The Covid vaccine, unlike every other mandated vaccine, has a religious connotation to it. For this reason, Christians in our day need to be instructed by Revelation 13 as much as Romans 13. And I pray this essay might help us to see what is going on and to respond in freedom and faith—whatever that means for you and the vaccine.
Since the Biden Administration mandated soldiers and federal workers to be fully vaccinated, while also requiring private businesses larger than 100 employees to require vaccines, chaos has ensued. Defending the freedoms of Americans, many have begun to address the constitutional problems this mandate creates. Others have begun seeking a religious exemption for this mandate based upon the fetal cells used in the research and production of these vaccines. Still others object to the mandates because they have already contracted Covid, have natural immunity, and believe (with a long history immunology supporting them) that taking a vaccine is unnecessary and may be potentially harmful to their body.
At the same time, other Americans, and many Christians among them, have opted to get the vaccine, even arguing for its morality. Add to this the difference between seeking a vaccine exemption on medical grounds versus moral and religious grounds, and the complexity multiplies. Not surprisingly, with all of these arguments out there, people of faith are led to ask: What should I do?
To answer that question, I am putting myself in the shoes of the men and women in the military and federal government who are now ordered to get vaccinated. Some of them have willingly received the vaccine, and done so in faith. Many others, however, are not able to receive the vaccine in faith. As I have spoken to church members and other Christians about this, many are crushed in spirit at the thought of injecting a serum that has come about by the use of stem cell lines that ultimately trace back to cells derived from aborted babies. Others are not bound in conscience by the use of fetal cell lines, but are nevertheless are unable to take the vaccine in good faith. It is for this latter category, I am writing.
In what follows, I offer a twofold argument for why this vaccine mandate should lead some men and women to seek a religious exemption (not just a medical exemption). These two arguments are based upon a genuinely held religious belief that this mandate (1) eliminates the free exercise of their faith and (2) forces upon them the faith another religion. Along the way, I will show why this vaccine and its accompanying mandate is different in nature than previous vaccines. Unlike previous vaccines, like Jonathan Salk’s polio vaccine or the more recent anthrax vaccine, the Covid vaccine comes with a moral imperative that is downright religious, complete with Fauci prayer candles and vaccine jewelry.
At the outset, I admit that this argument may not resonate with everyone, and that is fine. I am not writing to persuade everyone to seek a religious exemption. Seeking a religious exemption is deeply personal and should be based on one’s genuinely held beliefs. So, I am not seeking to bind anyone’s conscience regarding the vaccine. At our church, we have labored hard to stress the liberty Christians have to receive or reject the vaccine, because we really believe that one’s health care decisions are matters of personal responsibility and liberty, not public morality and coercion.
That said, as a pastor with many members seeking religious exemptions, I am writing to Christians to offer biblical rationale for why Christians can—and in many cases should—seek a religious exemption. So, to the text of Scripture we go.
The Mandate Replaces Faith with Coercion
In the Bible, the locus classicus for liberty of conscience is Romans 14. And while the whole chapter provides a rich resource for understanding the biblical view of human conscience, the last verse provides a starting point for distinguishing faith from coercion, as well as offering a connection between conscience, faith, and sin.
Summarizing his argument on conscience and religious devotion to God, Paul writes: “For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (v. 23). This simple principle needs to guide Christians at all times, but especially in moments when governing authorities are binding consciences by way of coercive actions that do not proceed from God’s truth. In fact, the first point to make is that coercion always makes faith null and void.
There are many ways to get at this argument, but one of them has to do with faith, thanksgiving, and using the good gifts of God. Here’s how Paul puts it in 1 Timothy 4:1–5,
Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, 2 through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, 3 who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. 4 For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, 5 for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.
While Paul’s words take aim at false teachers who forbid marriage and require abstinence from food, his argument stands upon a universal truth: Christians are those who give thanks to God for every good gift. While those in rebellion against God take his gifts and refuse to acknowledge him or give thanks to him (Rom. 1:23), Christians are those who give thanks to God (Luke 17:19) and praise him for every good and perfect gift that comes down from our Father in heaven (James 1:17). These gifts include, food and drink, sex and marriage. But they also include sunshine and rain (Matt. 5:45), agricultural wisdom (Isaiah 28:26), and medicine (James 5:14).
Accordingly, for Christians to receive the vaccine in faith means that Christians can give thanks to God for the good gift that he has given. And more than that, Christians must give thanks to God for anything they put in their body. Not only are we called to glorify God with our bodies (1 Cor. 6:20), but if we refuse to give thanks to God, we are not exercising faith and are by definition sinning (see Rom. 14:23).
By contrast, when Christians eat, drink, or take a vaccine, they do so with personal thanksgiving to their Lord. And over the course of the last year, this is what many Christians have done. In faith, they have prayed against Covid and for a vaccine. Covid is a real threat and one that continues to cut short the lives of those whom we know and love. Accordingly, Christians have given thanks to God for the vaccine, and no one who has taken the vaccine in faith should feel condemned.
My argument here is not anti-vaccine; it is anti-mandate. Because thanksgiving for the vaccine is predicated on a free conscience, I am making the case for personal freedom to making wise choices for one’s health. Remove that freedom of conscience, by forcibly causing someone to do something against their will (and their body), and the ability to offer genuine thanksgiving is gone. And without thanksgiving to God, faith is eliminated, and sin remains. Those who deny God may make light of this thinking, but for those who seek to do all things to the glory of God, this way of thinking stands at the core of their being. And this why liberty of conscience has always been protected in our nation.
Going back to the early church, Christians from many faith traditions are on record for defending the rights of individuals, Christians or otherwise, to live according to their faith. Likewise, Andrew Walker, in his recent book on religious liberty, has argued that making religious choices freely is part of what it means to be made in God’s image. Accordingly, religious liberty “is not a political question,” but a question of what it means to be human. Religious liberty, he argues, “arises from a theology of creation—that humanity bears a unique origin, design, and purpose in its constitution” (Liberty for All, 110). More confessionally, the Second London Confession (1689) puts it this way.
21.2. God alone is Lord of the conscience, and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men which are in any thing contrary to his word, or not contained in it. So that to believe such doctrines, or obey such commands out of conscience, is to betray true liberty of conscience; and the requiring of an implicit faith, an absolute and blind obedience, is to destroy liberty of conscience and reason also.
Christ alone is Lord of conscience. This is the critical point of tension in our moment. This tenet of our faith is in sharp conflict with state and health officials who exalt themselves as conscience-binding-lords. They refuse to give room for religious exemptions or conscience, and thereby seek to bind the conscience which is free in Christ. As state and health officials masquerade as conscience-binding-lords, we must reply: Solus Christus.
Protestants have always opposed church or state pronouncements that coerce action or bind conscience. In 1769–70, six Baptists were jailed in Culpeper, Virginia for this conviction, and James Madison worked with likes of John Leland, another Virginia Baptist, to instantiate in the Constitution of the United States (1789) a clause protecting religious liberty—what we know as the First Amendment. Thus, religious liberty has been a defining feature of America, and one that reflects the human dignity and personal freedom set forth in Scripture.
Sadly, with the recent vaccine mandates, liberty of conscience has been withdrawn and in its place the state has eliminated the chance for citizens to live according to their religious convictions. As a result, many Christians, still unconvinced by the need for this vaccine, have lost the chance to be persuaded of its goodness and the chance to receive it with thanksgiving. Hence, the first reason that many Christians should seek a religious exemption is because instead of the state using the power of persuasion, which could preserve personal liberty and would lead to thanksgiving, the state has used its power of coercion to eliminate personal freedom for the sake of its religious belief that the vaccine is the savior we all need.
This is the second argument to be made, that instead of merely eliminating personal liberty and the chance to offer thanksgiving to God for this vaccine, the Biden administration and its various agencies have forced upon Christians a medical procedure that is championed as a secular sacrament. Still, before getting into that argument, the fact remains that many Christians who are called to do everything from faith and to give thanksgiving to God for every good gift, including vaccines, are not able to do that. And for that reason, those who cannot take the vaccine in faith, should not take the vaccine at all. Instead, they should seek a religious exemption and band together with others who share their convictions to stand for personal liberty.