Isn’t tissue from an aborted fetus involved in making the Covid-19 vaccines?

For a Christian, this is the most serious objection to taking the Covid-19 vaccine that I have heard. Here (in a nutshell) are the facts as I have found in my research.

According to the Nebraska Medical Center and the Institute for Clinical Systems Improvement in Minnesota, and quoting ICSI:

For the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, no fetal cell lines were used to produce or manufacture the vaccine, and they are not inside the injection you receive from your doctor/nurse. Fetal cells may have been used to test efficacy and/or proof of concept.

The Johnson and Johnson vaccine did use fetal cell cultures, specifically PER.C6 (a retinal cell line that was isolated from a terminated fetus in 1985), in order to produce and manufacture the vaccine.

Other sources indicate that fetal cell lines were, indeed, used to test the mRNA vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna. So there you have it. This is far from an ideal circumstance for pro-life Christians, and some are refusing vaccination because of this. Let’s be clear: This is not a health risk issue for anyone taking the vaccine. It is an ethical issue based on the means used to produce and test the vaccines. There are a number of reliable sources of more information.

This is not a unique situation for the Covid-19 vaccine. Many vaccines – say for chicken pox, rubella, and rabies – make similar use of fetal cells. Other medications are tested or produced using fetal cells. Cosmetics and some food additives are developed or tested with fetal cells. All of this makes me uncomfortable. It should make all of us uncomfortable. There is serious research progressing toward finding other ways to develop and test medicines and products that are less fraught with ethical concerns, and one hopes that this will become a thing of the past. But we live here, today. So what to do?

As followers of Jesus we are not against tissue donation per se. For example, it can be an act of loving care to donate a kidney, or designate that one’s organs and tissue be donated after one dies. What if a pregnant woman spontaneously aborts and donates her dead child’s tissue to medical use? What if parents of a dying child donate the retinas of the child after death to be used to help others?

But abortion on demand is a different thing. An unborn child dies by someone’s choice. We generally object to one human killing another to get their organs or tissue! And to be fair, those having abortions would most likely shudder at this description and deny that this is what they did. We can imagine those perspectives; we’ve heard them a thousand times. But what about those who view abortion as simply wrong? Must we then refuse vaccines developed or tested using fetal tissue from an abortion?

You’ll have to make up your own mind about this, as do we all. But don’t allow it to be a political statement about Covid-19 more generally, the way this disease has become a political football in America. And be consistent. If you are going to refuse vaccination for Covid-19 on these grounds, then by all means find out what other products are developed in ways you consider unethical and avoid those too! And then, like Christians have done through the ages, accept the consequences of your decision. Those consequences may mean loss of a job or not being allowed to attend various functions in person because of public health concerns.

What do I decide? I decide to live in the imperfect world I was born into. I live on (and “own”) property that was arguably stolen away from Mexico who arguably stole it away from native Americans who arguably stole it away from some other human group before them. I live in an economy in which people of my race built much wealth by violently oppressing others who didn’t look like them. I live in a nation formed by the violent revolution of one set of “Christians” against another set of “Christians” who killed each other until one group gave up because the war was too expensive (shades of Afghanistan?). Meanwhile, my ancestors who argued at the time that God’s people shouldn’t be shooting one another with muskets, rifles, and cannons were persecuted and had their churches confiscated by the revolutionaries. Pile up the list of unethical things that go into making the world, nation, society, and wealth that we live in and on…. It is pretty awful looking. And of course I don’t want to ignore that there are the good and noble things that reflect the image of God well, too – like medical researchers doing their best to save lives by producing vaccines that protect against awful diseases.

That’s the kind of world into which Jesus came. He entered into and worshiped at a temple built by Herod the Great, who attempted to murder him when Jesus was a baby – and who successfully murdered numerous others. He accepted a traitorous tax collector as one of his disciples. He ate bread made from wheat some of which was undoubtedly produced by slave labor. He ate meals with tax collectors and prostitutes. And so on. And He spoke the truth of a better way, under God.

Paul wrote that we should not participate in the feasts at temples to other gods, but that Christians need not be concerned about eating food purchased in the market that had been sacrificed to the idols of other gods at their temples. Perhaps this is the closest parallel in the early church to these vaccines available in the “medical marketplace” of our day. Of course, Paul also told us not to violate our consciences or put stumbling blocks up for others of “weaker” conscience. There’s much room for us to live out our lives in a fallen world while maintaining a clear witness to Jesus, His ways, and His kingdom.

