Edited by T. Lai
There is a difference between ignorance and willful ignorance. Ignorance is simply a lack of knowledge. It can be corrected by the introduction to more information.
Willful ignorance is welded to the personal identity of the bearer. It is obstinate pride in one’s lack of knowledge. It is self-perceived as a badge of courage, a sign of strength of character, and power over others. Anyone who attempts to dispel the ignorance is considered an enemy. When willful ignorance is challenged, heels are dug in and a deeper allegiance is professed. This is what the writer for Ephesians termed, “the blindness of the heart.”
This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart; who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness. Eph 6: 17-19
The letter is written to a community in Ephesus, but it was also intended to be used as a circular letter for the Christians of the day. One of the points of this letter was to remind those who believe in Jesus that they would have to witness the good news to others. The spread of the gospel required advocates and apologists in the communities who believed that a shared better future. It reminded people that they had an important role in their community.
As we engage in vaccine advocacy this is a lesson that it will be well for us to remember. Some do not take the vaccine, seeing it as an act of defiance, and perceiving it as act of power. For some it is a political ideology, for others it is an assertion of ethnicity, and for others it is a badge indicating the superiority of their faith and reason. For some, it is recalcitrance especially if from a group usually ignored or invisible.
In our rightful emphasis on the work of Christ in the gospels, we have forgotten the importance of the work of people in the gospel. The gospels spread throughout the world because people talked to their neighbors and friends about the lived experience of the gospel. Then, they experienced signs and wonders in their own lives. The Jesus experience is an invitation to abandon a set way of viewing the world and to give up one’s hubris and pride in one’s self-sufficiency. It did not require special knowledge – just collaborative passion, courage, and persistence. In its encounter it is also required the recipient to accept responsibility to help others see the new vision of life and become each other’s keeper.
It was not enough to be safe or saved without engaging in the mission to save the world. Salvation was not and is not a selfish experience. It is an explosion of compassion for the world. Christians are, by definition, engaged with the world to preserve life in world. This basic maxim of ministry is why our struggle to get everyone vaccinated is a ministry of faith. Whatever the unknowns are about the vaccination it is clear that its administration saves lives. Time and time again we have been privy to the stories of people who would not take the vaccine, after the death of a loved one or on the precipice of their own death, pleading with people to take the vaccine. Their deaths or the deaths of their loved ones produces a passion for others that should have been there before. Their objections are clearly not an issue when, in the face of the pain of loss, they suddenly become seized of compassion and urgency for the hurting and the loss. Their pretense of ignorance is then revealed to be willful ignorance. The knowledge that they needed it was there all the time and that people live with the vaccine and more people (including children) die without it.
Vaccine hesitancy will not be overcome by the persuasion of experts and scientists. Rather, it will be by the witness of those who have taken the vaccination and the witness of those who walked through the valley of COVID-19. It will be because we speak to our neighbors and families about the deaths in our families and friends, the anxiety about our children, and the importance of protecting the vulnerable among us. We must risk offense and share with others the reasons we choose to take the vaccine. We must become the witnesses because we wish and envision each other in our community’s future.
Let’s have an evangelical zeal and passion to bring people to the work of saving the world from COVID-19. It must become a personal mission to get everyone we know vaccinated.