Against Being The Vaccine Guy

An man obsessed with...something
Crazed and obsessed? This has been me for the last few months. 

God has a higher calling for the Anti-Vaxx Guy, the Alternative Medicine Guy, the Conspiracy Guy, the Flat Earth Guy, the Angry At The World Guy, the Election Was Stolen Guy, the Biden is Literally Hitler Guy.

And God has a higher calling for me, The Vaccine Guy.

I want to be the guy known for loving and serving God and His people. Vaccines are great and all, but I’ve been unbalanced in this over the last few months.

I’m in danger of becoming The Vaccine Guy.

In this post, I’m going to show you how I got here, how it’s become an imbalanced issue in my life, and what I aim to do to fix that.

What I’ve been wasting my time on during the pandemic

A year ago as we entered this global pandemic, I knew there would major disputes among believers about COVID and vaccines, especially in the Hebrew Roots submovement.

Last July, in the midst of the COVID pandemic, I saw my Facebook friends starting to say Really Dumb Things™. One friend said, “The COVID vaccine is POISON!! DO NOT GET THIS SHOT!”

It was dumb because at the time, there was no COVID vaccine; they didn’t show up until 6 months later in December.

I asked my friend, “What COVID vaccine? There is no vaccine available for COVID right now. And there are multiple in development. Which one are you referring to?”

“All of them!” she replied.

I posted an ingredients list and asked which ingredient was poison.

“All of it! All of it is poison!”

I had posted the ingredients of an apple.

I knew, right then, that we were in for a rough ride.

People had opinions – strong opinions! – on things that didn’t even exist yet. They had already made up their minds in irrational exuberance. Their confidence made up for their lack of expertise.

Sidebar: In the age of the internet, it’s easy to be confident and wrong. Watch a YouTube video from Ovadiah Ben Clem about how the COVID vaxx will transmorgrify your DNA, and suddenly you have strong opinions about something that you have no expertise in. Your thinking isn’t shaped by expertise or data. It’s shaped by opinions from non-experts.

I knew there would be a tsunami of misinformation soon thrashing the shores of our social media pages and our oneg tables, especially among the Messianic movement and Hebrew Roots submovement, which tend to be anti-vaxx and steeped in scientific skepticism.

And I figured this time around would be worse than past anti-vaxx fears, because we were in the midst of a global, once-in-a-century worldwide plague. It would really divide people.

Anti-vaxx activists making sensational claims about the Polio vaccine, circa 1954
Historic anti-vaxx propaganda: An anti-vaxx flyer from 1955 demonizes the Polio vaccine as an experimental, murderous drug, a work of the Devil, a tool of the anti-Christ, with horrific side-effects. The vaccine was so effective, it ended the pandemic within two years. And by 1979, the vaccine had completely eradicated Polio from the US.

By December, against all odds and thanks to President Trump’s government fast-track program, the first COVID vaccines became publicly available in record time.

But how would we know if they worked?

This is where a lot of people turn to Ovadiah Ben Clem on YouTube, Outraged Political Guy on Big News Network, All-Natural-Bro dot com, and other non-expert sources.

Forget opinions, what does the data say?

But I focused on the data.

Specifically, if the COVID vaccine works, we should see a decrease in new cases, hospitalizations, and deaths. And we should see this in multiple nations, wherever the vaccine is rolled out.

If the vaccine doesn’t achieve those results, well, we need to acknowledge that and find a different treatment.

So I did an experiment: I said, “If the vaccines work, we should see X and Y results 30 days from now.” Here’s what I predicted back in January, right as the vaccines were rolling out:

Me making predictions about vaccine efficacy back in January

In the comments, I added my prediction:

My prediction that the vaccine will cause a drop 15-20% drop in COVID infections

I figured, if the COVID vaccine works, we should see a significant drop in COVID infections and deaths within 30 days. I predicted a 15% to 20% drop.

A month later, my prediction was not only accurate, it wasn’t optimistic enough. COVID infections and deaths declined even more than I predicted:

Results of my prediction

The results were better than I predicted: Israel saw a 33% decrease in COVID infections, and a 40% decrease in COVID deaths.

