In an age where satire and news often overlap, it was hard to know what to make of the headline: “New York Atheists Call for Religious Vaccine Exemption After Governor Claims It Is From God.”
It was satire, beware of the Babylon Bee site. But the barbed wire humor focused on real quotes from the New York governor that raised eyebrows on the cultural left and right.
âWe haven’t been through this pandemic,â Governor Kathy Hochul said at a New York mega-church. âI prayed to God a lot during that time and you know what – God answered our prayers. He made the smartest men and women, scientists, doctors, researchers – he made them come up with a vaccine. It’s from God to us and we have to say, ‘Thank you, God.’ …
âAll of you, yes, I know you are vaccinated, you are the smartest. But you know there are people who don’t listen to God. â¦ I need you to be my apostles. I need you to come out and talk about it and say, ‘We owe this to each other. We love ourselves.'”
Obviously, the governor said, getting the vaccine was the best way to obey God in this crisis.
Writing on the Friendly Atheist website, Beth Stoneburner argued that this was not the kind of church-state sermonette that should trouble atheists and other laity.
“Is this a speech that atheists will appreciate?” Probably not, âshe noted. “But as for a politician using the language of faith to reach an audience that is in desperate need of a vaccine – but maybe not because other prominent Christians are feeding them lies – that is arguably effective. . “
If this explosion of divine words from a Democrat like Hochul “helps Christians get vaccinated when some of them might decide otherwise, then it might outweigh any criticism people might have of his.” speech, âStoneburner said.
At the same time, Hochul’s explicitly Christian remarks on vaccines have garnered little to no media coverage, unlike media storms that often greet denominational statements from Republicans trying to win the support of conservative Christians in similar contexts.
The governor was using language that would almost certainly appeal to believers in both political parties, noted philosopher Francis Beckwith, who teaches Church-State Studies at Baylor University. Hochul – a liberal Catholic – was also trying to reach members of a predominantly African-American mega-church.
Coverage of this speech was sparse “because our media are blinded by their systematic secular privilege,” Beckwith said, joined by email. The images and arguments used by the governor were “simply incomprehensible to those who refuse to become culturally adept at the theologically marginalized vocabulary and concepts of the mighty hope of colonization.”
It’s also helpful to know that Hochul’s appearance took place in a setting frequently visited by Democrats and Republicans: Brooklyn’s massive Christian Cultural Center. A New York Times profile of its pastor, the Reverend AR Bernard, once noted that this “church, the largest in New York City, has long been considered a mandatory stop on the way to City Hall and to -of the”.
In other words, it was not surprising that the governor said what she said in the sacred setting in which she said it. However, his remarks were also tied – by timing – to the state’s decision to require COVID-19 vaccination for all healthcare workers, including those trying to seek exemptions due to their religious beliefs.
Hochul did not address this issue at the Christian Cultural Center, but said, âI feel God tapped me on the shoulderâ¦ because everything I have done in life is due to the grace of God. which led me to this place. She added that the coronavirus pandemic has only reinforced that belief.
âJesus taught us to love one another,â Hochul pointed out. âHow do you show that love without caring enough about each other to say, ‘Please get vaccinated because I love you and want you to live’? I want our children to be safe when they are in school, I want to be safe when you go to a doctor or hospital and you are being treated by someone. …
âWe have to resolve this, my friends. I need each of you.
Terry Mattingly runs GetReligion.org and lives in Oak Ridge, Tenn. He is a principal investigator at the Overby Center at the University of Mississippi.