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Here’s What Got Evangelical Pastor Dan Darling Fired

(Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

Yesterday, Religion News Service (RNS) reported that Dan Darling, an Evangelical pastor and author, was fired from his job as senior vice president for communications for the National Religious Broadcasters (NRB) after supporting COVID vaccines. NRB is an international association of Evangelical media companies, and one of its stated purposes is protecting free-speech rights for Christian communicators. According to the RNS report, Darling was asked to sign a document saying the comments he made on Morning Joe about how his Christian beliefs motivated him to get vaccinated were insubordinate. The NRB has a policy of remaining neutral on vaccines. Darling refused to sign such a statement and was let go by the organization. Darling said in a statement after his firing that he was “sad and disappointed,” and said, “I’m grieved that the issues that divide our country are also dividing Christians.”

Below, I’ve transcribed Darling’s segment from the August 18 episode of Morning Joe promoting his op-ed in USA Today encouraging Christians to get vaccinated. You decide if there was anything he said that should have gotten a spokesman for a Christian organization fired.

JOE SCARBOROUGH: Dan, talk about your faith and the role it played in you making that decision [to get vaccinated].

DAN DARLING: Well, I think there’s two things to think about. I think, one, uh, one of them is the idea that we are to love our neighbors, and one of the things we do when we get a vaccine is we not only protect ourselves, but we also do our part in keeping our neighbor, our part from spreading the vaccine, er, spreading the virus and hurting our neighbors. Secondly, I also think, um, you know, the way to persuade people to get a vaccine is not going to come top-down, it’s not going to come from, uh, sort of elites, but it’s going to come from people closest to people, their doctors, their pharmacists, their pastors. As I said [in my op-ed in USA Today] there’s a great deficit of trust here in this country, much of it is earned, because our institutions have failed us in many ways, and yet this is one area where I do think we can be confident that the vaccine works. It has had rigorous protocols. It’s a uniquely American success story, with our companies coming together, uh, and we’ve had a bipartisan push on it. President Trump helped shepherd this vaccine through, and President Biden is helping us to get the vaccine out. So, I really encourage folks, I don’t shame anyone into getting it. I know it’s a very big decision to put a foreign substance into your body, it’s all new, but I do encourage folks to talk to their doctor and really consider it, because we just don’t want to see anyone else unnecessarily die of this, uh, lethal virus.

SCARBOROUGH: So Dan, I’ve asked this question before of other Evangelicals who have come on this show, and what I don’t understand about many of my friends and family members, are the, the conspiracy theories that they seem to be more prone to on Facebook, um, uh, you know, as I say, we, we as Evangelicals believe we have the greatest story ever told as the foundation of our lives. We really don’t need some Christian, uh, some, some Chinese religious cult sending conspiracy theories across the world to influence us. We don’t need conspiracy theories on Facebook, uh, to wrap our arms around. Why is it that many of our fellow brothers and sisters are not listening to their pastors, not listening to their doctors, not following the words of Jesus, doing to others as you would have them do unto you, uh, and instead, I mean not listening to their family members, and instead clinging to lies that are spread on Facebook? What explains this? It’s deeply disturbing to me. What explains that for people of evangelical faith especially?

DARLING: Well, I do think actually there’s some good news. Vaccine hesitancy among Evangelicals has dropped significantly, and actually if you follow the work of someone like Ryan Burge of Eastern Illinois University, a sociologist, actually evangelicals are not the most hesitant cohort. There’s hesitancy among young, uh, people who have no faith. There’s some hesitancy among African-American populations. But secondly, I do think the reason why there’s vaccine hesitancy and there’s a tendency to believe conspiracy theories is twofold. I think first of all, as I said, there’s a deficit of trust in our institutions, and when trust goes down, belief in conspiracies goes up. Number two, I think many of us are more, um, discipled and catechized by our political pundits and people we prefer on the left and the right than we are by Scripture, and I think we need to return to really being discipling, to really being discipled by our faith. And so I, I, there is good news, though, anecdotally in my world, a lot of folks who have been very hesitant are getting the vaccine, and I’m hearing from pastors around the country that that’s the case as well.

SCARBOROUGH: So Dan, what’s caused, so that’s great news that there has been an improvement, can you tell me what’s caused that improvement among evangelicals?

DARLING: Well, I think number one, they’ve seen other people get the vaccine, you know. There’s a lot of folk who were just kind of waiting for it. I think number two, I think they’ve seen people in their circles get it, uh, they’ve had conversations with friends. Number three, I think they’re beginning to reckon with how lethal this virus is, and, uh, everyone I talk to almost every week has someone in their circle that has, uh, suffered terribly from COVID, they’ve lost people from COVID. I’ve heard last week of another pastor in his 40s who died of COVID, left a wife and children behind. And so I think the seriousness of it has really been breaking through and people are really starting to take seriously and go get the COVID-19 vaccine.