Choose wisely. I chose to take the Covid-19 (and other) vaccines and medications offered to me, while simultaneously advocating that we find better ways to develop them. Why should my neighbor potentially get sick and die when I can take this step to protect the living around me? Will more death improve this fallen world? Will I increase the frequency of unborn children dying by taking the vaccine? I think not. In fact, Covid-19 infections in pregnant mothers will increase this more. Am I denying Christ by taking this vaccine? Certainly not! The past is past. What steps can you and I take to make a positive difference for the future, showing care and concern for our families and communities?


Note that the article from the Nebraska Medical Center was written by an infectious disease expert who is a practicing Catholic.

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“Is accepting a Covid-19 vaccination taking the Mark of the Beast?”

Short answer: No.

How can I be so sure? Because biblically speaking, the “Mark of the Beast” as noted in the Apocalypse of John (aka Revelation) is a way of declaring a higher allegiance to a power other than Jesus/God. It is not as if someone could slip “the mark of the beast” into your drink while you were not looking and then you become damned to hell by drinking that drink unaware. It is not a trick, though it is deceitful. It is taking what seems an easy way (perhaps under duress), or a powerful way (under temptation) that sets another authority above Jesus.

Let’s go with the drink example. Let’s say someone offers a toast to the emperor above all other kings and authorities, and you drink to that. Or what about offering a pledge of allegiance to a flag without “under God”? One could argue that this is much closer to taking the “mark of the beast” and certainly not an action a Christian should take. The mark need not be a tattooed “666” on your forehead, either. It is declaring loyalty to a power above your loyalty to Jesus.

So, if you had to sign an oath declaring your loyalty to a government or leader above all other powers including Jesus in order to take a dose of vaccine, then by all means, refuse the vaccine on those terms. To my knowledge, no one is requiring anything like this. Health officials and leaders in our society just want you and our community to live and be as healthy as possible.

You may wonder why I am even addressing this issue. It seems so obvious to most; am I serious? Well, this is apparently not obvious to everyone. I know this question has been asked earnestly by those who believe it to be so. So, just in case….

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“God told me not to get a vaccination”

To start with, you might want to read David French’s column It’s Time to Stop Rationalizing and Enabling Evangelical Vaccine Rejection. I will try not to repeat what he has already said quite clearly in what I write below.

I am not going to attempt to lay out the science regarding masks, vaccine statistics, Covid-19 transmissibility, etc. If you want good information on that sort of thing you should listen to this podcast by Dr. Michael Osterholm at CIDRAP. He’s an expert on infectious disease transmission who is not playing politics – a reliable source of sound medical information and (when there is enough data) advice.

What I’m going to do is write as a Christian about our responsibilities as followers of Jesus in times such as these. We need clear thinking, and respect for Jesus’ teaching. We should be leading the way toward life through our care for one another and our communities!

I’ve had dear friends or family tell me that they prayed sincerely and that God told them not to get a Covid-19 vaccination. Secondarily, they may report that deeply spiritual friends confirmed this advice. The next portion of the conversation often goes to nutritional supplements and various schemes for “building the body’s natural immune system”. There might even be an “I don’t trust the people who developed this vaccine” or “this vaccine is new and untested” thrown in.

Frankly, many times these dear ones are generally impervious to counter-evidence. So why write something like this? Oh, I don’t know… perhaps I have a naive hope that truth matters? Or maybe I am scratching an itch to vent the considerable frustration that comes when people drag God’s reputation through the mud? Or from watching people I care for make really bad choices with far-reaching consequences?

Let me start simply by saying if God tells you to do something, or not to do something – then do what he says. That’s what it means to be Christian. What I question is two things:

  1. Why is anyone asking God whether or not they should act in a good and loving manner to care for their community and their own health by getting a vaccination in the face of a preventable disease?
  2. Did God really say that? Did God really tell them not to get a vaccination? Or is something else influencing this decision and being interpreted as “God said”?

A tree is known by its fruit. The “tree” of anti-vax is bearing noxious deadly fruit of suffering and death. It is spreading disease, particularly within the communities of those who are refusing vaccination. And it is spreading Covid-19 to children for whom vaccines are not yet available and others who have compromised immune systems. Covid-19 is more contagious and more dangerous and deadly to those who are not vaccinated and have not had the virus previously. Every ICU doctor can testify that those suffering the worst impacts of Covid-19 are now the unvaccinated and others having immune-deficiencies. ICU doctors report that anti-vaxxers hospitalized with Covid-10 are quite often resentful and angry toward the medical staff trying to help them! The increased stress on medical staff and medical facilities makes a difficult time needlessly more difficult. Others are very sorry they didn’t listen to good medical advice and get the vaccination. Much of this could easily be avoided! This is the fruit of the anti-vax tree.

