Jesus would not get a vaccine religious exemption
Sheep, centering, "my body/my choice," and the Cross
***For the new people, welcome! I am a PhD epidemiologist (full credentials and more about me here.) From the beginning of the pandemic, I’ve been writing as the Friendly Neighbor Epidemiologist over on FB with now more than 105k followers. This work has also been featured in TIME Magazine, Christianity Today, the Washington Post, ChristiansandtheVaccine, and NPR, and I consider all of that a massive honor to speak into this space. I’m also a pastor’s wife and a Christian and have written extensively about faith and the pandemic (I linked to those writings at the end). I know many of you reading this are not of the Christian faith, and these faith-type posts are never intended to proselytize. They are intended to speak to my people, particularly evangelicals. I do hope these posts are encouraging and challenging to those of us who profess Christianity and compel us to act accordingly.
I also want to be clear that I’m not talking in this post about medical exemptions for the COVID vaccines that come from your doctor for legit reasons. Nor am I addressing people of religions other than my own. I’m talking about the uptick in Christians requesting exemptions from the COVID vaccines as described below. Ok, with that disclaimer let’s get started…***
If Jesus were here walking the earth, I don’t think he would get an exemption. He never exempted himself here on earth. In fact, He did quite the opposite. He centered around the vulnerable, the margins, the sick, the poor. That sounds a whole lot like the purpose of the vaccines and herd immunity - centering protection around the vulnerable, the margins, the sick, the poor. We, if we profess as Christians, should too. Let me show you…
Starting with our example of Jesus’ time on earth.
Sheep, goats, and the least
It was a few days before Passover, right before Jesus was about to be anointed at Bethany with the “wasteful” oil from the woman [one of my favorite stories]. Jesus had just finished talking to his disciples about being ready with oil for lamps and faithful with talents. He then turns to a story about sheep and goats (which feels relevant in this pandemic when the word ‘sheep’ has been made into a derogatory term - we are about to see that it is quite the opposite). Turn with me in your bibles to Matthew 25 (and, all the preachers said ‘amen’)…
“When he [Jesus] finally arrives, blazing in beauty and all his angels with him, the Son of Man will take his place on his glorious throne. Then all the nations will be arranged before him and he will sort the people out, much as a shepherd sorts out sheep and goats, putting sheep to his right and goats to his left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Enter, you who are blessed by my Father! Take what’s coming to you in this kingdom. It’s been ready for you since the world’s foundation. And here’s why:
I was hungry and you fed me,
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in prison and you came to me.’
“Then those ‘sheep’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we do that?…Then the King will say, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.’ (Matthew 25:31-40, The Message)
Jesus then goes to call out the goats on the left in the story. They were the ones who did not feed, quench thirst, give, visit. In other words, they did not take care of the least of these. The rest of the story does not go well for them (check out the end of the chapter, yikes!).
I think this final parable was purposeful to those of us who call ourselves followers of Jesus. At the end of his life, Jesus made sure to remind us how to live out our faith, how to use freedom, how to humbly obey. For us during COVID-19, we clearly know the “least of these” are. COVID has exposed what has always divided us regarding oppressive systems, poverty, inequities, age vulnerabilities - but, has multiplied it. Just look at who have died from the disease, who are at risk, who are still at risk. These are the least of these
Immunocompromised, cancer patients, parents/siblings/children with underlying conditions, grandmothers with asthma, pregnant mommas
Marginalized due to poverty, healthcare access, historical systemic injustices
Low-income countries/regions, rural areas, where you live
Frontline workers who have to go to work (and risk being yelled at in the grocery store check-out line or cleaning hospital floors or administering medicines in the ICU – and then go home to their vulnerable family members – or are vulnerable themselves)
Do you see the “least of these” based on age, class, where you live, where you work, privilege, money, your body with underlying health conditions that you have no control over? “What does that have to do with Jesus and vaccines?”
This brings me now to our response with vaccines and Jesus…Stay with me, friends. This is about to be throw-your-hands-up-grateful-goodness from the Cross….here we go…
If we are Christians, if we profess Jesus as our Lord and Savior, if we have been made new creations1, if we are now ambassadors of a new kingdom2 [not Rome, not the US], if we love Him with all our hearts/souls/minds/strength3, if we say that loving our neighbors summarizes the entire law4 - we have been given an example of how Jesus lived on earth and teaching that we should live the same. How do we do that in the pandemic with vaccines?
It deals with centering. Say it again. Cen-ter-ing. Slowly, steadily, mindfully. Take it in. Cen-ter-ing. Like a breath prayer.
Jesus always centered around the vulnerable, the “other”, the neighbors, the least of these. He stopped huge crowds when a very sick woman touched the edge of his cloak5, he allowed an interruption when the roof caved in with tenacious friends lowering their friend to him [in the midst of the “religious right of the day” that were present]6, he welcomed the children to him and placed a child in the middle of his disciples7, he found the hiding woman at the well8, he stood beside the shamed woman among stones about to be thrown9, he healed on the Sabbath when it was ‘unlawful’10, he forgave the sinner on the cross beside him11, he cared for the lepers12, the downcast13, the weary14,…(all of these stories can be found in the Gospels).
