In this May 9, 2021, photo, Rev. Joseph Jackson Jr. talks to his congregation at Friendship Missionary Baptist Church in Milwaukee during a service. He is president of the board of directors for Milwaukee Inner City Congregations Allied for Hope, which along with Pastors United, Souls to the Polls and the local health clinic Health Connections, is working to get vaccination clinics into churches to help vaccinate the Black community. He’s also been urging his congregation during Sunday services to get vaccinated. (AP Photo/Carrie Antlfinger)
MILWAUKEE (AP) — Every Sunday at Friendship Missionary Baptist Church, the Rev. Joseph Jackson Jr. praises the Lord before his congregation. But since last fall he’s been praising something else his Black community needs: the COVID-19 vaccine.
“We want to continue to encourage our people to get out, get your shots. I got both of mine,” Jackson said to applause at the church in Milwaukee on a recent Sunday.
Members of Black communities across the U.S. have disproportionately fallen sick or died from the virus, so some church leaders are using their influence and trusted reputations to fight back by preaching from the pulpit, phoning people to encourage vaccinations, and hosting testing clinics and vaccination events in church buildings.
Some want to extend their efforts beyond the fight against COVID-19 and give their flocks a place to seek health care for other ailments at a place they trust — the church.
In this May 9, 2021, photo, Rev. Joseph Jackson Jr. talks to his congregation at Friendship Missionary Baptist Church in Milwaukee during a service. He is president of the board of directors for Milwaukee Inner City Congregations Allied for Hope, which along with Pastors United, Souls to the Polls and the local health clinic Health Connections is working to get vaccination clinics into churches to help vaccinate the Black community. He’s also been urging his congregation during Sunday services to get vaccinated. (AP Photo/Carrie Antlfinger)
“We can’t go back to normal because we died in our normal,” Debra Fraser-Howze, the founder of Choose Healthy Life, told The Associated Press. “We have health disparities that were so serious that one pandemic virtually wiped us out more than anybody else. We can’t allow for that to happen again.”
Choose Healthy Life, a national initiative involving Black clergy, United Way of New York City and others, has been awarded a $9.9 million U.S. Department of Health and Human Services grant to expand vaccinations and and make permanent the “health navigators” who are already doing coronavirus testing and vaccinations in churches.
The navigators will eventually bring in experts for vaccinations, such as the flu, and to screen for ailments that are common in Black communities, including heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, AIDS and asthma. The effort aims to reduce discomfort within Black communities about seeking health care, either due to concerns about racism or a historical distrust of science and government.
The initiative has so far been responsible for over 30,000 vaccinations in the first three months in 50 churches in New York; Newark, New Jersey; Detroit; Washington, D.C.; and Atlanta.
The federal funding will expand the group’s effort to 100 churches, including in rural areas, in 13 states and the District of Columbia, and will help establish an infrastructure for the health navigators to start screenings. Quest Diagnostics and its foundation has already provided funding and testing help.
Choose Healthy Life expects to be involved for at least five years, after which organizers hope control and funding will be handled locally, possibly by health departments or in alignment with federally supported health centers, Fraser-Howze said.
The initiative is also planning to host seminars in churches on common health issues. Some churches already have health clinics and they hope that encourages other churches to follow suit, said Fraser-Howze, who led the National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS for 21 years.
FILE – In this file photo taken June 6, 2021, first lady Jill Biden, center left, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Choose Healthy Life public health navigator Linda Thompson and Choose Healthy Life Founder Debra Fraser-Howze, far right, speak to a person as they visit a vaccine clinic at the Abyssinian Baptist Church in the Harlem neighborhood of New York. The church is part of Choose Healthy Life, a national initiative involving Black clergy, United Way of New York City and others, that has just been awarded a $9.9 million U.S. Department of Health and Human Services grant to expand vaccinations and provide screening and other health services in churches. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle, File)
“The Black church is going to have to be that link between faith and science,” she said.
