Christian ethicists make the case for getting vaccinated against COVID-19

A medical assistant injects a vaccine in a file photo. | (Photo: Reuters/Michael Buholzer)

As ethical questions raised by COVID-19 vaccines have left many Christians wondering whether they should get vaccinated, three Christian ethicists have offered answers based on some primary considerations believers may have — safety and efficacy, complicity with evil, and compliance with authority.

Dealing with the issue of safety and efficacy, Matthew Arbo, C. Ben Mitchell and Andrew T. Walker write that because the stakes are so high, “the scrutiny and oversight have never been more intense.” 

Writing for the Public Discourse journal of the Witherspoon Institute, a conservative think tank in Princeton, New Jersey, the three authors quote Dan Barouch, a vaccine researcher at Harvard University: “Never before have there been vaccine trials that have been followed so closely from inception to onset to conduct.”

Many Christians are also asking whether the vaccines’ development from or confirmatory testing on fetal stem cell tissue derived from decades-ago abortions makes one complicit in an evil act, they acknowledge.

But an individual “is not formally cooperating with a moral evil when using a vaccine developed thanks to an abortion,” they write.

“No abortions occurred in the development of the COVID-19 vaccines. Nor is it certain the original abortions from which the cell lines were initially established were performed for the sake of research or developing vaccines,” the authors say. “The cell lines involved in developing and confirming the viability of COVID-19 vaccines were used as a result of previous abortions. They were not the cause of any new abortion.”

"[I]ndividuals who use the vaccine are not guilty of cooperating with or perpetuating intrinsic evil," they argue.

Another question being asked is, whether an individual must comply with a government, employer or civil society mandate to be vaccinated.

Earlier this month, the founding pastor of the Miami-based King Jesus International Ministry, Guillermo Maldonado, warned his congregation not to take the coronavirus vaccine because it is being used to prepare the world for the Antichrist and one world order.

Maldonado invoked scripture from Revelation 13 after telling his followers at one of the largest Hispanic churches in the U.S. that God told him that during the pandemic, He was releasing “divine immunity, divine protection, divine health” for those that believe in His power.

Revelation 13:16-17 says of the Antichrist, “And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads: And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name.” The pastor then argued that the Scriptures are currently being fulfilled.

The ethicists say, “First, we should acknowledge up front that we doubt the government will impose mandates on civilians. We could be wrong about this, and if they do occur, we will have to confront those challenges as they arise.”

They add, “From a moral point of view, it is important that individual conscience not be violated. Individuals may have personal reasons for temporary or indefinite refusal. Perhaps a person might wish to see better long-term evidence, for example, or might delay vaccination so that more vulnerable members of the population may receive it first. That latter example, under conditions of strained supply, represents a real act of charity.”

In the unlikely event that mandates are widely issued, legal cases in defense of conscience rights “will almost certainly find their way through the courts,” they argue.

The three plan to get vaccinated, saying, “It seems wise to be vaccinated, because doing so may protect one’s own life and the lives of others." 

“Because we believe that concerns about vaccination do not rise to the threshold necessary to justify forgoing it, we believe that it is strongly morally advisable to get vaccinated. However, even if this rises to the level of a moral ‘ought,’ that does not mean we think churches should discipline their members if they refuse to get vaccinated. Nor does it mean that an individual who forgoes the vaccine is necessarily sinning. Vaccination is a salutary act born of Christian love for neighbor and community, not a test of faithfulness.”

They argue that it's "not possible to properly love a person" by "displaying wanton disregard for the health of others."

"If by the minimal burden of wearing a mask, we can potentially protect others from grave illness, then it seems we have a moral obligation to wear a mask. The same can be said for COVID-19 vaccinations. If by being vaccinated we can protect others from illness, then we have a corresponding obligation, given our Lord’s command to love neighbors, to be vaccinated. Vaccinations not only protect me, but also protect other vulnerable members of society."

Arbo serves as associate professor of theological studies and director of the Center for Faith and Public Life at Oklahoma Baptist University; Mitchell is the former Graves chair of moral philosophy at Union University and serves as distinguished fellow of the Tennessee Center for Bioethics & Culture; and Walker is associate professor of Christian ethics and apologetics at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Christian geneticist and U.S. National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins has also urged vaccinations and assured their safety.

He also said most churches should postpone in-person services due to COVID-19 until at least summer 2021 when every American is expected to have had the opportunity to get vaccinated.

“I know people are tired of hearing these messages and having to be acting upon them, but the virus does not care that we are tired,” Collins said during an online conversation about COVID-19 vaccines with Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.

“The virus is having a wonderful time right now spreading through this country, taking advantage of circumstances where people have let their guard go down. We need to be just absolutely rigorously adherent to things that we know work. But they don’t work unless everybody actually sticks to them faithfully without exception.”

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