United Methodist Professor of Mission and past UM & Global contributor Rev. Dr. Peter J. Bellini wrote an article for Firebrand magazine last spring entitled "Would Wesley Get a COVID-19 Vaccine?" With the delta variant driving a current surge in coronavirus cases, especially among the unvaccinated, Bellini's piece is well worth revisiting.
Bellini frames the question in terms of the relationship between science and theology. He writes, "I believe, in some quarters of the church, we are facing ... a suspicion of the discoveries of science." Bellini explains that an exclusive reliance on divine healing coupled with a distrust of science causes some to reject medical approaches to healing.
Yet Bellini argues that, while divine healing is a possibility, that does not preclude the use of medical healing as well. He asserts, "As the grace of God in creation causes the sun to shine on the just and unjust, so also does the grace-filled created order of God allow for healing in creation through the internal healing mechanisms of our body, medical advancement, and the gifts of care in the health professions. Healing can occur through supernatural, natural, and even artificial means, all under the providence of God."
To further bolster his argument, Bellini turns to John Wesley's approach to the issue of healing. Bellini notes, "Wesley considered both spiritual and natural factors that cause and treat health problems. Rarely did he take a single approach, but often integrated a variety of treatments that were available, including prayer, medicine, natural remedies, and other therapies."
Bellini adds, "The theological point is that Wesley did not find science and religion strictly incompatible. In fact, he believed their partnership could contribute to the overall well-being of the human person. To this end, Wesley meticulously attended to every dimension of health and wholeness found in the eighteenth century. Wesley believed the sick should first consult a physician. Methodist leaders, when visiting the sick, were trained to support and supplement the care that was already provided for by medical professionals."
These investigations into Wesley's attitudes towards science and scientific medicine lead Bellini to conclude, "Would Wesley get a COVID-19 vaccine if he were around today? I speculate that as Wesley trusted the advancements of science and the medical profession of his day, so would he today as well. I venture that he would receive the vaccine. More so, when I think of his innovative use of the electric machine, I think he might have been one of the first in line!"
If Wesley would have gotten a COVID-19 vaccine, then we, the followers of Wesley, should too!