From Pastor: COVID Vaccines, Mandates, and Conscience

Dear Friends in Christ,

Governor Pritzker and other authorities have mandated that all students, staff, and faculty at the U of I, as well as people in certain other fields and industries, should be vaccinated against COVID-19. As your pastor and a shepherd of your souls, I have a word of exhortation and encouragement from God’s Word to relay to you at this time.

The Pfizer and Moderna COVID vaccines have been shown to be effective in helping to prevent serious disease, hospitalization, and death from COVID-19. They also appear to be relatively safe for use, particularly in comparison to the risks associated with COVID-19 infection in certain demographic groups. Many Christians will want to receive the vaccine in order to protect themselves and others. Recall Luther’s explanation of the 5th Commandment: “We should fear and love God so that we do not hurt or harm our neighbor in his body, but help and support him in every physical need.”

It is also reasonable that many Christians will choose not to be vaccinated for a different application of the 5th Commandment: all of the available COVID vaccines in some way make use of cell lines that are derived using fetal tissue from an aborted child. This is morally and ethically problematic – an innocent and vulnerable child was unable to give his permission before his life was sacrificed and his tissue used for medical testing and research. (There are, in fact, several cell lines that exist from aborted fetal tissue used in vaccine production and medical research, not to mention additional medical research done on other harvested tissue from abortions from organizations like Planned Parenthood.)

A Christian can refuse the currently available COVID vaccines, or choose to receive one of them, in good conscience. Either choice is justified by God’s Word and will. Each Christian must decide for himself what he will do in service to his neighbor and in response to the tension at play regarding the 5th Commandment applied to vaccination against this endemic disease. We must respect each other’s decisions in this matter. We must not allow ourselves to take sides against each other when both sides can be defended by Scripture, and we must guard against fostering a moral judgmentalism over one another. We all make these choices with fear and trembling before God. I’ve said it before regarding masks, and I say it here again: we must not and will not divide Christ’s church into two classes of citizens over this vaccine.

Whether you choose to be vaccinated or not, you as a Christian should never follow a governmental mandate without thinking about, praying about, and investigating whether that mandate is good and right, or not. Nor should you refuse to obey a mandate without similar thinking, praying, and investigating. We live in a society that is generally opposed to God and His goodness. There is a culture of death all around us. Modern medicine and technology, for all its good, is regularly used for bad, even wicked and evil, reasons. Also, an overall lack of trust of authority in our society contributes to conspiratorial thinking and to a hasty judgment of neighbors who make different choices than we do. This makes life together difficult, but God calls us to live life together, regardless.

If you are already vaccinated or are choosing to be vaccinated in response to the governor’s mandate, you have my full support.

If you are choosing to request exemption from the University of Illinois’ or another COVID-19 vaccine mandate, you also have my full support as well as the support of your church when it comes to your Christian conscience. Please reach out to me, and I will provide a short PDF letter that you can use as needed in the exemption process. I’ll also assist you in any other needed way.

If any of you want to discuss further what I’ve shared here, I’m available to talk.

I plan to address the new mask mandate in a subsequent letter later this week.

I’m praying for you. Please also be praying for me.

Love in Christ,
Pastor Schuermann

For more on the vaccines and the Christian conscience, here’s some reading: