You are Free to Get Vaccinated—or Not
I have been vaccine-article-hesitant for almost a year. It’s a daunting issue. But recent developments, two in particular, have flushed me out: vaccine passports and those who make dubious scriptural arguments to support the government’s vaccine mandate.
Let’s start with the latter.
Recently, Pastor John Piper published a piece titled “A Reason to be Vaccinated: Freedom.” I encourage you to read it. Piper begins by stating that he is not addressing everyone. His article, he says, is for those who are unvaccinated and fall into a highly unusual category. So unusual, that one wonders if it actually exists. This demographic feels peer pressure to remain unvaccinated. Writes Piper:
Your conscience is increasingly clear. It says, ‘Get vaccinated.’ But there is this niggling fear of looking left wing, or progressive, or Democratic, or compromised, or woke!
In what I can only characterize as a logically confused essay, Piper uses the word “free” and its variants 47 times to say that the Christian’s conscience is “free from all human ownership and rule” and then, bizarrely, he concludes that you are not free to remain unvaccinated unless:
[T]hey can do so with a good conscience and judicious medical warrant…your Father in heaven makes it clear to you, by his word and wisdom, that his glory and your neighbor’s good will be better served by not being vaccinated, you are free to risk COVID for love’s sake. No Christian is obliged to bow to unwarranted mandates.
If this isn’t meant to be sarcastic, it is certainly a guilt trip. Having defined vaccination as “an act of love,” Piper’s implied condemnation of those who refuse the jab is unmistakable.
The article is accompanied by a video addressing the use of fetal cell lines from an aborted baby in the manufacture of vaccines. I encourage you to give that some attention, too. The video is helpful to a point, but it is incorrect at the heart of the issue: while fetal cell lines were not used in the manufacture of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, they were used in the manufacture of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. (This has led some Catholic bishops to condemn it.) It also should be noted that the video’s presenter is Pastor Curtis Chang, a professor of theology at Fuller Theological Seminary. He is not an authority in the field of vaccinology, and neither am I. So, I will leave the science of the vaccines to others. With that in mind, let’s consider the pro-vaccination arguments.
Pastor Piper’s article makes clear that he believes two things very firmly: the data he uses and that the vaccines have saved hundreds of thousands of lives. I am far less confident of either. We are years away from having any really reliable data. That said, one yearlong study just made public revealed that vaccination did not prevent the spread of COVID-19 or the delta variant. And according to the UK Health Security Agency, only 35 percent of those hospitalized for COVID-19 were unvaccinated.
But I am no more confident in these figures than I am in those used by Piper. Twain was right: “There are lies, damn lies, and then there are statistics.” As one medical researcher reminded me: “You must understand that the heads of the NIH and the CDC are political appointments. The ‘follow the science’ mantra is seldom true with these agencies, and that has been the case since at least the onset of the AIDS epidemic in the early 80s. Politics drives the agenda, not science.” The CDC’s recent publication of acceptable social and sexual terms is proof of this, and a health agency that refuses to acknowledge the biological differences between male and female is not to be trusted.
Here’s a few reliable statistics we would all do well to consider:
According to CNN.com, as of May 2021 the sale of vaccines has produced nine new billionaires. With the share prices of Moderna up 700 percent and BioNTech’s up 600 percent—to name only two in the Big Pharma constellation of powerbrokers—this is hardly surprising. Says Time: “Big Pharma employs roughly 1,500 lobbyists on Capitol Hill and spent more than $177 million on lobbying and campaign donations in 2021 alone.”
These lobbyists aren’t just giving out free pens and coffee mugs to politicians. In 2020, 302 members of the House of Representatives and 72 senators cashed checks from pharmaceutical companies. That means two-thirds of Congress are on the take. Pfizer alone contributed to 1,048 individual campaigns in state elections. My guess is that if you follow the money, it will lead you to those who keep telling us to follow the science, but never do.
Piper is not alone in essentially saying, “WWJD? He would get vaccinated.” Governor Kathy Hochul of New York, whose daughter-in-law is a lobbyist for the pharmaceutical company Biogen, infamously proclaimed: “The vaccine comes from God” and those who don’t submit to the jab “aren’t listening to God and what he wants.” In the video accompanying Piper’s article, Pastor Chang, in a breathless emotional appeal, says much the same thing. He compares the COVID vaccine to Christ’s redemptive work on the Cross. He then goes so far as to speak of the vaccine as “a miracle.” Not a miracle in everyday usage like, “It was a miracle that the Braves won the World Series.” (And it was.) No, Chang uses it in the biblical sense of Christ’s signs and wonders. Piper finds this line of argument persuasive. I do not for three reasons:
- First, I can think of no instance in Scripture where the Lord performed a miracle and left any doubt that it was He, and He alone, who did it. Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson are not giving the Lord any credit whatsoever even if they are giving their shareholders whopping dividends.
