How the church offers hope for getting the Black community vaccinated

April 16, 2021

In March, we crossed the one-year mark of the COVID-19 pandemic, which, during a year unlike any other, resulted in a staggering 500,000 deaths in the United States alone. After reaching this milestone, we are faced with alarming statistics of not only the stark losses of life but also of those that reveal the Black community in America has been disproportionately affected during this year of crisis. 

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), Black or African American persons are twice as likely as their white or Asian counterparts to be hospitalized or pass away due to COVID-related symptoms. These statistics further point to the existence of an American social predicament which allows for significant disparities in the availability of social programs and adequate health care for many in Black communities. 

This information points to the necessity of larger numbers of African Americans urgently needing COVID-19 vaccination. With the advent of the Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccinations, people can now be protected against contracting the virus (or have a significant reduction in the severity of symptoms). These vaccines could bring significant relief to the crisis for the Black community. But despite being the most affected by the virus, and most in need of vaccination, members of the Black community are disproportionately underrepresented in instances of vaccination. While some 20% of the U.S. population has received some form of vaccination, Black or African American persons only make up 7% of that number, according to recent data from the CDC.

So why aren’t members of the Black community running to the front of the line to get vaccinated? One contributing factor is rooted in a longstanding Black collective mistrust of healthcare institutions because of a history of dubious medical practices that resulted in inadequate medical treatment, misuse of Black bodies, and misinformation in Black spaces. The relationship between the medical science community and the Black community is one fraught with tension, implicit bias, and suspicion, often coming from both directions.

One of the most glaring instances of medical deception towards the Black community occurred in Alabama during the “ethically unjustified” 40-year-long experiment known as the Tuskegee Study. From 1932 until its public exposure by the Associated Press in 1972, the Public Health Service–which preceded the CDC–conducted a study on 600 Black men under the guise of treatment for vaguely described diagnoses. The study lacked informed consent from the participants, as they believed they were being given legitimate treatments for illnesses. In reality, those treatments were purposely withheld from these men as scientists observed the long term, natural effects of syphilis on their bodies. 

With the last surviving member of the Tuskegee Study passing recently in 2004, the legacy of Tuskegee remains burned into the Black consciousness and still influences the present-day medical choices of many. Add this to current statistics of high numbers of instances of medical malpractice experienced by Black Americans, and a perceived indifference toward the complaints of Black patients concerning healthcare, and the lack of investment into vaccination sites and resources in predominantly Black neighborhoods, many African Americans are left without sufficient options for vaccination. Worse, many end up thinking that it would be more beneficial and health conscious to not receive the COVID-19 vaccination at all.  

So, what then can be done to aid a community in crisis? This answer is rooted in the longstanding Black collective trust and veneration of the Church as a community presence and institution. It is the Church that is left with the responsibility to be the hands and feet of Jesus toward a community in need. The Church has in past times been the answer to the issues plaguing the Black community and must be that answer once again.

From serving as temporary hospitals during the Black Plague to being gathering centers for social justice meetings during the Civil Rights Era, churches have often been galvanizing hubs to help people receive information and care. The Church very often serves as the center of Black social life in America where many get not only their direction for faith, but also their teaching on initiatives in politics, education and healthcare, with politicians, activists and medical professionals often turning to the Church to utilize their platforms to distribute information directly to congregants. 

As the pandemic persists, it might once again fall on the Church to help spread truth and assuage fears in the Black community if there is hope for their getting vaccinated at higher rates. Churches can act as vaccination sites in typically low-income or Black neighborhoods. They can host information forums where medical professionals answer questions for congregants; and church leaders themselves can model the vaccine’s safety by receiving it. 

To follow the call of the Bible to “learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause” (Isaiah 1:17), the Church must be an active voice in ensuring that members of marginalized groups are receiving the care and information needed to be protected in a crisis. While many members of the Black community mistrust medical institutions, they retain trust in the Church, so the Church must honor that trust and help guide people out of this unprecedented trial.

Lourdes Anita Branch

Lourdes Anita Branch is an educator and writer living in Brooklyn, New York. As a lover and follower of Jesus, she seeks to see him reflected in matters of everyday life, social justice and issues impacting the Black community. She writes over at LourdesAnita.com Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24