Many of us are familiar with the destructive effects of the Covid pandemic: besides death and long-term weaknesses, we have seen irrecoverable economic disasters, especially to small businesses; children who will never recover from gaps in their academic and social development; and the fear-crippled churchgoers who have yet to set foot in a church building since March 2020—just to name a few.
But recently I was horrified to hear my friend Dr. John West, Vice President of the Seattle-based Discovery Institute and Managing Director of the Institute’s Center for Science and Culture, deliver one of the most disturbingly chilling messages I’ve yet heard on the effects of Covid. He walked through examples of insult after indignity after contemptuous phrase directed at people who chose not to receive the Covid vaccine.
Pre-pandemic, the right to make one’s own medical decisions was considered a basic human right. Within just a few months of March 2020 that right evaporated, and the culture quickly divided into emotion-laden “us vs. them” positions.
“The issue here,” John has written*, “is not whether you favor the COVID vaccines or think they are effective or moral. The issue is how we treat sincere and decent people who make different medical choices than we would.”
[W]e are witnessing a mass campaign to dehumanize an entire class of people because of their medical choices. Fellow citizens who choose not to be vaccinated are being branded “narcissists,” “child abusers” and “parasites.” They are accused of “killing off their fellow citizens.” They are denounced as “dangerous” people “from poorer or less educated parts of society.” They are described as “a leech on everyone else’s participation in making America healthy and safe.” A sitting federal judge has declared that “the vast majority of unvaccinated adults” are either (take your pick) “uninformed and irrational” or “selfish and unpatriotic.” A member of a famous rock band has labeled them “an enemy” of society with a “delusional, evil idea.” The Prime Minister of Canada has called them “misogynistic and racist.” A New York newspaper derides them as low in IQ. The Republican governor of Alabama urges that “it’s time to start blaming the unvaccinated folks,” accusing them of embracing “a horrible lifestyle.” A former speechwriter for George W. Bush has compared the unvaccinated to cancer, calling them “the malignant minority.” The president of France claims the unvaccinated are not even citizens.
The insults go both ways. Those suspicious of the vaccine and vaccine mandates have contemptuously castigated the vaxxed as “sheep” and “sheeple,” “murderers,” and even “delusional unfit brainwashed parents” of those who had their children vaccinated.
I am struck—feeling almost like a literal slap across the face—by how this situation is the 2022 iteration of Romans 14, where Paul addressed the mutual judging and condemning of people taking opposing positions concerning eating and drinking. Swapping out details from the daily news feed, we might paraphrase Romans 14:3 as
The one who [receives the vaccine] must not despise the one who does not, and the one who [chooses not to get the vaccine] must not judge the one who [has been vaccinated], for God has accepted him.
In verse 5, Paul gives room for people to come to different positions on the subject of “debatable things”:
Each must be fully convinced in his own mind.
What was missing in the church at Rome is what’s missing in much of our culture concerning the vaccine issue: love.
A grace-filled spirit that puts the value of people above being right.
A willingness to allow others to believe differently than we do because they are precious image-bearers who deserve respect and dignity, even in the midst of disagreement.
15 For if your brother or sister is distressed because of [your beliefs about vaccines], you are no longer walking in love. Do not destroy by your [vaccination position] someone for whom Christ died.
But it’s not just about what people believe. John continues:
This kind of rhetoric against others has cruel real-world consequences. Unvaccinated people are losing their jobs and their livelihoods, often by government decree. They are being denied unemployment benefits — benefits they paid for through their payroll taxes. Doctors have announced that they will not serve unvaccinated people, and unvaccinated patients are being denied life-saving organ transplants. Unvaccinated people are being denied access to marriage licenses. Judges have tried to deny child visitation rights to parents who are not vaccinated. In many jurisdictions, healthy unvaccinated people are now banned from stores, theaters, and sporting events. In Canada, one province even authorized grocery stores to ban the unvaccinated, only relenting after a massive backlash. Just ponder for a moment the type of mindset someone must have to authorize the denial of access to food.
These policies, driven by unveiled contempt, are the essence of what is unloving. Unkind. Mean. Hateful! And completely ignoring God.
It’s not just love that is missing—it is awareness that God is sovereign. He is in control. And both policy-makers and individuals posting comments on social media will answer to Him for how we treated people He loves, people He made, people Jesus died for.
Regardless of anyone’s beliefs or practices about vaccination, He is still God and we are not. He is bigger than Covid and vaccines. Maybe some reminders of His blessed sovereignty will help . . .
Who announces the end from the beginning and reveals beforehand what has not yet occurred; who says, ‘My plan will be realized, I will accomplish what I desire.’ [Isaiah 46:10]
All the inhabitants of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he wishes with the army of heaven and with those who inhabit the earth. No one slaps his hand and says to him, ‘What have you done?’ [Daniel 4:35]
As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. [Genesis 50:20]
Indeed, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies has a plan, and who can possibly frustrate it? His hand is ready to strike, and who can possibly stop it? [Isaiah 14:27]
The earth is the LORD’S, and all it contains, the world, and those who dwell in it. [Psalm 24:1]