A helpful sermon on authority, vaccine mandates, and religious exemptions
(Additional resources linked at the very bottom)
But first, I was credited in a piece by Glenn Greenwald last Tuesday. It’s a good read about a 2008 ACLU report that warned against responding to a pandemic in the coercive, divisive way we have chosen, in contrast to the 2021 ACLU which just had an Orwellian piece in the NYTimes defending vaccine mandates as pro-liberty. Unmentioned by Greenwald is that I learned about the ACLU report because of a Michigan Capitol Confidential article… but I’m sure they are happy to see it spread far and wide. My Twitter thread on the report has been viewed over 700,000 times.
I wasn’t planning to write about this today but I thought… this might be of immediate help to some people, so I should. Dan Price turned me on to a sermon given at his church in Oregon just yesterday. As I type this it appears to only be available on Facebook, and you want to start just after 33:00. Like our church, it sounds like his church mainly preaches verse by verse through the Bible (and I like that), but twice in the last few months they’ve felt obligated to pause that to speak urgently to a pressing concern in our world today (and I like that too). Yesterday’s sermon was about authority, vaccine mandates, and religious exemptions.
The most important thing that was said, I think, was toward the end, where the pastor (Blaine Braden) distinguishes between “downstream” objections and “upstream” objections. A downstream objection would be something like “that vaccine was made with research that involved aborted tissue and I cannot be at all involved with such a product”. A more general downstream objection might be something like “for me, the known benefits of the vaccine are expected to be small and short-term, whereas the possible harms are more unknown and long-term, so I decline”. (You could even say “so, for me, it would be a sin to inject myself with it”.) Or even, and here’s a really crazy one for you, “I already had COVID”.
But, and here is the critical point, you are only even allowed to make the downstream objections because of the case you can make upstream. And that upstream case is that you, state or employer, are acting outside of your proper purview. God gave to the individual the right and the power to make personal decisions and steward their own body. That is not the purview of the state or employer. If we only fight downstream, we’re basically conceding that they have the authority to issue mandates like this and now we’re looking for a personal escape path. That’s all wrong. They don’t have the authority to issue mandates like this.
Whether you have your fight with your personal employer or the state or not that is, I think, where the primary emphasis in our public discourse needs to be. Because the present technocracy doesn’t believe in any limits on its power. It doesn’t believe in any. We could rightly say it doesn’t believe in human rights; it believes in data, experts, and statistically aggregated outcomes. Your body and your children are the two things that remain most outside of its control. It wants those too. This is also why, even if you think COVID vaccination is the most awesome thing we’ve ever invented and you’ve had your two shots and look eagerly forward to the third, you should oppose these mandates anyway. Something that matters to you could very easily be the next target.
Some more summary of the sermon though
Let me summarize a few more points from his sermon, some of which might be of practical help if you need to make a case yourself.
Some overarching principles
Braden is giving this sermon because he’s seen a lot of talk from politicians about what counts as a religious exemption. But it isn’t their job to define such things, it is the job of the Church to speak to such things. So let us speak.
“We’ve never seen this volume of religious exemption requests before, you Christians are just running a scam because you’re anti-science or something.” You’ve never told people you’re going to fire them before. That’s why you’re getting such a response. Christians are responding to a level of aggression they’ve never seen. [Editorial comment: Nice tweets by Justin Amash a few days ago that mentioned that not only has the Jacobson precedent being pointed to “justified” some truly evil legal decisions, but Jacobson could have paid a $5 fine and gone on his way. And, we might add, that was for smallpox, which was a heck of a lot more dangerous than what we face now. Now we have a federal executive mandate to fire people for not getting a flu shot. We’re in new territory.]
We talk about the separation of church and state. Today, this concept is primarily used to prevent the Church from having moral input on our laws. But everyone has a religion. Everyone has expectations of how the world should function. Every society is structured upon some set of shared values and presuppositions. Whose set becomes the standard for how we live life? What we see now is the idea that man is himself a god and he gets to set the rules of society. Ergo what logically follows is a power fight to see who gets to influence the culture the most.
We oppose vaccine mandates as a violation of individual liberty (which is first of all a comment about God’s order for the world, not a political comment), an assault on conscience, and as opposed to God’s design for bodily stewardship.
Our world has a created order. We honor God by functioning within his intentions for creation. God created men and women as embodied souls with personal responsibility for and stewardship over their bodies. We see this implicitly all over the place in scripture. Don’t be a glutton or a drunkard. Love your wife as you love your own body. Your body is a temple of the holy spirit. Bodily stewardship ties into the larger concept of the created order. You have been entrusted with something and it is your job to take care of it.
You have personal responsibility. We will answer for everything we do. You answer to God for how you choose to live your life. Look at Adam try to blame his sin on someone else (the woman whom you created). There were only two other people in the conversation and he tried to blame both of them. Didn’t work. You wil answer for the choices you’ve made.
