A “Steel-Man” Argument to Resist the Vaccine Mandate

A few weeks ago I wrote an article on what Christians should do in response to vaccine mandates, looking specifically at Matthew 5:38-42 and leaning heavily on Mathew Henry, John Calvin, Charles Spurgeon, and Martyn Lloyd-Jones. From that post I concluded three basic conclusions for Christians under the vaccine mandate:

  1. If receiving the vaccine would represent a serious health risk for you, you are free to pursue an exemption–even using legitimate legal recourse if necessary.
  2. If receiving the vaccine is requiring you to violate your conscience because you believe that to receive the vaccine would require you to sin, then you should pursue a religious exemption.
  3. If, however, the only reason that you do not want to be vaccinated is because the government is coercing you to, then this is not a legitimate reason for requesting an exemption. Rather, we should “go the extra mile” and be vaccinated.

I’ve received lots of great feedback from that article and hope to probe the issue a little further, particularly through considering John Calvin’s teaching on civil government, submission to wicked kings, and the ‘the lesser magistrate’ from volume four, chapter twenty of his Institutes. I think Calvin provides a helpful way forward that acknowledges a way for Christians to oppose what they think is an unjust abuse of governmental authority, while still submitting to the powers that God has ordained (just or unjust).

But before I look at Calvin I thought it might be helpful to think through the merits of the opposing argument.

Further, before I begin, I want to note that I am writing these articles as a pastor whose primary aim is to serve his own congregation. I am not writing (or pretending to write) as any kind of authority or expert in medicine, constitutional theory, virology, etc. I realize that many good, godly Christians whom I respect will arrive at different conclusions than me. My aim in writing these posts is not to defend the vaccine, the vaccine mandate, or even make it appear that the only “Christian” response is my own. I am rather hoping to first and foremost foster unity amongst the body of Christ so that even if we disagree, it will be easier to see the strengths of each other’s arguments, understand why we arrive at the conclusions we do. When we see the merits of the opposing argument we will be less inclined to think that people who disagree with us are just crazy or stupid or deluded.

I am only secondarily aiming to actually persuade people to change their opinions and stances. I want every Christian to respond to this circumstance we are in by submitting finally to God’s Word and demonstrating “wisdom from above” not the “wisdom from below” (see James 3:13-18).

“Steel-Man” The Argument

If you are familiar with what a “straw man” is, then a “steel man” is the exact opposite. Rather than attacking a weak and ridiculous form of your opponent’s argument, you create the strongest, most persuasive, compelling form of it before responding. It forces you to understand the core of the argument of your opponent, rather than just a caricature that is easily beaten. I’m convinced that much of the noise this issue has created is a failure to understand the other arguments in their strongest forms. So, since I argued above that aside from health and conscience reasons, Christians should consent to the mandate, let me attempt to “steel man” the argument that disagrees with me. I will not provide every reason someone might give, but will provide what I understand to be the best reasons.

In all of the following, I am assuming that these arguments are not dealing with issues of health or conscience (#1 and #2 stated above), but are dealing with Christians who resist the mandate because the government is coercing them to do so (#3 above).

(To clarify, I am not necessarily writing these out as representatives of my own views, but what I think are the strongest arguments in response.)

Why Christians Should Resist the Mandate

There are a number of reasons why a Christian may refuse to go along with the mandate. First, while the Bible does tell us to submit to the governing authorities over us (Rom 13:1-7; 1 Pet 2:13-17), there are also plenty of examples in Scripture where God’s people defy the government when need requires (Daniel 1; 3; 6; Acts 4:19; 5:29). Further, the government that Paul was living under was very different than our own. We live in a representative democracy where “we the people” have been given a large share in the government of our nation, and the Constitution–not any executive–is the highest authority in the land.

Therefore, if any president or court or governor are doing anything that contradicts the Constitution it then makes the application of Romans 13 to us unclear at best–which authority do we submit to? And, some would say that since the vaccine has led to health complications for some and the mandate is a restriction on our liberty, then the mandate is in contradiction with the Constitution. Section one of the fourteenth amendment states, “…nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”

Yes, there have been instances in the past where the government has used vaccine mandates, such as in the military or attending public school, but those were often with vaccines that were more reliable than this one, and exemptions were normally still allowed. Further, wise Christians should be alarmed at the growing centralization of power in our government. History shows us that governments that turn into tyrannies often do so gradually through the centralization of power, usually capitalizing on moments of crisis to accelerate that process. If what goes into my body is not off-limits to the government, is anything off-limits to them?

