My wife thinks I’m crazy.
She is probably right.
“Why in the world would you want to write anything about vaccines? You are just asking for trouble.”
A quick perusal around social media will make it clear that talking about vaccines is like walking through a minefield.
Everyone seems to have an opinion…and it is usually a strong one.
The debate is so toxic that I have seen good friends go at it…with not much grace, understanding, or common ground.
Either it seems that you are “pro-vaccine” and can’t understand how any sane person could reject them.
Or you are “anti-vaccine” and can’t understand why anyone would get them or push them on others.
As a society, we have definitely reached the point where civil discourse seems to be more extinct than the dodo bird.
So I guess I am a dodo bird for entering into the minefield.
Though I have to give a disclaimer up front…if you are looking for me to validate your side of the debate then you will be sorely disappointed. That is not my intent. My desire is just to share a few thoughts from my perspective as a pastor.
Pastoring over these past eighteen months has been one of the most difficult, stressful, confusing, discouraging, and Holy Spirit-dependent times of my life. I have no paradigm for this pandemic…or for all the politically-polarized rhetoric that has surrounded it. I never had a Bible college or seminary class on “Navigating a Congregation through a Worldwide Pandemic in the Midst of a Politically-Charged Culture Inflamed Even More by Racial Division, Social Media Outrage, Conspiracy Theories, Mass Media Distrust, and Apocalyptic Prophecies.”
I wish I did. It would have had an interesting syllabus…though I probably would have skipped it as a highly impractical class.
On top of keeping the congregation safe, connected, informed, and unified in the midst of ever-changing recommendations and mandates, one of the biggest challenges has been trying to be a “medical expert” for those who send me videos and articles, ask for my opinion, disagree with me, seek my input, or want me to speak more forthrightly on these matters.
I finally realized that I am not a “medical expert.”
A pastor is a lot of things but being a medical expert is not one of them.
I am also not a political commentator, social activist, financial advisor, or prophetic foreteller.
It seems that many people develop an amalgamated view of the pastoral role by combining every feature of their favorite preachers or religous leaders in the news or on the internet.
But my biblical job description is pretty simple. I am a pastor-teacher. A shepherd who loves and cares for his flock and a teacher who teaches them the Word of God, protecting them from false teaching that harms their spiritual lives.
I may have other gifts that enhance my ministry role but I can never forget Jesus’ words to Peter…and to every pastor.
Feed my sheep (John 21:17).
And the primary diet of God’s sheep is the Word of God.
Paul makes this clear in his final exhortation to Timothy before his execution at the hands of Nero.
Preach the Word (2 Timothy 4:2).
In a world where people are always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth (2 Tim. 3:7) and deceiving and being deceived (2 Tim. 3:13), Timothy was reminded to anchor himself in the truths of Scripture.
All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
“Okay, that is all well and good, but what does all that have to do with vaccines?”
Bottom line…getting or not getting a vaccine is not a command from Scripture.
Yes, I have read an editorial titled “Jesus would get the vaccine” in our local newspaper. After all, the person reasoned, “He told us to love others.” That kind of hypothetical theology based on a subjective opinion about what they think Jesus would do, as it lines up with their own preconceived notions, is not convincing or very helpful.
And yes, I have received articles from friends telling me that the vaccine is nefarious in its origins and probably somehow related to the mark of the beast in Revelation. This is also not very convincing or helpful…and a highly sensational, extremely poor interpretation of Revelation even for those who hold to a dispensational, pre-millennial view of prophecy.
The vaccine is a vaccine.
It is a medical procedure.
It is a medical decision.
There are potential side effects for those who decide to get it (rare as they may be) and there are potential risks for those who decide to not get it (amplified even more by the recent surge in COVID cases).
Like any medical decision, each person has to weigh the potential risks on both sides of the equation, talking with their doctor, assessing their particular vulnerability, praying for wisdom, and making the best decision they can for their own health and for the sake of their family. And each person should be able to do so freely, without coercion, and without guilt or shame or blame.
What has turned this whole issue on its head is the insistence that it is somehow a moral decision rather than a medical one.
We have vilified people on both sides.
We have self-righteous advocates on both sides.
What we need is sanity, honest discussion, understanding, and privacy on both sides.
No one is 100% sure of anything. And no decision is 100% without risk.
That is the one fact that we should all be able to agree on.
If nothing else, that should give us some grace and humility as we walk through this pandemic.
The virus is the enemy. Not one another.
Israel is a case in point.
For many in the anti-vaccine crowd, who are mostly pro-Israel, the fact that Israel was one of the first nations to embrace the vaccine and has one of the highest vaccination rates in the world should give them pause.
And for many in the pro-vaccine crowd, who are mostly convinced that vaccinations would avert all crises, the fact that Israel is having its own COVID surge with hospitals and ICU’s being overwhelmed with vaccinated patients should also give them pause.
Vaccinations in Israel have only been 40% effective. Nationwide booster shots have already started and probably will become the norm.
Nadav Davidovitch, director of Ben Gurion University’s school of public health, noted:
There is always the illusion that there is a magic bullet that will solve all our problems. The coronavirus is teaching us a lesson.
Yes, it is teaching us a good dose of humility…and reminding us that we are not in control and shouldn’t act like we are.
The other kicker from Israel is that natural immunity is showing itself to be 6-7x more effective than the vaccines.
Thus mandating vaccinations, without acknowledging the long-term duration and effectiveness of natural immunity, would seem to be not only poor policy but also poor science.
We can do better.
We can treat each other better.
And we can respect each person as they may wrestle with this decision for their own particular reasons or health concerns.
Yelling at each other or demeaning each other online certainly doesn’t help convince anyone (usually it does the opposite)…nor does it help stop the pandemic.
It only moves our culture closer to disintegration…not from the virus but from one another.
Thus, as a pastor, the best thing I can encourage people to do is to follow the words of James.
So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God. (James 1:19-20)
Listen. Seek counsel. Seek understanding. Be informed but always check the credibility of your sources.
Be calm. Use discretion in your words. Guard your mouth and speak with grace.
Avoid anger. It only stirs up conflict and division and hardens our own hearts. Instead, pursue love which always displays patience and kindness to others.
And if you are facing a decision in this matter, ask God for wisdom and seek wise counsel from others, particularly your doctor.
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. (James 1:5)
Where there is no counsel, the people fall; But in the multitude of counselors there is safety. (Proverbs 11:14)
And most importantly, don’t think, speak, or act in fear. But rest in the Lord.
Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!
The Lord of hosts is with us;
The God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah (Psalm 46:10-11)
After all, even though I am not a medical doctor, I can say that trusting Him is the best prescription in every circumstance of life.