I did this same experiment each month for the next 4 months: predicting what Israel’s COVID infection rate would be a month later given their current vaccination rate. All predictions came true, and all of them were not optimistic enough; the vaccine was more effective at stopping COVID than we had even hoped.

By April, Israel reported zero COVID deaths for the first time since the pandemic began. Shortly after, Israel lifted its mask restrictions, rolled back its vaccine passport, and removed most of its COVID restrictions.

For all intents and purposes in Israel, things are returning to normal; the pandemic is ending.

Graph showing the correlation between COVID vaccination rate and decreasing number of new COVID infections

Correlation isn’t causation, though, so maybe all this data is a fluke, explained in other ways. Maybe Israel was fudging the numbers? Or maybe COVID naturally declined? Maybe COVID ran through the population and natural immunity kicked in?

But wherever a COVID vaccine was widely deployed, new infections, hospitalizations, and deaths dropped sharply and significantly. While Israel was a great test case, as they were the first and fastest nation to rollout a COVID vaccine to a majority of its citizens, it was not the only example.

This same pattern – vaccine introduced, infections disappear – was repeated in other nations with high vaccination rates, including the UK and US. As more people received the vaccine, cases and deaths declined.

Meanwhile, nations like India and Brazil suffered new waves of terrible COVID outbreaks, killing thousands per day.

Why?

Their vaccination rates were among the lowest in the world:

Graph showing COVID vaccination rates across nations

If this weren’t enough, more data rolled in from large studies showing the COVID vaccine to be highly effective at preventing COVID infections and deaths. Israel did numerous studies, but my favorite is this one by Maccabi Healthcare. They studied 523,000 vaccinated Israelis and and 628,000 unvaccinated Israelis. Same demographics, same ages, same ethnic backgrounds. Apples-to-apples comparison.

The result?

In the vaccinated group, 544 got sick with COVID.

In the unvaccinated group, 18,425 got sick with COVID.

These results were so stunning it prompted the head of Maccabi’s health division to say,

“The data unequivocally prove that the vaccine is very effective and we have no doubt that it has saved the lives of many Israelis.”

Dr. Miri Mizrahi Reuveni

In light of all this evidence, I’ve adopted the same view: the data shows beyond a doubt Pfizer’s COVID vaccine is highly effective at stopping COVID infections and deaths.

Social Media Warrior

I raised these data points on social media, showing that the vaccine appears to be very effective and will likely end the pandemic.

Anti-vaxx folks would flock in and try to explain away that data.

And soon, my Facebook page became a battleground.

I’d go back and forth with these folks; I have written over 1000 replies in the last 6 months to their comments, posts, and DMs.

In these replies, I’ve refuted vaccine conspiracy theories about Bill Gates, 5G chips, overpopulation and horrific vaccine side-effects. I’ve rebutted accusations that the vaccine makes you sterile, turns you gay, changes your DNA, or is gene therapy. I’ve responded to people who told me I will die because I chose to vaccinate myself. I’ve responded to people who told me, “You are no longer following Hashem. You have turned to Molech.” I’ve responded to people saying that I’m no longer trusting God by getting immunized. I’ve responded to people who told me I should find a burial plot so I don’t burden my wife and kids with my inevitable demise from the vaccine. I’ve responded to people saying I will get deathly sick in the next 6 months. I’ve responded to people who told me that I will be controlled by 5G radio waves. I’ve responded to people who told me that I will make others sick by shedding my vaccine-induced spike proteins.

I've engaged with people who point to fringe doctors who are against the COVID vaccine. Almost invariably, such people are ousted from medical profession or hold wild views of their own. For example, anti-vaxx hero Dr. Tenpenny: an osteopath who has never treated COVID patients...also rejects germ theory. Or consider anti-vaxx crusader Dr. Avni: he is no longer a medical doctor -- his license was revoked -- not only for his opposition to vaccination but also because he has advised cancer patients to avoid seeking modern medical treatment for cancer. To be clear, the overwhelming majority -- I would estimate over 99% -- of medical doctors support the COVID vaccine. Among those doctors who actually treat COVID patients, the number is even higher. Yes, there are a tiny minority who do not: they are often defrocked quacks who hold wild, fringe views in addition to their opposition to vaccines.

