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Monday, August 8, 2022

After being fired for endorsing vaccines, an evangelical insider assumes a leadership position

Daniel Darling was watching news headlines about the discovery of coronavirus vaccinations with bated breath a year ago, and he couldn’t have been more excited. His whole family had contracted Covid-19, and his children had lost their favourite piano instructor, a 50-year-old lady who had otherwise been in good condition, to the virus. The epidemic had a personal touch to it.

Mr. Darling eventually started to see vaccination as a personal matter as well. In August, he was fired from his position as spokesperson for the National Religious Broadcasters, a primarily conservative organisation with over 1,000 members who work in Christian media and who endorsed the shootings from an evangelical standpoint. It was not just evangelical groups that were affected by the news, but also the mainstream media, providing Mr. Darling an opportunity to participate in the divided news cycle that he had previously witnessed from the outside.

Mr. Darling recalls thinking to himself at the time, “God has placed me in the middle of the storm.” He was resolved not to retaliate with venomous words. “Will I be able to show forgiveness?” he inquired.

Mr. Darling now has a response, or at the very least the beginnings of an answer. His appointment as director of the Land Center for Cultural Engagement at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, which was announced on Monday, marks a significant advancement in his career. Despite the fact that it was created in 2007, the facility has been dormant since 2019. The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary hopes that, under Mr. Darling’s leadership, the centre will contribute to the shaping of evangelical conversations on a broad range of political and cultural issues, ranging from fundamental evangelical issues such as abortion and religious liberty to contemporary issues such as technology, race, and immigration.

Mr. Darling considers the manner in which he handles such talks to be almost as significant as the content of those discussions.

Mr. Darling was taken completely by surprise by the vaccination fiasco. In his conservative professional circles and the Baptist church in a Nashville suburb where he serves as an elder, the Covid vaccinations — which were produced during the administration of Donald J. Trump — were initially met with little opposition, at least in the short term.

Members of his lobbying organisation with high public visibility, such as the preacher Robert Jeffress and the evangelist Franklin Graham, had openly promoted the immunizations. Mr. Darling’s boss even sent an email to the organization’s supporters in the spring, praising the vaccines as “stunningly effective.” The email was part of a message assuring them that the group’s annual conference in Grapevine, Texas, would be “a safe and rewarding experience” for the thousands of people who would attend.

In many conservative circles at that time, however, the subject of vaccination had become increasingly contentious, particularly on talk radio, which was a pillar of his employer’s member base at the time.

He penned a post for USA Today on August 1 about his personal choice to obtain vaccines despite the fact that he recognised and even verified popular fear about the jabs. Mr. Darling is a contributor to the publication. His letter to the editor said, “There are not many things in the world today that are worthy of our confidence, but I genuinely feel that the Covid-19 vaccination is one of them.” “As a Christian and as a citizen of the United States, I was overjoyed to receive it.”

The column caused considerable consternation in the office. In a group conversation, one of my colleagues inquired as to why the spokeswoman for a charity organisation was supporting vaccination. Mr. Miller, the group’s top executive, reacted in what Mr. Darling took to be a nonchalant manner, saying that “from here on out, N.R.B. will maintain its impartial posture.”

Mr. Darling made an appearance on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on August 18 to talk about the essay. Toward the end of the month, he found himself without employment. Mr. Miller, a fellow elder at Mr. Darling’s church, has said that Mr. Darling was given another job but chose to resign in order to pursue another opportunity. He describes it as a dismissal and claims he would have been required to sign a statement confessing to deliberate insubordination if he had been offered a smaller job in return. Mr. Miller refused to answer any questions when reached by phone on Monday morning.

During the same time period, numerous secular companies throughout the country were implementing vaccine restrictions that would eventually lead to the fire of employees who refused to be vaccinated. Firings in response to pro-vaccine lobbying are becoming more infrequent. As a result of her efforts to encourage youths in Tennessee to get vaccinated, the state of Tennessee sacked its top vaccination officer in July, a move she has portrayed as a retaliation.

Jonathan James
I serve as a Senior Executive Journalist of The National Era
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