(RNS) — As a kid, my family had the vinyl Andy Williams Christmas album, which we faithfully broke out ahead of the holidays each year. The song I most remember is the one that has come to be a staple of American Christmas music, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.”
No doubt you’ve already heard it this year: on the car radio, in the streaming Christmas music mix, in the elevator or in the store if you’re braving that scene. First debuted on the Andy Williams Show in 1963, it is everywhere between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Nearly 60 years later, its holiday play regularly launches it into the top 100 charts in more than a dozen countries. In 2020, it peaked at number five on the U.S. Hot Billboard chart. And — you’re welcome! — it may now be stuck in your head by its mere mention.
But this year, the Christmas anthem might be more suited to the current mood of the country if the word “wonderful” were replaced with “angry” (or “anger-filled” if you’re a stickler for meter).
Thursday (Dec. 9), in partnership with IFYC, PRRI released wave three of our Religion and the Vaccine Survey, the largest existing survey examining the relationship between religious identities and attitudes about COVID-19.
This new survey found a remarkable number of Americans reporting serious family conflict over COVID-19 vaccinations. Fully 1 in 5 Americans (19%) say disagreements over COVID-19 vaccinations have caused “major conflict” in their families. Similarly, earlier this fall, PRRI found that 22% of Americans reported their extended family relationships have been “strained to the breaking point” over the issue of getting a COVID-19 vaccination.
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Another standout finding highlights just how angry vaccinated and unvaccinated Americans are with each other today. This single finding shows how the political divides many of us were already experiencing in our families have been exacerbated as these battle lines have been extended, and deepened, by responses to the pandemic.
The PRRI/IFYC survey did find some good public health news. Approximately three-fourths of Americans today report having received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. At the same time, about a quarter of Americans remain unvaccinated, and only 13% of Americans say they will refuse to get the vaccine.
But as the ranks of the uncertain and the vaccine hesitant have dramatically thinned over the course of the year, and as the safety and benefits of vaccinations have become more demonstrable, anger has become palpable across the great vaccination divide.
- Two-thirds (67%) of vaccinated Americans agree they are “angry at those who are refusing to get vaccinated against COVID-19 and are putting the rest of us at risk,” including 39% who completely agree.
- More than 7 in 10 (71%) unvaccinated Americans say they are “angry at those who think they have the right to tell me to get vaccinated against COVID-19,” including 44% who completely agree.
Vaccinated Democrats (84%) are twice as likely as vaccinated Republicans (43%) to say they are angry at those who are refusing to get vaccinated. By contrast, unvaccinated Republicans (85%) are significantly more likely than unvaccinated Democrats (48%) to say they are angry at those who think they have the right to tell them to get vaccinated against COVID-19. Nearly all unvaccinated Republicans who most trust far-right conservative media sources (94%) and Fox News (89%) say they are angry at those pushing them to get vaccinated.
With the exception of vaccinated white evangelical Protestants (46%), majorities of vaccinated Americans in all other religious groups agree they are angry at those who are refusing to get vaccinated against COVID-19: Jewish Americans (86%), religiously unaffiliated Americans (75%), Hispanic Catholics (73%), Black Protestants (71%), members of other non-Christian religions (71%), white mainline Protestants (67%), white Catholics (65%), Latter-day Saints (61%) and Hispanic Protestants (57%).
Among religious Americans who are unvaccinated, tempers run hottest among white Christian groups. Eight in 10 or more white mainline Protestants (87%), white Catholics (87%) and white evangelical Protestants (79%) say they are angry at those who think they have the right to tell them to get vaccinated against COVID-19. Anger at the vaccinated is significantly lower among unvaccinated religiously unaffiliated Americans (59%), Black Protestants (55%) and Hispanic Catholics (51%). (Sample size for Hispanic Catholics is less than 100, and results should be interpreted with some caution.) Because vaccination rates are relatively high among non-Christian groups and other non-white Christian groups, there were not enough respondents to break out attitudes separately.
I’ve personally been consistently frustrated — and, yes, angry — with the response of my fellow white Christians, particularly white evangelicals, to the pandemic. As I’ve pored over the data over the last two years, it is painfully plain just how estranged white evangelical Protestants have become from their fellow Americans.
White evangelical Protestants are twice as likely as the public to be vaccine refusers (25% vs. 13%). And white evangelicals are the only major religious group for whom religious attendance significantly increases vaccine refusal rates. Frequent attendance at white evangelical churches doubles the likelihood of being a vaccine refuser (30% for regular attenders vs. 15% for those who seldom or never attend).
White evangelical Protestants are the only major religious group in which a majority believe:
- The government is not telling us about other treatments for COVID-19 that are just as effective as the vaccine (62% vs. 42% of all Americans).
- Anyone who simply says receiving a COVID-19 vaccination goes against their religious beliefs should be able to claim a religious exemption (61% vs. 39% of all Americans).
- Religious exemptions should be granted to COVID-19 vaccinations for children who would otherwise be required to get them (66% vs. 44% of all Americans).
White evangelical Protestants are also the only major religious group among whom less than a majority agree there are no valid religious reasons to refuse a COVID-19 vaccine (41% vs. 60% of all Americans).
Finally, there is this heartbreaking finding: White evangelical Protestants are the only major religious group among whom a majority does not agree that getting vaccinated is “a way to live out the religious principle of loving my neighbors” (42% vs. 59% of all Americans).
It’s hard to know where to even start a comment on that result. Putting this in plain language, white evangelical Protestants remain — still — the least likely religious group in the country to embrace the Golden Rule during a pandemic that has now claimed the lives of nearly 800,000 Americans.
In the Southern Baptist church of my youth, we memorized Bible verses (in the King James of course) emphasizing the centrality of love and self-sacrifice in the life of Christians: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” And we sang hymns about the distinguishing mark of a Christian: “They will know we are Christians by our love, by our love. Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.”
But as we light the third Advent candle representing love this year, the behavior of so many — far too many — of us who profess to be Christian during this trial has demonstrated that politics has come before faith, defiance before concern and rights before love. If ever there were a time for reconsideration of the requirements of Christian discipleship in the midst of a pandemic, reflecting on the Incarnation during this season is it.
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The example of Jesus — becoming one of us to redeem us — is the antithesis of the assertion of individual rights over others’ health. The deeper demands of Christian discipleship indeed go beyond the Golden Rule. They are summarized clearly by Jesus in another one of those Bible verses I was instructed to memorize, this one printed in red typeface in my Bible: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”
(Robert P. Jones is the CEO and founder of the Public Religion Research Institute and the author of “White Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity.” This article was originally published on Jones’ Substack #WhiteTooLong. Read more at robertpjones.substack.com. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)