I don’t need to inquire earnestly of God for special leading as to whether or not I should do my part to care for my community by getting a vaccination. Rather, I would need a special intervention by God to tell me not to be vaccinated, were this his plan for me! I would seek confirmation from trusted advisors because such a course of action is so radical – like being told to go as a naked prophet to preach in the local supermarket or the like! I would expect to bear consequences for such a fraught decision. God expects us to think clearly and act with love toward our communities. That is our calling – God has already spoken!

Generally, I don’t get my medical advice from spiritual experts. I ask the elders of the church for prayer for medical conditions; but I don’t go to them (as elders of the church) for surgery. I don’t ask them to fly an airplane for me or design a bridge or a cancer treatment for someone I love. I go to trustworthy medical experts to get medical advice and treatment. I look at high-quality research and question my doctor’s advice when warranted. (I am trained as a researcher, though not in medicine.) But last I read (and these numbers are likely outdated by the time you read this) over 200 million Americans had received Covid-19 vaccines with fewer harmful side effects than (get this) taking aspirin(!) (according to trustworthy experts in disease). On the other hand, the danger of Covid-19 is very clear. It is a fire raging through those who remain unvaccinated and uninfected by previous disease. There are well over 600 thousand dead Americans so far, and many more suffering long-term damage to their health and well-being. Over 8000 died in the last week alone – and they’re getting younger. ICU staff are often overworked and stressed with many hospitals having few, if any, available ICU beds. Today I heard a reliable report of a man who died in an emergency room after a fruitless 7-hour search for an available ICU bed! He didn’t have Covid-19; but all the ICU beds were taken by Covid-19 patients.

(I don’t mean to ignore the millions of non-American casualties – but the anti-vax community I interact with is American, and the vaccines for which I have data are the American vaccines.)

The choice to get one of the Covid-19 vaccinations should be an easy decision for anyone. For a follower of Jesus trying to show love and care for his or her community it should be crystal clear…. except that apparently many American Christians do not find it so clear. I’m writing for them and those who care for them.

Financial Interests

There are those promoting nutritional supplements and the like for financial gain. There is no evidence that nutritional supplements provide anything like the immunity to Covid-19 that is provided by vaccination, and much evidence that it does not. Those indicating otherwise are simply wrong. They are motivated by something other than truth.

Are there those who financially gain from vaccination? Of course there are! And we need to watch carefully that the best interests of our communities are well-served in the face of these interests. In the meantime, the fruit of the vaccination tree is very, very good. Will our current vaccines remain effective in the face of new variants of the virus? That remains to be seen. Will booster shots be needed? Most likely, it seems. We will need to watch and listen to those medical experts who are not financially vested in the vaccine industry who prove to be trustworthy advisors. Covid-19 is a new threat, and humanity is still learning how to combat it.

Social Movements

There is a social movement within which vaccine avoidance seems a prominent mark of membership. This is a dangerous (but not new) phenomenon. The pressure that is mounting for vaccination may well harden this movement into even deeper opposition. I hope that the fruit of health versus suffering and death will be properly noted and this phenomenon will be minimized, for the sake of our communities. It’s a horrible thing to watch loved ones march to the beat of deadly drummers. It’s even worse when this phenomenon takes over Christian groups and is used by the evil one to make those following Jesus look foolish.

Freedom!

I hear that we must not give up our freedom – that we must be free to decide what to inject – or not inject – into our own bodies. Well, yes…. but if you choose not to take the vaccine, it is the right of your community to protect itself from your bad choice. You are endangering others – co-workers, customers, patients, students – by your choice. Avoiding your proximity is not forcing a needle into your arm. It is you facing the consequences of your choice.

Danger!

I see people pointing at those who received a vaccine and then had a health problem. See! Vaccination is dangerous! It is natural to associate the health problem with the vaccine if it comes after vaccination; however more consideration is needed to arrive at the truth of the situation.

Let’s take any set of say, 1 million people. A certain number of them will have a stroke in the next few days. Others will have heart attacks and other health problems. Now, give that same set of 1 million people a vaccination. A certain number of them will still have a stroke in the next few days, but now those near the stroke victim will tend to associate the stroke with the vaccination. Are more of the 1 million having strokes (or whatever) after the vaccinations than would have had strokes anyway? This is the important question.

