Since the Biden Administration mandated soldiers and federal workers to be fully vaccinated, while also requiring private businesses larger than 100 employees to require vaccines, chaos has ensued. Defending the freedoms of Americans, many have begun to address the constitutional problems this mandate creates. Others have begun seeking a religious exemption for this mandate based upon the fetal cells used in the research and production of these vaccines. Still others object to the mandates because they have already contracted Covid, have natural immunity, and believe (with a long history immunology supporting them) that taking a vaccine is unnecessary and may be potentially harmful to their body.
At the same time, other Americans, and many Christians among them, have opted to get the vaccine, even arguing for its morality. Add to this the difference between seeking a vaccine exemption on medical grounds versus moral and religious grounds, and the complexity multiplies. Not surprisingly, with all of these arguments out there, people of faith are led to ask: What should I do?
To answer that question, I am putting myself in the shoes of the men and women in the military and federal government who are now ordered to get vaccinated. Some of them have willingly received the vaccine, and done so in faith. Many others, however, are not able to receive the vaccine in faith. As I have spoken to church members and other Christians about this, many are crushed in spirit at the thought of injecting a serum that has come about by the use of stem cell lines that ultimately trace back to cells derived from aborted babies. Others are not bound in conscience by the use of fetal cell lines, but are nevertheless are unable to take the vaccine in good faith. It is for this latter category, I am writing.
In what follows, I offer a twofold argument for why this vaccine mandate should lead some men and women to seek a religious exemption (not just a medical exemption). These two arguments are based upon a genuinely held religious belief that this mandate (1) eliminates the free exercise of their faith and (2) forces upon them the faith another religion. Along the way, I will show why this vaccine and its accompanying mandate is different in nature than previous vaccines. Unlike previous vaccines, like Jonathan Salk’s polio vaccine or the more recent anthrax vaccine, the Covid vaccine comes with a moral imperative that is downright religious, complete with Fauci prayer candles and vaccine jewelry.
At the outset, I admit that this argument may not resonate with everyone, and that is fine. I am not writing to persuade everyone to seek a religious exemption. Seeking a religious exemption is deeply personal and should be based on one’s genuinely held beliefs. So, I am not seeking to bind anyone’s conscience regarding the vaccine. At our church, we have labored hard to stress the liberty Christians have to receive or reject the vaccine, because we really believe that one’s health care decisions are matters of personal responsibility and liberty, not public morality and coercion.
That said, as a pastor with many members seeking religious exemptions, I am writing to Christians to offer biblical rationale for why Christians can—and in many cases should—seek a religious exemption. So, to the text of Scripture we go.
The Mandate Replaces Faith with Coercion
In the Bible, the locus classicus for liberty of conscience is Romans 14. And while the whole chapter provides a rich resource for understanding the biblical view of human conscience, the last verse provides a starting point for distinguishing faith from coercion, as well as offering a connection between conscience, faith, and sin.
Summarizing his argument on conscience and religious devotion to God, Paul writes: “For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (v. 23). This simple principle needs to guide Christians at all times, but especially in moments when governing authorities are binding consciences by way of coercive actions that do not proceed from God’s truth. In fact, the first point to make is that coercion always makes faith null and void.
There are many ways to get at this argument, but one of them has to do with faith, thanksgiving, and using the good gifts of God. Here’s how Paul puts it in 1 Timothy 4:1–5,
Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, 2 through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, 3 who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. 4 For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, 5 for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.
While Paul’s words take aim at false teachers who forbid marriage and require abstinence from food, his argument stands upon a universal truth: Christians are those who give thanks to God for every good gift. While those in rebellion against God take his gifts and refuse to acknowledge him or give thanks to him (Rom. 1:23), Christians are those who give thanks to God (Luke 17:19) and praise him for every good and perfect gift that comes down from our Father in heaven (James 1:17). These gifts include, food and drink, sex and marriage. But they also include sunshine and rain (Matt. 5:45), agricultural wisdom (Isaiah 28:26), and medicine (James 5:14).
