The COVID-19 Vaccine And The Case For Religious Exemption, Part 2

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In part 1 of this study, we looked at the first and top reason for religious exemption with regard to the COVID-19 vaccine. What is it? Those who file for religious exemption do so because of the cell testing for COVID vaccines and even Regeneron’s COVID cocktail. The problem is that the development of the vaccine and cocktail were done using “cloned” or fetal-derived cells from an aborted fetus from the Netherlands that was aborted in the 1970s.

Conservative Christians who are pro-life believe that one should not endorse anything pro-abortion or rather, anti-life, even if it brings life-saving benefits. The goal to save life doesn’t validate the life-stealing measures taken to get there. The cell lines used to test drugs and vaccines aren’t okay, in this view, simply because they lead to life-saving solutions. You don’t take the life of a child to save the lives of millions.

Isn’t the aborted child’s life worth as much as the millions who will be saved from fetal-derived cells and cell testing? Why should a child lose his or her life to save millions? Isn’t that child a person? Doesn’t that child have as much right to live as the millions who benefit from his or her death? Keep in mind that I’m writing this from the perspective of conservative Christians who file for religious exemption from the COVID-19 vaccine(s). You may not feel this way, but again, we here at The Essential Church believe that all views are worth examining.

Religious Exemption Claim: It’s sinful to put yourself at risk to protect yourself from risk

This second mainstream religious exemption claim made by conservative Christians pertains to the idea of vaccines. The COVID-19 vaccine provides a portion of the coronavirus itself within the vaccine. This modified and reduced portion of the virus itself is said to be either dead or deactivated. This is the case with traditional vaccines, and it is true of the Johnson & Johnson Janssen vaccine as well as the AstraZeneca. These traditional vaccines expose you to the virus to protect you from it.

What some may not know is that the new Messenger RNA (or mRNA) vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna do the same. This statement about mRNA vaccines comes straight from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC):

mRNA vaccines contain material from the virus that causes COVID-19 that gives our cells instructions for how to make a harmless protein that is unique to the virus. After our cells make copies of the protein, they destroy the genetic material from the vaccine.

Centers for disease control (CDC)

Per the CDC above, even Messenger RNA vaccines such as Pfizer and Moderna “contain material from the virus that causes COVID-19…” This genetic material is said to be Messenger RNA. The virus is contained within the vaccine itself, and the cells “destroy the genetic material from the vaccine.”

So what is the CDC saying? When you receive the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, you’re receiving two doses of medicine where both doses include the virus that causes COVID-19. So you’re getting two exposures to the COVID-causing virus, just at different times and not in the same dose (as the one-dose Johnson and Johnson vaccine, that is). And to be sure, the COVID-causing virus in these vaccines is either dead or deactivated, not active.

For some, this is how traditional vaccines work and it isn’t a problem for them. There are Christians who don’t seem bothered or affected by this fact. They accept that vaccines work this way and have for decades, and they submit to it because, as the saying goes, “vaccines save lives.” It’s the life-saving treatment that seals the deal for many Christians who have been vaccinated and will continue to be.

Some Christians, however, are bothered by the idea that vaccines contain viruses. When one thinks about COVID and how it is a lethal virus that has killed over 600,000+ Americans, COVID-19 is something we all want to avoid, vaccinated or not. The vaccine itself provides a virus that is said to protect you from exposure to COVID-19. In other words, you have to get injected with a COVID-causing virus to protect yourself from COVID-19. And to some who file religious exemption, this is illogical and contradictory to protecting and preserving life. The reason? You don’t put yourself in harm’s way to protect yourself from harm.

the contradictory nature of exposure to prevent exposure: examples

Let’s give a prominent example that many Christians have heard of. Think of some pastors that have held poisonous snakes around their necks during church services to test Jesus’ words about believers who will be able to “take up serpents” (Mark 16:18). It’s foolish, irresponsible, and a form of “Russian roulette” to handle poisonous snakes to prove that believers will be safe from danger.

You don’t subject yourself to poisonous snakes, then wonder why you end up poisoned and at risk of losing your life. You don’t play with fire, then act shocked when you find your skin is burned. Mark 16:18 also mentions drinking lethal things. We all know that it’s foolish to go and drink poison, for example. A recent example of recklessness refers to those that had a Tide Pod challenge last year, where some on YouTube were challenging others to ingest Tide Pods. These things are fatal, kill, and are deadly, and you don’t do these things to test something or prove a point.

In the same way, conservative Christians would say, you don’t put yourself at risk to protect yourself from risk. The COVID-19 vaccine contains a virus within it that is injected into a person’s arm muscle. Vaccines require that you be exposed to a pathogen or illness in order to be protected against it. While this is designed with the goal of saving lives, conservatives say, “Is it right that we allow ourselves exposure to a vaccine-contained virus for the purpose of having protection against it?

We tell people to protect themselves from COVID, but how can they protect themselves when they have to expose themselves by way of the COVID-19 vaccine?” Some conservative Christians filing for religious exemption believe that it’s contradictory and illogical to encourage people to wear face masks, social distance, and wash their hands to avoid COVID, yet also encourage these same individuals trying to avoid the virus to go and get vaccinated and allow a virus (limited in nature, even) to be injected into their bodies.

