Dear Person who is vaccine hesitant,
I wrote earlier in the week to start a conversation with you. Divisiveness about COVID-19, vaccinations etc. breeds disrespect and anger and relational ugliness. I wanted to make is a discussion over a cup of (virtual) tea.
I’m aware that a large number of folks who are vaccine hesitant are Christians in Southern Manitoba. Some have even specifically said that it is Mennonites that are a group that are vaccine hesitant.
That caught my ear–perhaps no surprise, given that my last name is “Klassen” (and previously was “Bergen”)–both stereotypical “Mennonite” names in Manitoba. My faith is an organizing principle in my life–even if I don’t overtly mention it on this blog.
One of the key unique markers of the Mennonite expression of following Jesus is that faith impacts everyday life–all day, every day. It impacts our decisions, our actions, our careers, our parenting. Our lives are filtered through, “How do I live in obedience to the Word of God in this situation?”
So, like many of you who choose NOT to get the vaccine because of your faith, my faith also impacted my decision.
For me, it is my faith in God that called me to GET the vaccine.
I’d like to explain myself. For those of you who are regular readers of my blog, and you’re not used to “preachy Christian stuff” from me–it will seem odd.
In some ways, this is like a family dinner discussion, and you’re the guest looking around and saying, “What the heck is this about?” And if this was dinner table discussion that you didn’t understand, the polite thing to do would be to excuse you for a bit until we got on topics that meant more to you.
This article is specifically a “Mennonite family discussion”.
You’re welcome to listen in, if you’re interested. This is an imperfect, incomplete theology of vaccination from me–an imperfect but forgiven person who just looks to follow God. I offer it humbly.
Feel free to pass on this theology of vaccination if all this talk about Jesus isn’t your jam! 🙂
I’ll go back to regular articles about connection and courage and vulnerability that may be of more interest to you.
My thoughts (in video form first for those who prefer to listen rather than read):
These are the words of Menno Simon. These are words I grew up with—hearing, seeing and reading that a fundamental part of the Christian faith is not just to believe it in one’s spirit (heart), or have it be an intellectual thing (brain)—but to have faith impact your hands and feet by living a life of love.
Menno Simon’s words are part of what into my decision to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
My name is Carolyn Klassen, a therapist at Conexus Counselling and speaker at Wired for Connection. I write and speak on relationships and connection to self and others. Many of you might have heard me talk with Hal Anderson on 680CJOB every Thursday.
What many may not know about me is that I am a person of deep faith. I am on the teaching team at The Meeting Place in Winnipeg and I speak on Sunday mornings about how matters of life, love and redemption intersect with faith in Jesus.
I’m also the grandchild of people who fled the USSR with only the clothes on their backs. Broken promises from government, the inability to practice their faith, and religious persecution made being a follower of Jesus literally life-threatening.
I grew up listening to stories of death camps, executions, raping and pillaging that made it necessary for my grandparents to leave everything they had to emigrate here to Canada. Many Mennonites are one or two generations away from a government system that was coercive, cruel even brutal—so I understand when there is mistrust about vaccines. Mistrusting government around vaccines is part of a general mistrust of government borne of the brutal breaking of trust in the past.
As I have been preparing an article about vaccine hesitancy, I am aware that people’s Christian faith is impacting their decisions both ways—to go get it, and to stay away from vaccine.
I wanted to spend a bit of time into how I theologically thought through my decision.
1. God created us in God’s image
We as humans are smart and innovative and creative–because of being created in the image of God. God invites his creation to collaborate in the work of the world. I celebrate the God-given talents and knowledge that scientists and medical researchers have–and look what they’ve done with those gifts!
My husband is alive because his appendix was removed with modern surgery, and he has a metal plate with screws in his leg so he can walk after a nasty fracture.
I believe vaccination is one of the ways God wants us to improve our lives. One of the ways God works in our world is through the minds and hands of scientists, doctors and medical researchers.
2. Trust and Risk
Although the vaccine has been tested and ride the history of the success of other vaccines, there is concern amongst people about trusting the vaccine. It can seem better to say, “we will put our trust in God”.