Accordingly, for Christians to receive the vaccine in faith means that Christians can give thanks to God for the good gift that he has given. And more than that, Christians must give thanks to God for anything they put in their body. Not only are we called to glorify God with our bodies (1 Cor. 6:20), but if we refuse to give thanks to God, we are not exercising faith and are by definition sinning (see Rom. 14:23).
By contrast, when Christians eat, drink, or take a vaccine, they do so with personal thanksgiving to their Lord. And over the course of the last year, this is what many Christians have done. In faith, they have prayed against Covid and for a vaccine. Covid is a real threat and one that continues to cut short the lives of those whom we know and love. Accordingly, Christians have given thanks to God for the vaccine, and no one who has taken the vaccine in faith should feel condemned.
My argument here is not anti-vaccine; it is anti-mandate. Because thanksgiving for the vaccine is predicated on a free conscience, I am making the case for personal freedom to making wise choices for one’s health. Remove that freedom of conscience, by forcibly causing someone to do something against their will (and their body), and the ability to offer genuine thanksgiving is gone. And without thanksgiving to God, faith is eliminated, and sin remains. Those who deny God may make light of this thinking, but for those who seek to do all things to the glory of God, this way of thinking stands at the core of their being. And this why liberty of conscience has always been protected in our nation.
Going back to the early church, Christians from many faith traditions are on record for defending the rights of individuals, Christians or otherwise, to live according to their faith. Likewise, Andrew Walker, in his recent book on religious liberty, has argued that making religious choices freely is part of what it means to be made in God’s image. Accordingly, religious liberty “is not a political question,” but a question of what it means to be human. Religious liberty, he argues, “arises from a theology of creation—that humanity bears a unique origin, design, and purpose in its constitution” (Liberty for All, 110). More confessionally, the Second London Confession (1689) puts it this way.
21.2. God alone is Lord of the conscience, and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men which are in any thing contrary to his word, or not contained in it. So that to believe such doctrines, or obey such commands out of conscience, is to betray true liberty of conscience; and the requiring of an implicit faith, an absolute and blind obedience, is to destroy liberty of conscience and reason also.
Christ alone is Lord of conscience. This is the critical point of tension in our moment. This tenet of our faith is in sharp conflict with state and health officials who exalt themselves as conscience-binding-lords. They refuse to give room for religious exemptions or conscience, and thereby seek to bind the conscience which is free in Christ. As state and health officials masquerade as conscience-binding-lords, we must reply: Solus Christus.
Protestants have always opposed church or state pronouncements that coerce action or bind conscience. In 1769–70, six Baptists were jailed in Culpeper, Virginia for this conviction, and James Madison worked with likes of John Leland, another Virginia Baptist, to instantiate in the Constitution of the United States (1789) a clause protecting religious liberty—what we know as the First Amendment. Thus, religious liberty has been a defining feature of America, and one that reflects the human dignity and personal freedom set forth in Scripture.
Sadly, with the recent vaccine mandates, liberty of conscience has been withdrawn and in its place the state has eliminated the chance for citizens to live according to their religious convictions. As a result, many Christians, still unconvinced by the need for this vaccine, have lost the chance to be persuaded of its goodness and the chance to receive it with thanksgiving. Hence, the first reason that many Christians should seek a religious exemption is because instead of the state using the power of persuasion, which could preserve personal liberty and would lead to thanksgiving, the state has used its power of coercion to eliminate personal freedom for the sake of its religious belief that the vaccine is the savior we all need.
This is the second argument to be made, that instead of merely eliminating personal liberty and the chance to offer thanksgiving to God for this vaccine, the Biden administration and its various agencies have forced upon Christians a medical procedure that is championed as a secular sacrament. Still, before getting into that argument, the fact remains that many Christians who are called to do everything from faith and to give thanksgiving to God for every good gift, including vaccines, are not able to do that. And for that reason, those who cannot take the vaccine in faith, should not take the vaccine at all. Instead, they should seek a religious exemption and band together with others who share their convictions to stand for personal liberty.
The *Mandate* Requires Many Christians to Participate in the State Religion
The second reason for seeking a religious exemption is due to the religious nature of the Covid vaccine. Because American leaders have not said, “Bow down and worship Baal,” I suspect many will not see how vaccine mandates are forcing another religion on Christians. This may be especially true for those who stand outside the church and must assess the convictions of Christians in the federal government or armed services.