In Milwaukee, nearly 43% of all coronavirus-related deaths have been in the Black community, according to the Milwaukee Health Department. Census data indicates Blacks make up about 39% of the city’s population. An initiative involving Pastors United, Milwaukee Inner City Congregations Allied for Hope and Souls to the Polls has provided vaccinations in at least 80 churches there already.
Milwaukee is one of the most segregated cities in the country, according to the studies by the Brookings Institution. Ericka Sinclair, CEO of Health Connections, Inc., which administers vaccinations, says that’s why putting vaccination centers in churches and other trusted locations is so important.
“Access to services is not the same for everyone. It’s just not. And it is just another reason why when we talk about health equity, we have … to do a course correction,” she said.
She’s also working to get more community health workers funded through insurance companies, including Medicaid.
The church vaccination effort involved Milwaukee Inner City Congregations Allied for Hope, which is faith organization working on social issues. Executive Director and Lead Organizer Lisa Jones says the effect of COVID-19 on the Black community has reinforced the need to address race-related disparities in health care. The group has hired another organizer to address disparities in hospital services in the inner city and housing, and lead contamination.
At a recent vaccination clinic in Milwaukee at St. Matthew, a Christian Methodist Episcopal church, Melanie Paige overcame her fears to get vaccinated. Paige, who has lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, said the church clinic helped motivate her, along with encouragement from her son.
“I was more comfortable because I belong to the church and I know I’ve been here all my life. So that made it easier.”
Associated Press religion coverage receives support from the Lilly Endowment through The Conversation U.S. The AP is solely responsible for this content.
Every year during Father’s Day, a wave of complexity sweeps across the country. Father’s Day can be an great occasion for celebration, a reminder of loved ones lost, a day of sadness for those who did not grow up with their fathers, a day of angst for those who do not like their fathers, and a day of relaxation for the dads who treat it as a break. And every year in churches, we try to figure out how to approach and celebrate Father’s Day. Father’s Day is not celebrated in our society the way Mother’s Day is, and everyone knows it. We know how to celebrate mothers. We know what to get them; the flowers, clothes, crafts, candies, meals, and more are readily available with updates each year. But Father’s Day feels mysterious. We ask ourselves, did we already get this tie? These socks? This outdoor equipment? Why is it that we may struggle so much to honor fathers but find it easy to bless our mothers? The answers are unclear and varied. But if we start with figuring out how to honor God as our heavenly Father, it may help us get better at honoring our earthly fathers.
God is Our Father
The Bible refers to God as a father in multiple places in the Old and New Testament. Moses notes in Deuteronomy 1:31 that God cared for Israel in the wilderness like a father cares for their child. The Lord protects and provides for Israel as He leads them out of bondage. He says at the end of the same book that God is to be respected because He fathered Israel by creating, forming, and establishing them, and He mothered them by giving birth to them. Psalm 68:5 identifies God as the Father of the fatherless and defender of widows. God is the Father who cares for us when human fathers are not present. Isaiah 9:6 prophesies that God is the everlasting Father, and Malachi proclaims that all in his audience are children of the same Father God. But Jesus makes this relationship with God even clearer. Jesus calls God His Father, and He is identified as the Son of God in each of the Gospels. In Galatians 4:5-7, Paul explains that believers in Christ are children of God, and John declares that truth in 1 John 5:1. So it is clear in scripture that God is a Father to all who will receive Him as one. But what does that mean for us?
How God Relates To Us As A Father
God is a Spirit and cannot be fully understood or explained using any analogy or even human language. God is greater than any roles we could use to try to explain Him: father, mother, king, brother, friend, lover, lord, healer, provider, protector, or otherwise. But God chooses to reveal Godself in ways we can understand so we can have a genuine relationship with God. It is because of the descriptions of God relating as a Father in Scripture that we can relate to God a little better and also to human fathers a little better. God relates as a father in many ways but a few key ones we’ve already mentioned are as a source of identity, a protector, a provider, a caregiver, and a guide. God rebukes David and also encourages Him which other biblical fathers do. Hebrews 12 makes it clear that God corrects us because we are His children. Galatians 4 underscores that God blesses us because we are His children. God is present with us in good times and bad times, like any good father. God leads, encourages, provides, protects, corrects, counsels, comforts, and instructs us in the wilderness and the places of plenty as a good Father. Most of all, God loves us as our heavenly Father. God has shown Himself to be a good Father, but how can we be good children to God our Father?