It reminds me, though, of the story of the guy on the roof of his house in the flood who turns away the guy in the rowboat, the guy in the speed boat, and the helicopter who come to whisk him to safety saying he’d rather wait for God to save him. When he drowns and gets to heaven, he asks God, “Why didn’t you save me?” and God says, “I sent you a rowboat, a speedboat and a helicopter!”
There is a risk with the vaccine. There are some unknowns. But there are also well proven knowns that make the risk worth it.
I gave birth to two wonderful boys—after stillbirth twins. When I was pregnant with my oldest live son, I could get a procedure that would allow for a live birth, BUT undergoing the procedure itself carried a 20% risk of ending the pregnancy. Frankly, the risk of my unborn child dying seemed terrifying high!!
But the risk of not getting the procedure done and the baby being born fatally premature was much higher. He’s 27 now, and just had his own healthy baby boy.
God calls us to trust Him—which for me means placing that unknown risk of the vaccine into God’s hands. Life really, is full of risk, and our trust is constantly being tested.
This is, fundamentally, what faith in God is about: Trusting God in the midst of all of life’s inevitable risks.
3. Suspicion and mistrust
Those who have religious persecution—like Mennonites–in their past are justified to be suspicious and wonder when it might happen again.
I’m a therapist—and that’s an expected and normal response to having a history of trauma.
It is tempting to be suspicious of government when school and business closings are mandatory and the consequences are so devastating—and we have in our history that government cannot be trusted. Harm does come from the restrictions (even as they are designed to help).
The Mennonite history of abuse by government in past generations is real. Without a doubt.
And there are ways in which the restrictions can touch those old pain when the officials say, “Schools must close. Churches must not gather. You cannot sit in the coffee shop together.”
It does feel controlling—and so old hurts can be triggered and suspicions can rise up.
That’s a part of living with the effects of past trauma, too.
But there’s a difference.
The restrictions are primary intentions are designed to save lives, not harm them—to prevent death, not create death. The provincial mandates are, at their root, there to help us be healthier rather than to oppress and control us.
The restrictions from authorities, the encouragement to get the vaccine are to create conditions of freedom in the future by getting slowing the spread of the virus today.
The people were suspicious of Jesus’ actions, too. So many people of the day did not like the changes he made, the disregard he had for the way it had always been done.
The religious people of the day were suspicious of Jesus because Jesus broke the rules that they operated by–that worked for them. They failed to understand that when he broke convention it wasn’t to harm people but to help them.
Jesus’ mandate was love-
—and so he challenged and changed the system when it didn’t serve love.
It might feel similar internally when health policy mandates restrictions. The lingering suspicion from old and painful wounds will raise serious red flags. However, when looking deeper, we can see the intentions are completely opposite–and we can choose a different response.
A different response won’t be easy for those whose histories justify suspicion–that’s where prayer and time with God come in.
I read about Jesus, and the way he consistently and persistently looked for those whom were disadvantaged and marginalized. Jesus looked to bring the hurting into the centre of the circle. He created healing in the lives of people–their bodies and their spirits.
Jesus loved others—even at his own expense.
1-4 If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care—then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.
5-8 Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—Philippians 2: 1-8, The Message Bible (bold is my emphasis)
It is part of my effort to become more and more like Jesus that I got the vaccine.
I got my vaccine, in part, because it will make the world safer for the elderly and the sick, safer for people of colour who disproportionately are represented in the service industry who have to keep working on the front lines and be at greater risk.
In my thinking, it is serving as Jesus served to get the vaccine.
In Matthew 25, there is a story where the King says:
I was hungry and you fed me,
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in prison and you came to me.’
37-40 “Then those ‘sheep’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?’ Then the King will say, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.’Matthew 25, The Message Bible (bolded emphasis mine)
I got the vaccine out of love.
I waited my turn to make sure others who need it more than I did got it first—but when it is was my turn, I get it as a tangible way to love God.
So…I’m kinda thinking that if Menno Simons was alive in 2021, he might have said,
Thanx for reading.