Even more, because many Christians have received the vaccine in good faith and made biblical arguments for it, it may be difficult to see how a Covid vaccine has become a secular sacrament. Although, as these mandates come down with the force of law, and governing officials like Kathy Hochul praise them with religious language, it is easier to see how they eliminate personal freedom and enforce a new morality.
Without discussing the merits or demerits of the vaccines, I want to show how these mandates force a secular sacrament on those who do not subscribe to the religious values of the state. But such an argument depends upon answering a few questions.
- What does it take to have religion?
- How is the Covid vaccine a religious experience?
- Have all Christians who have received the vaccine participated in a false religion? (The short answer is ‘no,’ the longer answer is, ‘it depends’ and it is becoming more difficult).
1. What does it take to have a religion?
While large metaphysical (i.e., philosophical, sociological, and theological) questions are tied up in defining a religion, we might observe that what one believes about God, the world, and morality, as well as what someone does to obey the words of a higher authority (whether supernatural or not) is the essence of a religion.
Acknowledging the difficulty of defining a religion, Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli provide a helpful sociological orientation to religion set around “three aspects [of] religious behavior.”  They list in parallel fashion “beliefs, morality and liturgy; or creed, code and cult; or words, works and worship” as the key features of a recognizable religion. And from their threefold orientation we can consider how Covid has ventured into the realm of beliefs, morality, and liturgy (i.e., the religious work of the people).
2. How has the Covid vaccine become a religious experience?
Covid as a religious experience comes into focus when we realize (1) how strongly people believe in the vaccine on the basis of a priestly class of advocates, (2) how the vaccine has created a moral divide with an in-group (the virtuous vaccinated) and an out-group (the unclean unvaccinated), (3) how the vaccine is treated as the only and “one size fits all” means of salvation, and (4) how the rhetoric surrounding the vaccine is filled with religious imperatives, public celebrations (see the video below),government praise for the vaccinated and public threats of judgment on the unvaccinated, not to mention the public shaming of those who would desire further scientific evidence for the vaccines efficacy.
[Creepy doesn’t begin to explain this montage. HT: Not the Bee ]
In short, the law that requires a vaccine does not come from a purely “secular” impulse, but a religious one. Though no one, including the most influential politicians and power brokers, can expunge the sense of the divine from the human soul, America’s ruling class have worked long and hard to exclude historic Christianity from the public square while permitting all other religions to remain. More than this, the ruling elites have cunningly conceived and established its own civil religion that is palatable to all except those who cherish the liberty of conscience. From this religious view of the world, albeit a secular one, the vaccine is treated as a sacrament that brings salvation and blessing. Conversely, refusal to take the sacrament invites a curse that results in removal from the community and all of its associated blessings. Let me press into the details to show how this works.
Morality is always downstream from religion. And since the Judeo-Christian civil religion of the 1950s has been evicted from the public square, other forms of worship have sprung up. These forms of worship are often materialistic, atheistic (or polytheistic), and rationalistic, but they are religious nonetheless. Because God made the world in a certain way, it is impossible to remodel his house without following the lines he drew. So, even if the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Jesus is rejected, there will be another supreme Lord. And when that Lord is the self, very soon the vacuum created by God’s rejection is filled by the state and its agencies.
This is what has happened in America. The Founding Fathers knew the dangers of tyrants, but the modern world, intoxicated with the godless, sex-crazed ideologies of Rousseau, Marx, Freud, Marcuse and their grandchildren (i.e., the ones preaching Critical (Race) Theory), have no idea that enshrining power in the government to protect the pleasures of the proletariat has not eliminated religion. It has simply made the state religious and given government power to do what it pleases. And in the days of Covid, we have seen supreme authority ceded to governing authorities, but especially the CDC. Consequently, the government is no longer a servant of the people; it has become a master of the people. And many in the nation are happy to be protected and pastored by their elected officials. Why else have elections become so cut throat? It’s religious!
In this setting, there exists a priestly class. Thomas Sowell has fittingly called them the Anointed. And their vision for the world is that of a utopian playground where they can make everything happy, safe, and clean. The problem with their imaginary world is the real world. Instead of dealing with conditions that are real, they seek with governmental force to demand people to do what they say. With sovereign confidence in themselves they declare, “Together we can defeat Covid!”
