In light of the increase in COVID-19 cases in Minnesota, Bishop David Bard issued the following pastoral letter to Minnesota United Methodists in which he encourages vaccinations and masking, and points out that the United Methodist tradition does not provide much support for religious exemptions for vaccinations:
Dear Friends in Christ in the United Methodist Churches of Minnesota,
I greet you in the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the peace and power of the Holy Spirit.
At the beginning of this week, three news items in particular captured my attention. I would ask us all to continue to pray for Haiti, and include prayers for the missionaries recently kidnapped there. Pray for their safe release, and pray for a Haiti that is safer and turning a corner toward peace and shared prosperity.
The two other news items are related. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell died from complications related to COVID. Though vaccinated, Powell’s underlying health conditions contributed significantly to his vulnerability. At the same time that news was being reported, more news about COVID was also being shared. The five states with the fastest rising caseloads for COVID are Vermont, Colorado, New Hampshire, Michigan, and Minnesota. This time of year, you may want to see the Gophers in a top five list for NCAA football. The top five list for rising COVID caseload is a list we would like to avoid. Ninety-six percent of our ICU beds are occupied, and the pressure is expected to continue for the next few weeks, with a current positivity rate of 8.5 percent as reported in the Star Tribune on Wednesday.
Allow me to take this opportunity to remind you of my consistent encouragement to promote public health, further the common good, care for the well-being of others, do no harm, do good, and love your neighbor, all in the name and spirit of Jesus.
Specifically, I encourage you: If you have not been vaccinated and are eligible to receive a vaccine, do it. It is the single most important thing you can do to care for yourself and for others. The unvaccinated remain those most likely to be hospitalized and suffer severe illness or death because of COVID. They are also capable of spreading the disease for longer periods of time. Get vaccinated. Encourage your fellow-church members to get vaccinated. If you are eligible for a booster, get your booster shot.
Due to our positivity rate, we remain in the Yellow Phase of our Re-Gathering Plan, which strongly encourages masking by everyone when meeting in-person and indoors. If you are in a high-risk area, consider mandating masks for indoor, in-person gatherings. After vaccinations, masks are the next best tool we have for slowing the spread of the coronavirus, and slowing the spread also prevents the virus from developing into new variants. Together, masking and vaccinations will help us stem the rising tide of the coronavirus
Finally, allow me to say a word about religious exemptions for vaccinations. The United Methodist tradition of the Christian faith does not provide much support for a religious exemption for vaccinations. John Wesley promoted the best cures and preventative measures of his day in his work “Primitive Physick.” Founding hospitals is a significant part of our history as Methodists. Our Social Principles assert that “health care is a basic human right.” I have consistently encouraged Minnesota United Methodists to get vaccinated. It would be extraordinarily difficult to use our United Methodist tradition to substantiate a religious exemption claim for a COVID vaccination.
Friends, I continue to believe that by God’s grace we can muster the resilience, the kindness, and the determination to do what needs to be done to get past this pandemic. As followers of Jesus, we can lead in promoting public health, furthering the common good, and caring for the well-being of others. When we act out of love for neighbor and care for our community, we offer a powerful witness to the grace of God in Jesus Christ.
Grace and peace,
Bishop David A. Bard
Interim Bishop, Minnesota Conference
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church