Religious and faith leaders are in an ideal position to assist healthcare providers in educating communities about health promotion and wellness and illness, disease, and injury prevention. Globally, communities of faith are some of the most organized institutions with the most expansive reach (Healthy Communication Capacity Collaborative, 2022). There are billions of people that subscribe to a religion, allowing religious leaders to influence health behaviors across all races, classes, and nationalities. Religious and faith leaders are frequently the most trusted members of a community, with the ability to influence both community and political leaders. Through this trust and influence, these leaders are able to help shape health attitudes and behaviors. According to the World Health Organization (2020), religious leaders also support the health of their parishioners by providing support, comfort, and guidance. They also have the ability to assist parishioners in accessing healthcare and social services. The reach of the religious institutions is not limited to those that practice within their walls (World Health Organization, 2020). They are in a position to provide community outreach during health emergencies and advocate for the health needs of vulnerable populations within their communities.
An example of church leaders providing education and health promotion is in the management of coronavirus disease (COVID) in the United States. COVID vaccine acceptance rates ranged from 12 percent to 91 percent, depending on the region of the country (Moore et al., 2022). Black Americans disproportionately reported vaccine hesitancy. The rampant misinformation about the COVID vaccine and an underlying mistrust of medical providers contributed to the heightened vaccine hesitancy in this population (Moore et al., 2022). In an effort to combat misconceptions and build trust, black religious leaders have paired with health professionals to dispel disinformation and increase trust in the vaccine. In South Carolina, where approximately 40 percent of the population remains unvaccinated, religious leaders took action across the state (Moore et al., 2022). Religious leaders provided information using various platforms. This included information provided during sermons and in churches, as well as reaching out via social media. Many pastors felt that they needed to lead by example to increase trust in the vaccine. Many chose to take the lead by vaccinating early and sharing their experience. Many churches also paired with community resources to set up COVID vaccination centers in churches. The efforts of the religious leaders were successful, and vaccination rates for the black population increased.
Healthy Communication Capacity Collaborative. (2022). https://healthcommcapacity.org/i-kits/role-religious-leaders-faith-communities/. Helathcomcapacity. https://healthcommcapacity.org/i-kits/role-religious-leaders-faith-communities/
Moore, D., Mansfield, L. N., Onsomu, E. O., & Caviness-Ashe, N. (2022, July 22). The role of black pastors in disseminating COVID-19 vaccination information to black communities in south carolina. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 19(15), 8926. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph19158926
World Health Organization. (2020, April 7). Practical considerations and recommendations for religious leaders and faith-based communities in the context of COVID-19. WHO. https://www.who.int/publications/i/item/practical-considerations-and-recommendations-for-religious-leaders-and-faith-based-communities-in-the-context-of-covid-19