How We Honor God Our Father
Jesus gives us the perfect example of what it means to be a good child of God, demonstrating how to honor God. Summed up, it is to love God. We love God through obedience. We love God through spending time with Him. We love God through caring about what He cares about. We love God through giving to other people, because He doesn’t need our money. We love God by doing the work and ministry He has called us to do. We love God by loving our neighbors well. We love God by doing justice. We love God by using our lives to bring Him glory, which is to live in a way that makes Him proud. Jesus explains at length in John 8:31-58 that Father God loves it when we believe in Jesus and do what He said. 1 John 5:1-5 is exceedingly clear that obeying God and loving others is how we can express our love to God. Now that we understand how to honor God as our Father, how do we honor our earthly fathers?
How Can We Honor Our Human Fathers
Human fathers can never truly compare to our Father God. We shouldn’t even expect them to reach that standard. But they should follow God as the standard, and we should honor them as our fathers if we have good relationships with them. Earthly fathers can be honored in many of the same ways as our Heavenly Father.
It all comes back to loving our dads. When we care about the things our fathers care about, it makes them happy. It may be sports, cooking, fishing, movies, work, decorating, or some other hobby. When we show care about what dads care about, it brings them honor. We give to dads because they do need our money and gifts, unlike God. Give them something they like, and ask for ideas if you need them. Spend time with your dad if you can. Many people wish they could. If you have an opportunity, then take advantage–it will definitely bring your dad happiness on Father’s Day.
When young children do what their father says, it brings their father honor and happiness. As a father myself, I cannot tell you the joy I have when my children do what I told them to do without complaining, demonstrating a bad attitude, giving up, or getting distracted. When we are older, this obedience becomes conversational. If you want to honor your father on Father’s Day, ask him what He wants! Sometimes we spend so much time trying to figure out what our dads want instead of simply asking them and then following through. This simple form of relating can bring honor to a father like nothing else.
But many dads will tell you the best honor their children can give them on Father’s Day or any other day is to live lives that make them proud. Just keep following God your Father. If you honor God with your life, you can rest assured you are making our Heavenly Father and every good dad proud.
WASHINGTON (RNS) — Earlier this month, the White House announced a “month of action” to help ensure 70% of U.S. adults are at least partially vaccinated by July 4. Officials have since outlined a flurry of faith-based partnerships, hoping to leverage the clout and know-how of faith groups to aid in immunizing the public against COVID-19.
To help explain the role of faith groups in the national vaccine push, Religion News Service spoke with Francis Collins, an evangelical Christian who also serves as director of the National Institutes of Health. Collins discussed the program, as well as his faith and how he views the intersection of religion and science. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Why is the government is looking to religious groups for help in vaccination efforts?
It’s nice to be able to have this conversation. As a scientist and a person of faith, this is right in my sweet spot.
People of faith have issues (with vaccines), and every person has some different set they’re concerned about. When getting an answer from a guy like me, a scientist who works for the government, maybe they say, “Well, maybe he has a reason to want us to do this.” But if your pastor says, “I’ve looked at this information and I want what’s best for my congregation. I don’t want to see more people die from this terrible illness that’s taken almost 600,000 American lives. So I’ve educated myself, and I’d like you to know, from me, the benefits and risks. Can we talk about it?” — that gets people’s attention.
While vaccine hesitancy or anti-vaccine sentiment is not unique to any faith group, a recent poll found white evangelicals have a higher-than-average rate of vaccine refusals. But the same poll also found many of them said they could be persuaded by faith-based overtures. Have you seen evidence these overtures are moving the needle?
Yes, although it’s hard to collect really solid data to say how many people changed their minds because they heard from a faith leader. I could give you lots of anecdotes — although the plural of anecdotes is still not data.
