Vaccine hesitancy as first shot fired in new science-religion battle for evangelicals?

Vaccine hesitancy may be taking place among only a segment of evangelicals, but is this new conflict with medicine signaling a more confrontational era between evangelical Christianity and science? Those were some of the issues addressed in a session on evangelicals and vaccine hesitancy that RW attended at the August meeting of the Association for the Sociology of Religion in Los Angeles. Jerry Park and Stephanie Boddie of Baylor University presented a survey where they found that while African Americans are more hesitant to vaccinate than whites generally, evangelical Protestants are more hesitant than other Americans. They found that greater endorsement of “Christian nationalism” is associated with Covid vaccine hesitancy. Even within racial minority populations, there are conservative Protestant effects on vaccine hesitancy. This was apparent in the way the hesitancy effect was more pronounced among minorities that espoused Christian nationalism.

Source: The CT Mirror.

From these results, sociologist John Evans of the University of California at San Diego argued that, aside from evolution, there have been no “fact claims differences” between evangelicals and science, and that even questions about evolution have not impinged on matters of everyday life and death in the way that vaccine resistance and hesitancy has in recent years. The evangelical clash over the efficacy of vaccines and virology most resembles older conflicts with science that Christians had over the efficacy of prayer in the 1880s. Since then, evangelicals have largely respected scientific claims about medicine and health—until Covid appeared. Evans argued that the return of conflict and dissent over scientific fact claims such as vaccination “makes it easier for evangelicals to reject other science and medical innovations.” This is especially the case as evangelicals join with other populists in a rejection of elite expertise, he added. Evans concluded that “ultimately, evangelicals are pragmatic…They will bend to science when they see people are dying; conservative Protestants will still see doctors. But the populist strain is there,” he said, and needs to be considered in instances when evangelicals interact with society.