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Experts Say the Pandemic May Never End…Unless Churches Do This

At this strategic turning point, the governmental, philanthropic and public health sectors ought to proactively seek the counsel and partnership of faith leaders. Cities and towns all over the country should seek to develop partnerships with local congregations and initiate public health ambassador programs to arm community members with both vaccine facts and cultural skills to engage a diverse range of racial and religious identities. IFYC has created one model of this, for example, called the Faith in the Vaccine Ambassadors program.

Given the way mask-wearing and vaccine acceptance have become fronts in the culture wars, it may be tempting for some to write off hesitant communities. But we believe this moment can be an opportunity to remember the democratic principle — and the public health reality — that we are intimately connected, that the many are also one. Progress in Mississippi advances health outcomes in Manhattan, and resistance in Louisiana threatens citizens’ wellbeing in Los Angeles.

The data suggests engaging religious communities in response to this crisis may provide a bridge connecting segments of our society that often have little to do with one another. Black Protestants and white evangelicals, Latinos and rural Republicans — groups who have divergent voting patterns and political identities — actually have a lot in common when it comes to who they trust about the vaccine.

Democracy requires a basic level of empathy and willingness to cooperate on some fundamental things, even as we disagree on others. What could be more fundamental than our health, safety and shared desire for the freedom to return to our normal lives?

The medical community tells us we need to get to a minimum vaccination rate of approximately 80% to reach herd immunity. But getting anywhere near that goal will require crossing not one but many finish lines, particularly with more vaccine-hesitant communities. The challenge from this point forward will be to develop a robust ground game, marshaling the best of our cultural resources to vaccinate a few hundred more in this neighborhood, a few thousand more in that town. And in that effort, the paths to success likely run through our local congregations.

(Robert P. Jones is the CEO and founder of Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI). Eboo Patel is the president and founder of Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC). The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)

This article originally appeared here.