I write to you in the midst of the Delta surge of the COVID-19 pandemic here in Wisconsin and around the world.
Vaccination is our best tool to prevent severe illness and death from COVID-19. It is also a key tool to prevent the spread of the virus that has killed over 600,000 people in the United States, and more than 2 million people globally. We must use every tool at our disposal to reduce the devastation.
COVID-19 has harmed marginalized communities, particularly communities of color, more than it has harmed more privileged communities. Communities of color also have lower vaccination rates than white communities, for a variety of reasons, including the history of white supremacy and current experiences of oppression. Communities with low rates of vaccination are being harder hit by the new Delta variant, and unvaccinated people are more likely to become seriously ill and die from COVID-19.
Living Our Values
This means it is vitally important and in line with our Unitarian Universalist values to do everything we can to slow transmission of this virus, including getting vaccinated, wearing masks indoors, and staying home and/or getting tested when we are feeling sick. We live our UU values by doing these things. COVID-19 has harmed marginalized communities, particularly communities of color, more than it has harmed more privileged communities.
We also live our UU values by understanding that difference makes a difference when people make choices about getting vaccinated. We all operate in larger systems that affect our choices and their consequences.
Although the news often portrays unvaccinated folks as people refusing vaccination because they reject the science behind it, studies have shown that a significant portion of people who haven’t been vaccinated yet are afraid of taking time off work to get the vaccine, or of losing work if they get sick from its effects. There is also a difference between white folks who believe they don’t need the vaccine because God will protect them from the virus, for instance, and Black folks who have been systematically abused by the healthcare industry for centuries and are therefore suspicious of it based on repeated experiences of abuse.
Our Faith Calls Us to Recognize Difference
Unitarian Universalism believes humanity keeps learning and growing, and with it, so does our knowledge of the world. Our faith calls us to listen to evidence and the best knowledge of our time, which is today’s science. Our faith values and science are aligned in calling us to get vaccinated, wear masks indoors, and stay home if we are sick.
Our faith values also call us to recognize that histories of privilege and oppression affect individual and community interpretations of data and perceptions of the credibility of various messengers. It also calls us to recognize the difference between a decision made based on entitlement, and one made based on oppression.
We can know the science is true and the vaccine is safe and simultaneously approach our neighbors with compassion and humility when we have conversations with them about why they may believe differently. Having those conversations in love, listening deeply to another person, and then sharing facts about the vaccine and virus, is not only living our UU value of right relationship, it is also the best way to invite people to consider new information—something that happens most often in relationships of trust and mutual respect.
Grace When Living Our Values is Difficult
This moment in history is calling us to be our best selves while simultaneously putting unprecedented amounts of pressure on us. Living our values is incredibly difficult when we are tired, scared, traumatized, and grief-ridden. Anger and exhaustion are embedded in grief, and all of us, and all our neighbors, are going through grief and collective trauma. Our context makes deep, honest, respectful conversations across differences of race and class hard.
We are called by our faith, and by love, to do the best we can each day. If the grief or anger is too much today, then spend some time tending to it and to your dear, beautiful, beloved heart. If you feel grounded today, then pull some love up through the roots of the earth and send it out to your neighbors, whether that be through a deep and hard conversation, through getting a vaccine, or through wearing a mask. Yes, the science is right. Yes, our faith calls us to espouse that. But our faith also calls us away from arrogance and towards understanding what differences led us to be able to believe the science in the first place. There, we might find the ground of humility that will enable transformation.
With so much love for you in all this world’s complexity, beauty, and difficulty,
Rev. Jennifer Nordstrom