Guest post by Troy
My brother’s story, an indictment of the Evangelical church’s response to Covid vaccinations.
In early December 2021, I got a call from my mother. “Jason has Covid and is in the hospital. When he takes off the oxygen, he can’t breathe at all.” When my mother asked him why he wouldn’t get vaccinated, his response was “God will take care of me.” And while I thought his prognosis was good, two weeks later he died. He was in his late 40s, the baby of our family, the father of two adult children, and the father and provider of three young children.
Jason had a hard start in life. He was my stepbrother, a part of the joining of two families who had both lost parents in accidents; he lost his mother when he was a toddler. He had some issues with auditory processing, and I think he had trouble with conversational nuance and connecting the dots. He’d end up telling people what he thought they wanted to hear. Possibly this was his path to becoming a follower. High school was tough on him academically, college was out, so the army looked like his only option. Just before going to the army, Jason was arrested for drag racing. It’s laughable to me, he had a junker car, and I don’t know the details, but I can’t imagine he was out challenging people to race . . . but it all makes sense if it is yet another instance of following. The judge dismissed the charges since he was going into the army. But despite “following orders” being the army mainstay, following didn’t help him in the army. His testing limited him to infantry, and along with this his infantry comrades, he (nor they) wasn’t always the most upstanding of characters. The example I’ll cite is that he was with someone who looked into a car and saw a set of golf clubs, checked the door handle, found it unlocked, and took the clubs. Of course, most people would argue with someone stealing from a stranger’s car, but not a follower. Apparently, there were other missing things, and guilt by association ended Jason’s stint in the army with a less-than-honorable discharge.
After the army didn’t work out, he ended up working at McDonald’s. This is where he met his wife and also where he ended up joining her Evangelical church. (Parents of one of my friends wondered if their misguided marriage was because they both got mad cow disease by working at McDonald’s!) The follower had found his bliss. He didn’t have to try to guess what people wanted of him, no nuance or inferences, just obey the simple, easy-to-follow instructions. He also finally had a church family of people that would accept him; his disability didn’t really matter, he was “Brother Jason” and all that mattered was the remarkable zeal that is unique to the convert. While the extremes of his church were completely out of the mainstream, my mother confided in me that she was glad, because he was a follower, that he had landed there. As the army experience demonstrated, there are worse people he could be following. There are always nefarious people who will take advantage of followers.
Things turned around for Jason when our dad got him a temp job at his union shop. Dad impressed upon him what he needed to do: work hard, always be on time, and you will become a fully contracted employee. He now had a high income to lavish upon his beloved church. He was living for the LORD, and while we were on opposite sides of the religious spectrum, I certainly was happy that he finally had success in life. That said, the church truly taxed him financially. He gave 20% of his income to the church, and ended up living hand to mouth, and had his house foreclosed upon. While he listened to Dad to get and keep the job, Dad couldn’t impress upon him the abstraction of good credit.
Sadly Jason’s wife passed away 15 years ago, which led him to the Philippines, where he remarried. He ended up getting hepatitis during a return trip to the Philippines. While he recovered enough to go back to work, there were lingering health effects that no doubt made him very susceptible to Covid.
Before I proceed with my indictment, I want to reminisce back to when we were kids. It’s the late 1970s and our family is off to church. If it were Sunday, we were packing six boys into the Suburban and we were in the pews, never early unless we forgot to change our clocks back to standard time, but we were there. We pull into the parking lot and I recognize some of the teens who were active in the youth group. They wave us over, “Good morning,” “Are you guys wearing seat belts?” The answer was a big NO; for one thing, absolutely nobody wore seat belts, and if we tried, we weren’t going to squeeze everyone comfortably into even a large vehicle like a Suburban. “Oh, okay, well, we’re going to have to give you a ticket! My dad grumpily reaches for his wallet and pays the few dollars for the “offense.” “We care about you, and we want you back next Sunday.” Believe me, next Sunday we all had our seat belts on.
Now let me contrast this with the Evangelical church. While some on the religious right (in particular Franklin Graham) advocate for the Covid vaccines, most are either neutral or actively — and sometimes vehemently — hostile to the vaccines. Currently, around 500 people die every DAY from Covid — about three times the number of people who die in traffic accidents. My indictment is as follows: The Evangelical church has failed its followers. By not encouraging their “flocks” to get vaccines, they have failed them. My brother isn’t the only one; earlier in the pandemic I’d routinely see go-fund-me campaigns for large families who had lost one of their (Evangelical) unvaccinated parents. I do know that some people at my brother’s church did get vaccinated. But was it actively encouraged? Did it make the sermon every week as alcohol did? What, then, is their excuse for this failure? Ignorance? I have a lot of problems with religion. But I have zero problems with “We care about you, and we want you back next Sunday.”
One of Jason’s adult sons wistfully wondered (on Facebook) if he was off to the Paradise he had always told them about. But if Evangelicals don’t know the here and now, I have zero confidence they know the hereafter.
Evangelical pastors, redeem yourselves; I implore you to encourage your followers to get vaccinated. Heaven will wait.
Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.
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Troy—I am so sorry about your brother. Whatever your differences, I can see that you truly care about him.
One thing this story underscores, for me, is how Evangelical and Fundamentalist churches prey on peoples’ vulnerabilities. And some people are willing to give those churches a pass because, like your mother, they believe those churches are safer havens than other milieux (like the military) for vulnerable people like your brother.
This is so sad. And worse, there’s nothing anyone can say to change people’s minds as long as they willfully believe falsehoods.
Troy, I am so sorry that your brother passed away. You’re right, there are some people who are just cut out to be followers, and it’s a real shame that the community he followed didn’t promote something that may have been life-saving fir your brother.
So sorry about the death of your brother, Troy. It’s so hard to see people believing lies and not being able to help them. Many evangelical leaders have a lot to answer for.
My condolences to Troy, regarding the premature death of your brother. Churches cause more problems than they solve. Even if your brother was happy in that place, he was let down in a major way by them. It takes a long time to realize one must take everything written and spoken in churches with some grains of salt. Oh that I had,back when I was young enough to affect a change ! I lost my good years,productive ones listening to those nutbags.
Thanks for the condolences.