I've engaged folks who point to vaccine injuries in the VAERS database, calling attention to the number of reported serious side-effects. I've responded: VAERS shows about 48,000 adverse, serious events. That sounds horrible, until you consider that 160 million Americans have been immunized. That means, according to VAERS, you have a better chance of getting struck by lightning than you do getting a serious side-effect from the vaccine. And the numbers get better from there: an estimated 75% of VAERS reports turn out unrelated to the vaccine (e.g. an immunized man gets into an car accident 2 weeks later - this report goes into VAERS.) All in all, the COVID vaccine has, thus far, proven to be a safe medicine.

In short, I've engaged with nearly every argument against the COVID vaccine.

Some folks from my old congregation, too, would engage me and push their anti-vaxx views – some via snail mail, others by Facebook, others in person – usually coupled with conspiracy theories about Bill Gates, microchips, and other technology they didn’t understand.

My family also got sucked into anti-vaxx stuff. I had a few disputes with family members, sometimes public, over vaccines and related news about vaccine side-effects. I didn’t like doing that. At the same time, I felt compelled to speak up for my convictions.

People I admired and respected, Messianic musicians and congregational leaders and leaders in the Messianic Jewish movement, posted anti-vaxx conspiracy theories that often tied in our faith:

  • “The vaccine is the Mark of the Beast!”
  • “The vaccine is a new Holocaust!”
  • “Bill Gates is trying to depopulate the world through vaccines!”

I’ve engaged those folks, too, trying to offer a different perspective with grace, sometimes calling attention to their sensationalism and how it hurts our witness about God and Messiah.

One Messianic Jewish ministry, a husband and wife that tour the United States, had come on my Facebook page and told me, “The COVID vaccine is much like Nazi Dr. Mengele’s experiments on Holocaust prisoners.”

I responded by saying, “This is what I mean when I say that Hebrew Roots has a misinformation problem. Sensationalism like this hurts our credibility as Yeshua’s disciples.”

This woman then responded by posting on her social media a big “OH MY GOD I’M BEING PERSECUTED BY JUDAH GABRIEL HIMANGO” thread:


This woman claimed I was shaming her. That I slammed her. That I said she was a bad believer. That she was ungodly.

None of those things were true. I shame bad ideas, not people. It’s why I didn’t even use her name in my post. I even blurred out her name on the original post when highlighting the sensational claim.

Even so, after seeing this woman take offense to my calling out her idea as sensational, I offered to delete my post for peace in Yeshua’s name.

She and her husband never responded to that offer.

I deleted my post anyways.

But there it was, and still stands today, a post that demonized me as bully figure, attacking people directly with shaming tactics. 214 likes, 124 comments, 17 shares.

And not just fringe people here - mainstream Messianic ministries and individuals, including Messianic Jewish ones accepted in the mainstream Messianic movement, were there in the comments, agreeing that I’m just a horrible person who shames people. 

Her post certainly brought a lot of sympathy for suffering this supposed persecution. Many commenters misread her post and assumed she was being attacked because she was Jewish. To this day, I still don’t understand why she opened her post with her Jewish heritage; my post didn’t mention her, her name, or her background. I have Jewish heritage too – my post called out ideas, not heritage.

Seeing a few hundred people piling on you, saying how terrible you are for attacking and shaming a person is a delightful experience. 😅 Internet mobs are vicious, especially when motivated with political or religious zeal. And witnessing hundreds of people agree with the sensational idea, “The vaxx is really a new Holocaust!” was a jarring moment.

I began to think, “Is everybody crazy? Am I crazy? Do I even belong in this movement?”

I responded to her post in grace. I told her and the hundreds of commenters,

“If you really believe the COVID vaccine is a new Holocaust and an experiment like the kind Dr. Mengele ran, let’s revisit this thread in one year. If millions of Israelis have died, I will acknowledge I was in grave error and apologize. But if millions of Israelis have not died from the vaccine, I ask you do the same.”

