For evangelical leader Jamie Aten, advocating for vaccines led to death threat

Disaster psychologist Jamie Aten, right, listens to a Hurricane Harvey survivor in Houston in September 2017. Photo courtesy of Jamie Aten

(RNS) – Jamie Aten has spent years trying to help fellow evangelicals deal with disasters.

In the past, when writing about hurricanes, floods, and tornadoes — or even his personal battle with cancer — Aten’s work has been well received.

When Aten, executive director of the Humanitarian Disaster Institute at Wheaton College, began urging fellow evangelicals to get vaccinated, however, things turned sour.

“How’s your Monday going?” ” he tweeted April 27. “Mine started with having to file a police report in response to the increasing number of threats I’m receiving for encouraging white evangelicals to get vaccinated against COVID-19.”

RELATED: Black Protestants Not Least Likely to Get Vaccinated; white evangelicals are

Aten, who teaches at an evangelical college and identifies as evangelical, told Religion News Service that he filed a report with the sheriff’s office in DuPage County, Illinois, where he lives, after receiving an email claiming his work on vaccines was “punishable”. by death. The email was part of a series of emails and calls from people angry at Aten’s work helping Christian groups and churches respond to the COVID-19 vaccine. The threats escalated after he spoke to The New York Times about the need for evangelicals to be vaccinated.

A threat warned that encouraging white evangelicals to get vaccinated ‘would ultimately lead to the murder of all mankind’.

“If I knew my stuff,” the email continues, “I would know not to encourage people to get vaccinated because that’s what will bring humanity down even more,” Aten said. .

White evangelicals are the most hesitant religious group to get vaccinated against COVID-19, with just over half (54%) saying they are likely to get vaccinated, according to Pew Research. Religious leaders can play a key role in helping the United States achieve “herd immunity,” according to a recent survey by the Public Religion Research Institute. This is especially true for white evangelicals, according to the survey. And given the size of the evangelical population, involving them in vaccination is crucial.

“If we can’t get a significant number of white evangelicals out on this, the pandemic is going to last much longer than necessary,” Aten told The New York Times.

Disaster psychologist and author Jamie Aten. Photo courtesy of Jamie Aten

RELATED: Franklin Graham unfazed after evangelical base slams him for pushing vaccines

Evangelical leaders who have been strong vaccine advocates have not always found a welcome audience. When famed evangelical Franklin Graham, son of late evangelist Billy Graham, posted on Facebook that Jesus would endorse the vaccine, a number of supporters turned against him.

“I just lost all respect for you spouting trash like saying Jesus took that shot, that’s a devilish lie!” one wrote, as reported by RNS.

Aton fears that, like masks before them, vaccines have become another symbol of the culture wars. Which he finds ironic, given that the vaccines were developed under President Donald Trump’s administration.

“A year ago, masking was the new way to mark your tribalism – who you were, what you were for or against,” he said. “Now the vaccine becomes that for some people.”

Barry F. Howard