BY NATALIE COLAROSSI ON 3/25/21 AT 12:28 PM EDT
Evangelical leader Franklin Graham came under fire from Facebook users after he posted Wednesday that he believes Jesus Christ would have advocated for the coronavirus vaccines.
“I have been asked my opinion about the vaccine by the media and others. I have even been asked if Jesus were physically walking on earth now, would He be an advocate for vaccines. My answer was that based on the parable of the Good Samaritan in the Bible, I would have to say—yes, I think Jesus Christ would advocate for people using vaccines and medicines to treat suffering and save lives,” Graham wrote on Wednesday.
“So, my own personal opinion is that from what we know, a vaccine can help save lives and prevent suffering.” he added. “Since there are different vaccines available, my recommendation is that people do their research, talk to their doctor, and pray about it to determine which vaccine, if any, is right for them.”
Graham also said that, at age 68, he and his wife have both been vaccinated. “I want to get as many more miles out of these old bones as possible!” he added.
But Graham, who operates as president and CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and Samaritan’s Purse, faced instant backlash from social media users over his statement.
In just one day, the Facebook post received over 18,000 comments—many of which were angry, upset and confused by Graham’s stance.
“Wow!! This is so sad! You trust big phantoms and all their LOVE OF MONEY over how God made the immune system? I feel sickened by this,” wrote one Facebook user.
A number of users also shared unsubstantiated claims that the vaccines are harmful and disagreed with Graham’s statement that Jesus would have supported it. Others chastised the pastor for using his high-profile platform to encourage people to get inoculated.
One user wrote: “Jesus, you know the son of the CREATOR OF THE UNIVERSE would most certainly have NOT taken a man made vaccine…. You are a wolf in sheep’s clothing.”
“Wrong Franklin, the shot IS NOT a vaccine! You will know the truth and the truth and the truth will set you FREE, thus says the Word of God! We’re being LIED to by an EVIL government! Really Franklin?!?!?,” said another.
“You’re so lost and I’m disgusted with you because your words are going to kill many Americans and you will have to answer to God for telling people to not let their immune system keep them healthy the way God made us…..you disgust me!” wrote another user.
However, others applauded Graham for his post, with one user writing: “Thank you for posting this. So many Christians worried about getting vaccinated.”
The backlash against Graham comes amid reports that vaccine misinformation has spread rampantly among Christian communities on social media.
According to polls, white evangelicals have some of the highest levels of vaccine skepticism in the United States, and are more likely to believe in conspiracy theories than other faith groups.
In January, 44 percent of white evangelicals said they will probably or definitely not get vaccinated, compared with just under a third of other U.S. adults who said the same, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll.
The vaccine debate has sparked concern within religious communities, with some leaders—including Pope Francis and Southern Baptist Convention policy leader Russell Moore—advocating for the shot, while others have preached against it.
So far, more than 85 million Americans have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, while 46 million have been fully inoculated.
Earlier this month, President Joe Biden said that he directed states, tribes and territories to make all adults eligible for the shot by May 1. He added that his hope is to get the nation closer to “normal” by the Fourth of July, and advocated for all Americans to receive the shot.
“I need you to get vaccinated when it’s your turn,” he said on March 11. “And when you can find an opportunity, help your family, your friends, your neighbors get vaccinated as well.”
Newsweek contacted Graham for a comment through Samaritan’s Purse, but did not hear back in time for publication.