaccine is a covert way for the authorities to track us or a covert way for us to get the mark of the beast, this is not a religious issue, this is a health issue,” Brown declared.
The JEA's Peter Garth, in giving his approval, was critical of other religious representatives who have anti-vaccine sentiments.
“I have been bombarded by persons who tell me 'My pastor told me that if I take the vaccine I am putting my faith and confidence in the vaccine (instead of God)', that is very sad,” Garth stated, noting that faith, by definition, is based on facts that are known about God.
“I encourage Jamaicans to look at the facts. I prefer to stand with God and be judged by anti-vaxers than to stand with anti-vaxers and be judged by God,” he stated further.
Bishop Gregory, in acknowledging that individuals have many questions about the vaccines, said what was clear was that there was no inherent contradiction between medicine and the life of Christians. He said this was borne out by scriptures detailing the miracles of healing performed by Jesus Christ as well as the hospitals in Jamaica built by church organisations. He further prodded Jamaicans to contemplate the implications of vaccine hesitancy on children who have not been able to benefit from face-to-face learning in school for the majority of the time since the first official case of the virus was reported in the island last year March.
Archbishop Richards, noting that 67 per cent of Jamaicans are professing to be Christians, said if they were to lead the way the Government could easily achieve the herd immunity target set for normality to be restored. He said Jamaicans should carefully weigh the impact of their choice not to take the vaccines on the return to regular work routines, school attendance and other activities.
The JCC's Rev Dixon said the national vaccination programme was endorsed by the council and its member churches.
“The social ethic of the Bible is one that promotes the common good, looking out for others particularly those who are voiceless and vulnerable and in need of help. What we have seen is a threat that can unravel all of those social interests that we promote. We really are dealing with an existential threat,” Rev Dixon said.
“The virus has actually tested our character and we have found, strangely, that the first impulse that came from some groups was a self-centred, inward-looking kind of approach and I think we have had some chance to reflect, and my view is that the trend in the attitude towards the virus is changing, but it is not fast enough,” he said.
“We must move faster and more quickly towards a position which answers the question: 'what is the most reliable way of returning to a productive and hopeful social scene?' We believe the answer to that question is a population that has sufficiently protected itself against a virulent, powerful and lethal virus. So it seems to us at the council that the answer then, in addition to social distancing, wearing masks and sanitisation, is the vaccination,” he stated.
Dr Tufton, in his comments, said the voice of the clergy in hammering home the necessity for people to get vaccinated was even more critical, given the increase in deaths, hospitalisations, and illness.
“We now have vaccines — vaccines are not our issue,” the health and wellness minister said.
Jamaica, up to yesterday, had recorded 555 new cases of the virus pushing the overall confirmed cases to 59,932. There were three additional deaths, causing the death toll to rise to 1,342. The island's positivity rate is at an alarming 41.9 per cent.