Do you see the centering on the vulnerable, the least of these?
This brings me back to vaccines. And, again to Jesus. The purpose of the COVID vaccines is to protect us individually, yes. But from the beginning of this pandemic, we [in the public health world] knew that the end of a pandemic like this would be through herd immunity with vaccines.
Vaccines and herd immunity are like one huge, centering umbrella of protection over entire populations. Especially the vulnerable. Especially where the least-of-these are still prevalent in this world. The concept of herd immunity is to get a majority of people vaccinated against COVID to provide protection for the minority, those on the margins of vulnerability due to underlying conditions/poverty/healthcare access/rurality/country, the least of these.
Vaccines and herd immunity are centering around the vulnerable. That sounds a lot like Jesus, doesn’t it? It sounds a whole like taking care of the “least of these”, thereby taking care of Jesus.
As Christians, we have been called to be Ambassadors15 to a new kingdom. In other words, we are called to bring heaven to earth. [If you don’t weep at that reality like I am as I write these words, go get on your knees. O Lord, that we would see that on this earth.]
Part of bringing heaven to earth is bold prayers, yes. To you fellow Charismatics out there, you better believe my morning runs are full of praying in the Spirit [to you Baptists, that means praying in tongues, #ihopethatmadeyouchuckle] in bold groanings in faith16 that heaven would be realized on earth. It’s also submitting humbly to our ambassadorship on this earth by following Jesus in centering the vulnerable. The Apostle Paul talks about this humility in Philippians 2 where he said Jesus did not consider his equality with God, his deity, as something to be used individually for his gain, but rather took on human-flesh in humility in servantness - pouring himself out for others. Whew, friends. That is true humility and freedom. Do you see the collective-good instead of individual-gain of Jesus?
On that example of Jesus, that means we get the vaccines - in humility and submission to a centering Cross. In freedom that loves our neighbors - especially the least of these.
My final word about “my body, my choice”, “rights”, and “freedoms”
I’ll land this plane now by going back to where we started. I think Jesus would have gotten a vaccine if he was walking around the earth in 2020-2021 instead of thousands of years ago. We should too.
If you are a Christian, we have no right anymore to say “my body, my choice” like I see lots of people doing to justify a religious exemption. My body, my choice? No, it’s not. Our bodies are not our own anymore, but rather now a “temple of the Holy Spirit”17. My choices are not my own anymore. I lost those rights when I pledged my allegiance to Jesus18. I have no “freedoms” of my own. But, rather have been made free through the blood and resurrecting power of the Cross (any Charismatics out there saying ‘Amen’ to that!) to therefore use that freedom in love-for-neighbor19. My individual freedom has been exchanged for the true freedom toward collective good. #raisethosehandshighy’all
My body, my choices, my rights, my freedoms were given up when I became a Christian - and, in turn, exchanged for a dwelling place for the Holy Spirit, true freedom that sets me free and aligns my actions with faith, and the beautiful choice to yoke myself with the gentle, humble, strong Shepherd. Here we go with the sheep and shepherd imagery again! I want to be the sheep Jesus talked about in Matthew 25 - the Shepherd’s way is caring for the least of these during this pandemic. (So, if you call me a ‘sheep’, thank you.)
Goodness me, my friends, that is the freedom I want. That is the Kingdom I want to display. That is how I want to align all my choices in faith and deed. I want people to see Jesus in what I do and how I center my actions and freedoms and humility. To show my faith by my deeds.
We find our lives when we lay them down. We find the collective good of the level ground at the Cross when we center the way Jesus did, humbly and in true freedom.
When we choose a religious exemption based on “Christianity”, we are aligning our “allegiance/choices/bodies” with the false gods of nationalism [which is freedom for some but not all], the golden calves of control and “rights”, and the prideful displays of privilege and individualism.
In other words, it’s not Jesus or true religion. True religion takes care of the vulnerable. The least of these.
Feed, Quench, Clothe, Center. Vaccinate.
May we do the same.
Praying Psalm 91 and Living Galatians 5,
Other Christian faith posts
What if Christians led the way out of this? Redefining our freedom according to the Cross-https://tinyurl.com/y2qoow7t
Faith over fear: Including a discussion on John MacArthur - https://tinyurl.com/yxsaatcf
To the shepherds - Reframing advent during the pandemic - https://tinyurl.com/y9e9y56c
Let's make room - my reflections on Advent - https://tinyurl.com/ydgx77tg
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2 Corinthians 5:17
2 Corinthians 5:20
Matthew 22:37-39 and Galatians 5
Mark 5: 21-34
2 Corinthians 5:20
1 Corinthians 6:19
1 Corinthians 6:20