- Second, to refer to it as a miracle is setting your bar awfully low. God’s miracles are unmistakable and 100 percent effective. When the Lord told Moses to fashion a serpent of bronze and put it on a pole, saying that anyone who had been bitten by poisonous snakes need only look at it to live, the remedy worked. When Jesus told the lame to rise and walk, they did. The vaccines, however, by everyone’s admission, are not wholly effective.
- Third, there is an unhealthy worship of healthcare in all of this. It has become a kind of cult, an idol, that people look to for salvation. A friend of mine calls it “a modern-day Tower of Babel” in which man, in rebellion against the mortal constraints God has placed upon his life, seeks autonomy. It is a fair comparison. Such behavior is unseemly for anyone, but especially for Christians whose hope is in Jesus Christ. Piper’s article does nothing to diminish this mindset that has no resonance in Scripture. Read Psalm 90: “Teach us to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”
Consider Luke 13:1-5:
Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, ‘Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.
Your days are numbered, dear reader. We are to live our lives with one eye on this world and one on the next knowing that we may be snatched from one into the other at any moment. Get your house in order. As I told my friend the late Christopher Hitchens after his cancer diagnosis: “The Lord has announced he is coming for you. Are you sure this is how you want to meet him?” And He is coming for you and me, too. Where are the preachers to preach this message that once inspired the Great Awakenings?
But my discomfort with Piper’s and Chang’s theological line of reasoning goes beyond this. Chang says:
We need images of redemption in the world. We need examples that can serve as metaphors of what Jesus accomplished, that can show us Jesus’ redemption is, well, kind of like that. I propose that the COVID vaccine is an image of redemption.
I propose that Chang is wrong, and that the thing he here suggests we need is found in the sacraments that were given to us by our Lord to serve that very function: “This is my body, broken for you” and “This is my blood, shed for you”—Christ’s redemption is kind of like that, not a vaccine developed by Big Pharma from, albeit distantly in the case of Pfizer and Moderna, the cell lines of an aborted child. But to hear Chang’s version of it, the vaccine is “kind of like” a third sacrament. (Or eighth, as my Catholic readers would have it.)
John Piper made news as a “Never Trumper,” arguing that Trump’s character excluded him from high office. He was emphatic on the point. That Trump might stem the tide of evil was, in Piper’s view, irrelevant. Ends don’t justify means was the core of his Never Trumpism.
But when it comes to vaccines, the argument is reversed: ends do justify means. Consider this paragraph:
When people respond to this increasingly clear reality [of a rising COVID death toll] by pointing to untrustworthy and disreputable government and medical leaders, I respond, ‘That’s a non sequitur.’ The team called ‘vaccination’ just made a first down, even if monkeys are holding the chains. For friends around the world who don’t know American football, that means a win is a win even if all the coaches and referees are incompetent. So, let’s think about Christian freedom.
In other words, Piper has divorced the Biden administration’s (i.e., the monkeys in his analogy) radical vaccine agenda from the vaccine itself because he likes the results (i.e., a ‘team vaccination’ first down). So what if governments have evil social and political objectives in intimidating whole populations into taking the vaccine? “That’s a non sequitur.”
But for the above remark, this is the elephant in the room that goes largely unaddressed in Piper’s article and without any mention at all in Chang’s video. And this is where the Minnesota pastor (and the Fuller Theological Seminary professor) appears to be utterly out of touch with cultural and political realities. You’ll recall that he is addressing those people who fear, as he says, “looking left wing, or progressive, or Democratic, or compromised, or woke!”
There is no meaningful pressure that prevents anyone who wants to get vaccinated from doing so. And don’t tell me about the mean things someone said to you on InstaTwitFace or how you were “unfriended.” Besides, if you really feel peer pressure to remain unvaccinated, keep it private as you would any other healthcare matter. The pressure runs in precisely the opposite direction. It’s as if Piper doesn’t know that millions of Americans have lost their jobs in the wake of the Biden administration’s coercive mandate and that millions more stand to lose theirs, too; that poor minorities suffer most from these mandates; or that vaccine passports will, with frightening eschatological implications, concentrate power in the hands of a few as never before in history, to say nothing of such a system’s potential for misuse.
Considering the above, I am hesitant to state that the vaccines are “of God” with the same confidence displayed by Pastor Piper and Professor Chang. To be clear, I am neither anti-science—anyone familiar with our many debates on science will know that—nor am I an anti-vaxxer. I am grateful for the science that the Lord has given us. I am grateful, too, for the many talented men and women who develop life-saving measures. I have been a beneficiary of their work in a big way.
So, where does all of this leave us?
Where Piper (and others) would bind the consciences of Christians to a view that supports his own personal choice, I would seek to release them. This is a complicated topic, and you have to decide for yourself what you think about all of the issues involved. Are you an awful Christian if you refuse vaccination? Of course not. Are you a traitor if you get it? No. Whatever you do, do it with a clear conscience.
As for vaccine passports, well, those are unquestionably evil.
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