On June 3, a California man named Stephen Harmon dismissed the COVID vaccine with this smug tweet (invoking the famous Jay-Z lyric)”
IF YOU’RE HAVING EMAIL PROBLEMS, I FEEL BAD FOR YOU, SON. I GOT 99 PROBLEMS BUT A VAX AIN’T ONE!
Weeks later, he was in the hospital struggling with COVID, fighting for oxygen, and asking his Twitter followers to pray for him. As recently as last Sunday, he still insisted that prayer would get him out of this predicament:
“If you don’t have faith that God can heal me over your stupid ventilator then keep the Hell out of my ICU room, there’s no room in here for fear or lack of faith!”
There’s a Christian argument one could make that God gave us the vaccine… but that didn’t seem to cross his mind.
Harmon didn’t make it. He died earlier this week.
While he quickly became the go-to example this week of someone who rejected the COVID vaccine, only to realize his mistake all too late, his story is especially interesting because Harmon was a member of Hillsong Church and a graduate of Hillsong College. Hillsong is one of the more popular megachurches in the country; its New York affiliate included Justin Bieber in the congregation and its hipster pastor was recently fired over “moral failures.”
The church’s global senior pastor Brian Houston announced Harmon’s death, but even then, it was clear he wasn’t ready to do the responsible thing and tell church members to get their COVID shots. He said in the announcement that “many” staffers at Hillsong were indeed vaccinated and “more will be” in the future, but stopped short of encouraged everyone to get the shots.
In a separate public statement, he said the vaccine was a “personal decision” (implying it wasn’t some kind of moral imperative):
The founder of the multinational Hillsong Church told CNN that Covid-19 vaccines are a “personal decision for each individual to make with the counsel of medical professionals” after a congregant who publicly refused inoculation died of complications from the disease.
“On any medical issue, we strongly encourage those in our church to follow the guidance of their doctors,” Houston said, emphasizing that the church’s focus was on spiritual well-being.
It’s not just a “personal decision,” though! The irresponsibility of those denying the vaccine prolong the pandemic for everybody and risk spreading more deadly variants among the population, including to those who were already vaccinated. It’s a “personal decision” to get a tattoo. It’s a “personal decision” to adopt a child. Getting your COVID vaccine is a decision that affects you and everybody else.
And that line about following the guidance of individual doctors is a complete abdication of responsibility. All medical professionals worth their schooling have been saying that the vaccines are overwhelmingly safe and necessary; Houston’s comment would only make it less likely that someone would get the shot. Good information is already available. This is no time for people to follow their gut or do Google searches, especially when misinformation is rampant.
A responsible church leader would’ve said Harmon made a “personal decision” and it cost him his life — and possible the lives of others he may have spread the virus to, but as Christians, they have an obligation to help the world, and that’s why it’s so vital that all church members get their vaccination with the exception of those who can’t for medical reasons.
Houston isn’t that leader.
If people won’t get the vaccines for themselves, then do it for Grandma. Or, in a way that Hillsong members might consider, do it for all the children — toddler, newborn and unborn — who are too young to get their shots right now.
Unless they do that, Harmon’s death will only be Hillsong’s latest one instead of the last one.