Recently, a friend who is a minister in a Christian church was approached by a few members of his church to sign a request for a religious exemption from getting the vaccination for the Coronavirus. He asked me to express my opinion about whether he ought to grant such a request. Below is an edited version of my response to this question:
The one who claims that he or she deserves a religious exemption from receiving the vaccination must be the one to come up with the biblical/scriptural justification for this. It is not my “job” as a teacher or yours as a church leader to provide such potential biblical justification. To that extent, it is kind of hard for me to respond to the members of your church who are asking the church for a religious exemption. I need to hear these individual’s justification. Then I can respond. A member of my local church got a religious exemption at his work. I did not provide support for his application. However, I do support my friend personally. I love him, and I will not demean him for his choice, but I let him know that I do not agree with his request. He provided no biblical reasoning to me for his choice (he may have one but he did not mention it to me). The bottom line appears to be that he does not want to get vaccinated and the religious “exemption” was not really religious in nature. The reason he does not want to get vaccinated is that he claims the vaccine does not work and it is not safe. The problem with this position is two-fold. First is that it is not true. Plain and simple. The vaccines are safe (relatively) and they work (although not perfectly). The scientific data is overwhelming and decisive that the vaccines work and are relatively save. But even if he were right, if we claim a religious exemption, it would need to be based on a religious/biblical reasoning, not because we disagree with the law or the policy. Not agreeing with a law or regulation is not sufficient reason for a Christian to not submit to the authorities in place (Romans 13:1-7).
But, as I said, the science and the empirical evidence says that my friend is incorrect in his opinion. 90+% of those entering hospitals and dying of Covid-19 in the US are unvaccinated. This undisputed data speaks for itself. As a Christian, I am obligated to obey the governing authorities (unless it violates my Christian conscience, see below), and besides, in this case, getting vaccinated means that my church can meet more safely. It means that I do not 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 consider the safety of my family, my friends, my church and my community more than about my personal preference, ALL the data says that I should get vaccinated. Given the data, it appears selfish to not get vaccinated, unless there is a legitimate counter-argument that I am not aware of, and this is a violation of the Golden Rule. (Note, I say that it appears selfish in light of the data, not that the individuals are necessarily actually acting from selfish motives) I understand that people claim to have data that disproves this claim, but every time I have investigated such so-called 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 reasoning or a semi-biblical reasoning for requesting a Christian religious exemption. The common one I have heard is that the vaccinations contain cells or cell products from aborted fetuses. First of all, this is simply a false flag. It is not true. Now, it is true that cells 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 the cells were used to test the vaccine, and in the other to develop it (honestly, I forget which is which: J&J vs Moderna/Pfizer). I strongly 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. It is a 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. But is this sufficient reason it is immoral to take this treatment? 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 in terms of literally millions of saved lives, in view of 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 done in order to produce these cells.
But here is the problem, and here is why I reject this argument and other similar ones I have heard. If a Christian takes this position, then they had better not take ibuprofen or anti-malarial drugs, or chemotherapy or AIDS medication or anti-virals or antibiotics… you name it. Perhaps it is not true that ALL drugs currently taken for all illnesses were tested or developed using these human cells, but nearly all were. If this person who wants the religious exemption is prepared to declare that he or she will foreswear all medications, or virtually all medications because of his/her consistent Christian belief that this is immoral, then I am prepared to listen to this person. I seriously doubt that this will be the case. Like I said, this excuse appears to be a false flag, in my opinion. This flag is flown because the person has either political reasons (not a Christian one) or practical reasons (which are in fact not even based on good science), not moral ones for not taking the vaccine.
The other drugs listed–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 and I would not support leaders in our fellowship signing off on such a “religious” exemption request.
Again, I would not judge this brother or sister. 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 incorrect information, and I would do my best to emotionally support them in their concerns. Paul tells us in Romans 14:13-23 that believers ought not to violate their consciences, even if the issue is not actually a biblical one. We should not demand individual believers to violate their conscience, but I would also tell them (as I did to this brother) that I disagree with their position and would not sign the request for exemption.