What a time it has been since March, 2020 and the onset of masking, quarantines, vaccines, social distancing, Zoom-life and the incredible impact the pandemic has had on every aspect of our lives. We continue to work our way through the challenges of surges, variants, and our desire to return to many of our pre-pandemic activities and interactions.
Sadly, pandemic response has been as divisive as our current political interactions, resulting in disputes that have ended friendships, harmed family unity, and caused harsh disagreements regarding individual rights vs. social responsibility. How can we best respond when confronted with disagreement?
These situations create a need for courageous conversations, as they fully meet the criteria:
-Something important is at stake
-Emotions may run strong
-Courage is required to stay at the table and listen to a different perspective
Like most of the situations which are ripe for such a conversation, it is unlikely that the other person will be persuaded to adopt our point of view, just as it is unlikely that they will convince us to adopt theirs. But we can seek to understand each other. We can find mutual purpose. And we can find common ground . . . up to a point.
The difference between the pandemic circumstances and many of the other courageous topics, is that we may not be able to just “agree to disagree” and move on. The health risks presented by COVID-19 and variants mean that those who are unvaccinated, unmasked, or test positive do not risk their personal health alone, but that of anyone with whom they are in close proximity. Given this and the asymptomatic nature the virus often presents, we may need to maintain physical distance from those who are unvaccinated or not masked.
This is no different than smoking protocols. Adults can legally smoke tobacco and put themselves at heightened risk for a plethora of negative health impacts. But they cannot smoke where doing so would expose others to these same risks via secondhand smoke. It has long been an accepted standard that individual rights end where the exercise of those rights endangers others.
There are many reasons why individuals may be vaccine-hesitant or -opposed. Some may be unable to get vaccinated due to a health condition. Others may not trust the overwhelming data showing a clear correlation between increased vaccinations and lower COVID infections. Others may be swayed by information coming from alternate sources.
In any case, it is unlikely that one who is opposed can be swayed by data. An example of this type of reaction may be the fear of flying. It is well-established that, statistically, flying is by far the safest method of travel. Most who experience the fear know this. But those data do not provide sufficient comfort and reassurance to get them on a plane.
So what can we agree on if we are on opposite sides of the question of vaccinations or masks? First, we can agree that, at Atonement, we will abide by Boulder County Health Department guidelines. We can agree that no one wants to see anyone catch the virus. We can agree that no one wants to be responsible for spreading the virus to others. We can agree that many of us interact on a regular basis with children who cannot be vaccinated, and/or with people who are immuno-compromised for a wide variety of reasons. We can agree that “an abundance of caution” may be inconvenient, but does not endanger people, where a more casual response certainly can. We can agree that we are united in our desire to maintain community.
This desire is powerfully evidenced by the strong participation, continued giving, and outstanding support for our shared mission during the last 18 months. We want to worship and work together. We want to experience the fellowship that is such an important contributor to the quality of our lives. And we want to do so safely.
This last piece will likely require some different protocols as we return to in-person worship. Everyone is strongly encouraged to get vaccinated, if they are not medically hindered from doing so. Following Boulder County guidelines, everyone will be required to wear a mask indoors. If the mandate is lifted, unvaccinated individuals should continue to wear a mask to protect those around them. It is likely that a number of vaccinated people may opt to mask as an extra precaution—especially those who interact with at-risk individuals and children.
We can support each other, while respecting differences. But when it comes to protecting the health and safety of community, we must err on the side of caution and demonstrate caring concern for each other.
The Courageous Conversations Ministry Team
P.S. If you are in need of a courageous conversation with friends, family or co-workers, you are encouraged to view the examples on the Atonement YouTube site. Links below: