Is a Vaccine at Odds with the Christian Faith?

The Christian faith is all about loving God and neighbor. Get immune, save and love your neighbor and their children. Get the Covid vaccine.

Perhaps it’s never been possible to have agreement on the definition of a faith tradition; ideas about what it means to follow a religion have always been fluid and contentious. I read a news article this week that a settlement was reached in an employment religious discrimination lawsuit, granting a Minnesota man $65,000 in back pay and damages from his former employer over his refusal to be fingerprinted for a required background check. He said it was against his Christian faith to do so.

Henry Harrington claimed that his employer, Ascension Point Recovery Services (APRS), a debt collection company, had failed to make the required accommodation for his belief and fired him. A similar employment case was filed four years ago in Pennsylvania, when a local school bus driver refused fingerprinting as part of her background check, claiming that the process would leave the “mark of the devil” on her, preventing her future entrance to heaven. That’s news to me.

Many more of these religious objection cases have been filed across the country in recent years as social and legal changes have pressed up against long held personal beliefs about social responsibility, employment requirements, privacy rights and our own physical autonomy.

Can a life insurance company, considering you for a new policy, require you to release to them your full physical and mental health record, disclose your family medical history, take your blood pressure and a sample of your blood? Might they also review the public filing of your divorce decree from 10 years back? They have been doing such things legally for decades. Can a federal employer take your photo, driver’s license number, Passport information as well fingerprints to screen you for a job? Will it search for any records of arrest or legal charges brought against you in national data bases? Most certainly it will.

As more information about our individual lives is collected and shared, many of us are pushing back. Where does my right to security of person and property end and legal or social demands begin? And when we must make arguments for protecting those intuitive, personal boundaries, it’s no wonder that issues of faith, meaning and core values come front and center.

These same issues, it seems to me, are at the center of the debate around Covid vaccine mandates. For most of 2020, we prayed and hoped for the miracle of a safe and effective vaccine to be created by our nation’s research scientists, folks who have been steadily working on similar virus strains of influenza, bird flu, and SARS for decades. Because of the previous research, the vaccines came quickly, tentatively released after multiple trials with eager volunteers, giving us hope that it would snuff out the pandemic and its possible mutations with our majority immunity.

The vaccine is free for all. Now anyone over 12 can get immunized! And even after weeks and months of pleading and even cash incentives, 20% of eligible Americans have refused this life-saving medicine.

I have come to understand this refusal by so many as the result of all the loss of privacy many of us feel over the last two generations mentioned earlier. Some people, claiming conflicts with the vaccine and their faith practices, have received exemptions from vaccination in the past few months, risking their own health and the life and wellbeing of those around them.  Even when such exemptions don’t seem to be wise or practical, current law does allow such freedom when it comes to boundaries set by a person’s sincere religious practice.

But people are still dying, children are still not protected, and our medical personnel are traumatized by the continuing demands on their health and stamina. As new mandates are announced, reluctant employees are claiming a religious exemption, requesting letters of support from their Christian clergy. I want to go on the record with this admonition: Don’t ask your pastor for such a letter. Your pastor can’t make a coherent faith argument against receiving an approved vaccination that will save your life and the life of those around you.

Why? Because, quite simply, the Christian faith is centered on the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth. And if there is a central theme to his life and teaching, it is love of God and love of neighbor. In this, Jesus taught, is all the Law and the Prophets. It’s not about creating a cover for your distrust of government, or resentment that you are expected to take medicine because someone else says so. It is not so you can live your life exactly on your own terms, shouting “freedom” until you are hoarse. Every day of his life, Jesus spoke and demonstrated his gospel, that as God loves us, so we are called to that same love of one another. To take proven medicine when you can, to save your own life as well as the life of the weak, young or vulnerable, is discipleship work. There is no religious excuse that makes any sense to me. Love Jesus? Love your neighbor. And get your shots.


(Written for The Savage Pacer, Spiritual Reflection column; Published Saturday, 9/18/21)



Getting back to community

As we move toward a more mobile and interactive lifestyle again, how do you imagine your need or preference for social gathering has changed?

At last, some good news: we seem to be slowly crawling our way out of the pandemic. Even with new variant strains, our community rates are low, hospitalizations have decreased and fewer Americans are critically sick and dying. More of us are vaccinated every day as supply increases. Schools, gyms, airlines, restaurants, museums and churches are starting to welcome people back.

But after a full year (and more) of limitations on our social gatherings, many wonder how our cultural institutions will look when we finally emerge through this crisis. We can’t just snap back after half a million people have died, countless numbers of businesses have closed, more millions have lost their jobs and our nation’s children, parents and teachers are exhausted by the loss of classroom learning.

As we move toward a more mobile and interactive lifestyle again, how do you imagine your need or preference for social gathering has changed? Will you embrace your earlier habits of frequent restaurant dining, attending crowded basketball games, or elbow to elbow live music concerts? Will masks become part of our normal attire at a doctor’s appointment or plane flight? And for people of faith, what will become of in-person worship when we can all get back together?

Church statistics have shown that even before the pandemic restrictions, Americans were changing their habits of worship attendance and affiliation to Christian communities. A sharp decline in participation has been measured in the last 20 years, and the loss of in-person participation in this last year has increased that loss.

The Barna Research group ( has discovered that while half (53%) of active church members report that they have streamed their church’s worship service in the last month, a full third (32%) of active members have never participated online in the last year. Even more disconnection is reported among members in the millennial generation (18-29 years old) as a full 50% have stopped any church participation since the start of the pandemic. While some churches report a number of new online participants this year, the number is too small to be statistically significant.

These numbers simply prove to me the obvious: that full human life, including religious activity, is meant to be lived with and among each other, not separate, isolated and apart. Video conferencing, while a wonderful technology and alternative mode of communication across distances, can never replace the experience of being together.

When we are in proximity to another human body, we share essential emotional information with one another about who we are and who we see the other to be. We communicate with more than our words: our bodies have a social language expressed in our posture, gestures, tone of voice, tilt of the head, the gaze of our eyes. We stand close, we hug, we step apart. We laugh, cry, roll our eyes, make a face, drop into silence, listen or shout together. The energy of these emotional expressions is felt in our nervous system, and we have the power to co-regulate one another as we connect with close relationships.

This is what I hope many more of us have learned in this last, very hard year together. That to be fully ourselves is to be seen and felt and known as we are when we are physically together. That to save our lives, we had to stay apart. But to be fully alive, to create human community together, we need to be physically present in one another’s space.

It has been a terrible year in so many ways. Staying connected to spiritual practice and people has been challenging, even as I have loved being together on Zoom on Sundays or talking books and culture on Tuesday nights. I will be forever grateful for our pastor and musicians’ optimism, consistency and focus as they pivoted from in-person to online in a flash. But when we can, churches will be gathering body to body, heart to heart, to sing, to pray, to listen for the word spoken. Because that is how our God has made us: spiritual people in physical bodies.

I pray you can find your way back to your faith community to regroup with others and be restored into the body Jesus called us to be. May it be so, and may it be soon.

(Originally written for / published in / the Savage Pacer, Feb 20, 2021