Ethical Questions Surrounding the COVID-19 Vaccines

Dear CrossWay Family,

As COVID-19 vaccines become more widely available in Wisconsin, each of us will need to decide whether to get vaccinated. And in making that decision, there are a few issues related to our faith in Christ which we want to be sure to think well about.

Our purpose in writing to you about this is not to give medical advice; we trust that each of us will do our own research, weigh the counsel of our doctors and other caregivers, and arrive at our own conclusions about whether the COVID vaccines are the right course for our own health and the health of those around us. Instead, we want to speak as pastors. There are ethical questions about these vaccines, particularly about how they were developed, that are concerning to Christians, and we want to do our best to equip the people of CrossWay to think about these things with wisdom and good information.

Let us first say that we give thanks for these vaccines. Though not everyone will or should be vaccinated, evidence suggests that these vaccines will save lives, prevent suffering, and help us all return to normal life (and church life) sooner. That effective vaccines were developed in such a short time is a marvel, and we give thanks to God for his providence.  We also thank all the men and women who, in the image of their Creator, used their strength and creativity to develop something for the good of humanity.

But our gratitude in no way excuses us from thinking critically about these vaccines. There are three issues about the vaccines we want to address.

The first is the issue about which we have heard the greatest concern. It’s the issue of how the vaccines were developed and whether taking one makes us complicit in evil, specifically the evil of abortion. As Christians, we believe in the dignity of human life and would not want to do anything that either contributes to or incentivizes the taking of an unborn life. Here are the relevant facts, as best we understand them. No vaccines were developed using tissue taken directly from an aborted child. Some of the vaccines, though, were developed using lines of continually replicating cells that trace their origin back to abortions in the 1970’s and 1980’s. (The pro-life Charlotte Lozier Institute has produced a helpful visual guide to the use of these cells in the COVID vaccines.) The vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna have not used these cells in either development or production, though they used them in a limited way during testing. However, the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine (which has just been authorized for emergency use by the FDA) and the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine are being produced using these cell lines in an ongoing way. How should we think about this? First, we must condemn the abortions that led to these cell lines, and the original harvesting of the fetal tissue for medical research. And we urge those engaged in research to use alternative cell lines that do not have this ethically problematic origin. But should this keep us from taking the vaccine in good conscience? It’s important to note that the development of these vaccines did not involve or lead to any new abortions; the abortions in question took place decades ago. In other words, those who take the vaccine will benefit, though very distantly, from an abortion, but they will not in any way be cooperating with any new abortion. A comparable situation could be that of a person who receives an organ transplant from a murder victim. They benefit from an evil act, but they in no way cooperate with it. It seems to us that these vaccines can be taken by Christians without being complicit in the evil of abortion. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, which are produced without ongoing use of these cells, have fewer ethical concerns. We recognize that for some Christians the AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines will be problematic because they create ongoing demand for unethically sourced cells. If given a choice, we suggest Christians request their vaccine be from Pfizer or Moderna. And we encourage each Christian to weigh carefully the origin of these cells and not to violate their conscience.

The second issue is the question of whether taking a vaccine demonstrates a lack of faith. One could think, God is sovereign, and if he wants me to get COVID, I’ll get COVID. I don’t need a vaccine—I trust God to take care of me. To this we would say that there is no contradiction between God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility. We believe that God is able to protect us in a car accident and we take responsibility for wearing our seat belts. God may use the means of the seat belt to sovereignly protect our lives. We believe in the sovereignty of God, but we also take steps to prevent and treat illnesses and cancer. Accepting medical care or a vaccine is not evidence of a lack of faith in God.

The final ethical issue is the question of our care for one another. Many of us are at low risk of severe illness from COVID. Should we still consider getting vaccinated in order to protect others? A difficulty in answering this question is that we don’t yet know to what degree those who have been vaccinated can still spread the virus. If in time it becomes clear that getting vaccinated does significantly inhibit the spread of the virus, that will be a factor worth weighing in your own decision making, alongside matters of conscience and safety. For now we simply want to encourage that as each of us decides whether to be vaccinated—whatever we decide—we do so looking not only to our own interests, but also to the interests of others (Philippians 2:4).

We know that some organizations may require that their employees or patrons be vaccinated. To be clear, CrossWay will not require anyone to receive a COVID vaccine in order to attend worship or serve. Our concern instead is that each of us apply wisdom and good counsel to the question of whether to be vaccinated and that we deal charitably with those who decide differently than we do. The people of CrossWay will differ in conscience and in their own assessment (with their doctors) of the relative benefits and risks of vaccination. There’s room for disagreement, for deliberation, even for persuasion—but let’s not divide or pass harsh judgments on one another over this. We are, by God’s design, a family in Christ. Let’s extend to one another the love and forbearance which God has extended to us.

With deep affection,
The Elders of CrossWay


P.S. We have a few resources we recommend to those interested in reading further. We do not endorse everything in these resources, but we found them helpful in drawing our own conclusions:

  • For those interested in the ethical questions around the vaccines, Albert Mohler, a theologian and president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, has addressed a number of issues here. C. Ben Mitchell, a bioethicist and former professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, has also thought carefully about this. You can hear an extended Breakpoint interview with him about the vaccines here.

  • We also know that there are questions around the safety of the vaccines. While we lack the expertise to speak to these questions, we have been helped by this FAQ (specifically concerning the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines) from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Those with specific medical questions should consult with their own doctors.
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