To vaccinate or not to vaccinate- that is the question?
It was only going to be a matter of time before we – the United States in general and the church in particular, were going to have to deal with a new conflict or controversy emanating from the COVID-19 pandemic – unfortunately.
Somewhat paralleled to the debate over mask wearing, Christians are now wrestling with the ethical dilemma over whether or not to get the COVID-19 vaccination.
Nearly one out of every five Americans have been vaccinated or are in the process already, leading to reports of increased “herd immunity” taking hold in our nation – meaning that magical threshold of at least 70% of citizens who will have built up enough immunity to the virus by way of inoculation or contagion, to effectively stop the spread of the pandemic according to many health officials.
However, the quandary for Christians over whether to vaccinate or not, has come to light due to concerns that television, web and social media pundits have raised or tried to debunk of late, such as:
- Government mandates and control (“vaccine passports”)
Should the government be allowed to coerce it’s citizens into being vaccinated – convictions of conscience notwithstanding? In other words, could vaccination by compulsion be just another ‘neo-socialist’ initiative from the powers that be as some fear? President Biden and our state’s Governor take opposite sides there.
Food for thought: while vaccine mandates may be intrusive and potentially a breach of parental authority over children, there is precedent for such action, in that most families have been vaccinated by legal mandates to prevent further historic epidemics of measles, mumps, chicken pox and polio, which likely saved thousands of American lives over the last century. Would the coronavirus apply?
- Vaccination Safety
Aside from anecdotal reports of isolated side effects, hospitalizations and cases of death – to say nothing of the “warp speed” rush to develop and approve these vaccines, new reports of vaccination problems have arisen.
First, unusual blood clots in people who got shots from the Anglo-Swedish company, AstraZeneca, prompted Germany, Italy, France and Spain to join the ranks of other European countries that have temporarily halted use of that companies Covid-19 shot.
Then, a dosage mix-up at a U.S. production facility, has ruined about 15 million doses of Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose COVID shot, prompting this nation’s federal government to delay shipments of that vaccine.
Food for Thought: Despite these recent news reports and some widely circulated headlines of death from vaccinations, both Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccine rate of effectiveness preventing serious infection or related death from the virus remains over 90%.
Though there have been perhaps 200 vaccine related deaths reported in this country up to now (most of them elderly in long-term care facilities with pre-existing if not contributing conditions), that number indicates a relatively low risk factor. So, is the vaccine risk free? No. Low-risk? Yes – apparently.
Furthermore, many Christians historically motivated by the command to sacrificially ‘love their neighbor’ (Luke 10), have been and are being vaccinated for the benefit of others. At times, paying the ultimate cost.
Arguably America’s greatest theologian, Jonathan Edwards, died after undertaking a new method of inoculation for smallpox. Edwards was not only a revered pastor and preacher of the 18th century, but a student of natural philosophy who closely followed the scientific advancements of the Enlightenment period. That interest led him to test an anti-viral technique that was a precursor to the development of the first vaccine. His risk proved fatal when he died from complications related to the inoculation at age 58.
Edwards risked his own life to save others in a world of pre-modern medicine where death and disease were commonplace. Why? Love and the knowledge that his death was just his beginning and his life on earth mattered eternally.
- Abortion Related Links to Development
While being treated for COVID, former President Trump took experimental treatments that came under scrutiny because its development included testing that used cells from the tissue that might have come from an aborted fetus.
Food for Thought: several potential vaccines for the coronavirus—including two produced by Pfizer and Moderna—have also used the same cell line for testing – but not for production. These culturing fetal cells are modified in such a way that they continue growing and multiplying in laboratories indefinitely. Such cells can then be used to test a drug’s ability to damage genetic material or to test the effects of specific viral infection.
It should be noted however, that these “immortalized” cell lines that began with fetal cells more than a generation ago, no longer contain fetal body parts, and no fetal tissue remains in them nor the cells from the original fetal tissue itself.
While prolife Christians should condemn any utilitarian use and abuse of the unborn for medical research, there seems to be no indication that any direct involvement in the abortion of a single child was used to produce these vaccines in question.
Why Food for Thought?
Why have I responded to the above concerns and questions about the vaccine with the familiar call to think? Simply because sanctified wisdom is required in making a decision of this magnitude, where the scripture is silent in terms of possessing a clear command.
That reality however, in no way diminishes the doctrine of the sufficiency of scripture (2 Timothy 3:16-17). It only illustrates the truth that scripture is sufficient in different ways, meaning it is a source of truth and guidance of God’s revealed will through the wise interpretation and application of an ancient text written in an original context.
Thus, If there was ever a modern, ethical dilemma to ponder deeply, wisely and prayerfully as a “gray” rather than black and white issue, this would be it.
In the absence of a precept, or biblically historic patterns or practices to follow, we must be guided by applicable principles which form a conviction of our individual conscience.
In other words, I believe Christians have the personal liberty or freedom (as circumstances allow) to accept or reject the coronavirus vaccine. The conscience can only be bound on a particular issue where scripture clearly binds it.
Otherwise, true followers of Christ are called to glorify and love God and love people even at the expense of personal liberty (Romans 14-15) when making difficult choices like these.
A founding pastor of a Miami-based megachurch warned his congregation not to take the coronavirus vaccine because he believes it is being used to prepare the world for the Antichrist and one world order. Yikes!
Whereas notable evangelist Franklin Graham- son of Billy, drew attention when he said on ABC News, that “Jesus Christ would advocate for people using vaccines and medicines to treat suffering and save lives.” In referring to the parable of the Good Samaritan who cares for an injured man by using oil and wine on the man’s wounds, Graham highlighted those elements, “which were the top medicines of the day.”
Clarifying the statement quoted in that report, Graham posted on his Facebook page, “We also know that Jesus went from town to town healing ‘every disease and sickness.’ He came to save life—to offer us eternal life. Did Jesus need a vaccine Himself? Of course not. He is God.”
The above contradictory views of two Christian leaders on this, illustrate the fact that this issue dealing with health care and modern technology, created ostensibly to prevent the spread of a highly contagious and lethal disease, is gray and deserves our close attention.
Christians have every right to take prudent measures to safe-guard or improve their health, which we do distinctly with our diets, exercise, multivitamins, holistic supplements and yes, perhaps even coronavirus vaccinations.
Therefore, if love truly trumps liberty for the Christian holding to a biblical worldview, then we are bound by the word of God to withhold judgment and condemnation towards a brother or sister in Christ whom we disagree with in the choice they make on what the apostle Paul calls, a matter of “opinion” or dispute, or what we call a gray issue such as this one.
This admonition to carefully consider the vaccination and to deal with others in a loving manner when discussing it (2 Timothy 2:23-25), does not preclude us from edifying one another when we do.
What this does mean is we acknowledge that the COVID vaccination decision is fraught with some risks in either direction and careful consideration of one’s personal context (pre-existing and prevailing health conditions), family, responsibilities, exposure and even work environments (e.g. first responders, health-care and other public workers) most come into play.
Although the coronavirus and the world’s response it it, has been a God-ordained, providential event of extraordinary and for us, unprecedented proportions, God has given us ordinary means of grace in his word, prayer and the fellowship and love of the local body to deal with it.
May that truth and the hope of our future glory carry us through this most recent COVID conflict.