These same Christians would say that, following the logic, Christians must consider not only the positive benefit of the COVID-19 vaccine (that is, it could save a life) but also how the vaccine is made. The vaccine requires exposure to the COVID-causing virus to protect you from full-blown COVID. You have a limited exposure to the virus within the vaccine, but limited exposure is still exposure. The goal of that limited exposure is to protect you from the full-blown effects of COVID-19 itself. The vaccine side effects you experience are said to be mild, protecting you from the major side effects of COVID that many have experienced already. But, even with all the positives surrounding the COVID-19 vaccine, you still have virus exposure.

And conservative Christians have good biblical warrant for their claims that exposure to prevent exposure (modified virus in the COVID-19 vaccine to prevent the full effects of COVID-19 later on) is unethical and morally wrong.

What is that biblical warrant against the nature of the COVID-19 vaccine? It pertains to “tempting the Lord,” what Jesus warns Satan against in the Wilderness Temptations. Remember when Jesus is driven by the Spirit (or led) into the wilderness, where He is tempted of the Devil for 40 days and nights? Satan used the idea of Jesus jumping off the temple to prove He is the Messiah to try to get Jesus to commit suicide. And in the process, Satan told Jesus that He would be fine because the angels would bear Him up and He would not dash His foot against a stone (Luke 4). This is what I’ve called “The Devil’s Dare” in a sermon I preached last year during the pandemic.

Conservative Christians use the passages of The Wilderness Temptations with regard to the COVID-19 vaccine. For them, allowing the vaccine to be injected inside your body through your arm, not knowing what side effects could happen to you, or what could happen to you in general, is tantamount to tempting the Lord. It’s the equivalent of committing suicide, they say, when you allow a COVID-causing virus into your veins that you know has killed people and can kill anyone. It’s one thing to allow medicine inside your body. Sure, there’s no harm in taking medicine (in prescribed but limited amounts; medicine can be fatal and must have prescribed limits for human safety) for aches, pains, and sickness, but allowing a COVID-causing virus in an injection in your arm?

Medicines are one thing, and viruses another, they’d say. “Even if the virus is inside the medication, that doesn’t change that you’re essentially letting a virus inside your body to produce antibodies to fight off the virus again.” As I’ve been told, “to get the COVID-19 vaccine, you’re killing yourself once and hoping and praying that you don’t die twice.” Allowing yourself to get “near death’s door” with the vaccine even once, they say, is one time too many. And who knows if the Lord will allow you to live? “Viruses are, like sicknesses, what we’re taught to fight off. We take medicine to get better. But how can we justify medicines that contain viruses? How do you put medicines and viruses together in a vaccine and have little moral disgust over it?”

To be sure, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are superior to the Johnson & Johnson Janssen vaccine and the AstraZeneca. Some will tell you that all the current vaccines are the best that we have and that all of them are equal. And yet, they are not. The differences between them surround the moral grounds objection (and the case for religious exemption) that we are discussing here.

Messenger RNA, vector vaccines, and The COVID-19 vaccine’s ethical component

Why are the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines superior to Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca? The answer lies in the vaccine platform technology of the Messenger RNA (or mRNA) vaccines. Everyone has been hearing about Messenger RNA and Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, how they’re made with new technology. On NBC’s “Roll Up Your Sleeves” special, leading infections specialist Dr. Anthony Fauci said that those responsible for the mRA vaccine platform had been working on it for ten years. The amount of time spent on this new vaccine platform technology became Fauci’s justification for his claim that, contrary to vaccine hesitancy claims, the current round of COVID-19 vaccines were not rushed.

And yet, it seems as though scientists and medical experts have been more willing to talk about how long mRNA vaccines have been developed instead of the motivation behind the new platform technology.

Why have mRNA vaccines been developed when traditional vaccines work just fine?

Or do they? To ask this question, however, is to open an even more controversial can of worms than discussions surrounding vaccine-induced side effects and deaths. The reason? Traditional vaccines have posed ethical problems in the past. Take the current Johnson & Johnson vaccine, for example. It is considered to be a traditional vaccine, what the CDC calls a “vector” vaccine. Vector vaccines work the way they always have, and the J&J vaccine is no different. How does it work?

Here’s the definition of vector vaccines, straight from the CDC:

Vector vaccines contain a modified version of a different virus than the one that causes COVID-19. Inside the shell of the modified virus, there is material from the virus that causes COVID-19. This is called a “viral vector.” Once the viral vector is inside our cells, the genetic material gives cells instructions to make a protein that is unique to the virus that causes COVID-19.

Centers for Disease control (“How COVID-19 Vaccines work: Types of vaccines”)

Think of traditional vaccines as a coconut shell. Inside the coconut shell is the fruit itself, the coconut. Outside the coconut is the shell that protects it. When you receive the Johnson & Johnson or the AstraZeneca vaccine, you’re receiving this “shell” vaccine that contains not one, but two viruses.

