“Love thy neighbor” is a bedrock tenet of the Judeo-Christian tradition. Leviticus 19:18 portrays God directly telling Moses, “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Building on this theme, when Jesus was asked which of the commandments was greatest, he replied that the first and greatest commandment was an unquestioning love of God and “the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” (Matthew 22:36-39).
Both the Jews and early Christians were periodically subjected to persecution which helped both groups to develop a strong sense of community. Neighbors deserving of love were not just the people next door but the wider community. The concept of love-thy-neighbor was to treat others of the community with love and respect to advance the well-being of everyone.
Modern religions that are prevalent in Idaho and elsewhere across the country strongly embrace this commandment. When the community is under threat, its members pull together to protect themselves and others as an act of love.
What do adherents to the love-thy-neighbor concept do when a rampaging virus is infecting the wider community and filling hospital beds and mortuaries past capacity with unvaccinated friends and neighbors? If there is an easy way to stop the disease, like getting a safe and 95% effective vaccination, the answer is obvious. But, don’t take it from me. What do our distinguished religious leaders say and do?
On the 18th of August, Pope Francis made his thoughts known on how to stop the coronavirus pandemic, calling for the world to get vaccinated. He said, “Thanks to God and to the work of many, we now have vaccines to protect us from Covid-19. The vaccines grant us the hope of ending the pandemic, but only if they are available to all and if we work together.”
The Pope based his support for universal vaccination on the love-thy-neighbor commandment. He proclaimed, “Being vaccinated is an act of love. To ensure the majority of people are vaccinated is an act of love.” He continued, “Vaccination is a simple but profound way of promoting the common good and caring for each other…I pray to God that everyone may contribute their own small grain of sand, their own small gesture of love.”
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints also adheres to the love-thy-neighbor commandment. In his remarks to the 2014 general conference, then-President Thomas S. Monson said, “We cannot truly love God if we do not love our fellow travelers on this mortal journey.” It was no surprise, then, that on August 12, 2021, the Church’s First Presidency urged their global membership to get vaccinated and wear masks in public for the protection of everyone. They said, “we urge individuals to be vaccinated. Available vaccines have proven to be both safe and effective.” They based their message on their “sincere love and great concern for all of God’s children.”
A January Survey by the National Association of Evangelicals disclosed that 95% of evangelical leaders planned to get vaccinated and that 89% intended to encourage others to do likewise. They stated, “a careful look at the science behind the vaccines is convincing and the Christian ethic to love is compelling.”
The Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board recently announced a vaccine mandate for all of its missionaries and their children ages sixteen and above. Certainly, a matter of love.
While our being part of a society calls upon us to protect other members of the society from serious health threats like the coronavirus, regardless of our faith or lack thereof, the religious tenets of our major faiths require us to take protective steps to comply with the command to love our neighbors. Protecting others from Covid-19 infection, hospitalization or death by getting a simple vaccination is a basic responsibility of citizenship and the Judeo-Christian tradition.