But now we face tensions
But there is a tension now. The state doesn’t recognize the authority you have over your own body. Do we submit to the state to honor Christ, or dissent to honor Christ? We believe you dissent. Because the state has left its God ordained authority and stepped into the realm of what was ordained to be personal.
But we (as Christians) don’t all agree on what is the best option for body stewardship. That is true and… that’s fine. As a pastor (he says), many times has he sat with people near death who have said “my doctor tells me I need to make this or that choice to live a little longer”. Never has he tried to tell them what medical decision they should make. You recognize that God gave people a critical mind and respect that.
We cross the line when coercion shows up, either through social shaming or authoritarian overreach. Instagram has made people courageous who aren’t courageous. It has given people a voice who shouldn’t have a voice. Because we don’t actually love the people we’re talking to. Shaming doesn’t work to change minds, and it’s also sinful. Beating your neighbor into submission because “love your neighbor as yourself!” is doing it wrong. Let’s be grateful Jesus didn’t treat us like that. Honor your neighbor. Give them the benefit of the doubt. James says all kinds of animals have been tamed but we cannot tame the tongue. If you’re going online to mock, shame, or insult people who don’t agree with you, stop it.
We also face an abuse of power and authoritarian overreach. People are violating their God-given ordained role. It is the job of the Church to say “foul, you have departed your lane and need to get back into it”. You can’t force people to do something when God did not give you the authority to do so. This all flows from a society that no longer believes in God. Pastors know God will hold them accountable for every word they speak. God’s judgment matters more than what your congregation thinks about you. But when you don’t believe there is a governor above you, when this life is all there is and you are in authority… you think you won’t be held accountable. This is why atheist regimes of the 20th century did so much evil. You are god, do whatever is right in your own eyes.
Jesus gives us some instruction here. You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them. It shall not be so with you. If you want to be a leader, be a servant. Don’t act like the pagan leaders. It is the job of the Church to call the state back to its intended role. We saw both John the Baptist and Paul do this.
It is a hallmark of authoritarianism that we all agree because I told you to agree. Peace through compliance and compliance through force is what happens when leaders overreach. Oregon’s governor, when forbidding large church services, said “I am not asking you, I am ordering you”. How does the pastor respond? You are asking me to do something Jesus did not ask me to do. When the state orders you to do something that is outside of God’s created order it is OK to refuse.
When we’re talking about vaccines we’re talking about a matter of conscience. The state does not have the authority to say “you must” in matters of conscience. Such authority has been reserved to the individual.
Advice for people in different camps
If you think anyone who has taken a vaccine is brainwashed or acting in fear, you are violating the principle of conscience and treating your neighbor with disdain. This is exactly what you do not want them to do to you. God didn’t give you the authority to behave in that way.
If you think any Christian who gets a religious exemption doesn’t care about human life, stop. You also do not have that authority. When you push your preferences onto other people you’re saying “the Lord sayeth” when he didn’t. Trying to convince them is fine. When you get into shaming or coercion you’ve gone too far.
If you think mandates are good because you believe in what is being mandated, remember that the power of mandates could be used for something you believe is immoral next. You can be for the vaccine without being for the mandate. You should fight against the mandate even if you agree with the content of the mandate. If that weapon is turned against you, it will then be too late for you to cry foul. The Church should be unified. Let’s stop being those people, “tell me what you did, what did your doctor say?” Being OK with a mandate just because it’s my team right now is a dangerous way to live life.
When it comes to religious exemptions, the world is looking for some crazy law you follow because you’re a weird anti-science religious weirdo. Well we don’t have anything like that. The primary objection needs to be the upstream objection. God created you to make personal decisions and to steward your body. Biblically, God made you to have that choice.
It was never OK for the state to set limits on the number of people we could have at a worship service. It didn’t matter which number they picked because they did not have authority to set limits. In parallel manner, God created men and women in his image to steward and be responsible for what he created, and that includes their bodies.
But, don’t over-obsess with this one battle. Because you are all going to die very soon. The biggest problem you face is not a mandate or an exemption. Everything will be laid bare before God someday. You will then either claim to defend yourself, which ends badly, or you will claim the name of Christ. The fact that you’re alive and breathing right now is an act of God’s grace in your life. No matter what happens in the next two months at your job or in the next two years in politics or in the next twenty years in the United States, you’re going to die. Saturday was twenty years since 9/11. Twenty years. You know how fast your life is going? This is not the biggest crisis in your life. Not knowing the Lord Jesus would be the biggest crisis in your life.
THE END. I found that helpful and encouraging and hopefully they don’t mind me writing out my notes. Below, *although not necessarily endorsing them personally* or claiming them to be comprehensive, just in case they might be helpful to you I will also link a few other religious exemption resources people have sent me.