“I will yield all the hard places of my heart to the softening influence of the Spirit of God.”

Howard Thurman

To all of you who have refused to be vaccinated, this is my plea.

As I watch the infection rates, hospitalization rates and death rates rise again, it seems so unnecessary, so foolish, so wasteful. It feels like you are asking for trouble. The information is clear – vaccines and masks can prevent people from getting the virus. Masks and vaccines are readily available. In fact health and government officials are going out of their way to make the vaccine available, even knocking on doors and driving hundreds of miles into rural areas to give YOU the opportunity to be vaccinated.

And yet you refuse. Now, some of you have been fed misinformation by media pundits and leaders who make getting a vaccine and wearing a mask sound like some sort of political or spiritual statement. I recognize others of you have good reason to distrust government leaders on these sorts of things. The history of past abuses — Tuskegee syphilis experiments, the forcible hysterectomies to Black women in the South, the use of people in prison as experimental guinea pigs, and other events in your history — cause you to distrust the government. And some of you have genuine health concerns that the vaccine might make your current condition worse. There are some of you who have a genuine reason to be vaccine-hesitant. And it doesn’t help that the CDC seems to change its advice every other week. The reality of COVID is frightening, terrifying and confusing.

But here is the other side of the issue: vaccines work. Polio, smallpox and other deadly diseases have been largely eliminated in this country because people of all ages got a vaccine for those diseases. Same with COVID. The people struggling to survive in hospitals, and in many cases dying, are the unvaccinated. But its not only your life that is at risk but also the lives of everyone around you who also is not vaccinated: your friends, family members, children and grandchildren. You don’t threaten me and other vaccinated people – we’re protected. We are wearing masks to protect YOU from the possibility we may transmit the virus to you unknowingly.

When I hear some of you say it is your individual right not to wear a mask or get a vax, I want to scream. Whatever happened to those hallowed words “We the People?” We may disagree on any number of issues from politics to religion to our favorite sports teams, but can’t we agree not to carelessly harm, and even kill one another? Just as there are limits on your first amendment rights (like you can’t scream “fire” in a crowded theater when there is none), so too your personal rights don’t give you the freedom to infect others because you don’t want to wear a mask or get a vaccine. If COVID has shown us anything, it is that despite our differences, we are connected, we are contagions for one another, we are linked to each other at the most basic, biological level. You can infect me and mine, and I can infect you and yours, and so we must protect each other from each other. We must mask and get a vaccine.

That is my plea.

Here is my confession.

There have been many times that I have despised you, wishing that you will reap the consequences of your selfish carelessness. I confess it is not right that I wish harm come to you or to those that you love. As Howard Thurman reminds me I must soften my heart, and care for your well-being, even as I disagree with your actions.

What I find more difficult are political leaders like Florida Governor Ron DeSantis who threatens to punish school districts that mandate their students wear masks, and whose policies have led to Florida having the highest COVID rate in the country. I find it hard to empathize with media personalities like Tucker Carlson who would have you question Dr. Anthony Fauci and the CDC when they have the expertise and the tools to give us the best information possible in this fast-changing situation. Fueling distrust may serve the ratings of Fox News, but it only contributes to more hesitation, more doubts, more deaths. I confess I have not been able to soften my heart against the likes of DeSantis or Carlson.

But I am trying and here is why. Like it or not, we need each other. We need to listen to each other, respect each other, and support each other. Just as I would not stand by if a friend or family member was going to make what I thought was a self-destructive decision, I can’t stand by as YOU allow yourself to (unnecessarily in my view) allow yourself, and those you love, to suffer.

This is my confession. This is my plea. This is my prayer.