Advancing their gospel from the screens of smartphones, these would be heroes parade themselves with knowledge that will save. And because all contrary arguments are censored from the social media carriers, the vision of the anointed becomes the final authority. Similar to the Medieval Church, which Martin Luther protested and the Council of Trent corrected, the religious nature of this state church is seen in the way the vaccine mandates have become a matter of right and wrong, not just sickness and health.
In fact, the religious response to Covid is evident in the way the ruling elites are joined by a priestly class of celebrities whose skill in selling their bodies qualifies them to tell you what to do with yours. How many celebrities, when they received their shot, celebrated with a picture, complete with a double mask, on Instagram. Virtue signaling their vaccination, these priests of culture call others to “Follow me as I follow Fauci.” How else could Fauci gain a cult following, unless there is a cult?
In short, the ruling elites, joined with their approved priestesses of the medical profession, and the prophets of the entertainment industry, tell us the vaccine is the way to go. And because most of the results of the vaccine have been unharmful, and any harmful impacts have been denied or dismissed, there has been a measure of truth in their advertising.
Still, don’t miss the religious fervor of Covid vaccines. Those who got them, the ruling elites have said, especially in places like Australia and Canada, can enjoy their freedoms. They can breathe mask-free and return to life as normal. Or at least, they can until the next booster, mask mandate, or lockdown. Make no mistake, however, the secular evangelists preach the same gospel: blessing is found in the vaccine, but death awaits the unvaccinated. In short, the Covid vaccine has made a divide between the clean and unclean—a religious tell, if ever there was one.
And more, as Peter Leithart has observed, the Covid narrative not only divides the masses medically, but also morally. In his First Things article, Leithart notes the presence of “sin stories.” Highlighting Biden’s speech mandating vaccines, and comparing it to the work of Paul Frijters, Gigi Foster, and Michael Baker in their book, The Great COVID Panic, he states,
“A very effective way to dominate people,” they write, “is to convince them they are sinful unless they obey.” Government officials and powerful business leaders use sin stories to divide and control opposition. Corporations break the power of labor by cultivating discord in the workforce; politicians tell sin stories to keep the people from mounting mass opposition. COVID, they note, is “an almost perfect sin story,” one that sets all against all by treating everyone as a potential source of deadly infection and literally distances us from one another so we can’t mount a united opposition. Giant companies told sin stories to kill off small businesses that couldn’t afford to keep up with constantly-changing regulations. And President Biden deepens divisions by presenting himself as president of the vaccinated, whose duty is to protect them from impure semi-citizens like me.
Indeed, this line of thinking is so ubiquitous today, it almost goes unnoticed. But once we see how the ruling elite are passing moral judgments, are teaching the nation to divide itself based upon Leviticus-like standards of clean and unclean, and are making their case on an approved list of orthodox scientists, it becomes incontrovertible that what we are facing in the Covid mandates is a deeply religious belief system. Yes, it is secular. It denies God and preaches medicinal healing, but it contains a strong body of belief, fortified by a cadre of moral imperatives, decided by a higher power, and mediated through a series of princes, priests, and prophets. And this leads to the vaccine itself.
While many Christians have freely taken and benefitted from this achievement of science, it has become increasingly apparent that to others, the vaccine is a religious sacrament. To those who deny God, the protection of one’s life becomes the number one priority. In other words, with no hope of heaven and no fear of God, the secular world treats this one life as their only chance at heaven. And materialist as they are, they look to science to be their medicinal savior. And because God is good, modern medicine IS a wonderful savior—not in an ultimate sense, but in a qualified sense. And this is why many Christians have received the vaccine with great thanksgiving and liberty of conscience.
Nevertheless, when we look at the total picture, it is increasingly clear that the vaccine is now treated as a sacrament for salvation. With ironic humor, it is even heralded with a fundamentalist zeal that rivals the fiercest evangelists on the sawdust trail. And sadly, many vaccinators are as mean-spirited and punitive as the fundamentalist Christians they abhor. In short, in less than a year’s time, the Covid vaccine has become a religious sacrament.
