Religious liberty and COVID-19 vaccines

[dc]W[/dc]e have received more contacts from readers about the COVID-19 vaccine than any other since we went live in 2008. This is understandable because most religious liberty issues only affect a few people, but almost everybody reading this is being asked to take “the jab” or potentially face some dire consequences.

I read in an essay some months back that Americans are not a “compliant” people – the Declaration of Independence being Exhibit A, so it is not unusual for any request from government to be viewed with suspicion. I don’t believe that there is anything nefarious behind the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine, but I will admit that the COVID-19 messaging has been botched and politicized from the beginning, and disentangling politics from the public perception of the virus, its origins, and its treatment is proving to be impossible.

I don’t believe, in my theological framework, that the virus or vaccine itself has anything to do with the “Mark of the Beast.” For the uninitiated, the Mark of the Beast is referenced in Revelation 13 as a future economic limitation on the ability of people who do not accept the “mark” to buy or sell anything.

There is debate in Christianity about what the “mark” will be, with some believing it to be strictly spiritual even if it is manifested in a tangible limit on engagement in commerce. Others believe that it will be a literal mark. While there may be uncertainty between groups about what the mark is, there is no question that proof of a vaccination is quickly becoming a license to work, attend events, or even obtain other forms of healthcare. Until the past twenty years or so, the infrastructure necessary to enforce a global restriction on commerce was impossible, but today on the Information Superhighway, everything an individual does with relation to money and healthcare, along with personal contacts and communication is recorded on vast databases that can be accessed by authorities around the world.

We are no longer living in an age where technological domination is just an idea. The use of government power, and increasingly private corporations acting at the behest of governments, to block people from participating in commerce is now the default position. It takes great restraint by leaders not to use this available power to compel ordinary people to act in certain ways or face an insurmountable barrage of consequences.

I’ve talked to many people about the vaccines, and while I believe they are useful to stop or reduce the effects COVID-19, what I’m seeing is that most people are very concerned about letting this type of intrusion go unchallenged. So for those who are concerned about what is forming in government, and what might come next, I see you.  I just don’t buy the idea that there is some spiritual nobility to not taking the vaccine, and I don’t resonate with the concept that those who refuse it are standing firm on principle and not eat the foot offered to idols like Daniel and his friends in Daniel 1, or when they refused to bow to Nebuchadnezzar’s statue as both things would have violated clear Biblical mandates. Vaccines don’t.

I do agree that the messaging on COVID-19 has been inconsistent and does not inspire confidence. Last year at this time, if you suggested that it came from a lab in Wuhan, China and not from somebody eating a bat sold at an outdoor market, you would be censored. But now the concerns about lab experiments on “gain of function” research, involving the passage of a virus from one host species to another, have entered the mainstream, and it is no longer considered unreasonable to ask questions about the origin of the virus. But that enforced silence created a reasonable sense of distrust.

It became a political issue last fall  during the vice presidential debate in 2020, then-candidate Kamala Harris laughingly said that she would take a COVID-19 vaccine if doctors said if it was safe but not if Donald Trump said to take it.    While it may have been a joke, many Trump supporters instantly connected the concept to their politics, and many who think the election results were illegitimate have resisted taking the vaccine, because it feels like they are conceding electoral defeat.

Whether masks are necessary also seems to be an issue. Early on in the pandemic when masks were scarce, Dr. Fauci recommended against ordinary people wearing them, later admitting that he said this because health professionals needed them. Then he said they were needed, and at one point suggested wearing more than one mask. Dr. Fauci’s paternalistic untruths early on may have worked in an earlier era when authorities could routinely mislead people “for their own good” but in an age of mass communication, people immediately questioned his narrative and he has lost most credibility with many people as a result.

Then there is whether a person who has had COVID-19 is now immune to it. Early on, the government said that we needed to “flatten the curve” for a couple of weeks so that hospitals were not overwhelmed with people with the virus. Many would eventually get the virus and recover with full immunity, but the most severely affected patients who required hospitalization would have plenty of beds available for them. Now, the concept of natural immunity is treated as a conspiracy theory.

Whether the vaccine is effective has not been consistently communicated. Early on, we were told that it would be a one or two-shot thing, depending on the brand of the vaccine, and you’d be done. Now there is talk about booster shots, and regardless of your vaccination status, you still have to wear a mask. Yet schools that were closed last year are now open, and people are out and about even though the message is that conditions remain dangerous and that the best thing to do is to stay home.

I could go on and on about the inconsistency in the vaccine messaging, but most people have probably thought about it and discussed it ad nauseam with friends and family members.

From what I’ve read, the vaccine seems to be effective and is reducing serious threats to health.  I had both Pfizer injections as soon as they were available to me, and this was before the “religious liberty” arguments started coming out.

Religious liberty is something that we will always work to uphold, and I recognize that it is the argument of last resort for those who understandably question what is happening. I’ve worked on religious accommodation issues for many years, and this time people who haven’t darkened the door of a house of worship in many years are suddenly asserting that there is a faith-based reason to object to the vaccine. I won’t begrudge those who make those arguments, but I won’t be making them myself because I don’t think the vaccine arguments have a reasonable basis in actual faith, and I cannot represent that they do. I know that some of you will stop reading this essay now that you’ve read that, so I’ll end here.







1 Comment

  1. Charles says:

    Christians should keep in mind that one of Christ’s two basic commandments is “love your neighbor as yourself”. Why shouldn’t Christians not want to protect others? If I pass a virus on to someone else and he/she gets sick or even dies due to that virus, how could I not be be held guilty. On the other hand, we Christians do need to recognize how this Covid control process can open serious problems in the future for us who are committed to Christ.