WILLIE GEIST: Dan, I think you said something important a minute ago when you said you don’t want to shame people, you don’t want to condescend people. Calling someone an idiot has never persuaded anyone, ever. We had a doctor on from the Newark hospital, the Newark, New Jersey hospital system, Dr. Shereef Elnahal, who walked us through a few weeks ago about how he had many of his employees, including nurses, who were reluctant, and he just took them out to lunch, and sat with them, and walked them through in a respectful, friendly conversation about why he believes the vaccine was safe, and why they ought to get it, and he said eventually they, most of them, if not all of them, came around. So can you describe a little bit the conversations that you’ve had or might still have with people who trust you, people you know, people you go to church with, about this vaccine?

DARLING: You know, Willie, that’s exactly right. I think shaming, from whether it’s from celebrities or media members or politicians, really is counterproductive, and I actually think we have to walk through people and understand why they’re skeptical, and I think starting with people’s real fears and concerns and understanding them, and saying, “I get why you’re skeptical, I get why you don’t trust, uh, some of the public health officials who have kind of been inconsistent, I get why you don’t trust, uh, some of our institutions. But let me walk you through how this vaccine was made. Let me walk you through, uh, some of the protocols that have taken place to ensure that it was rigorous and ensure that it’s safe.” And you know, if I’m talking to conservatives, I say, “Listen, President Trump is the one who really championed this, who put government investment behind it, who got the vaccine himself.” And so, however you feel about President Trump, about former President Trump, he’s not someone who’s really given to conventional wisdom, that’s just going to go along with things. So if he thinks it’s safe, uh, then I think if you’re someone, if you’re a conservative who voted for him, then, uh, obviously you’re safe to consider it as well.

SCARBOROUGH: Dan, finally, uh, just, uh, just one final thing. I’ve seen some thing unfortunately out there, uh, on Twitter, sort of schadenfreude against those who’ve gotten really sick, uh, from COVID, uh, who weren’t vaccinated. Can you, just for people of faith, uh, can you just talk about the importance of praying for those who were unvaccinated, praying for their health, praying hopefully for their wisdom moving forward, praying that they will do what they need to do to protect themselves and protect their children, but mainly looking at them as people who need our prayers, who need our assistance, who need our love, and, and, hopefully our guidance?

DARLING: That’s exactly right, Joe. I’ve seen a lot of people just sort of dunking online on someone who gets COVID who maybe didn’t get the vaccine or was skeptical, and listen, we, when someone gets sick, when someone is in bad shape, when someone is in the hospital and they’re dying, this is a moment to remember their humanity and remember they are people made in the image of God. People are not the sum total of their politics or their opinions. They’re whole people, and Republican, Democrat, or Independent, we don’t want to see anybody suffer from COVID-19. We want them to recover, and, uh, we need to stop politicizing this. This is a very real virus, a very real tragedy that people are dying from around the world, and, um, we don’t withhold care, and we don’t withhold concern for someone’s health based on some choices they’ve made. We’ve never done that. We don’t do that for smokers who get cancer, we want to see them treated. We don’t do that for any other kind of malady people have, and so I think that the impulse to kind of prove a point in the moment when someone suffers as a- that’s on the opposite side of the aisle as us, is really not a good instinct. It’s not a Christian instinct, and it’s something that should cause us to step back and say, “OK, hold on a second, I’ve really gotten too deep in my politics here.”

SCARBOROUGH: And speaking of that, final question, I just, and this is a much bigger question than anything related to COVID or the last presidential election or the next presidential election, but I’m sure you, like me, uh, you’ve seen, in your evangelical church, and I’ve seen in, in evangelical churches, um, this elevation of politics, above the faith. I mean, you know, Jesus when He was asked about paying taxes, was dismissive almost, saying, “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s and render unto God that which is God’s,” and was really pretty dismissive about government, uh, throughout His life, and I’m just curious, do you see any hope that evangelicals and other people of faith will one day move back more towards actually following the Word of God and focusing on the Word of God, than what’s on Facebook or cable news shows or the latest sort of shock-and-awe website that they visit day in and day out? Because it seems to eclipse so much, uh, that actually, the gospels talk about.

DARLING: Well, I do think all of us are tempted to let our politics shape our faith instead of letting our faith shape our politics, um, whether you’re on the left or the right, and I see this from Christians on the left and the right. However, I must say that, uh, most of the evangelicals I’m with, and most evangelicals around the country in churches, really are not actually that clued into politics, and they’re not paying attention as much. You have a few extreme voices on all sides that kind of take up the oxygen in the room, but most evangelicals today are really just busy trying to live out their faith. They’re trying to help their neighbors, they’re, they’re sponsoring children overseas, they’re concerned about their communities, they’re trying to raise their families, uh, in a culture that they feel is increasingly pressed against them, and, uh, they’re not really that obsessed with anything. In fact, if you went to the average evangelical worship service around this country, you would not see hardly any displays of politics, or any of that. There are a few loud, extreme voices that take up the headlines that people talk about, but by and large, evangelicals are just people trying to live out their faith, trying to live in their communities, and trying to raise their families just like everyone else.

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