Religious exemptions aren’t the long-term solution to the tyrannical vaccine mandates, but for some families, they may be what keeps a roof overhead and food on the table in the short-term. I’ve been frustrated that the LCMS has thus far failed to offer much in the way of guidance or support while her people are at risk from various government and corporate institutions who are threatening their livelihoods and families. James 2 certainly comes to mind: “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?”
I suspect we will soon have many Lutheran families who would be helped by a specifically Lutheran explanation for how our faith disposes our consciences against vaccinating ourselves and our households. I’ve seen Christians in various traditions putting together documents to help the faithful maintain their livelihoods–something for which we should be grateful. However, I have yet to encounter a specifically Lutheran rationale explained.
The following is a beginning towards that goal. It’s not the only objection a Lutheran’s faith may have imposed on him, and it’s by no means the only one on my mind (the role of abortion in these vaccines, for example, is abominable). It is, however, the one closest to my own conscience. It is my hope that our pastors and overseers will willingly uses this and other rationales in religious exemption letters for the flock God has entrusted to him.
Article XVI of the Augsburg Confession states:
The Gospel teaches an eternal righteousness of the heart. At the same time, it does not require the destruction of the civil state or the family. The Gospel very much requires that they be preserved as God’s ordinances and that love be practiced in such ordinances. Therefore, it is necessary for Christians to be obedient to their rulers and laws. The only exception is when they are commanded to sin. Then they ought to obey God rather than man.
A Lutheran ought to love and obey the authorities which God has placed over us. But the state is not the only civil authority which God has established, for the Lutheran Confessions recognize the family alongside the state. The Gospel requires us to preserve both and it is necessary to be obedient to both. Our only exception is when such an authority commands us to sin.
It is precisely such a command to sin which I and many other Lutherans find in this attempt to mandate vaccinations against Covid-19 and its variants both for themselves and for their families.
Lutherans believe, teach, and confess that we are all called by God to certain offices or vocations in this life. We have therefore been given a moral obligation to fulfill them to the best of our ability. In fulfilling them, we are not robots or automatons following a script. Rather, In the course of these vocations, we must each exercise our best judgment with the wisdom God has given us.
Nevertheless, we remain accountable to our Lord from beginning to end for our actions. As Martin Luther himself found in exercising his own vocation as a Doctor of the Church, our consciences are bound to the Word of God. When he rejected the demands of many of the civil and religious authorities of his own day, he did not do so on his own account. Rather, he knew that he must obey the calling and commandments of Jesus Christ over and against any other authority. No Lutheran has any less of an obligation in the fulfilment of his own vocations.
Consider, therefore, the following Commandments our Lord & God has given us in Holy Scripture:
Thou Shalt not Murder
Our Confessions explain this commandment thusly: “We should fear and love God so that we may not hurt or harm our neighbor in his body, but help and befriend him in every bodily need.” (SC I 5) What’s more, whenever we speak of loving the neighbors God has given us, the same rules naturally apply to ourselves as well, for our Lord said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mark 12:31) Accordingly, this commandment pertains not only to the harm of others, but also to the harm of self. We must highly regard the lives of everyone we encounter, but our own lives and those of our families remain our responsibility.
Therefore, each head of household must judge for himself whether or not his actions will support his household’s needs or cause bodily harm. Though it is impossible to altogether avoid such harm in this life, our responsibility requires us to weigh potential harm against potential benefit in the decisions we make.
Like all medical treatments, Covid vaccines bear both specific benefits as well as certain risks. Both of these can vary wildly from person to person. It is quite clear that some people are at great risk from Covid–the old, the infirm, the obese, and so forth. It is also quite clear that the virus poses very little risk to others–the young & healthy, the naturally immune, etc. It is therefore incumbent upon each of us to weigh the costs and benefits of these treatments as they pertain specifically to the lives under our care–including our own.
No mandate can absolve us of this responsibility. Anyone convinced that these treatments offer more bodily risk than reward would be guilty of violating the Fifth Commandment by administering it to his household over-and-against his own best judgment.
Thou Shalt Honor Thy Father and Thy Mother
As our Confessions explain regarding this Fourth Commandment:
God wants to have this included in this commandment when He speaks of father and mother. He does not wish to have rogues and tyrants in this office and government. He does not assign this honor to them, that is, power and authority to govern, so they can have themselves worshiped. But they should consider that they are obligated to obey God. First of all, they should seriously and faithfully fulfill their office, not only to support and provide for the bodily necessities of their children, servants, subjects, and so on, but most of all, they should train them to honor and praise God. Therefore, do not think that this matter is left to your pleasure and arbitrary will. This is God’s strict command and order to whom also you must give account for it. (LC I 168-169)
The bodily necessities of all those in our household are the first and most obvious responsibility that any parent has been given by God Himself. This is no less true when it comes to medicine than matters of food, shelter, and protection. Anyone convinced that a medicine is to the detriment of those under his care is therefore violating “God’s strict command and order” by administering it against his own best judgment.
What then of the State? As we’ve already established, mustn’t we maintain and obey government alongside family? Our confessions explain the relationship between these two civil authorities thusly:
In this commandment belongs a further statement about all kinds of obedience to persons in authority who have to command and to govern. For all authority flows and is born from the authority of parents. Where a father is unable alone to educate his rebellious and irritable child, he uses a school-master to teach the child. If he is too weak, he gets the help of his friends and neighbors. If he departs this life, he delegates and confers his authority and government upon others who are appointed for the purpose. (LC I 141)
Our respect for any earthly authority ultimately proceeds from God’s command that we honor our earthly parents. It is indeed parental authority from which any other earthly authority is delegated. When the state abdicates its responsibility to assist parents in the governance and support of their households and instead chooses to override and dominate them, it is the state which has put these two civil authorities into conflict. The state’s negligence and/or abuse in such matters does not abrogate God’s strict command to fathers and mothers to care for the well-being of their household, including themselves.
Therefore, if a head of household is convinced that his government, employer, or any other governing institution is demanding that he harm rather than provide for anyone in his household–including himself–he is obligated to obey God rather than man and disobey that errant institution. A Lutheran who is convinced otherwise about these vaccines may judge differently; but our faith and tradition demand that we be convinced–not compelled.
I stand convinced that receiving these vaccines is not in the best interests of my household. Accordingly, my faith and religion bind me against submitting to this mandate. In the words of Martin Luther, “Here I stand; I can do no other. God help me, amen.”