(How many of those hundreds of commenters will repent when it turns out the millions of Israelis haven’t died from the COVID vaccine, but rather, millions of lives have been saved? How many will have the humility to acknowledge their error?)

Becoming known for a minor issue

But all this came at a cost, in my estimation.

Last month I attended a wedding for a young man from my old congregation. At the wedding, I was seated at a table with some folks from my old congregation – all of them anti-vaxx. After polite niceties and small talk, much of the discussion that night was about vaccines. I didn’t want it to be. Weddings aren’t the place for that.

One of the folks at the table asked why I am so obsessed with vaccines. In my mind, I’m not obsessed; just trying to stand up for my convictions. But then again, that’s what all crazy people say. 😉

The week of the wedding I also visited with my parents and the discussion turned to vaccines. “I heard someone say the vaccine makes you magnetic; a magnet will stick to your arm where you got the shot.” (Spoiler: I tried it. I'm not magnetic.)

And then, last month at Proclaim Hebraic Music Fest, I met some amazing people…who were stunned to discover that I was pro-vaccine.

In all these cases, I didn’t even want to discuss vaccines. But the discussion came anyways, probably because I’ve made it too high a priority in my life, given it too much free rental space in my head.

About a month before all this, I had felt the pressing of the Lord to back off from my course of action. Fighting with believers over that in public resulted in a unhealthy imbalance in my own life, regardless of whether I was right.

I had long advised friends and congregants to back off from unhealthy obsessions – conspiracy theories, pet doctrines, flat earth – and instead be known for doing good works for the Lord.

Now I felt the Lord telling me the same.

And soon, friends started cautioning me against my current course of action. A pro-vaccine family member asked me privately, “Why are you doing this? What’s the point? Is anyone really going to change their mind?”

My parents had called me to tell me that I was being too harsh and rigid, unwilling to just have a discussion about anti-vaxx concerns.

Another friend told me, “I admire what you’re doing trying to change hearts and minds. But you’re putting yourself into the fire. Maybe taking a break would be good for your mental health?”

It’s OK to go against the grain and stand up for your beliefs. More than OK. It takes courage to do that when everyone else is going in the opposite direction.

“You have enemies? Good. That means you stood up for something, sometime in your life.”

Winston Churchill

But I recognize that God doesn’t want me to be The Vaccine Guy. It’s good to be pro-vaccine, because lives are saved. But I have prioritized it too highly. There are more important things, and a higher divine calling, than advocating for vaccines.

This is true for anti-vaxx folks, too. God has a higher calling for the Anti-Vaxx Guy, the Alternative Medicine guy, the Conspiracy Guy, The Flat Earth Guy, the Angry At The World Guy, The Election Was Stolen Guy.

Does this mean we can’t talk about our convictions? That I must hold my tongue while the anti-vaxxers plaster their hot garbage all over the walls of the internet?

No.

But it does mean that if I become known for those things, something’s out of balance. God’s people should be known for caring for the sick, for the poor, visiting the imprisoned, feeding the hungry. To serve God’s people in tangible ways. Caring for my family. Serving my local community.

I want to be that Guy because that’s how God wants us to live, as described in the Bible.

Changes

I haven’t quite figured out the right balance here. The data has convinced me more than ever that vaccines are a great blessing from God and are saving millions of lives right now. Since lives are at stake, it’s an important issue.

But I can’t let vaccines become the Big Issue in my life. That’s too small a thing for a disciple of Yeshua. It’s an imbalance. It can’t be the primary cause in my life, even in the midst of this pandemic.

How can I bring some balance to my pro-vaccine views as a disciple of Yeshua?

For starters, I’ve spent the last month not posting about vaccines on my Facebook page. Really, an exercise in self-control. Am I able to do that? Or has it gotten so bad I’m unable to keep my mouth shut for a moment?

(Anti-vaxx folks have still been posting on my wall and sending me DMs, and I have sometimes responded to those, for better or worse. 🤷‍♀️)

I’m also avoiding jumping in on vaccine threads started by other folks. There have been numerous times where I started typing a reply, only to delete it all and let it be.

