A couple of weeks ago, I was in a hospital cafeteria waiting for a friend who had a minor procedure and needed me to give them a ride home. As I waited for over two hours at one of the cafeteria tables, people would come and have their breakfast, snacks, and early lunch. I could hear the conversations happening all around me since the cafeteria was small and people talked pretty loudly. All the conversations I heard had something to do with Covid-19—who is sick, who has recovered, who has died, and who is for or against vaccination. It seems that no gathering can happen today without us talking about Covid-19.

The governments of the world have passed guidelines and laws requiring vaccination in certain circumstances, under the ubiquitous statement “We follow the science.” People are restricted to their homes, their cities, and their countries; traveling has become available only for those who are following the directions of the state.

Some pastors have become apocalyptic about this current vaccination. They believe that getting the Covid-19 vaccine is the mark of the beast mentioned in the book of Revelation, which will prohibit those who do not have it from buying or selling. These pastors are preaching about the signs of the last days, and they come from the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Pentecostal Church, in addition to many independent people who call themselves prophets.

We also see people who value their independence and their freedom. Even though some of them have been vaccinated, they feel that the government forcing vaccination is an overreach of the state in personal matters. In some countries, protesting about vaccination mandates has been categorized as inciting a riot, and people have been arrested, fined, and jailed.

Earlier this month, South Wales closed church meetings again and arrested some pastors. Some journalists wrote that Australia has returned to its original purpose—a prison colony. They argue that Australia is currently implementing the most stringent restrictions for people who are not vaccinated or do not plan to be vaccinated.

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Jackson Pines and Cranston Dean in residency at Langosta Lounge in Asbury Park
Jackson Pines and Cranston Dean at Langosta

Why aren’t more people protesting in the streets? We are, said one journalist, but it is not reported. This journalist also wrote that citizens are not protesting because the fear of death has created compliant people and people want to believe that the government has their best interests in mind. But others have a lack of trust, which led one pastor to say that the actions of the government are, at best, haphazard. The same government that declares that women are the masters of their bodies and can have abortions is now telling us that if we want to work or travel, we have to be vaccinated. In previous situations, vaccines were voluntary and individual workplaces could determine rules, but the prerogative of individual citizens or businesses has now been eliminated.

As someone who is in the over-60 age bracket and is overweight, I was vaccinated earlier this year and received the booster shot last week. About 6 weeks ago I had a mild case of Covid-19 and I was able to return to teaching after 10 days. But not everyone who is vaccinated has a mild case. CNN Politics announced that “General Colin Powell, military leader and first Black US secretary of state, dies after complications from Covid 19.” In the beginning of the article, it stated that he was fully vaccinated, but later in the article it states: “It is not clear if Powell has received a booster dose of the vaccine. Covid 19 vaccines are highly effective tools in preventing severe disease and death, but no vaccine is 100% effective.”

Covid-19 has affected the things we do on a regular basis, and the ways we do them. It is interesting for me to find out that church attendance has drastically changed in the past two years. While the number of people present in the pews is decreasing, the number of people watching a livestreamed service at home in their pajamas is growing rapidly. Parents are bringing fewer children to Sunday School classes because it is easier to participate online and not have the trouble of getting them ready, taking them to church, and then bringing them back home. Staying home during the pandemic has made us comfortable with online church, and many people see no need to actually attend a church gathering. However, the majority of people who are hesitant to come to church say it is because they have a fear of death. Those who are in my age category (60 and older) argue that a trip to church may bring them in contact with sick people, which might result in a greater probability of dying.

As I am returning to a church pulpit this fall as an Interim Pastor, I was thinking that within the church and outside the church, the fear of death has been strangulating all of us. It is good to remember a verse from the Scriptures that frees us from that fear. “Since the children have flesh and blood, Jesus too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death – that is the devil – and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.” (Hebrews 2:14-15)

About 30 years ago I interviewed a person who had been imprisoned by the communist regime. I asked him when he had finally felt ready to face the regime that would persecute him and send him in jail. He shared with me that the change came when he read the verse above and shared it with his wife. They came to the conclusion that they could face whatever happened after reading another verse: “Whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.” (Romans 14:8)

We live in critical times: times that require us to be wise, times in which we have to pay attention to the tested results of science, and times in which we should not allow governments to take away our liberties. This is a time to live in the freedoms that Christ has given to us; one of those freedoms is to no longer fear death.

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George Hancock-Stefan

Pastor George Hancock-Stefan completed 30 years as the pastor of the great congregation at Central Baptist Church in Atlantic Highlands in 2020. Those 30 years have been a blessed time for him, his wife...