When the first coronavirus vaccine was released in December, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Albert Mohler published an article in Kentucky Today, an online news service of the Kentucky Baptist Convention, giving Christians the green light for vaccination. Almost eight months later, his article is still one of the most-read on the KT website.
Mohler begins by comparing development of the vaccines to the moon landing, then offers seven points for Christians to consider as they decide whether to get vaccinated or not.
First, he rejects the line of thinking that if God wants someone to have the virus, they will get it no matter what they do. “That kind of logic, if pressed to its logical conclusion, however, is untenable—we wouldn’t treat any sickness, cancer, or injury,” Mohler writes. “Medical treatment is an extension of God’s common grace and Christians have always understood this. That is why, throughout history, where you found Christians, you found hospitals and the church treating the sick.”
Then Mohler tackles one of the obstacles most discussed among evangelicals, that a vaccine was developed with tissue from an aborted fetus. “There was a use of fetal cell lines . . . derived from an abortion in the Netherlands in the 1960s,” he writes. “How then ought Christians think about all of this? First of all, we must condemn in the strongest of terms the use of any tissues from aborted human babies. That is a nonnegotiable issue for Christians as we consider medical advances and treatments. There are, however, complexities involved as Christians contemplate these incredibly serious moral questions. Specifically, with the issue of the Covid-19 vaccine, Christians need to understand that no step in producing these vaccines had any direct involvement in an abortion of a single child. There is also the issue of proximity. The further you go in history, the harder it is to keep a clear line of culpability in morally significant events. That said, the good news about the Covid-19 vaccines is that even as these cells were used to create the basic shape of the vaccine, no fetal tissue was used.”
Mohler continues, “A horrifying wrong was done—but that does not mean that good cannot come from that harm, even as it is a good tainted by the realities of a sinful world. This idea is expressed, for Christians, as the doctrine of double effect. Some actions have more than one effect. For Christians, the primary intention must aim at virtue and good. The intention behind an act must never seek harm or evil or any moral reality and outcome against God’s will. We must never be complicit in intending sin, and certainly this applies to every dimension of abortion. But the Christian also acknowledges a potential double effect, for every moral act can lead to consequences not intended, but unavoidable. If the abortion of even a single human baby was required for this vaccine, or if abortion-derived materials were included in the vaccine, Christians would be rightly outraged. This is not the case. The vaccine can be taken by pro-life Christians with legitimacy.”
Mohler then endorses the vaccines’ efficacy and safety, says it was appropriate for those at greater risk to have the first access to them, and says it is doubtful that they will be made mandatory; but he objects to any law or regulation that would allow a minor to be vaccinated without parental knowledge.
His other major point addresses what he calls “the common good—the issue of love of neighbor,” a theme that Gov. Andy Beshear, an active member of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) has frequently sounded, though not always in a religious context, to advocate vaccination.
“There are third parties—people who cannot take the vaccine or do not yet have access to it—that could still be infected by those who refuse to take the vaccine,” Mohler notes. “The common-good argument is extremely powerful in the Christian tradition. Indeed, it is the second greatest commandment listed by Jesus Christ: to love our neighbors as ourselves. The general principle of the common good comes down to benevolence, love, care for others, laying down personal priorities for the service of others. Christians thinking about the issue of the vaccine must weigh this key biblical principle as part of their thinking.”