In early September, President Biden ordered new federal vaccine mandates for a group that could include as many as 100 million Americans. According to the Associated Press, the new rules mandate that “all employers with more than 100 workers require them to be vaccinated or test for the virus weekly, affecting about 80 million Americans. And the roughly 17 million workers at health facilities that receive federal Medicare or Medicaid also will have to be fully vaccinated. Biden is also requiring vaccination for employees of the executive branch and contractors who do business with the federal government — with no option to test out. That covers several million more workers.”
As a Christian first and a Baptist second, the God-given realities of freedom of conscience and religious liberty are near to my heart. I have previously written a simple introduction to Baptists and religious liberty; there is no denomination under the umbrella of Christian Protestantism that takes more seriously the individual liberty of conscience than Baptists. The concept is woven into the history of our denomination.
Christians are understandably concerned. Sweeping mandates such as the one issued by President Biden have elicited push-back from anyone who holds dear the principles of individual liberty. I find these actions to be problematic, especially for those who are in the private sector.
To be clear, I am fully vaccinated. The pastors of Graefenburg Baptist Church have encouraged our congregation to at least consider the possibility of receiving the vaccine in consultation with their doctor. And yet, we remain fully convinced that every person must decide for themselves what is best for their own bodies and for their families. Committed Christians will arrive at different conclusions on this important issue.
The actions taken by President Biden have led to increased suspicion and concern, and have widened the already staggering polarization in our country. His tone toward the unvaccinated has been unhelpful and it is difficult to see this move as anything other than governmental overreach. I cannot support it.
And yet, a cautionary word should be expressed.
The Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) is a conservative Christian organization that has consistently advocated for religious freedom and liberty of conscience. For example, they are currently representing the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and have filed a petition to challenge the Biden vaccine mandates. I appreciated their word of caution concerning this current issue. The ADF is encouraging Christians to fully consider whether their concerns are truly a religious liberty concern and not a medical, social, or political objection. They write, “many people have medical or other concerns which do not rise to the level of an actual religious belief. A belief that taking a vaccine is unwise or could be harmful will normally be considered a medical or health objection, not a religious objection.”
Religious liberty concerns are not the same thing as insisting that the government stay out of our personal lives. There is a very good chance that the next generation will experience genuine Christian persecution unlike anything we have ever seen in the United States. Our claims of religious liberty need to be heard and respected when those times come, so let’s be sure we are using them correctly now. Matthew and Ashli Arbo wisely write that “illegitimate appeals to religious liberty are perhaps the greatest threat to legal protections of religious liberty. Appealing to a religious accommodation that is not sincerely held and uniformly applied dilutes legal options to appeal to when religious liberty is genuinely threatened in the future. Whatever reasons a person may have for refusing vaccination, it is important to resist the temptation to endow those reasons with religious significance merely as a strategy for securing exemption from an employer mandate. Not every directive during a public health crisis represents a curtailment of religious liberty.”
With that caution in mind, the Biden mandates most certainly do present the possibility of a religious liberty violation, in addition to all kinds of additional ethical concerns and objections. The religiously motivated are not the only ones who should balk at President Biden’s action.
For me, the most crucial point is that Christians continue to act in a spirit that is consistent with Christ. That means disagreeing without alienating. It means voicing an opinion without compromising our witness. Christians are not called to be silent on political issues, but we are called to be like Christ. Maybe I’m naive, but I think those two things are not antithetical to one another. May the world see our convictions, and as they do, may they see Christ.