It didn’t have to be that way. It could have simply been a way to respond to a global pandemic, a part of a multi-prong strategy to help the sick. But instead, the religious fervor of the ruling elite has made the Covid vaccine a sacrament of health and life and freedom. Thus, when governing agencies demand citizens to take the vaccine, they are forcing the world’s newfangled idol on Christians. And taking a page from 1 Corinthians 8, some Christians will have freedom of conscience to eat the meat, but others will not, and therefore must not.
Yet, with the vaccine mandate forcing worshipers of Christ to receive in their bodies the serum of sacrament, the state has now forced their secular religion on Christians. And this is a legitimate reason for seeking a religious exemption. But this also raises another question.
3. Have all Christians who have received the vaccine participated in a false religion?
No. If you have read this essay from the beginning, you know that I believe many Christians have in good conscience received the vaccine. And this argument is not written to condemn anyone who has with faith and thanksgiving prayed for, sought, or received this vaccine. As a vaccine and not a sacrament, the vaccine is a product of human ingenuity and one that has sought to do good. And for those who have taken it that way, even if they lined up next to an irreligious sacrament seeker, they can go to sleep tonight with a clear conscience.
That said, the vaccine mandates have reset the calculus. No longer are the vaccines a personal choice that individuals can receive or reject, based upon their medical history and liberty of conscience. Unless something changes, and we should pray that it does, the vaccines are now the enforced will of the government, regardless of your medical condition or religious beliefs. And in that setting, I expect there will be Christians who can still in good conscience receive the vaccine. But I also expect that the longer the politicians of this country make healthcare decisions for Americans, the more Christians are going to take note of the secular religious practices being forced on them. This is a second reason why a religious exemption can be—and for some, must be—sought.
Two Reasons to Seek a Religious Exemption
In the end, liberty of conscience and freedom from an imposed secular sacrament are the two reasons that many Christians can and should seek a religious exemption. Again the “should” here is related to conscience and not a biblical imperative for all Christians. The universal imperative is that if you cannot get the vaccine in faith, you must not. Again, Romans 14 is clear on this. You should not violate your conscience or bind the conscience of someone else who thinks differently than you.
At the same time, with the increasing secularization of our culture and the force of government demanding citizens to do things against their will, all Christians should stand for religious liberty. And this begins by recognizing the religious response to Covid. The vaccine mandates are not pure science nor unbiased medicine. There’s more to it than that, and it does not take a conspiracy theory to connect the dots. The Covid vaccine, unlike every other mandated vaccine, has a religious connotation to it. For this reason, Christians in our day need to be instructed by Revelation 13 as much as Romans 13. And I pray this essay might help us to see what is going on and to respond in freedom and faith—whatever that means for you and the vaccine.
May God give us wisdom and courage in these days.
Photo by Markus Spiske on Pexels.com
 As David Closson has observed: “First, there are serious concerns that President Biden’s vaccine mandate is illegal and unconstitutional. No federal statute or constitutional provision expressly gives the president the authority to impose a sweeping vaccine mandate on private businesses and their employees in this manner, and the Biden administration has an extremely questionable reading of the statute they claim gives him this authority. Some states have already threatened to sue.”
 I have received multiple requests for help on religious exemptions based upon the connection between the Covid vaccines and the use of stem cell lines derived from aborted babies.
 Though there are competing claims, here is one study that argues for natural immunity: https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2021.08.24.21262415v1
 Stating the difference between religious and medical exemptions, Alliance Defending Freedom notes, “You must first determine if your objection is based on a sincerely held religious belief against taking any of the available vaccines (since they are different), or whether your objections are based on other medical, health, cultural, or political, but not religious, concerns. 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.”
 I take the oil of James 5:14 to be medicinal.
