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The church must not be silent on the vaccine debates

A health worker delivers a vaccine shot into an arm in this undated file photo.
A health worker delivers a vaccine shot into an arm in this undated file photo. | Unsplash/Mat Napo

I discovered last week that my local county’s executive council is considering whether to mandate proof of vaccination for entry into most public areas. This action has been noted in New York, Chicago, and Washington, D.C.  While it is not surprising to learn this mandate is on the table, it came faster than expected. As a Christian and pastor, I found it important to crystallize my thoughts about the Church’s role in the vaccine debates. While the Church has largely waited to see how all things pandemic would play out, it is time for her to find her voice on matters settled within Christianity long ago.

As a people whose faith is in Christ — the One who calls Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female, circumcised and uncircumcised, and whose initial disciples included both the tax collector and the zealot — Christians find in Jesus a template for accepting all comers to the body of Christ.  Further, we also find in our faith tradition a rich pattern of advocacy for the rights of those outside the Church. Promoting right-to-life issues has characterized Christianity since its infancy.

Our heritage finds believers adopting the abandoned, championing the abolition of slavery, and defending the unborn. Now we find ourselves in a society where “vaccination status” threatens the exclusion of neighbors, friends, and family from basic areas of public access. The Church finds itself in the position to champion the rights of those who would be ostracized in a world driven by fear rather than faith. A strong, faith-filled response by the Church in this watershed moment will determine her credibility and standing in the years to come.

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My own Southern Baptist denomination carries the noteworthy distinction of championing religious liberty amid even its earliest days. We rightly understand the importance of defending the freedom of religion for all faiths and not merely our own. If a Muslim’s rights are infringed due to faith, so eventually will the rights of the Christian’s. Thus, we find ourselves defending principles of rights and inclusions even for those whose convictions vary significantly from our own. We do this not as a matter of self-defense but because we are called to advocate the dignity and worth of every person, including that person’s conscience.

Although Christians have come to different positions on the matter of the mRNA injections, this is part of a normal pattern throughout Christian history. Even Paul addressed the matter of religious conscience regarding food offered to idols in his letter to the Corinthian church. His admonition was to exhort the freedom to eat or not eat of such food based on individual conviction on the matter.

Thus, Christians can hold different religious convictions on non-primary matters of faith and still maintain fellowship with one another. The one who eats of such food does so in freedom of conscience while respecting the one who would violate his conscience through eating. Thus, Christians must not be surprised to find division over injections but must remember that freedom of conscience speaks to our response.

While many trust in both the safety and efficacy of the injections, others remain skeptical, and their skepticism reaches a level of conviction equal to that concerning the consumption of meat from the Corinthian market. Theological arguments underpin the conviction to refuse the shots, just as many promote theological arguments to receive the shots. Thankfully, the blood of Christ holds stronger than any serum found in a syringe. Whether Jew or Greek, vaccinated or unvaccinated, Christ is all and is in all.

The Church holds the central platform and responsibility to advocate for the rights of each person to choose without coercion whether to receive the vaccinations against Covid-19. Arguments about efficacy or safety are moot compared to the biblical and historic underpinnings of the Christian faith. While such arguments, with their attendant statistics and experts, have value in individual decisions and within personal conversations, they hold no place in the Church’s role in championing the cause of individual conscience on the matter of vaccination. If we would fight for the religious liberty of another faith — a matter of eternal importance — so must we fight for the freedom of conscience on the temporal concern of COVID injections.

Such a stand involves first never allowing such an idea as a vaccination status to impact who is welcome in the body of Christ or in any program held by a local church. That church can then extend such a stand into the community, where various vaccine-related requirements would threaten the rights of the community. These threats would include the termination of employment or expulsion from public areas. If churches will not stand up to these threats in their communities, they will soon find the same threats at their doors. Community advocacy will ripple outward, setting the precedent for other regions and encouraging the craven Christian who fears adverse repercussions for his own stand.

In my own region, I have seen the slow boil of progress increase the pressure on the population. First, the shots were optional, then jobs were on the line, and soon it appears most public spaces will be unavailable to the unvaccinated. Such a move will not be the end of the line. There are many more stops along the way, and the Church will eventually find herself swallowed up in the flood if she will not stop the flow now. Further restrictions in other regions offer a glimpse of what is in store if the Church remains silent.

Your position on the jab is not the issue. However strongly you may feel, one way or another, the central issue concerns what priority these shots should have in our world. Society does not know the answer. Medical training does not provide the key. Government entities are profoundly ill-equipped to define it. The Church, however, is fully prepared to address the matters of the highest priority. Such an understanding helps untangle other issues and where they stand in the pecking order.

Without the illumination of the Church, tertiary matters vie for prominence and drive society’s priorities into disorder. This is a call for Christians to hold unswervingly to the pattern they have received from their Savior and their faith heritage, and to do so in public. The Church’s relevance lies in her willingness to speak to the important matters of the day. Let us not shrink from this responsibility.

Kevin Freeman is a Maryland native, husband, and father. He serves as the Associate Pastor for Discipleship, Youth, and Families at Redland Baptist Church in Rockville, Maryland.

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