Guest Q&A from John Oakes, of evidenceforchristianity.org.
Recently, a friend who is a minister in a Christian church was approached by a few members to sign a request for a religious exemption from Coronavirus vaccination. He asked me to express my opinion about whether he ought to grant such a request. Below is an edited version of my response:
The one who claims to deserve a religious exemption from receiving the vaccination must be the one to provide the biblical justification. It is hard for me to respond to members of your church who are seeking a religious exemption without hearing these individuals’ justifications from them, but let me try anyway.
In fact, a member of my own church obtained a religious exemption at his workplace. I didn't support his application, although I support the brother personally. I love him, and I will not attack him or demean him for his choice, but I let him know that I do not agree with his request. His reasoning did not sound biblical. In fact, he offered no biblical reason at all. The bottom line appears to be that he simply doesn’t want to get vaccinated, and the religious “exemption” was not truly religious in nature. It was a smokescreen, in my opinion. The reason he doesn't want to get vaccinated, he says, is that the vaccines don't work.
The problem with such a position is two-fold. First, it is wrong, plain and simple. The vaccines are safe (relatively) and they work (although not perfectly). He is wrong. But even if he were right, if we claim a religious exemption, this would need to be based on religious / biblical reasoning, not because we disagree with the law. Not agreeing with a law or regulation is insufficient reason for a Christian to flaunt the law (Romans 13:1-7).
But, as I said, my friend’s facts are wrong. 90+% of those entering hospitals and dying of COVID-19 in the US are unvaccinated. As a Christian, I am obligated to obey the governing authorities (unless it violates my Christian conscience). Furthermore, vaccination means that my church can meet more safely. It means that I don’t endanger other people as much. It means that the economy can return closer to normalcy and people will have work and will not go hungry. If I care about my family, my friends, my church, and my community more than I care about my personal preference, all the data says that I should get vaccinated. Given the data, it is selfish not to get vaccinated—a violation of the Golden Rule (Matt 7:12). I understand that people claim to have data that disproves this claim, but every time I have investigated the evidence it has proved to be false—and I have done quite a bit of checking.
Now I will try to do what I just said I do not want to do, which is to anticipate a biblical reason or a semi-biblical reason for a Christian religious exemption. The only one I have heard is that the vaccinations contain cells or cell products from aborted fetuses. First of all, this is a false flag. It is not true. Now, it is true that cells many, many generations removed from fetal cells derived several decades ago were used, not in the production of the vaccines, but in the research to create the vaccines. In one case to test the vaccine, and in the other to develop it. I suspect in this case that this is not the real reason for the individuals’ seeking the exemption. In the case of my friend, it is not the reason he gave me. Does the fact that decades ago cells were taken from the body of an aborted child, and that the descendants of these cells were used in later research, make it immoral for us to benefit from vaccines? I suppose some people might have a sufficiently sensitive conscience for this to affect their willingness to take the vaccine. I propose that the good of literally millions of saved lives, and the fact that these cells were taken from one individual who was already dead when they were taken decades before the cells were used in the research, is sufficient to offset this argument. No further harm is done in using these cells, and such cells are no longer being taken from aborted children, and it is debatable that any harm was done even in the original case, as the abortion was not performed in order to harvest these cells.
But here is the problem, and here is why I reject this argument. If Christians take this position, then they had better not take Ibuprofen or anti-malarial drugs. They should reject chemotherapy, AIDS medication, antivirals, antibiotics… you name it. Perhaps it is not true that all drugs currently taken for all illnesses were tested or developed using human cells, but nearly all were. If this person who wants the religious exemption is prepared to declare that he or she will forswear all medications, or virtually all medications, because of consistent Christian belief that this is immoral, then I am prepared to listen to this person.
NSAIDs, chemotherapy, antibiotics and the like protect the individual, but the vaccine principally protects other people. The moral imperative to take a drug to protect other people is stronger than that to protect our own lives. This more strongly argues for taking the vaccine.
For this reason, I personally would not sign such an exemption request, nor I would not support church leaders signing off on such a “religious” exemption request.
Despite what I said above, I do not want to judge his or her motives. I assume a level of sincerity, even if based on false information, and I would do my best to emotionally support them in their concerns, but I would also tell them (as I did to this brother) that I disagree with their position and certainly would not sign the request for exemption.
If you can do a little research and ask the members of your church what their religious/biblical reasoning was, and then email me (firstname.lastname@example.org), I can respond, but I suspect that they will either have none, or will use the cookie-cutter excuse that has been fed to them by certain media outlets—along with the invalid arguments mentioned above.
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A thought from Douglas:
So much of the vaccination dialogue centers around "rights." That part of the discussion I am not comfortable with. In an extended portion of his first letter to the Corinthians (8:1-11:1) Paul urges Christians to be willing to relinquish their rights—not to stand on them.
Further, Paul's words in Romans 14:1-15:7 plead with the "strong" not to cause any harm to the "weak," even if they believe they are in the right. "We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves" (Rom 15:1). And why? Because this is what Jesus did (15:3-7).