The Mailbag: Vaxxers, Anti-Vaxxers, and the Health of the Body


I was wondering if you could help me work through this issue: some people at my church did not vaccinate their children. While I do see that people have very strong opinions about this issue, it creates a hazardous situation for some of the members. For example, a young expecting mom can not come and worship because she could contract measles from an unvaccinated child and put her unborn baby at risk. (Not a hypothetical, these are the doctor’s orders. She should not be around unvaccinated children.) The same goes for newborn babies and their families. I am wondering if I should speak to the pastor about this issue, since I believe that the anti-vaxxers act unlovingly towards those who cannot come and attend church until their children are vaccinated. However, I fear that it would cause division and divert the focus from Christ to political or medical issues.

To vaccinate, or not to vaccinate? It’s a tough issue to discuss these days. I have a strongly held position on vaccinations. I’m not going to share it because as you’ve aptly pointed out, that would do nothing but cause division and divert the focus of this article and my ministry from Christ and His Word to a far less important issue. I will say, though, that, my personal position on vaccinations aside, I miss the “good old days” – like 30 years ago – when this wasn’t an issue that had Christian women practically scratching each other’s eyes out. We really should be ashamed of that regardless of which side of the issue we’re on. As sisters in Christ, we can, and should, do better.

I’m not a medical professional, so if you clicked on this article looking for me to say, “Vaxxers/Anti-Vaxxers are right because…science,” I’m sorry, but you’re going to be disappointed. (You’ll also be disappointed if you came here to argue your position in the comments section. I won’t be posting argumentative or inflammatory comments from either side.) My priority is to address the biblical side of how individual Christians and our churches should approach this issue.

Being godly and obedient to Scripture is exponentially
more important than your stance on vaccinations.

So let’s take a look at some biblical principles involved in the vaccination issue:

Is your stance on vaccinations an idol?

How strongly do you feel about vaccinating compared to how strongly you feel about evangelizing the lost? How much time do you spend talking about vaccinating compared to how much time you spend discussing Scripture with others? How much reading have you done about vaccinating compared to how much you read your Bible? Has your stance on vaccinations ever caused you to sin in thought, word, or deed?

Making decisions about your child’s health is, of course, important. But it is not anywhere near as important as the things of God, and it is certainly not more important than the things of God. Prayerfully reflect on the portion of your heart, soul, mind, and strength you invest in the vaccination issue. If it’s more heart, soul, mind, and strength than you invest in studying your Bible, prayer, evangelism, or attending and serving your church, then the vaccination issue has become an idol for you. Repent.

You shall have no other gods before me. Exodus 20:3

And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. Mark 12:30

Do you trust God’s sovereignty?

God is sovereign over life and death, sickness and health. The reason you are alive and reading this article is that it is not God’s will for you to be dead right this minute. If it were, you would be.

Think of all the stories you’ve heard of people who were practically religious about wellness, healthy eating, and exercise who dropped dead out of the blue in their 30’s or 40’s. Now think about the people who have lived into their hundreds. When the newspaper interviews them and asks about the secret to longevity, the centenarian inevitably responds with something about eating eggs and bacon and drinking a few beers every day. You can do everything “right” and still die young, and you can do everything “wrong” and live longer than most people. Even if the pregnant woman isn’t exposed to measles at church, she could be exposed at work, the store, the park, the post office, a restaurant, even her own husband or her other children could bring it home. And even if she is exposed, it’s not a foregone conclusion that her unborn child will be harmed. God is the one who decides all of that, not our own actions.

Should we be good stewards of our health and our bodies? Of course. Christians are to be good stewards of everything God gives us. But beyond being a good steward and making decisions as wisely as possible, the life and health of your child is in God’s hands, right where it belongs. If it is within God’s plan for your child to be healthy, your child will be healthy. If it is within God’s plan for your child to have an illness or disability, your child will have an illness or disability. And there’s nothing you can do about that except praise God in whatever situation He sends your way.

And let’s consider why we’re being good stewards and making wise decisions. Sometimes, without our even realizing it, fear of what might happen causes us to think that if we can get all our ducks in a row just right, we can ward off anything bad happening. It’s kind of a superstitious or even a prosperity gospel (“If I just do all the right things to appease God, He’ll protect me from what I fear.”) way of thinking.

Superstitious worry and fear are not to be our motive for stewardship and wise decision-making. Our motive should be honoring and obeying God in every aspect of our lives and then trusting the outcome to Him. There are health concerns with vaccinating and there are health concerns with not vaccinating. Whichever choice you make, you must trust God with the outcome of your child’s health, rather than trusting in your decision, the experts, studies, statistics, etc.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Proverbs 3:5-6

And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of  Lord.” Job 1:21

What’s love got to do with it?

major problem in the church today is that everybody thinks she gets to define what Christian love is. And most of the time that individualized definition is selfish or worldly or both. If Sister A says something or does something Sister B doesn’t like, Sister B accuses Sister A of being unloving.

