“I always tell people that medicine, like pastoring, is a matter of trust,” he said.
When the vaccines became widely available in early 2021, the church worked with health care partners to offer the shots. So far, his network has helped vaccinate more than 6,000 people and recently began offering pediatric vaccines at the church. Smith also went on local television when he got his first vaccine, to send a message that vaccines are trustworthy.
He pointed to recent statistics about COVID-19 deaths to make a point about how effective vaccines are, pointing out that the vast majority of COVID-19 deaths are now among those who are not vaccinated.
Smith said he has spent time talking with other pastors about vaccines, including with those who are skeptical about them — talking about the science to some, about the Bible to others.
For some Christians, he said, skepticism has been rooted in ideas from the Book of Revelation about the so-called mark of the beast, found in Revelation 13. “If you look at the Scripture,” he said, “the vaccine cannot be the mark of the beast. It does not fit any of the scriptural references.”
People who have died during COVID-19 didn’t die because they lacked faith, said Smith. They often died, especially early on, because doctors and church leaders didn’t have the knowledge needed to combat COVID-19.
He sees the development of vaccines as a gift from God — giving people the knowledge and the tools needed to fight the virus.
“If you have faith,” he said, “then thank the doctors and scientists for their work. And give glory to God because all knowledge comes from God.”
There’s no comprehensive national data on how many congregations have served as vaccination sites. But Marcus Coleman, director of the Department of Homeland Security’s Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, said faith-based and community groups have worked with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to facilitate about 300,000 vaccinations.
Coleman pointed to church leaders such as Bishop T.D. Jakes of the Potter’s House, the Rev. Gabriel Salguero of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition and the Rev. Walter Kim of the National Association of Evangelicals — as well as to conversations led by former Obama faith adviser Joshua DuBois — as helping people have “necessary conversations” about vaccines. Faith leaders, Coleman said, can help people talk through the importance of vaccines but also can listen to people’s concerns.