Some Canadian evangelical churches are jumping on the anti-vaccine bandwagon that’s been trundling through the republic to our south to abet vaccine refuseniks who hope to use religious exemptions to get out of vaccination requirements they need to work in hospitals, jails and other facilities where the potential for the spread of COVID-19 is high.
It didn’t take long after publication of a story about Alberta Health Services President Verna Yiu’s revelation Friday that about 750 AHS employees had sought exemptions from the health care provider’s vaccine requirement, half on religious grounds, for a copy of a letter from a large Edmonton-area evangelical church seeking such an exemption for a parishioner to show up at AlbertaPolitics.ca.
The letter states the church’s leadership is writing on behalf of the member to confirm that her “sincerely held religious beliefs” should keep her from being required to receive a COVID-19 vaccination.
“Our church, along with other Christian churches from many denominations, affirms the right to take religious exemption against mandatory vaccination by governmental authorities and/or employers, according to our standards and Scripture,” the letter says, not entirely accurately.
Claiming that “our faith clearly states” there are grounds for members refusing the vaccine, the letter lists four grounds, three with scriptural citations:
- People must be free to follow the dictates of their conscience without constraint (Romans 14)
- Our bodies belong to God, not to the government or our employers or anyone else (1 Corinthians 16:20)
- Abortion is the murder of Children who have been created in God’s image, and foetal cells from aborted humans are used in most vaccines (Leviticus 18:21, Psalm 139: 13-16)
- We are forbidden from accepting any mark or other conditions that a government or other authority figure may put upon us in order to take part in everyday commerce.
Therefore, the letter concludes, the member’s application is “not merely a matter of personal opinion or philosophy, but of bona fide religious conviction with the support of her church. The exemption is in accordance with guidance received from the Alberta Human Rights Commission.”
Now, let’s take a look at what the scriptures referenced actually say, and how clear the guidance they offer really is:
Point 1: This is a reach, to say the least.
The 14th chapter of St. Paul’s letter to the Romans deals with an argument in the early Church about religious food rules. Paul, being a former Pharisee,* would have been well versed on the topic. So this passage says, in effect, “settle down, people! Let’s not have a big bust-up if some of you want ham sandwiches and the rest insist on egg salad. Show a little respect! It’s not that important.”
Does this mean Paul thought people must be able to follow their notions without constraint? Obviously not.
Point 2: First Corinthians 16:20 – St. Paul again – says, in modern language, “all the brothers and sisters here send you greetings. Greet one another with a holy kiss.” It’s pretty hard to spin this to mean our bodies belong to God, not the government.
Most likely, though, whoever wrote this meant to quote 1 Corinthians 6:19, the famous “your body is a temple” scripture beloved by your most hypercritical shirttail relatives. They might be right that scripture advises you to quit smoking, but it says nothing against taking a vaccine.
Point 3: Since none of the vaccines approved in Canada contain gelatin, pork products or fetal tissue, this pretty well deals with this objection right there, plus some others that might come up for believers in major religions with strict rules about what adherents may eat.
As an aside, though, Leviticus 18:21 only commands believers not to sacrifice their children to the Canaanite god Moloch, which seems sensible to me. And Psalm 139 says that humans are “fearfully and wonderfully made” by God, which is as stretch as an argument against abortion, even. Neither Leviticus nor the Psalms weigh on the manufacture of vaccines.
It is ironic that the author of a screed demanding bodily autonomy for one parishioner even if it kills someone demands no bodily autonomy for another on more debatable grounds.
Point 4: No scriptural citation is provided, but this doubtless refers to Revelation 13:17, which prophesies how, some day, “no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name.” So, the mark of the beast, then.
Without getting into the venerable argument over whether the Book of Revelation even belongs in the Bible (Martin Luther, for one, said no), we can probably come up with 666 reasons why this is a pretty lame argument for not getting a vaccine, or even needing a vaccination card to get into a cinema. Not, at least, unless the objectors are prepared to give up their driving licenses, credit cards, professional registrations, and Alberta MLA lapel pins.
Even if you accept the authority of scripture, none of this amounts to a bona fide argument for allowing vaccine dodging.
As for the reference to the Alberta Human Rights Commission, it seems spurious without a citation of the legal sort, the kind of thing some perverse libertarian law shop might dream up to stick in a meaningless letter to try to intimidate an employer into not insisting its employees be vaccinated, as public health demands.
Employers should expect to see much more of this kind of foolishness as evangelicals in numbers abandon their traditional beliefs and break their backs “lifting Moloch to heaven!”
* The Pharisees have gotten a bad rap over the past couple of thousand years. They accepted the idea of evolution in Jewish law when conditions changed. In other words, they expected folks to use their heads when applying the law to changing circumstances. This is a quality in desperately short supply in contemporary evangelical Christian communities.