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A new study from researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University finds that evangelicals who spoke with their pastors rather than health care professionals when it came to COVID were less likely to get vaccinated, adding yet another piece of evidence to what we already suspected: white evangelical leaders who treat vaccines like some kind of liberal conspiracy theory are leading their congregations off a cliff.

Ever since the vaccines for COVID-19 became available, we’ve known that evangelicals were far less likely to get the shot. From a distrust of science in general, to believing specific lies about the vaccines containing “aborted cell tissue,” to treating the modern miracles as if they were partisan in nature, white evangelicals have prolonged the pandemic and put the entire country at risk with their irresponsibility. They’re not alone in this, but they’re certainly not helping. We’re talking about churches, after all, that often railed against pandemic-related restrictions and mask mandates.

At the same time, white evangelicals who attend church regularly were less likely to hear encouragement to get vaccinated. (Pastors at historically Black churches, on the other hand, actively endorsed the shots.)

If you combine the fact that evangelicals weren’t being told to get the COVID shots in church, how many conservative Christian voices were actively fighting against the shots, and the way right-wing news outlets made it sound like those who got vaccinated were acting like sheep, it just became a giant death spiral.

But this new VCU study, published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, adds another element to the mix. It focuses on the influence those pastors have and how—if they wanted to do something about it—they could really change the trajectory of future pandemics.

The study’s findings that evangelical clergy are influential in vaccine decision-making presents an opportunity for positive change, the researchers wrote.

The findings showed that those who were receptive to faith-based vaccination promotion strategies were more likely to be vaccinated. That suggests, they wrote, that positive attitudes towards vaccination can reinforced by trusted religious leaders who themselves acknowledge getting the vaccine and encourage others to do the same, and that clergy can be helpful in dealing with perceived barriers to getting the vaccines.

To put that another way, all those pastors who lament about the influence that watching FOX propaganda has on their members could make a serious dent in this issue if they spoke about how they got vaccinated, why it was the right thing to do for them and their families and their community, and that the conspiracies Christians may be hearing are utter bullshit.

That would be far more effective than avoiding the topic altogether out of fear of alienating some members. (It would be far more useful than all the Jesus stuff, too.)

People generally trust their health care providers and their pastors. With the COVID vaccines, those two groups were often in conflict for no good reason—certainly no scientific one. If pastors cared more about the safety of their members from the beginning of the pandemic instead of buying into conservative nonsense, there’s no telling how many lives they could’ve saved. Instead, far too many congregations spread lies about the vaccines, and far too many cowardly pastors kept their mouths shut even as their colleagues in the pulpit denied the seriousness of the viral threat.

There will be other pandemics in the future. Vaccine hesitancy and avoidance will likely stick around. Evangelical pastors need to figure out if they want to be part of the solution or exacerbate the problem. They failed with COVID. Countless Christians (and people they came into contact with) died because of their faith-based negligence.

How many more deaths will it take before these evangelical leaders who pretend to be “pro-life” actually start giving a damn about people’s lives?

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Hemant Mehta is the founder of FriendlyAtheist.com, a YouTube creator, podcast co-host, and author of multiple books about atheism. He can be reached at @HemantMehta.