Evangelicals struggle to combat coronavirus misinformation, researcher says

MIAMI – Rev. Albert Ixchu is telling his parishioners that the COVID-19 vaccines are related to the Antichrist.

“COVID-19 could mean a certificate of identification,” Ixchu said during a recent service at the Iglesia Fraternidad de Fe, which he co-founded in deep south Miami-Dade County.

Religious leaders worldwide have been discussing the spiritual implications of the coronavirus pandemic, but most have agreed that saving lives through science is a priority — even when it was revealed that the vaccine had an indirect link to cells derived from aborted fetuses.

Rev. Ryan Burge wasn’t surprised about the misinformation in Miami-Dade. The assistant professor at Eastern Illinois University said research shows Evangelicals have a high propensity to engage in conspiratorial thinking.

“There has always been a deep skepticism of government and COVID has really made that worst,” Burge said.

According to the National Association of Evangelicals, they are more than twice as likely as the general public to say that science and religion are in conflict. But there is a movement fighting that.

Rev. Greg Laurie, a megachurch pastor from California, is among the many Evangelical leaders who disagree with the apocalyptical association. He tested positive for COVID-19 late last year and said the pandemic is a time to look for Christ; not for the antichrist.

Deborah Haarsma is the president of The Biologos Foundation, a Christian advocacy group aiming to raise awareness about “the harmony” between science and biblical faith. The foundation compiled a list of about 2,700 Christian leaders who support scientists doing crucial biomedical research on COVID-19.

“Over the summer we saw increasing amounts of conspiracy theories circulating and we wanted to show that there are members of the Christian community and many others who support the public health measures,” Haarsma told DW late last year.

The Biologos Foundation (The Biologos Foundation)

Ixchu’s controversial sermon first made headlines on The Miami Herald, as he allegedly began to impact the vaccination campaign in Homestead. During the controversial sermon, Ixchu also told parishioners the public health measures during the pandemic were a form of psychological conditioning.

“They’re conditioning you. Right? And what’s interesting is, in various places you go, and they take your temperature, where are they taking your temperature? On the forehead,” Ixchu said in Spanish referring to the Book of Revelations. “See how terrible?”

Ixchu’s apocalyptic narrative was not original. Rev. Jack Hibbs, the founder of a megachurch in California and a vocal supporter of former President Donald Trump, had a similar sermon in December.

“Don’t be tricked into thinking, ‘Oh my goodness the vaccine’s come in, and that’s the mark of the beast,’” Hibbs said during a sermon, according to Newsweek. “It’s not the mark of the beast. It’s conditioning you for it.”

Burge said the conspiracies were spreading online, as the pandemic was politicized during the presidential election. The wave of misinformation prompted Walter Kim, the president of the National Association of Evangelicals, to interview Dr. Francis Collins, of the National Institutes of Health.

“It has been a confusing time ... through knowledge God has given us to learn through science, about this particular COVID-19, and how can I do what needs to be done to keep other people safe and not be the next super spreader despite my good intentions of being a Christian reaching out to those who are in need,” Collins said. “This is tricky.”

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About the Authors:

Christina returned to Local 10 in 2019 as a reporter after covering Hurricane Dorian for the station. She is an Edward R. Murrow Award-winning journalist and previously earned an Emmy Award while at WPLG for her investigative consumer protection segment "Call Christina."

The Emmy Award-winning journalist joined the Local 10 News team in 2013. She wrote for the Miami Herald for more than 9 years and won a Green Eyeshade Award.