 Additionally, Christians are those who know that bodies are not disconnected from souls. As Abraham Kuyper wisely stated with respect to limitations on government mandated healthcare, “Just think of the battle over cowpox inoculation, or of the shameful idea of some heartless magistrates to close the churches during epidemics in the interest of public hygiene. Think also of the outrageous attempts in a Christian nation to discourage burials and to bring into vogue the pagan practice of cremation. Thus it is essential to be very circumspect about choosing one’s point of departure and to give our doctors (many of whom are philosophical materialists) not one tittle more than they, strictly speaking, can demand. Many take public hygiene to mean health care that turns not only the public spaces but also our bodies into the private hunting ground of our medical colleges. And since our bodies are inexplicably and marvelously bound up with our spiritual being—a spiritual being that these gentlemen hygienists for the most part concern themselves very little about—it goes without saying that our physical needs can come into conflict with our psychical needs. And in that case we must fight tooth and nail against the materialistic conclusion that in all such cases body takes precedence over soul!” (Our Program: A Christian Political Manifesto)
 Here are twenty quotations from Baptists who have made arguments for religious liberty. https://erlc.com/resource-library/articles/20-quotes-from-baptists-on-religious-liberty/
 Andrew Walker, Liberty for All: Defending Everyone’s Religious Freedom in a Pluralistic Age, 81–110, esp. 89–90.
 In Our Program: A Christian Political Manifesto, Abraham Kuyper writes about the relationship between the state and the Christian’s conscience. He states, “The conscience marks a boundary that the state may never cross. The limits to state power reside in the will of God. Government has as much power as God has assigned to it. No more; no less. It sins if it leaves unused a portion of the power assigned to it, but also if it arrogates to itself any power that is not assigned to it. There is only one power without limits, the power of God, whence it is called almighty power. Anyone who accords the state the right to exercise power as if it had no limits is guilty of deifying the state and favoring state omnipotence. That is not indulging in oratorical phraseology but simply indicating a purely logical concept.” Thanks to Ben Purves for this and other references to Abraham Kuyper.
 For those thinking theologically, “liberty of conscience” is not a denial of Luther’s “bondage of the will.” The latter has to do with the personal inability to repent and believe, the former has to do with the ability to repent and believe without external coercion. Both doctrines can be found in Scripture and both doctrines are necessary for understanding biblically the roles of church and state. For now, our focus is on the public good that comes when consciences are not coerced by external forces—this is good for all image-bearers, not just those who call themselves Christians.
 One counter argument to any religious exemptions for the vaccine is the fact that most seeking an exemption have already received countless vaccines. Therefore, the counterargument goes, any current religious accommodation is not a true religious belief but a matter of convenience or personal disinterest couched in terms of religious convictions. The refutation of this counterargument, however, is the fact that this vaccine mandate, unlike George Washington’s smallpox vaccine mandate or the anthrax vaccine mandate, is the global scope of this pandemic and the religious response of the secular society. In other words, while receiving medicine as a good gift from God, current events have proven that this vaccine is not simply a gift of modern medicine, it has become a secular sacrament. And thus, not only does taking this vaccine violate the conscience of many Christians, it does so by forcing Christians to participate in a modern, medical sacrament.
 Peter P. Kreeft and Ronald K Tacelli, Handbook of Christian Apologetics: Hundreds of Answers to Crucial Questions (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic. 1994), 351.
 Etymologically, liturgy means the “work of the people.”
 From the rush transcript of Kathy Hocul: “I need you to be my apostles. I need you to go out and talk about it and say, we owe this to each other. We love each other. Jesus taught us to love one another and how do you show that love but to care about each other enough to say, please get the vaccine because I love you and I want you to live, I want our kids to be safe when they’re in schools, I want to be safe when you go to a doctor’s office or to a hospital and are treated by somebody, you don’t want to get the virus from them. You’re already sick or you wouldn’t be there. We have to solve this, my friends. I need every one of you. I need you to let them know that this is how we can fight this pandemic.”
 From postvent or post-vaxxed calendars (think: advent calendars but in reverse) to protein-spiked helmets, The Verge reports, “Sites such as Etsy, Zazzle, and Redbubble are overflowing with T-shirts, hats, and buttons proclaiming “Fully Vaccinated,” “Hug me, I’m vaccinated,” “Vaccines cause adults,” and “Vaccinated AF.” (I just report these; I don’t write them.) There are necklaces, hats, toys, keychains, and cardholders. Okay, it’s a little weird, but still…”
 See Thomas Sowell, The Vision of the Anointed: Self-Congratulations as a Social Policy.