While vaccine mandates are slowly becoming a thing of the past (for now) it is imperative that Christians be able to navigate the dialogue of religious objection to COVID-19 vaccinations. This article is not an endorsement or objection to the COVID-19 vaccination but is intended to better equip Christians to think informatively about vaccine mandates.
Within Christian circles, there is a great deal of debate over the morality of the COVID-19 vaccine mandates and the legitimacy of religious objections. Religious objections range from universal to particular. Some Christians object to vaccine mandates entirely on the basis of bodily autonomy. Some Christians take no issue with the vaccines themselves but have a strong moral objection to vaccines being mandated. Some Christians believe there is a connection between the abortion industry and the development of the COVID-19 vaccines. Other Christians criticize the abortion connection as inconsistent or factually wrong. Needless to say, there is widespread disagreement about the merits of religious objections to the COVID-19 mandates.
The arguments below will not adjudicate any particular religious objection, such as the abortion argument or bodily autonomy. Rather, they provide a simple theological basis for a religious objection that is broadly applicable and, hopefully, effective for anyone seeking a religious exemption. The argument is built on three propositions.
If all three are true, then individuals should not be coerced via vaccine mandates.
The Bible teaches that God is the supreme moral law-giver over all creation as revealed through His Word. God’s Word is the ultimate authority on all matters of human existence. It is under God’s Word that Christians submit, and it is through His Word that Christians derive the meaning and content of moral knowledge. God’s Word informs us about the external moral order in creation and every person’s internal sense of right and wrong (Rom. 1-2). The internal sense of right of wrong is known as the conscience, which is the seat of subjective moral knowledge within every person and the means by which the Holy Spirit brings conviction of sin, peace and joy, and knowledge of God (Rom. 2:15; 1 Cor. 3:1-9; 1 Tim. 4:2).
The conscience is the sacred place where the Christian hears from the Lord on ethical matters that are not clearly defined in Scripture. While some moral rules are absolute and unchanging, others may be contextual, and therefore, reserved for each person’s conscience to arbitrate in communion with the Holy Spirit (Rom. 14; 1 Cor. 10). Concerning these contextually-based moral issues, the Scriptures teach that each Christians ought (1) to obey their own conscience before the Lord, and (2) respect the consciences of other Christians (Rom. 14:10). In so doing, they submit to God’s authority.
The Scriptures teach that God is the author and sustainer of life, and the only one with authority to take life (1 Sam. 2:6; Job 1:21; Ps. 115:3; Psalm 139:13-18). Moreover, the Scriptures teach that life on earth is a temporary state of existence and one that will ultimately come to end (Heb. 9:27; Rev. 22). Each Christian must place his or her life solely in God’s hands by surrendering to His calling and trusting in His goodness in spite of physical circumstances (Job 13:15; Matt. 6:26; Phil. 4:6-7; 1 Peter 5:7). The Scriptures also teach that faith in Jesus Christ, and the hope of eternal life with Him, requires that each Christian live without fear since God is capable of preserving, sustaining, and healing the body from any ailment, and that death, though undesirable, brings eternal life with Christ (Phil. 1:21; 2 Cor. 12:9; James 5:13-15).
Concerning medical procedures, Christians can recognize that modern medicine, including vaccines, represents achievements that reflect the glory of God through humanity’s cultural mandate (Gen. 1:28). Christians can celebrate these advancements as gifts from God (James 1:17). At the same time, Christians should acknowledge that medical advancements are good insofar as they glorify God, but not when they detract from His glory by marring and defiling His creation or by usurping humanity’s trust in Him (2 Cor. 16:12). Whereas the former attitude is good and right, the latter attitude constitutes idolatry, and therefore, sin.
If a Christian fears sinning in anything, they have a duty to refrain on the basis of conscience. Concerning the COVID-19 vaccines, if a Christian has full trust in God and freedom of conscience to take the vaccines, it is their right to do so. However, some Christians believe—for various reasons—that taking the vaccines reflects hasty moral judgment or that the vaccine mandates wrongly (idolatrously) elevate certain aspects of life over others. On this basis, they fear that taking the vaccine gives moral approval to procedures and policies they believe are wrong. The Christian has the right to object to the vaccine on this basis. Each Christian must be free to trust God with their own personal health choices, including COVID-19 vaccines.
Concerning the civil law, the Scriptures recognize the legitimacy of government authority in matters of public life (Rom. 13:1-7). Governments have a duty to establish peace, order, and justice in society, and civil law should seek to approximate God’s justice on earth (1 Pet. 2:13-25). However, the Scriptures also maintain that the human heart and soul belong to God alone (Matt. 22:21). When governing authorities overstep their authority, including attempts to coerce the conscience, Christians have a duty to obey God rather than man (Acts 5:29).
Given the biblical limits of governing authority, Christians should be free to refuse the vaccine without fear of reprisal. One’s religious objection could be based on the research and development of the vaccines, known and unknown side-effects, a lack of long-term data on the safety of the vaccines, or the coercive means by which they have been imposed on the general public.
At minimum, a Christian may not feel adequately informed of the moral aspects of the vaccines, and hence, may not feel free at this time to receive the vaccine. It is perfectly reasonable, and biblically justifiable, for a Christian to refuse the vaccines at this time only to take them at a later date. Through study, prayer, and reflection a Christian may shift from viewing the vaccines as morally wrong to morally permissible. Whatever the case, a Christian is within his or her right to consider these factors in the formation of personal moral choice. Each Christian should be afforded the time and space to determine what is right in their conscience.
This is the right of every Christian under God.
In closing, this simple and broad theological argument should not be taken as a moral condemnation of the COVID-19 vaccines. Nor does it entail a carte blanche religious objection to all vaccines, all COVID-19 treatments, or even a permanent rejection to the COVID-19 vaccine. This argument only implies an indefinite, limited, and conscience-based objection to the COVID-19 vaccines should a Christian feel convicted to refrain from them.
Moreover, freedom of conscience is protected under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, and the United States has a long-standing tradition of respecting the right of religious adherents to live out their faith in public life. To coerce individuals into violating their consciences via vaccine mandates goes against the spirit of religious liberty enshrined in the Constitution. Vaccine mandates, whether imposed by private entities or by government bureaucracies, violate this sacred right and should not be used to coerce religious objectors.