Vaccination mandates and the workplace: Are Christians in the firing line? Gareth Jones attends Dunedin City Baptist Church and is Emeritus Professor in Anatomy at the University of Otago. In this opinion piece he opens up the discussion of Christians and our response to vaccine mandates in the workplace.
Vaccination mandates, in the form of vaccination certificates or passports, will force those who refuse to accept vaccination with a dilemma—to change their stance or lose their jobs. This is of particular relevance for Christians, since their stance should have a well substantiated Christ-directed basis. Their refusal is intimately linked to their faith. Loss of one’s job is a serious decision, especially when the welfare of the individual concerned and possibly their family, depend upon the income generated by the position. It also sends out a message to other people, including Christians, that there is something profoundly wrong with this vaccine, and this in turn may influence others to refuse vaccination. Are there any circumstances under which Christians should be prepared to lose their jobs and livelihood, and does this represent a course of action that will bring glory to Christ? In turn, should other church members, who are pro-vaccination, support them in this decision, to the extent of helping provide financially for them and their family?
Challenges in the workplace usually revolve around resigning from a position on the basis of serious disagreements with the manner in which the company is run or due to undue pressure being placed on the employee. In this instance, the issue resolves into faithfulness to Christ and/or the maintenance of one’s own integrity and honesty, against acting in ways that bring dishonour to Christ. The type of questions to be asked are along the following lines:
- Are Christian ethical values being subverted by the organisation?
- Are people being hurt by the organisation’s policies?
- Am I unable to moderate these policies in any way?
- Am I no longer having a positive effect on other employees?
- Is my position in this organisation sending misleading signals to those who look up to me as a Christian?
- Will I be in a position to do anything useful from outside the organisation?
- Will I be able to find alternative employment in which I will be in a position to function more effectively as a Christian?
On the surface, vaccine mandates are different in that they force vaccine-resistant employees to think hard about whether they do or do not continue in their position, not because they are unhappy with the workplace, but on account of a general directive from the business itself or the government. Nevertheless, the underlying impetus is the same: is being vaccinated with this particular vaccine against COVID-19, showing disloyalty to Christ and his priorities? Would retaining one’s job and being vaccinated mean failure to stand up for Christ and his gospel?
Much of the discussion around vaccine mandates and the workplace concentrates on the rights and wrongs of being coerced into being vaccinated against one’s conscience. When phrased in this way, it is all too easy to ignore the central thrust of what is regarded as being objectionable about the vaccine from a Christian perspective. It is important to ask whether the perceived objectionable nature of the vaccine leading to opposition to vaccination equates with loyalty to Christ. Are the objections sufficiently strong as to outweigh the loss of life and increase in morbidity caused by an out-of-control pandemic? And is this the way of Jesus who showed compassion for the sick, and who so often healed those who were suffering?
Common objections to COVID-19 vaccines
Of the myriad objections found in the literature, the following are regularly encountered.
- Natural immunity is just as good as vaccine immunity.
- The vaccines are ‘experimental’ and not proven scientifically.
- The vaccine will have serious side effects.
- Nothing foreign should be injected into our bodies.
- Young healthy people claim that they are healthy and can resist any infection.
- The government is keeping the truth away from the people; all those in authority (from politicians to epidemiologists and virologists) are devious.
- God will protect us from the virus.
- Our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit and should not be modified by vaccines.
- The vaccines are morally compromised because of a link to abortions many years ago.
A cursory glance at this list reveals that the first six reasons have no basis in Christian thinking. They stand or fall on scientific grounds. It is difficult to see how they have any relevance to being faithful to a central tenet of the Christian faith, or that Christian witness is at stake. The sixth objection is the most difficult to follow since it claims that many thousands of ‘experts’ throughout the world have set out to act falsely and unprofessionally and that somehow they have conspired to foist unreliable vaccines upon the world, even though many of them have been developed in total isolation of the others in countries with vastly different political systems. There is nothing Christian about this objection, especially when some of the leading scientists are themselves Christians. Think of no less than Frances Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health in the US, who is an outspoken Christian.
