Loving thy neighbor and thyself means getting vaccinated

I have been distressed to see Mennonites arguing against simple protective measures

Lucia Keim Martinez, a senior Goshen College nursing major from Goshen, Ind., administers a vaccine shot to Khampha Stempel, a senior from Broadway, Va. — Goshen College Lucia Keim Martinez, a senior Goshen College nursing major from Goshen, Ind., administers a vaccine shot to Khampha Stempel, a senior from Broadway, Va. — Goshen College

At times of crisis, we turn to our core beliefs for guidance. I call for a faithful COVID crisis response from the people of my Mennonite church and the broader Christian faith, grounded in the principles and ethics of our tradition. Faithfulness is not just a Sunday word but a life lived Monday through Saturday, revealed by our daily choices.

COVID infection is a real and present health crisis. I have seen the suffering of my patients, the multiple deaths and the grief of families. As part of a COVID support team, I have witnessed the devastation in nursing homes that contributed to 1,000 deaths in Lancaster County, Pa.

As we faced this grueling COVID pandemic, I have been distressed and angered to see Mennonites arguing against simple and practical protective measures. These same people give generously of time and resources elsewhere yet do not apply the same principles to COVID control.

My faith and trust in God fully support getting a COVID vaccine, wearing a mask and avoiding close gatherings with others. In fact, my faith in God and love for my neighbor are what compel me to receive a vaccine and take appropriate precautions.

Some people of faith forgo COVID safety and express belief that God will take care of them. While trust in God allows us to face life with confidence, I do not believe this means that God will micromanage every aspect of our lives, fixing our careless or selfish choices. We are given minds to understand our health and free will to select the best options.

Every day we make multiple safety choices, not because we do not trust God but because that is our responsibility. We put on a coat in freezing temperatures. We avoid lightning storms. We wear seatbelts. We purchase insurance. We keep our small children away from busy roads. We accept antibiotics. We take blood-pressure medicine to prevent strokes.

Ignoring commonsense precautions is a willful decision to do what we want rather than to follow principles of health and body safety. The choice to get a COVID vaccine or wear a mask is exactly like these other safety choices.

Our bodies are miracles of creation. Our bodies are temples of God to be protected from harm. COVID infection destroys God-given bodies. We honor the miracle of our bodies by receiving a vaccine to strengthen our natural defenses. We preserve health by wearing masks and maintaining physical distance. We show love and protection for our families by guiding them to best health practices.

The faith community values the sanctity of life and works to preserve life. We should be distressed by the more than 570,000 COVID deaths in the US and more than 3 million deaths worldwide. Getting a COVID vaccination and wearing a mask prevent illness and death. A decision to do otherwise seems to disregard the value of life, giving higher value to money or personal rights or politics.

The biblical story of Jesus tells of his compassion and healing for the sick. Church history models ministry to the ill. Our efforts to limit or prevent COVID continue the biblical example and historical mission of the church.

Community is important in faith traditions, as we gather for religious services, singing and meals. Unfortunately, these events are high risk for COVID transmission, proven by extensive outbreaks in those who ignore precautions. Vaccination markedly decreases the risk of suffering and death and eventually allows safe worship with our community.

My cultural upbringing taught frugality and conservation of resources. Good health is our most precious resource. The ultimate COVID price is death, but up to 30% of people infected with COVID experience months of fatigue, loss of taste and smell, or brain fog.

COVID precautions are economically responsible. COVID infection results in time off work, loss of income and medical bills. Death or disability prevent us from providing for our families. COVID vaccines, masks and physical distancing are not expensive. Diligent use of these measures will help to extinguish community viral spread and allow appropriate reopening of society.

COVID causes emotional health issues such as isolation, loneliness and depression. We must be more creative in meeting the needs of the “poor in spirit.” COVID immunization will allow us to minister to mental-health needs sooner.

The biblical story of Jesus inspires us to look beyond ourselves and go the second mile for others. In our COVID discussions, we have sometimes lost compassion for our neighbors and concern for our communities. We have focused on our personal choices and being right. We have replaced the “we” with “me.”

I call us back to the lofty ideals of loving our neighbors. To looking at biblical and faith principles that focus on compassion for others. To stewardship of our health and resources. To valuing life. To using our talents to make wise choices. To being less rigid about our personal rights and more flexible for community good. To embracing safe and inexpensive precautions such as COVID vaccination and masks that will achieve the goal of everyone — the reopening of our community and the resumption of our normal lives.

Leon Kraybill, M.D., is a geriatrician and certified medical director who works in post-acute and long-term care. He attends Community Mennonite Church of Lancaster, Pa.

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