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Wheaton College Professor Faces Death Threats for Advocating for Vaccines

By Bob Smietana
Jamie Aten
Disaster psychologist Jamie Aten, right, listens to a survivor of Hurricane Harvey in Houston in September 2017. (Photo courtesy of Jamie Aten)

Jamie Aten has spent years trying to help his fellow evangelicals deal with disasters.

In the past, when he wrote about hurricanes, floods and tornadoes — or even his personal battle with cancer — Aten’s work has been well received.

When Aten, executive director of the Humanitarian Disaster Institute at Wheaton College, began to urge his fellow evangelicals to get vaccinated, however, things got ugly.

“How’s your Monday going?” he tweeted on April 27. “Mine started with having to file a police report in response to the increasing number of threats I’m getting for encouraging white evangelicals to get vaccinated against COVID-19.”

Aten, who teaches at the evangelical flagship Wheaton College, said he’d filed a report with the sheriff’s office in DuPage County, Illinois, where he lives, after getting an email claiming his work on vaccines was “punishable by death.” The email was part of a pattern of emails and calls from people angry about Aten’s work helping Christian groups and churches respond to the COVID-19 vaccine. The threats intensified after he spoke to The New York Times about the need for evangelicals to be vaccinated.

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One threat warned that encouraging white evangelicals to get vaccines would “eventually lead to the murdering of all mankind.”

“If I knew my stuff,” the email went on, “I would know not to encourage people to get vaccinated because that’s what’s going to take down humanity more,” Aten said.

White evangelicals are the religious group most hesitant to get COVID-19 vaccines, with just over half (54%) saying they are likely to get vaccinated, according to Pew Research. Faith leaders can play a key role in helping the United States reach “herd immunity,” a recent survey from the Public Religion Research Institute found. That’s especially true for white evangelicals, the survey found. And given the size of the evangelical population, getting them on board with vaccination is crucial.

“If we can’t get a significant number of white evangelicals to come around on this, the pandemic is going to last much longer than it needs to,” Aten told The New York Times.

Jamie Aten
Disaster psychologist and author Jamie Aten. (Photo courtesy of Jamie Aten)

Evangelical leaders who have been outspoken advocates of the vaccines haven’t always found a welcome audience. When well-known evangelical Franklin Graham, son of the late evangelist Billy Graham, posted on Facebook that Jesus would approve of the vaccine, a number of followers turned on him.

“I just lost all respect for you spreading such garbage as saying Jesus would have taken that vaccine, that is a devilish lie!” one wrote.

Aten fears that, like masks before them, vaccines have become another symbol of the culture wars. Which he finds ironic, given that the vaccines were developed during President Donald Trump’s administration.

“A year ago, masking was the new way to mark your tribalism — who you were, what you were for or against,” he said. “Now, the vaccine is becoming that for some people.”

Bob SmietanaBob Smietana is a national reporter for Religion News Service.



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159 Responses

  1. Lea,

    I will not be intimidated nor led astray by your rhetoric. Your sources are not a truthful and viable means of proving your bullet points and I too, will not let you use the misuse of Scriptures to mock, bully, or malign those of us who believe in medical freedom over our own bodies.

    Many of us are not impressed with the lying lips of a reviler.

    1. Karen,
      Please be specific.

      Which of my sources are not truthful and how do you know this?
      Which scriptures have I misused, and how have I misused them?

      How exactly do I display the “lying lips of a reviler”? Feel free to use quotations from my postings here to provide proof of your claims.

      Otherwise you are just making wild accusations.

    2. those of us who believe in medical freedom over our own bodies


      Don’t you mean, “those of us who believe in medical freedom over common sense”?

      1. I’m not trying to be provocative or imply anything, but the “freedom over our own bodies” caught my eye too. There’s a polar opposite group that’s been complaining about Christians imposing their beliefs on their freedom to choose what they do “with their own bodies”, as they see it. Again, I’m not implying anything, but an interesting common denominator.

        1. There seems to be too much emphasis from believers these days about personal freedom and civil liberties instead of talking about our freedom in Christ, and our freedom from sin and death. Believers in the NT church had very little in the way of personal freedom or civil liberties. And when personal freedom is discussed in Scripture, it is about setting it aside for the sake of other believers.

          To your point L Martin, you are right. Christians have long tried to impose their beliefs on others through legislation. In reality, we cannot impose our beliefs on anyone. What we can do is share the gospel and God’s word, and God the Holy Spirit will help people to believe.

  2. “Your sources are not a truthful and viable means of proving your bullet points.”

    That’s an assertion that remains unproven and it can also be made about your sources. Why should we trust your sources over Lea’s?

  3. To the point it’s not about forcing vaccines ! It’s just another tool by anti Christ globalists to enforce social control !!!

    It’s another big step to globalism and obeying the global dictators !

    Blind sheep especially pro vaccines evangelicals are simply blind shepherds and wolves in sheep’s clothing

    Coward privileged celebrity preachers like Graham who also endorse wolves are persuading Gods house to follow after worldly atheists like fauci, the liberals and of course the elite who pull the strings of these yes men that are falsely called God’s shepherds !

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