Did you catch that from the CDC quote above? Vector vaccines contain not one, but two viruses: the virus in the inner part being the COVID-causing virus, the outer virus (or the shell virus) being “a different virus than the one that causes COVID-19.” When I’ve mentioned, for example, 52-year-old Francisco Cosme of New Jersey who was hospitalized after getting vaccinated and coming down with COVID-19, it’s not hard to understand just how much vector or traditional vaccines come down on patients. The J&J uses what the major news publications have called “a modified chimpanzee cold virus,” but that’s used in addition to the COVID-causing virus placed in the inner part of the vaccine.

Vector or traditional vaccines, then, expose a person to two viruses, the COVID-causing virus and a cold virus (as with the Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen vaccine). In contrast, Messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines expose people to only one virus. So the new mRNA vaccine platform technology is better because it limits the number of viruses you’re exposed to with an injection. It also limits the amount of the COVID-causing virus you’re exposed to. And according to the CDC, mRNA vaccine viruses are shed from your body after they produce the antibodies needed to fight COVID-19. The CDC says nothing in the link above about vector vaccines (traditional vaccines) shedding the virus(es) from your body.

So mRNA vaccines are superior to their vector, traditional counterparts. This means that Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are superior technologically to the Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca vaccines. They are not only technologically superior, but morally superior, in that they expose you to fewer viruses and a limited amount of the COVID-causing virus than their traditional counterparts. Vaccine makers and mRNA platform makers have done this because of their own ethics surrounding vaccines. They, like doctors, nurses, and medical staff, follow the words that have been attributed to the Greek physician Hippocrates in his work, Of The Epidemics: “first do no harm.”

But, even with these platform technology improvements, mRNA vaccines still expose you to the COVID-causing virus. So you’re still virus-exposed, just a lot less than with traditional vector vaccines. But for conservative Christians, however, saying “Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are better because I’m less exposed to a COVID-causing virus in them” is tantamount to a thief saying, “I’m a better criminal because I stole less money this time”; “I’m a better criminal because I stole fewer items this time than last time”; or, for the adulterous among us, “I only cheated twice on my wife this time, as opposed to five times last time.”

And in the end, less, in these cases, isn’t exactly better than their counterparts. The reason? Theft is a crime, no matter how much or how little you steal. Adultery is adultery, no matter how many partners or how few you cheat with on your spouse. Less sin or greater sin, sin is still sin.

As I said in my last post, conservative Christians believe the following: even if you had nothing to do with abortion procedures or the mother who aborts her child, even if you don’t approve of what that mother and doctor did, even if you would never do that to your child, even if you would teach a pro-life stance and urge people not to commit abortion, if you benefit from aborted fetal cells that are copied, with their cloned counterparts being used in drug and vaccine testing, then, as I was told by a conservative Christian, “you might as well have been standing in the examination room and holding the mother’s hand the day she aborted her child, because you’re just as guilty.”

To use another example I’ve been told from some religious exemption claimants, if you benefit from abortions in any way, including vaccines, you might as well have been part of the cheerleading squad waiting at the abortion clinic for women to arrive. I use these examples to demonstrate just how fervently conservative Christians hold to religious and spiritual morality.

Though these graphic examples are nothing to laugh at and sad to think about, they reveal to us that conservative Christians have thought long and hard about how their actions please or displease God. And in their minds, whatever they do that is morally compromising is sin. They want to undergo life-saving measures if those measures will save their lives, but they don’t want to do so at the expense of moral truth and godliness.

That is why religious exemption exists in the first place.

conclusion

If the above hasn’t spelled it out for you, let me do so here: the reason why mRNA vaccines (Messenger RNA) exist is to make vaccines safer and more effective. But to admit these are “safer and more effective” than traditional vaccines is to admit that traditional vaccines are not 100% safe and effective. And to admit that involves conceding that this current round of COVID-19 vaccines aren’t 100% safe and effective, either. Many Christians have a generally confident view of vaccines and what they’re capable of doing, but even we have to admit the cold, hard, truth: vaccines have been known to cause dangerous side effects and result in death for some patients. Vaccine-induced blood clots, heart inflammation (myocarditis, pericarditis), strokes, and deaths are anything but fairy tales or figments of human imagination.

No one wants to admit this ugly truth about vaccines, not even those filing for religious exemption, but they do.

Why? Because their faith conviction matters more to them than what others may say or do to them.

They have decided that living at peace with their God is greater than being at peace with the world. They cling to Jesus’ words when He tells the disciples, “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27, NKJV). They understand that it seems scary to some that they would deny themselves what many consider to be normal medical treatment, all because of their faith convictions. But they have confidence in their God and in their decision.

And even if you don’t agree with them, can we all not pause, think about how committed they are to their faith conviction, and learn from their courageous example? In a world where some believe convictions are something you put on a shelf and dust off to showcase every now and then, these conservative Christians are committed to their beliefs — no matter the cost. Their commitment to godliness and their interpretation of biblical truth should be observed and noted, especially by all those who name the name of Christ.

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