The last three reasons have Christian overtones, although each is debatable. It is self-evident that God does not protect us from this or any other virus, and there is no Scriptural basis for thinking that he will. Humans have been created with minds able to understand their world and, to an ever-increasing degree, bring order out of disorder, and healing where there once was disease. It is true that our bodies are the temples of the Holy Spirit and are to be treated wisely and judiciously, but this does not forbid injecting vaccines or any other agent into them in an attempt to improve their functioning or overcome pathological processes. The role of abortion in the development of a range of vaccines over many years has been the subject of ongoing debate and analysis. For most Christians the remote and indirect relationship of a small number of historic abortions and subsequent cell lines to contemporary vaccine production is not considered an ethical hindrance to the use of vaccines that have the potential for saving countless lives.
Reference to these objections is not meant to suggest agreement or disagreement with any of them. It is far simpler than that: I am questioning the notion that any of the objections are equivalent to being loyal to Christ. In the early church the apostles refused to obey the authorities when they instructed them to stop preaching the gospel. That was clear cut. But the government today is not attempting to hinder Christians from proclaiming the gospel, only from refusing vaccination against a devastating pandemic with the potential to cause thousands of deaths, and far more long-term illness. The reason is clear-cut: vaccination saves many lives, as amply demonstrated by the data emerging from numerous other countries with high levels of illness and numerous deaths, almost entirely of the unvaccinated. Once again, this takes us into scientific and medical territory; the claims involved do not challenge our faithfulness to the gospel of Jesus Christ. All Christians have a responsibility to try and protect the lives and wellbeing of others, and this can be seen as an integral part of the gospel; caring and supporting those in need. Rarely does this involve standing up to the government, although that is not unknown in some countries.
Back to the workplace
Christians are free to refuse vaccination, but they should expect consequences. This is little different from other government mandates—paying taxes, wearing seat belts, obeying health and safety requirements, having a driving licence and licensing a car, obeying speed limits. We may not agree (or totally agree) with all these. Our taxes will be spent on activities with which we, as Christians, may disapprove. But we are all integral parts of our society. In a democracy we have the freedom to object and provide our perspectives; we can vote politicians out of office; we can stand for council and political office ourselves. It is for us to contribute in whatever ways we can, and we can do this as Christians.
And yet there are limits. We may be fined or worse if we contravene some of the laws. Along similar lines, if the organisation that employs us insists that we are vaccinated against an infectious disease on the grounds that it is hazardous to others, including our clients, students or patients, it seems to me our Christian duty to comply. We may still have reservations about the vaccine, as we may have reservations about some of our taxes, but this is far from the same thing as stating that being vaccinated is questioning the Lordship of Christ. After all, when the Pharisees confronted Jesus in a very similar situation, he knew they were trying to trap him: “Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not?”
“But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, ‘You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? Show me the coin used for paying the tax.’ They brought him a denarius, and he asked them, ‘Whose image is this? And whose inscription?’ ‘Caesar’s,’ they replied. Then he said to them, ‘So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s’” (Matthew 22:17-22, NIV).
Jesus did not query whether there was anything distasteful about what some of the taxes would have covered. Undoubtedly there would have been; after all these were the taxes of an occupying power. It is not for us to have to approve of every aspect of the vaccines, even if we were in a position to do this. Christian employees are to ask how they can best support and protect those around them. Thinking of others should be their priority.
When confronted by situations like this, we need to remember that, as Christians and as human beings, we are not to act as isolated individuals. We are people who relate to each other and who live in community. In the case of Christians, the core community to which we belong is the body of Christ: the Church in its various manifestations. And so, when faced by huge imponderables in the workplace, and especially vast ones where our continued employment is at stake, we are not to act alone. It is essential that we consult those who are leaders within the church community: pastors, senior and respected Christians in secular positions, those whom we can trust and who will support us no matter what decision we take and who will go on supporting us for as long as necessary.
Contributor: Gareth Jones
First presented to a COVID-19 vaccination group at Dunedin City Baptist Church.
More COVID-19 related thoughts from Gareth Jones:
Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™