Receive Christ ... and a vaccine.
It’s the gist of a message Black religious leaders hope to convey in short videos that will air during Easter services to congregants of about 500 churches, reaching as many as 1 million people in the Chicago area.
The fete will be accomplished by airing the pro-vaccine videos to churchgoers in pews and those watching services that will be livestreamed on the internet.
Bishop Simon Gordon, who heads Triedstone Full Gospel Baptist Church in the East Beverly neighborhood, said he boiled down his message to congregants to an easy choice.
“It’s either a vaccine or a ventilator,” he said at a news conference Thursday held at a church in the South Loop.
According to city data, Black residents make up 30% of the city’s population but only about 20% of people who’ve been vaccinated.
Andrew Gibson, the pastor of Vernon Baptist Church in the West Woodlawn neighborhood, said he was a vaccine convert, and his mission is now to convert others.
“I was just like you, skeptical. As a matter of fact, to be transparent, I was one who talked against it. ... But that was because I was ignorant of it, I had lack of knowledge,” he said. “After extensive research ... I realized that the vaccine is safe, and not only safe, but it will save your life. And not only your life but your family’s life.”
The Rev. Janette Wilson, who serves as senior adviser to Rainbow PUSH Coalition President Rev. Jesse Jackson, said she can’t guarantee the message will reach 1 million viewers, but holding the pro-vaccine campaign on Easter will drastically increase the reach.
“I can guarantee you we have the most visibility on Easter, Mother’s Day and Christmas,” she said.
The Rev. Leslie Sanders, who heads Hope Presbyterian Church in West Englewood, organized the video campaign effort with the help of Evolent Health, a third-party health care consultant.
“We had a roadshow and went around and we met these clergy in their space, their places of worship, in their office, and we recorded a two-to-three-minute video in which they can tell their personal experience with the vaccine, some of the testimonies that they’ve heard in their communities and address the problem head-on,” said Naprisha Taylor, Evolent’s head of diversity, equity and inclusion.
Michael Eaddy, the pastor of People’s Church of the Harvest in West Garfield Park, said he, too, initially resisted the idea of the vaccine because his mind flashed back to the Tuskegee Syphilis Study in which government health officials withheld treatment for hundreds of infected Black men in Mississippi so physicians could observe the disease.
“It was because of seeking out the information — and that’s why this video education process is so vitally important — that I became more enlightened. ... There’s been so much misinformation circulating,” Eaddy said, noting that he’d been inoculated.
“We as believers, we understand the role and power of vaccination because we’ve had a spiritual vaccination, by the blood of Jesus Christ. And that blood has caused us to be preserved,” he said with rising voice and expression. “I’m feeling my help coming on!”