There will be times when I post about vaccines. Silencing dissent isn’t the answer. But deprioritizing the vaccine issue in my life is a good start. I can have those convictions without being known as The Vaccine Guy. I can avoid majoring on a minor issue.

I aim in the future to keep these posts balanced with regards to my life’s calling as a disciple of Yeshua, that I don’t become known for such a small thing as my stance on vaccines. If I want to be used by God for bigger things, I can't make my life about a single issue.

Maybe that's true for you, too, fine Kineti reader.

Receiving Medical Treatment is Not Distrusting God

“Pray for guidance, but steer clear of the rocks.”

Today, I received my final immunization against COVID-19.

When I posted about it on social media, some believers in Yeshua had harsh words for me:

A person saying I am not trusting God by receiving medical treatment

Because I chose vaccination, this same person felt the need to pray for my soul:

How bad is the vaccine? Bad enough that we should pray for every soul who gets vaccinated!

Others told me,

“You got the vaccine? You’re as good as dead.”

Another told me,

“You chose slavery. You’ll soon find out that you belong to THEM!”

Another told me,

“Hashem is no longer your G-d.”

Still some people from my old congregation told me,

“You are taking the mark of the beast!”

Yikes. A lot of fear and doubt being spread by disciples of Yeshua. Are they right?

The problem with this thinking is it’s terribly short-sighted and quickly leads to absurd arguments:

  • Do you wear glasses or contacts? Why not just go with the vision God gave you? Why trust glass instead of God?
  • Do you take Advil or any other medication? Why not just trust God and your own God-given immune system?
  • Do you wear a seatbelt? Why are you trusting a piece of fabric instead of God?!
  • Have you visited a hospital? Why trust doctors and not God?
  • Have you ever had surgery? Why not trust the body God gave you?
  • Do you use a refrigerator to preserve food? You’re not trusting God to provide for you each day.
  • Do you have a home? Why not rely on God to give you provision?
  • Do you have a car? Why not use the feet God gave you?
  • Do you have a job? Why not rely on God to provide for your needs?
  • Do you wear clothes? Why trust Big Cotton over the Lord?

Do you see the problem here?

Any technological or medical innovation to make life better can be thrown out because we “should just trust God.”

We might as well become Amish or Haredi, where all technological innovation beyond the 17th century is evil. Why not go back further, all the way back to caveman days! Then we’ll really be trusting in God! 🙄

This is rigid, fundamentalist thinking endemic to the modern Messianic movement.

Why is it wrong?

God gave us dominion over the earth, commanding us to subdue nature. Subduing viruses and bacteria to prevent suffering and death is a divine command from God.

Yeshua the Messiah commanded us to care for the sick. Reducing suffering by preventing and treating disease is a divine command from God.

God didn’t tell us to do nothing and just sit back and let nature take its course.

God commands us to take action, to work, to provide for ourselves and our families, to clothe ourselves, to subdue nature, to care for the sick, advance God’s reign, to preach the good news, to be an active participant in this world for good.

Sitting around and doing nothing is not trusting God. It is forfeiting our divine responsibility to be caretakers of this world until the Master returns. We are to be the servant who invested the Master's coins, not the lazy servant who buried the coins in the ground. 

Yes, we trust God, but yes, we take action. Prayer and action. Faith and works. Pray for guidance, but steer clear of the rocks.

The Baby Boomers' Messianic Movement

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The modern Messianic movement is a first-generation movement: birthed in the 1960s and '70s. But that first generation of pioneers are ageing, however, and a new generation – our generation of Millennials – must rise up to take up the mantle.

As the Millennial generation takes the torch, we recognize challenges in Messianic movement the Boomers have left to us: fundamentalism, rigidity, majoring on minors, a lack of critical thinking, failing to deal with issues relevant to today’s generation, an inability to plan for the future.

In a new episode of the Messianic Walk, Messianic apologist J.K. McKee and I discuss these challenges and propose reasonable paths forward to help modern Messianics navigate these difficulties: