Monday, July 5, 2010

When a "Religious Compromise" Creates a Religious Compromise

I have never questioned whether to vaccinate Ashley according to recommended guidelines: I believe the science is on the side of vaccinations, don't believe the medical community has "an agenda" for pushing vaccinations (I've seen The Doctors's Travis Stork, M.D., near tears when defending the medical science behind vaccines because he knows they save lives), and am grateful for the eradication of diseases that ravaged the bodies and took the lives of countless children in previous generations. Many moms and dads disagree with me, and they are entitled to their opinions. Just as I prefer to make choices for my child free from the criticism of others, I'm not going to force my decision upon them. However, there is an issue regarding vaccinations that I feel needs to be addressed in the Christian community.

When I enrolled Ashley in daycare last year, part of the registration process was providing her vaccination record. The official Texas form included an affidavit for religious exemption, provided vaccinating one's child compromised his religious beliefs. According to, "The [Texas] laws require that immunization must conflict with the tenets and practices of a recognized or organized religion of which you are an adherent member." I knew that such a religious exemption existed but after seeing it in print wondered, How many evangelical Christians are signing this statement (or others nearly identical in their own states) upon enrolling their children in child care or school? My guess is it's a lot, and in doing so, parents are, quite frankly, lying and misrepresenting Christianity.

The simple fact is, the Bible does not condemn vaccinations or other medical intervention, either in direct statement or implication. To claim a compromise of religious doctrine is just not true and is, in fact, a religious compromise in and of itself--a compromise of the Christian belief against lying.*

"But the Bible tells me to put my faith in God, not men," some may claim. "Doesn't that exempt me?" This statement may be a parent's attempt to soothe his conscience for falsely signing the affidavit, but it shouldn't work. Of course one's faith should be in God--vaccines don't always work, it is God who decides the course of one's life, and it is God who enabled scientists to discover cures and vaccines--but, again, the Bible never condemns the use of medical intervention. When the woman with the twelve-year issue of blood touched the hem of Jesus' garment, He did not turn to her and say, "It's about time you stopped going to doctors and put your faith in Me." Luke's mention of her seeking doctors serves to show us that the woman did the logical thing, the thing anyone would have done to receive help. The fact that those who should have been able to heal her were helpless makes Jesus' healing that much more miraculous. God is not unhappy when we turn to the accumulated knowledge from the minds of brilliant scientists--minds that He created. One can take advantage of medicine while still acknowledging that his well-being is in God's hands, not a doctor's.

When a Christian signs a religious exemption for vaccination, he is being pragmatic. (The same holds true regarding the religious exemption that will be allowed from government-mandated health insurance and the exemption from paying into social security that ordained ministers may take if paying into such a program violates their religious beliefs. Though my husband will probably receive ordination in the next few years, we certainly won't be claiming such a religious compromise. I shudder to think how many pastors have opted out of social security only to preach sermons to their unexempt congregations on "rendering to Caesar.") Instead, a Christian who decides not to vaccinate his children must be willing to stand accountable for his choice and not use Christianity to evade the consequences.

* further states that "disclosing your religion could cause your religious exemption to be challenged." It would seem that the government is aware of which groups, such as Christian Scientists and the Amish, truly have objections to modern medicine.


Dawn said...

Hi Heather! Great post. One clarification about opting out of social security. You can opt out of paying into social security for two reasons:

"I certify that I am conscientiously opposed to, or because of my religious principles I am opposed to, the acceptance (for services I perform
as a minister, member of a religious order not under a vow of poverty, or a Christian Science practitioner) of any public insurance that
makes payments in the event of death, disability, old age, or retirement; or that makes payments toward the cost of, or provides services
for, medical care."

That's the first paragraph of a statement on IRS form 4361. So, someone could opt out for reasons other than religious principles.

Heather said...

Thanks, Dawn, for the quotation. I was not aware of the exact wording. I remember asking Nathan when we first married, "Are you going to get ordained? Because we could save a lot more retirement money on our own." I was seeing dollar signs! Then he explained that he could not honestly claim an opposition to the SS program. I'd always thought pastors could just get out of it for being pastors, not for having a real conscientious objection.

Juliann said...

You had to know I would comment on this!!! ( :
Since I have signed an exemption as you mentioned...I felt that I would be a good person to explain how many parents make this decision.
In the state of NH, there is an organization that is trying to pass legislation for a new form of vaccination rejection based on Philosophical reasons. I completely support this for people who make the choice not based on religous or faith based reasons, but should they pass this and it become available ...we will continue to use the religous exemption as we believe our choice to refuse vaccinations stems from our religous beliefs of the parents having the fundamental right to choose the path for their family.
Just so you aware...religious exemptions from each state vary in their Nh it says "the administration of immunizing agents conflicts with the above named student's religous beliefs." I can sign that without wavering for one second that I am compromising or being pragmatic. Vaccinations completely violate our religous beliefs (our meaning my husband and myself) just as drinking any alchohol violates some people's religous beliefs...some could sign something saying that and others would choose not to.
Certainly I know you are not trying to debate the validity of vaccinations so I will not take the time...but in defense of a parents fundamental religious rights, I feel urged to comment.
1. It violates my religious beliefs- that we believe all parents are chosen by God to make all decisions necessary for the physical and spiritual well being of a child.
2. We believe that the way vaccinations are manufactured stabilized with various chemicals, human and animal by products does not support our family choices of how to care for our bodies. There is much "hype, hysteria and false information" that circulates the internet so here is the list from CDC website-I feel that this is a "reputable" source for information.
We do not believe that this is the "best" way to care for their body. We know there others out there that would completely disagree with this. Their feeling that the "benefits" of vaccinations outweigh these "dangers". We do not feel that way and so we choose to forego vaccinations.
3. Since we believe that religion is a relationship with God ...this really encompasses our whole life. We do not believe our religion is a set of rules or regulations. We believe in the leading of the Holy Spirit and if we feel that the Lord has led us in a certain way in regards to how we raise and care for our family...we can in perfectly good conscience say it violates our religious beliefs, tenets etc.
4. The more that we try to remove a parents freedom to choose what they believe is right...we place ourselves as nation in a very dangerous place.
5. Not related to why we can sign the exemption but in response to something you said... To clarify ...MANY people who choose not to vaccinate do not write off modern medicine or doctors. They choose to treat disease and illness when it presents itself. They bring their child to all well child visits, they give their children medicine when they contract an illness, they hospitilize their children if necessary...they just choose to treat illness and disease when it presents itself and not try to prevent it with vaccinations. I am aware that there are some that write off all modern medcine, but most of the people that we know that choose not to vaccinate are like us and appreciate and are thankful for their doctors and modern medicine.
Just some thoughts ( :

Heather said...

Juli, you are correct that every state has different wording, and some states may allow for more freedom of conscience. I do not think the reasons you stated would be viable in Texas because personal religious views (i.e. personal application of religious principles) are not exempt, only the tenets of an organized group. I suspect only cults would be exempt here because the main-stream groups do not usually dictate specifics like blood transfusions and vaccines.

Juliann said...

Maybe...but the definition of tenets are as follows:
"An opinion, doctrine, or principle held as being true by a person or especially by an organization." A variety of tenets (opinions and principles) of the Christian faith are open for Biblical interpretation.

Anyways...I guess I just feel that the majority of Christians who sign that documentation are in good faith following their religious faith and leading of the Holy Spirit and so I guess I am providing them the benefit of the doubt that they are not "compromising". ( :