Chances are, if you aren’t being required to be vaccinated for work, you know someone who is. Even if you, like me, have been vaccinated, we should care for those who are being required to do something in violation of their conscience. This is something that is a special concern to me as a pastor. When asked, should I write a “religious exemption?” If so, why? If not, why?
I wrote a blog for AncorPoint Church last week to help answer these questions, called Vaccine Mandates: What You Need to Know About Vaccinations, Religious Exemptions, and My Personal Bias.
I put that blog below, in the hope that it may help some know as believers how to navigate through these difficult times, and maybe even help a pastor or two make wise decisions as well.
Here it is.
I’ve been taking a totally unscientific poll, and AnchorPoint is a real mix of vaccinated and not. About a year ago I had a pastor ask me if AP had people on the extreme (I’ll let you guess which side) side of the COVID debate. I said yes. He said he didn’t want folks like that in his church.
Here’s why. I believe Satan enjoyed Jonah’s utter disdain of the Ninevites, James and John wanting to nuke the Samaritans (Luke 9:51-55), and Peter being too good to eat with the gentiles (Galatians 2:11-21). I don’t want to make Satan smile.
Pick your side. I want you here. Vaccinated or not. In fact, I think having different opinions and still being able to worship together is a sign of health.
Paul put it this way Eph 4:1 I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (NIV2011)
One Lord. One Faith. One Baptism. Many politics.
This is an unprecedented time of opportunity. I believe it could be a direct answer to the prayer of Jesus in John 17. Jn 17:20 “My prayer is not for them [the disciples] alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 …Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. (NIV2011)
But now, just as the election and mask disagreements begin to fade, COVID-19 vaccine mandates are increasing. This gets even more complicated due to the legal issues surrounding religious exemptions.
Here is one illustration of the dilemma from WORLD Magazine:
“One Christian with concerns is Whitney Buck, and OB-GYN in Michigan. When her employer mandated the COVID-19 vaccine, she and her husband, Taylor, a physician at the same hospital system, sought a religious exemption. ‘As believers, we trust the leading of the Holy Spirit and decided it was medically not indicated or necessary for us.’ They are young, healthy, and low-risk for morbidity or morality if infected. She said they didn’t want to take on the risk of side effects, no matter how infrequently they are reported. She also said the push for mandates by the media and politicians gives them pause.
Both Whitney and Taylor received an automated email response from their employer denying the exemption. The Bucks are praying about what to do next. ‘I felt from a very young age that the Lord prepared me and equipped me to be a physician,’ she said. ‘I do not want it to be my pride that costs me my vocation.’”
This is a nationwide struggle, as we Christians decide how best to keep our families and community safe and at the same time respect the decisions of others. Reinaldo has been sending me articles from Christianity Today and other sources about religious exemptions for the last six months or so. In this blog, I have stolen from Christianity Today, WORLD Magazine, Carey Nieuwhof, DesiringGod.org (John Piper) and other sources. I’m no attorney, but I thought it was time we gave you some help to start thinking through this issue.
But know this: I believe God is more concerned with your growing relationship with Him, and with others, than He is about your decision about getting vaccinated. If struggling with the decision brings you closer to Him, great! And it is great regardless of your final decision.
This may sound counter-intuitive, but we don’t all have to agree when it comes to “Hearing God.” As always, we start with God’s Word and prayer. Some things are clearly black-and-white. When it comes to committing murder, adultery, gossip, God has told us His will. But there is a lot that God left up to us. In 1 Corinthians 8, some folks felt guilty if they ate meat that could have been sacrificed to idols. Others like Paul had no problem with it. Paul’s answer to the division?
Rather than argue, Paul extended a lot of love and grace. He didn’t try to convince those who felt guilty eating idol meat to eat it. Instead, Paul said if it bothered them, that he wouldn’t eat meat either. He joined them! It wasn’t a sin to eat the meat, but getting them to eat in violation of their conscience, that would be sin.
In other words, everything that is a sin for me may not be a sin for you.
More on “Hearing God” in next week’s blog.
If you are thinking about getting vaccinated, please do so, as Piper says, “with a good conscience and judicious medical warrant.”
If you believe you should not get vaccinated, please do so, as Piper says, “with a good conscience and judicious medical warrant.”
In other words, make your decision from the best medical advice you can get, and from a clear conscience having spent time wrestling with God on the issue.
Before God we are free to get a vaccination and free not to be vaccinated. We fear God, not man. We obey God when man tells us to do what God has forbidden us to do. The mandates of God are supreme. But there are no Biblical mandates about vaccines any more than there is about what movie is OK to watch or what meat is OK to eat. There are principles (think about what is pure and right, honor God, protect life) but no direct commands. God wants us to wrestle with this issue, and with Him.
Not with each other.
Let’s extend one another a lot of love and grace. 1Pe 5:5 (NIV2011) All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.” 6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. 7 Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.
Remember: God is more concerned with your growing relationship with Him, and with others, than He is about your decision about getting vaccinated.
As different media outlets swarm around us, all telling us that they know what is right, know this. Your time with God is right. Wrestling with the decision and with your Savior is right. Honoring family is right. Making a biblically informed decision out of love is right—no matter which way you decide. God does not lead each of us to identical behavior (1 Corinthians 8). He leads us each of us to the identical Savior.
2: About Religious Exemptions
You probably know that on Sept. 9 the President signed an order mandating the COVID-19 vaccine for executive branch federal workers. He also announced the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) mandates for the private sector requiring businesses with more than 100 employees to get the vaccine or submit to regular testing.