Further, our country is only growing in its hostility towards Christianity and if we permit the government to impose these kinds of restrictions, who knows what kind of restrictions may come down the line. What will happen when the government decides that Christians that oppose their ideologies must be penalized and thrown in jail? Maybe those things are far off, but won’t future generations who will likely face those things wish that earlier generations had worked harder to starve the beast, not feed it? A beast is precisely how the book of Revelation describes godless governments–a monster who devours Christians and demands the kind of unquestioning allegiance that is reserved for God alone (see Revelation 13:1-10). By consenting to this mandate, Christians could be giving greater strength to this power.

In closing, consider a number of questions:

Should we also not be alarmed at the many people who are going to be forced out of their jobs and livelihoods because of their resistance against government overreach? Even if the vaccine is safe and these people are misled, does not Christian love of neighbor compel us to consider them? Their children?

How will this massive loss of jobs affect our country in ways we may not anticipate? Will necessary goods, services, and care still be as available as before? What about hospitals that will lose a considerable percentage of their nurses?

Has God given the government the authority to make medical decisions for us? Romans 13 seems to indicate that its primary role is to restrain evil, not make medical decisions. Thus, for the government to do so is an example of the government moving beyond its God-given sphere of authority.

With the lower rate of effectiveness of the vaccine mixed with the considerable number of people refusing to be vaccinated, is there a chance that this is a “leaky vaccine” that is actually fueling a more rapid evolution of the virus into more deadly variants?

With such a newly developed vaccine, shouldn’t we be taking a “wait and see” approach before being compelled to be vaccinated?

Why does our government and mainstream media outlets seem to be so intent on squashing any alternative data that undermines their narrative? Does this not show that they may be up to something nefarious? Couldn’t it be possible that these massive pharmaceutical companies creating the vaccine have paid off government entities to silence any alternative voices promoting different therapy treatments? Pfizer made $3.5 billion in profit in the first three months of 2021 alone from the vaccine. About half of the FDA’s funding comes from the for-profit companies it gives its approval to, so there is a potential conflict of interest.

Therefore, for all of the above reasons–and others–some Christians may find compelling reasons not to consent to the mandate, but to fight it not because of conscience or health concerns, but because they believe the mandate is itself illegitimate, unwise, and doing harm.

Response

What is listed above represents only a sample of serious considerations some Christians have thought through that have led them to resist the vaccine mandate. I have thought through responses to several of these with reasons for why I find the arguments not compelling. And I will write more about them. However, there are some of these that I have no ready answer for; by that, I mean that there is no rebuttal to them because I believe they are correct. But, again, my aim in writing these posts is not to defend the vaccine mandate–not by a long shot. I personally find the vaccine mandate troubling in many ways. My aim in this isn’t to determine if the vaccine mandate is a good thing, but is to try to help Christians who are affected by the mandate think and respond Biblically to it.

I am still inclined to believe that the wise and appropriate response to those under the mandate is to be vaccinated–provided there are no health complications and conscience permits. However, this does not mean that I think the vaccine mandate is right. Nor does it mean that I am unconcerned about the growing centralization of governmental power. No Christian who has read a history book should have any kind of pollyanna-like view of government, (read this book if you need to be convinced). Yes, Romans 13 describes the government as God’s minister, but the book of Revelation also describes godless government like a monstrous beast (Rev 13) and like bloodthirsty whore (Rev 17). It is all of those things, at the same time. So, Christians are not anarchists, but we also are not statists; we are not pessimists or conspiracy theorists, but we also are not naive. We are ultimately strangers and sojourners passing through this world, striving for our conduct, speech, and decisions to accurately reflect to the wider world our ultimate allegiance to our heavenly Kingdom, to point to our crucified and resurrected King who will one day return and judge all men, including the kings of earth.

I am not going to write replies to all of the arguments above, but will respond to what I believe to be the least convincing, and then use John Calvin as a means to explain a path forward. In my next article I will aim to show why I find the “vaccine mandates are unconstitutional, therefore I don’t have to follow them” unconvincing.

5 thoughts on “A “Steel-Man” Argument to Resist the Vaccine Mandate

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