Religious leaders need to make it clear that faith is not a reason not to get immunized

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As more governments, businesses and schools mandate vaccinations, it’s common to see them say they will grant exemptions from getting a COVID-19 vaccine to those who cannot. do so for medical reasons or based on religious beliefs.

Religious belief? I’m confused. I cannot think of a single religion that prohibits receiving a life-saving vaccine.

Of course, some religions are concerned about how vaccines are made. Jews and Muslims oppose all vaccines made with pork products, and Hindus are concerned about the use of bovine material. Roman Catholics have moral reservations about vaccines made using aborted fetuses.

But all three groups told their supporters the COVID-19 vaccine was acceptable – Jews and Muslims because it did not contain pork products, and Hindus because nothing bovine was used. .

For Roman Catholics, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops has told its members that all COVID-19 vaccines that are medically approved by the relevant health authorities “may be lawfully received by Catholics.” This even includes all vaccines made using fetal cells, if there is no other choice.

Of course, there are a few small Christian denominations that oppose vaccines, such as some conservative Reform Christian groups who believe vaccinations interfere with divine providence, and Christian Science, which believes disease can be cured through prayer. . But even members of the Christian Science faith are not urged to avoid mandatory vaccinations.

So why are we still talking about religious exemptions to the COVID-19 vaccine if there is no basis for granting one? Perhaps this is because we want to be very careful not to offend, or because governments, businesses, and other groups in Canada today don’t know what religious groups actually teach.

If they did a little research, they would find that requests for exemptions based on religious grounds actually have more to do with other factors that are not based on religion at all.

This is what John Grabenstein wrote in the diary Vaccine in an article titled “What the World’s Religions Teach Applies to Vaccines.”

“In many cases, ostensibly religious reasons for refusing vaccination actually reflected concerns about vaccine safety or the personal beliefs of a social network of people organized around a religious community, rather than theological objections per se. “, did he declare.

A similar conclusion was drawn by Paul Bramadat, Director of the Center for Studies in Religion and Society at the University of Victoria, Benjamin L. Berger, Professor and York University Research Chair in Pluralism and Public Law at the University of Victoria. Osgoode Hall Law School, and Noni MacDonald. , professor of pediatrics and Dalhousie University and IWK Health Center in Halifax.

Write in the Globe and Mail earlier this year, they noted that religious objections to vaccination are a combination of spiritual and social forces in the minds of individuals and communities.

As an example, they note how some religious people can create a belief system that incorporates traditional theological understandings with things like veganism, reiki, homeopathy, yoga, or traditional folk medicines that can then be incorporated. in vaccine hesitation.

They don’t mention politics, but I would add that as well; some who vote in certain ways tend to be less open to vaccination, which is especially true in the United States, but also for a few people in Canada. And some religious groups have a long-standing mistrust of science that may cause them to avoid getting the vaccine.

“It might be better to think of the reluctance to vaccinate as a rhizome, with tangled root systems, extensive nodes and aerial shoots that often change in appearance,” they write, adding “If we wish to eradicate or even just pruning this complex organism, we should expect it to be different at different times and places. ”

Perhaps it is time for religious leaders to clarify that faith is not a reason not to get vaccinated, as happened in the United States this month in the Mennonite Brethren denomination of this country.

When some members of this group asked for a statement supporting their request for religious exemption, the denomination publicly declined. In a statement, he said that neither his current or historical practice, nor his theological beliefs nor his confession of faith justifies granting a religious exemption from the COVID-19 vaccine.

Maybe if more faith groups did this, it would do at least three things.

First, it might persuade a few more people to get the vaccine.

Second, it would help governments, businesses or other groups understand that religion is not an acceptable reason to oppose vaccinations.

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Third, it could help reduce the derision and contempt that some non-religious people heap on religion because of the way some use it to oppose vaccines – for how faith, in general, is slandered. by the selfish actions of the few who use it. to avoid being responsible for the health of their neighbors.

Perhaps the last word should go to Pope Francis, who appeared in a public service advertisement this month to promote vaccination against COVID-19.

In the ad, he urges people to get vaccinated against the virus, claiming that vaccinations are a moral responsibility and emblematic of a fundamental part of Catholicism: the common good.

“Getting the vaccines authorized by the respective authorities is an act of love,” he said. “And helping the majority of people to do it is an act of love.”

And to that, all believers can say “Amen.”

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John longhurst
faith reporter

John Longhurst has written for the Winnipeg religious pages since 2003. He also writes for the Religion News Service in the United States and blogs on media, marketing and communications at Making the News.

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