Bible verse triggers ‘vaccine denial’ by ultra-conservative Christian groups in the northeast

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They call it the ‘devil’s stroke’, insist that it will make women infertile and argue that the serial numbers on the vials are ‘satanic’.

Ultra-conservative Christian groups, citing the book of revelation — the last book of the New Testament – have waged a relentless campaign against Covid vaccines in some of the northeastern states.

The negative campaign has affected vaccination mainly in Christian-dominated Meghalaya, as well as in Nagaland and the hill districts of Manipur which are dominated by Christians.

Health department officials in Meghalaya and Nagaland say the problem is limited to adherents of “new age” or “revivalist” churches led by incendiary clerics.

Verse 13 of book of revelation (read this) says that the “beast” will leave its mark on the arms of every human and this will mark the beginning of the reign of the devil on earth. the Bible admonishes the faithful to resist this “mark of the beast”.

Ultra-conservative Christians in fairly dogmatic “revival” groups have interpreted the vaccine vaccine as the “mark of the beast.”

“To get vaccinated, you have to register and be assigned a number. the Bible predicts that the advent of the rule of the devil will be marked by giving humans numbers without which he cannot transact,” said a member of a Christian revivalist movement in Shillong who would only give his first name – John.

The verse these ultra-Orthodox Christians are quoting is:

And he causes all, small and great, rich and poor, free and slaves, to receive a mark on their right hand or on their forehead, and that no one can buy or sell, except he who has the mark or the name of the beast, or the number of its name —Revelation 13:16-17

These northeastern Christian revival groups have strong ties to conservative elements in the United States who have propagated conspiracy theories about the Covid-19 virus.

According to those ultra-conservative Protestant Christian groups that thrive in the southern and southeastern United States – the so-called “Bible belt’ – the whole Covid-19 induced pandemic is a hoax perpetrated on the ‘worshippers’ by non-believers.

They also believe that vaccines will render the “worshippers” infertile and cause terrible diseases among them. It’s part of the devil’s game plan to wipe the faithful off the face of the earth and rule over a world full of “heathens”, they believe.

Incidentally, these ultra-Orthodox groups also heavily fund evangelistic activities in other countries, including India. Many also train and sponsor “faith healers” who prey on the gullible with tricks and trick them into converting to Christianity.

These “faith healers” sponsored by ultra-Orthodox Christians in the United States Bible belt are known for their aggressive evangelism in many southern Indian states and the tribal states of Odisha, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh.

Obscurantism among adherents of “new age” revival movements in the North East has led to lagging immunization programs in Meghalaya, Nagaland and the hill districts of Manipur.

Of the estimated (2021) population of 38.65 lakh in Meghalaya, only around 75,000 – or 1.9% – have been fully vaccinated while around 10.68% of the population have received the first dose.

Just over 2.5% of Nagaland’s 20.83 lakh (2021 estimate) have been fully immunized while just over 13% of the population have taken the first dose.

In Manipur, 2.05% of the state’s 35.01 citizens were fully immunized and 11.78% of the state’s population took the first dose of the vaccine.

Most of those who have been fully vaccinated or have taken at least the first dose are residents of the Imphal Valley which is dominated by Hindus.

According to Manipur health department officials, a mere 1.1% of people in predominantly Christian hill districts surrounding the Imphal Valley have fully vaccinated, while around 7% have taken the first dose.

Meghalaya, Nagaland and Manipur’s vaccination figures are well below the national average.

Alarmed by the refusal of these ultra-Orthodox and hardline groups to be vaccinated, the three states have launched campaigns to dispel doubts and apprehensions.

Meghalaya has adopted a carrot and stick policy to get people to vaccination centers. The government issued orders on Thursday (June 17) saying only shop owners who have been vaccinated and their employees fully vaccinated will be allowed to do business.

In addition, only fully vaccinated taxi drivers will be allowed to drive their vehicles. A taxi driver will be randomly selected each day for a cash prize of Rs 10,000.

Meghalaya Health Minister AL Hek said swarajya that apart from these measures, the government has also taken the help of Christian clergy and influential non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to dispel the doubts in people’s minds and get them to take the hits.

The Nagaland and Manipur governments have also asked for help from church elders and priests, as well as influential NGOs and civil society organizations, to educate skeptics and allay their fears.

However, it is too early to tell if these measures are working.

“In the age of social media and smartphones, people are bombarded with misleading and deceptive conspiracy theories. Ultra-Orthodox fringe groups are spreading fear of Satan who they say bestows the ‘mark of the beast’ on worshippers,” said Jonathan Longkumer, a doctor in Nagaland’s capital Kohima.

Mizoram, a predominantly Christian state, tackled this problem early on. “We have taken a community-based approach to vaccination and have called on clergy as well as church elders, the union and influential student community and civil society organizations to dispel doubts and myths among the population,” a senior health department official said. at Mizoram.

Just over 27% of Mizoram residents have taken their first dose and 5% are fully immunized. “We are vaccinating very quickly and will exceed the national average very soon,” said Mizoram Health Minister Dr R Lalthangliana.

Mizoram’s numbers would have been much higher if vaccine availability in the state had been higher, according to health department officials.

Incidentally, Mizoram was a state where ultra-conservative Christian groups opposed the enumeration for the Aadhaar card more than a decade ago (read about that opposition here).

The refusal of many Christians in this state to be numbered and registered is born of the same biblical fear of the “mark of the beast”.

It took a lot of effort from the state government, the mainstream church in Mizoram (the Presbyterians, Baptists and Catholics) and civil society organizations to allay these illogical fears among a section of Mizos.

But this time, thanks to pandemic conspiracy theories propagated by far-right and ultra-Orthodox religious groups in the United StatesBible belt,” authorities in Meghalaya, Nagaland and Manipur are struggling to convince radicals that vaccines can save their lives and those of their fellow human beings.

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