Mailbag

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.

23 thoughts on “The Mailbag: Vaxxers, Anti-Vaxxers, and the Health of the Body”

  1. Well said! This can also be used for other issues people have in the church that have nothing to do with God. This actually helped me with another issue not even related to vaccines. Thank you.

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  2. I so appreciate your words in this. It is a hot topic with lots of emotions.
    I have a medically fragile daughter who, thankfully, could receive the vaccines, (and thankfully my children were born prior to the controversy, so I didn’t have to make a decision)
    However, I am fully aware she is still susceptible were she exposed. Even a mild case of one of these diseases could be difficult for her.
    I so thankful I do not have to fret over that potential. I am thankful for a Sovereign God, who controls her days.
    As you so well stated, we make the most informed decision we can and entrust the results to the Lord.
    I very much appreciate your counsel on how it looks to deal with it in the church. We have not run up against those not coming- that we know of yet, but great ideas to keep in mind for when that day comes.

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  3. Thank you so much for this post Michelle. Proverbs 27:9 9 Oil and perfume make the heart glad, and the sweetness of a friend comes from his earnest counsel.

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  4. Very well written article. I will not specify our vaccine status as I belive it to be a private medical choice amd no one elses business. I have chosen to not live in fear. If my children contract a disease or illness, we simply stay home from church or going out in public. If they are healthy, we go to church. If they contract a disease from someone while we are at church, I wouldn’t get angry and go talk to the Pastor about it. I’d simply take my kids home and deal with the issue. I think so many people are up in arms about the vacinne issue simply due to fear. I also believe that if the question at hand is brought up to the Pastor and people told to avoid each other in the solutions you offered, it would cause more division and anger in the church family. By vaccinating or not vaccinating, you must take personal responsibility, you owe nothing to anyone else as it’s a personal medical choice. If the pregnant woman is concerned about unvaccinated children, it’s her responsibility to protect herself and stay home. The unvaccinated shouldn’t be shunned for their choice. Choose not to live in fear!

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    1. I agree. I really appreciated 90% of this well written article but flinched a little when I read the suggestions to the pastor. That seems very divisive!

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      1. Autumn- If you have better ideas of ways both sides could serve each other in love, without one side having to make all the sacrifices, and with both sides still being able to attend church as much as possible, please share them! This reader needs help and I am totally OK with her getting it from a fellow reader if my suggestions aren’t workable.

        What would you suggest?

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    2. You’re completely missing the point of sacrificial love if you state that you owe nothing to anyone! If you really think about vaccinating and sacrificial love then herd immunity would be sacrificial love. You’re taking the risks involved by vaccinating and loving others by protecting them as best you can!

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  5. Thank you Michelle for your post. This is a touchy subject for certain. Would you be willing to do a part 2? My reason for asking is to have a biblical published post about the social media aspect of this very subject. I would say every day, I see Christians on both sides of the fence use their social media to post on vaccines – one side or the other. Some articles and posts are mild. Many are inflammatory. These do so much damage – The Gospel witness is hampered of those posting and subsequently, arguing, as well as dividing the body of Christ – locally and universally. I really appreciate that you did not post your position on this subject. Those who are close to me, we have had conversations, but my opinions are now private on this and other matters that have no Gospel focus… I learned the hard way, and had to repent for being one who was ruining my witness and creating division. It was devastating to see it and I am thankful for God’s discipline of me in it. Thank you again Michelle!

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    1. Thank you, Lisa. Rather than writing a “Part 2”, I think I will just let your comment and the principles already outlined in this article speak to that aspect of the issue. I’m dismayed by many of the comments I’ve already received (and deleted) on this article exemplifying the very division and argumentativeness I addressed in the first and second paragraph, so, at least for the moment, I’m not inclined to venture into this topic again.

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  6. Thank you for providing a Biblical response to a challenging issue!