I do think it is not a stretch to say, for all of us who’ve prayed for deliverance from COVID-19, the vaccines are an answer to that prayer. That is very much consistent with the way God often responds to our needs — by working through human capabilities that we’ve been given as a gift by the Creator. Why wouldn’t you want to take that gift and not just look at it, but open it up and then roll up your sleeve?
You noted federal government officials aren’t always the most effective messengers to some communities. But as an evangelical Christian, what about your faith compels you to want to embark on this vaccine push?
When you look at what we know about the time Jesus spent on this earth, it is interesting — read through the four Gospels — how many instances where he is involved in healing. If we are called to be followers, as I am, then shouldn’t we also find opportunities to provide healing as well?
If anybody asks you, “Has it been that bad?” Well, gosh, we’ve lost almost 4 million lives on the planet, and almost 600,000 right here in the United States of America. It’s not over, and if we don’t get the vaccinations up to a high enough level, we may see in the fall and the winter a resurgence — particularly in areas where vaccines were least adopted. Then here we are all over again with people in ICUs, people dying that didn’t have to. As believers, is that something we can look away from? I don’t think so.
Many religious communities of color have not only been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, but also suffer from access issues when it comes to vaccines. Have you seen dividends from efforts by the White House and others to partner with faith groups to help combat those access issues?
Absolutely. That has included some churches that have volunteered to be sites for immunization — right in their fellowship hall. That’s a great thing to do. In this national month of action, we have done additional outreach to those communities that haven’t felt necessarily like they had access, making it possible to get immunized in the barbershop or in the beauty salon, or providing child care for people who might otherwise have trouble figuring out “How am I going to get a shot when I have these two little kids with me that are going to need my attention every second?”
The federal government’s partnership with faith groups in this vaccine push seems unusually robust. What is it about faith communities that makes them particularly beneficial when it comes to vaccination?
As the director of the National Institutes of Health for the last 12 years, we have had partnerships with faith communities for things like hypertension screening, diabetes management and asthma management, but nothing quite like this.
It has been an inspiring occasion, I have to say, to have the opportunity to work side by side with leaders of the faith community to try to get this healing information in front of people. And I hope when we get through COVID-19, which we will, that we won’t lose that.
As a medical expert and a person of faith, what do you think gets left out of disputes between faith groups and the medical community during this pandemic?
One of my goals as a person of faith and a scientist is trying to get people to see the wonderful complementarity and the harmony of scientific and spiritual worldviews.
But I think a lot of people in faith communities haven’t found that to be the case, and maybe have even heard things from the pulpit like “You can’t really trust those scientists because they’re all atheists.” Well, here’s one who’s not, and I’m not alone: About 40% of working scientists are believers in a God who answers prayer. There’s a lot of us out there.
Maybe this is another occasion to try to get a broader understanding about how science and faith are wonderfully complementary. Science is great at answering questions that might start with “how?,” and faith is really good at answering questions that start with “why?” Don’t you, as a person on this planet for a brief glimpse of time, want to be able to ask and maybe get answers to both those types of questions?
Have you seen some of that distrust slip away?
I have, yeah. Going back more than 20 years ago, it did seem like there was a lot of tension for me as an evangelical. There were times where I wasn’t sure I was welcome in the church, and then I’d go to the lab, and I wasn’t sure I was feeling welcomed there either. I wrote a book about this called “The Language of God” back in 2005, trying to put forward arguments about how science and faith really are different ways of looking at God’s creation. It got a lot more attention than I expected.
I think out of that, and a number of other efforts … I do see there has been a shift here, more of a willingness to consider what the harmony is instead of what the battle is.
Are you optimistic the U.S., with the help of faith communities, can meet this July Fourth deadline to partially vaccinate 70% of the adult population?
I am optimistic, but it’s going to be a stretch. It’s going to take the full efforts of lots and lots of people — and especially faith communities — to get us there over what is just another three weeks.
The number of immunizations happening each day is just barely on that pathway, and it actually looks as if some of those immunization levels are dropping instead of going up. We need everybody to line up behind this goal, recognizing this isn’t about pleasing Joe Biden, because a lot of evangelicals are not that interested in pleasing Joe Biden. This is about saving lives.