DALLAS — In a bid to fight vaccine hesitancy among evangelicals and Christian conservatives, First Baptist Dallas, in partnership with Dallas County, will host a COVID-19 vaccination clinic this Sunday.
"I'm not a doctor but I trust the Christian doctors in our church who are very enthusiastic about this vaccine," said senior pastor Dr. Robert Jeffress in an interview with WFAA.
Jeffress said he was "honored" that Judge Clay Jenkins invited the church to participate as a vaccination site, "and we enthusiastically said yes," he explained.
Jenkins, on Wednesday, thanked Jeffress in return.
"By having their trusted leaders in the faith community work with us to get the message out, we've got a great chance of helping those people make the choice to get vaccinated - not only protecting themselves and their family, but protecting our whole community, and, ultimately, helping American defeat COVID," Jenkins said.
Jeffress's push to encourage his congregants to get the vaccine is featured on a website called Christians and the Vaccine, which tries to combat vaccine hesitancy among evangelicals. It is where, as one of the first pastors profiled on the website, Jeffress announced his own trip to get vaccinated this past January - being briefly interrupted by an unexpected call from then President Trump on Air Force One.
"I was so excited that I almost missed my exit to the vaccine site," he joked. "But, I got there on time."
Jeffress said he received his second Moderna vaccination just a few weeks later.
The pastor of 14,000-member congregation said he understands not everybody shares his opinion on the vaccine, "even in my own church," he said.
"I told my people we're not forcing anybody to have a vaccine. We don't have vaccine passports. But, we can simply advise people to do that, but let them make up their own mind," he added. "I see these vaccines in many ways as an answer from God to help us get through this time so that we can be back together in every part of our life, including worship."
Pastor Richie Butler, of Project Unity and St. Luke Community United Methodist Church, said he welcomed the news from First Baptist Dallas as it joins in the effort he and other Black pastors have been active in for months now.
"I think, all hands on deck. I mean this is an all-hands moment," Butler said.
Project Unity has held more than a dozen vaccine drives at churches and other locations to fight vaccine hesitancy in minority communities. Another vaccine event is scheduled this Friday at St. Luke Community United Methodist Church.
"Whether we agree with each other politically or theologically, that's irrelevant at this moment," Butler said. "We all know that if we want people in our pews, and for people to feel safe, we need to insure that people are getting vaccinated. So, I think this is an important move for [First Baptist] and for the community overall."
Jeffress agreed on that point.
"What I'm not sympathetic with is those who try to politicize this vaccine," Jeffress told WFAA. "I don't think we ought to see this as a Republican or Democratic initiative. This is something all Americans should join together in doing."
CDC data shows that vaccine hesitancy is dropping nationwide, with the percentage of those who are hesitant or strongly hesitant about the vaccine dropping from 21.5% in mid-January to 15.6% in late March.
"Millions of Christians have been praying for over a year that there would be an end to this epidemic," Jeffress said. "God's answer sometimes involves science."
And church leaders, along with Dallas County officials, hope they can continue building faith in that.
The First Baptist Church of Dallas COVID-19 vaccination clinic is this Sunday, May 16 at 12:30 p.m. at 1707 San Jacinto St.
The St. Luke Community United Methodist Church clinic is Friday, May 14 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at 5710 E. R L Thornton Freeway. Vaccine recipients are asked to register here in advance.