    I especially appreciated the part about God’s sovereignty. I have been treated for cancer, and when I first met with my oncologist, he presented me with documentation outlining my odds of survival based on what they knew about my cancer.

    So now I live between 2 realities…I know that the info my oncologist gave me is based on science. But I also know that Psalm 139 tells me that my days were written down before I was born. Most of the time I live in the reality of Psalm 139. But sometimes fear comes in, and I find myself living in the reality of science. That’s when I must return to God’s word.

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    1. Hi Ramona- I pray you are feeling well and healthy today. I hope I didn’t give the impression that we should ditch science and medicine altogether and just “trust God” about our health. On the contrary, doctors, science, and medicine are a blessing He has given us and we should use those resources to His honor and glory, and as tools to prayerfully make godly and wise decisions. It’s the outcome of those decisions we trust Him with. :0)

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      1. Oh no. I didn’t get that impression at all! I fully trust the knowledge and skill of my medical team, and have followed their treatment plans with thanksgiving for them and modern medicine.

        But I also know that God has the final answer. 🙂

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  7. Excellent article, Michelle! Love this and that it can be applied to other situations, too! I was actually surprised by the original poster’s question to you, because if this woman goes other places at all while pregnant (out in public you never know who is vaxxed and who is not), then why should going to church be any different. However, as puzzled as I was about the original question, I am SO SO glad she asked it and you got to write this wonderful post! Great Biblical reminders for all of us – thank you!

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  8. One principle we should always keep in mind is this: Even though something is not explicitly taught in Scripture (Vaccines; airplanes; social media) there will always be multiple biblical principles we can and should learn and apply.

    Also, for what it is worth, this not an either-or conundrum. There are many people who are not against vaccines, but they are deeply concerned about people being forced to vaccinate–yet they get falsely accused of being “Anti-Vaxxers.”

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  9. Thank you for such a thorough response. Rightly said, we can’t just align with science and moreover, we can’t just align with pharmaceutical companies (who are raking in billions) There is always an underlying vested interest in profitable issues.

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  10. Also I forgot to say that I am an evangelist, and I would never want to waste one moment with someone that could be spent sharing the Gospel flaring people up over secondary issues. Same with politics. It is very sad to hear people debating politics and vaccines with unsaved people when they could be discussing the Gospel, and the law and grace of the Bible.

    We should be known for our verbal sharing of the Gospel, our love for each other, and our fruit. Not our politics or vac stance.

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  11. I read an article yesterday right after reading this one, where a woman had to quit her teaching job (that she really loves) because she is so self-sacrificing in it (as so many teachers are) that her health is being affected. There was a quote in the article saying something like, “I can’t set myself on fire to keep others warm”. That made me think about this article of Michelle’s. If a person knows, or believes, that they or their family will be harmed by vaccines (children’s vacs, flu vacs, shingles vacs, pneumonia vacs, whooping cough vacs, any vacs at all), then for another Christian to call them ‘unloving’ because they won’t set themselves on fire is so sad, and also sinful, as Michelle pointed out. Yes, our lives are not our own and we need to put others before ourselves, but that’s why we need to take everything to the Lord and seek His guidance and wisdom in how this plays out in our lives, so that He is glorified in all our actions. I love all your suggestions, Michelle, in how they could possibly try to work around this in their church.

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  12. Trusting in God’s sovereignty is the best medicine for fear! The Scriptures you outlined are best for speaking to the situation. The hype of this issue is causing undue fear for new mothers. Anyone, vaxxed or unvaxxed, can carry any disease. Some cancer patients, or others with compromised immunity, are even warned by doctors to stay away from vaccinated people for 2 weeks following their vaccination due to vaccine shedding. It would impossible and divisive to separate church members by vaxxed, unvaxxed, recently vaxxed, and immune compromised. This is where our faith comes into play. Pray, seek God’s wisdom, and cast away the cares of this world. He is in control; He is merciful; He is full of lovingkindness; He is just.

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