The pastor of Steinbach hunted for his participation in the vaccination


A pastor from Steinbach who was part of a provincial government advertising campaign to promote COVID-19 vaccinations is taking to the highways after a deluge of criticism from anti-vaccines.

“I’m trying to figure out what makes them so angry and then practice compassion and grace,” said Kyle Penner, associate pastor of Grace Mennonite Church in the Southeastern Manitoba community.

Associate Pastor of Grace Mennonite Church Kyle Penner

“I hear a lot of fear in their voices.”

Penner, 37, was part of the recent “Miss Those Seats?” campaign, in which local community leaders promoted vaccinations as a way back to concerts, sporting events, restaurants and worship.

“We missed hearing your voices rise together in a song,” Penner said in his video, shot in his church. It ends by telling him that if people want to sit on a bench again, they should get the shot.

He received positive responses, which he appreciated. But they were inundated with dozens of angry and hateful phone calls, emails and social media posts calling him a traitor to Christianity, being against religious freedom and accusing him of doing part of a plot to annihilate the human race.

“I think part of the answer is based on misinformation,” he said, noting that some people think the government wants to tell people that they can’t go to church unless they are. ‘get vaccinated – not the message he was trying to convey.

“I think some people heard it as an ultimatum,” he said.

Many of the responses seem to come from social media groups or websites repeating the idea that getting the vaccine will kill everyone who gets the vaccine in a few years.

“If I sincerely believed that we are all going to die from the vaccine, I guess I would also be a little hysterical,” Penner said, adding that “do not excuse rude emails.”

Others come from people who identify as Christians, believing he is against the church, a threat to religious freedom, and questioning the quality of his commitment to his faith.

None of the answers appear to come from Steinbach, leading Penner to question whether Facebook’s algorithms could push controversial content into anti-vaccines.

“Facebook knows anger drives clicks,” he said. “I wonder if this is how the ads get to anti-vaccination groups.”

“Facebook knows anger drives clicks. I wonder if this is how ads get to anti-vaccination groups.” – Kyle Penner, Associate Pastor of Grace Mennonite Church

One thing that makes him laugh is an accusation that he was paid $ 20,000 to participate in the campaign.

“I got a gas card for $ 50 for my ride into town,” Penner said of those who say he was bribed by the government.

When trying to understand and empathize with his detractors, Penner keeps in mind the times he has let his own emotions get the best of him online.

“I’ve had my own seizures,” he said, noting that it’s also easy for people who support vaccinations and public health restrictions to join their own social media “mob”.

“I try to remember to treat other people the way I want to be treated, even in my worst times,” he said.

To keep calm and regain a sense of peace, Penner walks through the maze of prayers in his church. Support from his congregation also helps, as does blocking people online. He locked his Facebook page and changed his online identity to prevent more people from leaving angry messages.

He is also looking forward to a month’s vacation, during which he will log off from social media and emails.

Despite the online vitriol, Penner doesn't regret taking part in the campaign and would do it again.

Despite the online vitriol, Penner doesn’t regret taking part in the campaign and would do it again.

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Despite the online vitriol, Penner doesn’t regret taking part in the campaign and would do it again.

“I did it to be useful, to encourage people who want to go back to church to do their part,” he said.

As for people sending him angry messages, “It’s been a bad week for those who oppose vaccinations and restrictions,” he said, noting that cases were declining and more and more people were getting vaccinated.

“Everything they bet on it turns out to be wrong. They’re going wild and I’m just their target. I’m just praying for them and asking God to bless them.”

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John longhurst

John longhurst
faith reporter

John Longhurst has written for the Winnipeg religious pages since 2003. He also writes for the Religion News Service in the United States and blogs on media, marketing and communications at Making the News.

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