No way. We don’t get to mishandle God’s Word and use it as a weapon or tool of manipulation against our brothers and sisters. That is wrong. If we’re going to accuse someone of being unloving, we’d certainly better make sure we’re using the Bible’s definition of love, not the world’s and not our own. And the Bible nearly always addresses the issue of Christian love not from the  perspective of, “Is my sister in Christ being loving to me?” but “Am I being as loving to my sister as Christ is to me?” John 15:12-14 is Jesus’ example to us of this:

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.
Jesus’ instruction to the disciples is to give love, not to concern themselves with whether or not they’re receiving enough love from the other eleven.

Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.
Who is about to lay down His life here? Jesus. And who are His friends? The disciples. Jesus is teaching them to focus on laying their lives down for others, not to expect others to lay down their lives for them.

The fact of the matter is that we’ve got to demonstrate selfless love to others even when they’re not demonstrating that kind of love to us.

By not vaccinating, are anti-vaxxers being unloving to fellow church members who can’t be around unvaccinated children? Are vaxxers being unloving toward anti-vax church members by accusing them of being unloving for not vaccinating their children? We need to be very careful here. The Bible does not address vaccinations, which means it’s not a sin to vaccinate and it’s not a sin not to vaccinate. That puts vaccinations in the category of adiaphora, or Christian liberty, to work out our own salvation and follow our own, biblically informed, consciences. It is a sin to violate your own conscience. So, if a sister in Christ has prayerfully searched the Scriptures and made a decision about vaccinations that is in keeping with her conscience, and you are insisting she do something that violates her conscience (or you’re saying she’s unloving for refusing to violate her conscience), who is the one who’s really being unloving here?

Which is greater, our love for our position on vaccinations or our love for brothers and sisters in Christ who hold the opposite position?

…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, Philippians 2:12b-15

And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. 1 John 4:21

Are you dying to self?

The Christian life is a continuous act of crucifixion of the flesh and denial of self. There is no point in our journey with Christ at which we can sit down, cross our arms and say, “I’ve been serving others non-stop. Now it’s time for somebody to serve me.”. (I’m embarrassed at how many times I’ve had this attitude myself.)

How does that work itself out in the context of this reader’s question? The pregnant woman does everything she can to love and serve her anti-vaxx brothers and sisters while protecting her unborn child. She looks for a workaround in which she bears the burden of making sacrifices, not the anti-vaxxers. At the same time, the anti-vax church members do everything they can to love and serve the pregnant woman while maintaining what they believe is the wisest decision for their children’s health. They look for a workaround in which they bear the burden of making sacrifices, not the pregnant woman. (Every decision we make comes with responsibilities. Christian anti-vaxxers, part of your responsibility when you choose not to vaccinate is not only to protect your child, but also to protect, as far as you’re reasonably able, anyone your child might infect.)

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Philippians 2:3-4

So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. Romans 8:12-13

Are you thinking outside the box?

Outside the world of math, there is rarely only one solution to a problem. (And even inside the world of math there are some problems which have several possible solutions!) It’s probably not the case that the only choices in this situation are that either the anti-vaxxers keep their children at home (or vaccinate them) or the pregnant woman has to stay home. Your idea of going to your pastor is spot on. Just make sure you’re going to him with the attitude of, “Could we meet together as a church body and brainstorm a workable solution to this issue? I’m willing to make sacrifices,” rather than, “Please tell those anti-vaxxers how wrong they are and make them vaccinate their children or stay home.” (Not saying you would have that latter attitude, just making a comparison.)

Is your sanctuary large enough that if the pregnant woman sat on the far end of one side and the unvaccinated children sat on the far end of the other side that they would be far enough apart to keep her from exposure to the measles? (She would need to discuss this with her doctor.) Does your church have more than one worship service (two a.m. services or an a.m. and a p.m.)? An agreement could be reached in which the pregnant woman comes to one service and the unvaccinated children come to the other service. Does your church have a baby cry room/nursing room (a room fussy children can be taken to so they don’t disrupt the service and/or in which moms can nurse babies, that has the sermon “piped in” via video or speaker)? Could something be worked out where the pregnant woman and the unvaccinated children take turns “attending” the worship service in this room each week? If your church doesn’t have a room like this, could one be rigged up? If no other solution can be worked out, and it actually does boil down to someone having to stay home from church, could the pregnant woman and the unvaccinated children take turns staying home from church?

These are just some possible solutions off the top of my head. If the vaxxers and the anti-vaxxers will all come together in an attitude of self-sacrificial love (and, what an incredible opportunity for a pastor to lead his people through putting this into practice) and the desire to serve one another, surely something can be worked out. (And let’s keep in mind, this is only a temporary situation until the baby is born and is old enough to be vaccinated himself. It’s not going to last forever.)

In the body of Christ, no issue is an “us vs. them” issue. It’s always a “we’re all in this together” issue.

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. Ephesians 4:1-6

Has your church ever faced this issue?
How was it addressed and worked out?

If you have a question about: a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.