As of my writing, the OSHA rule has not gone into effect yet, but many employers have already started mandating the vaccine on their own. The question is, “If I don’t want to get the vaccine, can I use the ‘Religious Exemption’ to get out of it?” The First Amendment states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Currently defined, a “religion” is a “sincerely held belief.” As I understand it, this means your “religion” doesn’t have to be about God or the church, but it does have to be a system of beliefs that you can demonstrate you have held even before COVID.
IF you decide not to get the vaccine, and your employer is requiring the vaccine, here are some questions to answer:
- Would getting the vaccine be a violation of a belief system I have sincerely held in my heart for some time? If the answer for you is, “Yes,” I believe you should stand by your convictions unless God leads you to do otherwise. However, your employer may want to determine if you are telling the truth. You may need to demonstrate that this isn’t a new position you have taken for political reasons. A note from a pastor or church should not be required, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be, or that it would not help.
- Example 1: You have not taken any vaccines for a long time and can prove it.
- Example 2: You refuse to take any medications that have used down-line fetal cells in manufacture or development. However, this could get messy, as they have been used in many medications, cosmetics, even spices. Plus, the two mRNA vaccines technically didn’t use down-line fetal cells in manufacture or development, but in post-development testing only. You can read that old blog here.
- Will the courts help me? You will have to roll the dice on this one. In the 20s when vaccines were mandated and objections came up, they were not religious objections but more “my body my choice” objections before that was a saying. The objectors lost; the vaccines won. In the 80s, religious exemptions got more teeth, and the state needed a “compelling state interest” to deny any religious exemption. But, in the 90s a Native American church wanted to use peyote and went to court for a religious exemption. They lost. Now? Well, it doesn’t look good.
The US Supreme Court just ruled on Oct 29, 2021 against a religious exemption to Maine’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate. You can read about that here. I wish we had a “Conscientious Objector” option as we have at wartime. My dad was saved at 16, then went into WWII at 18. Before God, he had no idea if he should carry a gun or not. He ended up being a conscientious objector and became a medic instead. Unfortunately, that option isn’t available right now with this issue. Now if you would just elect me dictator…
- Is the “reasonable accommodation” an accommodation I can live with? Unlike government employees (state, local, federal), private employers must give you a reasonable accommodation so that you can avoid taking the vaccine if they determine that you are honest in your religious objection. That could be anything from working at home to mandating regular testing, etc. Employers who refuse to give an accommodation will likely be taken to court. Most of what I have read has suggested that they will lose—that the courts will expect employers to make individual exceptions for each person. But will it be reasonable enough for you to want to keep your job? Only you can answer that one.
- Will my pastor sign my Religious Exemption? If I am asked as a pastor to sign a note stating that taking the vaccine is against a person’s belief system, I would need to know that it is indeed against that person’s belief system. I can’t violate my conscience either. If you don’t believe in taking vaccines, then your life should demonstrate that belief. If you don’t believe in taking medications derived from down-line fetal cells, then your life should demonstrate that belief as well. So those I can sign. But…
If you don’t like the idea of taking the vaccine because you think it was developed too quickly and it may have unknown issues, like that Hummer you purchased in 2002, I can certainly understand that. It makes sense, but it isn’t a religious exemption. I can’t help you. If you think the vaccine is a type of The Mark of the Beast due to it being forced on us, then I can help with what I think is a better understanding of Revelation 13. But, even if you don’t agree with me I doubt your view would qualify as a religious exemption. If you object on political grounds and feel that the government is being too aggressive and you want to push back, I get that. Still, that is a political not a religious reason. I can’t help.
3: About My Bias
Bias #1: My wife JoLynn works at Rust Hospital. As a result, JoLynn has access to more information than I would normally get. This is information I trust. Over 70% of NM has had at least one dose of vaccination, and yet for most of this year, over 90% of the hospital patients with COVID have not been vaccinated. Those numbers are starting to change, so this may not hold. And, yes, I know this is a tiny sample. Yes, I know it is not scientific. But it is also a statistic I know is true.
I also know our hospitals are dangerously full due to a backlog of patients and other illnesses besides COVID. The last I looked right at 300 NM Hospital beds were filled with COVID patients. That number doesn’t sound high until you realize that our ICUs remain at 100% with only 11 beds available as of Oct 18, 2021. We are in what is called a Crisis Standard of Care, which means we need every bed we can get.
So, I get the concern, and I’ve been vaccinated. But, I still believe it is wrong to force someone to do something against their conscience. This new mandate is forcing employers of over 100 people to enforce the mandate, including churches. It’s a bit of a mess. You can follow the legal battle about churches here.
Bias #2 Funeral service: I recently did a funeral service for a previously healthy man in his mid-thirties who died of COVID. He left behind a grieving wife and four children without a father. He was unvaccinated. Yes, I know–vaccinated people die also. But, when the vast majority of hospital COVID patients are unvaccinated, it makes sense that the majority of deaths are of the unvaccinated (98% by one AP account). I know—you may not trust the numbers, and you may be right. And I know—this funeral is just one case, and it emotionally affected me, and it may have clouded my judgment.
That’s fair. Right again.
But I did call this “My Bias.” It’s not scientific. It’s just my story.
I hope we can keep extending each other a lot of love and grace. I love you guys and am thrilled that we don’t have a church that is all white or black, all gentile or Jewish, all republican or democrat, all pro-vaccination or anti-vax. Then again, if I could convince you to all be 70s-music-listening, Jeep-driving, dark-chocolate-eating, Jesus lovers, well, I might go for that.
Hope to see you Sunday, and if you would like to see if I can sign a religious exemption for you, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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