When a governor warns his constituents that the Covid vaccine is risky, it's hard to blame the people for acting dumb.
Christian County in Southwestern Missouri comprises just under 90,000 people. For perspective, here in Connecticut Litchfield County, expansive but sparsely populated, comprises twice as many.
Missouri is a "red state" and Christian County does not buck the trend. Most Republican candidates run unopposed; and when there is an actual contest, Democrats seldom achieve even 30% of the vote. In 1932 Roosevelt carried the state in the presidential election—no Democrat has done that since.
And in this reddest of red states, where citizens are dying from and spreading Covid at a frightening rate, this "warning" stands as the best that their governor Mike Parson can come up with: You’re gonna have to take responsibility, to take the vaccine, if you so choose to. But you know, I think it’s important to understand that there’s risk involved.
It's a real down-home folksy approach that probably plays well in Highlandville and Nixa, and over in Boaz and Keltner, but it stands in stark contrast to what other governors, even in red states, are telling their citizens: Gov. Jim Justice of West Virginia stated that unvaccinated people had entered “the death lottery,” but then maybe Justice is less concerned with a negative reaction from Fox News or Donald Trump, or maybe Parson can more readily accept the deaths of his constituents.
Right now in Christian County the daily average of reported cases is 36, about 41 per 100,000 people. Just across the border in Ottawa County, Oklahoma, it's 59 per 100,000. Both counties constitute some of the remaining hot zones in America. Predictably, Missouri leads the nation in the rate of statewide infection with 16 per 100,000, and most epidemiologists expect the numbers to rise rapidly through July.
There is no mystery here. In Massachusetts—near the top in vaccination rates—62% of its citizens have been vaccinated; in Missouri, 39. The rate of infection in Massachusetts is one per 100,000.
I chose Christian County not to toy with the concept of the Christian Right, but because it stood out in vivid red on the Covid map. And yet I can't help remembering Ralph Waldo Emerson's question in "Self-Reliance": “For every stoic was a stoic; but in Christendom where is the Christian?”
So where are the Christians in Christian County, the ones who love their neighbors enough to prevent their getting sick and dying? Where are the Christians who refuse to crowd maskless into houses of worship because they know that a benevolent God would never want them to? Why has the so-called Bible Belt been so willing to throw in with the quacks and losers even though Christianity itself evolves from the words of a great teacher?
To paraphrase Emerson, In Christian County, where is the Christian?
Unfortunately, we can't build a wall around Missouri, or Arkansas, or Oklahoma—that would ultimately be un-Christian also. Yet there is justifiable concern that the virus will gain a foothold in those states and work its way out to others. So when the fifth...and sixth...and the twentieth wave of Covid come through and the "death lottery" continues, we can blame the citizens of Christian, but let's reserve a special corner of hell for the irresolute and feckless leaders—like Mike Parson—who were more afraid to tell their constituents the truth than to let them get sick and die.