Let’s take this example of 1 million people being vaccinated a step farther. Let’s say that 1000 additional people have a particular medical problem after receiving the vaccine than would have had that problem without the vaccine. OK, we’ve established that there might be a danger related to receiving the that vaccination. 1000 additional medical issues seems pretty bad. So is the vaccination worth this risk?

We have to look at the whole picture. If the chance of getting the disease is (for example) 20%, and 10% of those who get the disease have those same medical issues or worse, that must be considered as we evaluate the risks associated with taking the vaccine. A little math: 20% of 1 million is 200 thousand. 10% of 200 thousand is 20,000. So, in this example, the chance of the medical problem is much higher if one does not get the vaccination even with the increased chance due to the vaccine. It’s 20,000 to 1000, or 20 to 1!

The problem here is that we live in a world with disease. Our choice is not simply vaccine or no vaccine. It is vaccine or diseased-world-without-vaccine. What the increased chance of medical problems should drive is more research to find out how the vaccine might increase risk and how we can reduce or eliminate this risk. In the meantime, the prudent course is to take the vaccine anyway because living unvaccinated in the world with the disease is more risky than vaccination! It is the responsibility of medical authorities to evaluate these things and determine when vaccinations are warranted. It is big news if they fail in this, and we will certainly (in our society) hear about it from competent medical experts.

In my example above, the numbers are made up. There is nothing like this amount of risk associated with the any of our Covid-19 vaccines – with 200 million doses worth of experience in this country alone! There is, however, enough risk associated with Covid-19 that it regularly overfills hospitals and morgues.

Propaganda

Propaganda exploits the tendency to associate any health issue that comes after vaccination with the vaccine. I see it frequently. Recently, I’ve seen the “meme” of a young woman who developed myocarditis after vaccination. This is known to be a danger with one particular vaccine – though less of a danger than with Covid-19 itself. My question is, why is the story circulating attached to a picture of an attractive, scantily-dressed young woman in a hospital bed with wires running everywhere? I think: this is propaganda, not a serious pursuit of truth. And yet I see Christian friends promoting and sharing this article! This is irresponsible. (If you’d like to pursue responsible participation in social media more thoroughly, I recommend Alan Jacob’s excellent book How to Think.)

Conclusion

If you care about your community or even just your own health (selfishly speaking), get fully vaccinated against Covid-19. I know that many are part of communities where it is the fashion to “say no to the jab!” You may not only be part of such a community; you may value it highly. It’s family. Spiritual family. And yet…. Jesus calls us to be salt and light – as yeast spreading through our communities. It is truth that sets us free. You can be an agent of truth in your community by showing your care through vaccination. That’s a God-calling. That’s love. Human beings are living the image of God that He placed in us when we develop medical treatments and vaccines to care for one another. The Covid-19 vaccine project is a remarkable, historic achievement that reveals the glory of God, whether those who worked on it realize this or not (and many do)! The rest of us also carry His image well when we think clearly and resist being driven by powers and principalities of a fallen world. Let’s love one another and carry His image well!

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Remembering Andrew Walls

Andrew Walls has graduated on to that next level of existence that those of us who follow Jesus look forward to by faith. He was born in 1921! I never met him; but I heard him speak and read his books. He was quite a scholar of world Christianity, and I appreciated learning quite a lot from him. The Regent College Bookstore, where you can get audio of some classes that he taught there, shared a quote from him in its note on his passing. I think it is worth repeating, as an example of the orientation I found in his encouraging work.

“But since none of us can read the Scriptures without cultural blinkers of sorts, the great advantage, the crowning excitement which our own era of Church history has over all others, is the possibility that we may be able to read them together. Never before has the Church looked so much like the great multitude whom no man can number out of every nation and tribe and people and tongue. Never before, therefore, has there been so much potential for mutual enrichment and self-criticism, as God causes yet more light and truth to break forth from his word.” 

Andrew Walls, The Missionary Movement in Christian History (1996), pg.15

Rest in peace, Andrew Walls! Thank you for your excellent scholarship.

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Jesus and John Wayne by Kristen Kobes Du Mez

Jesus and John Wayne is the eye-catching title of a book by Kristen Kobes Du Mez. The subtitle is even more provocative: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation. It’s a fine historical account written for a general audience detailing exactly what the subtitle says, with extensive documentation of sources. I lived through much of it what she is writing about. It is troubling, indeed, and helpfully contextualizes much that is troubling in the church today.

To learn more about the author, one can find a set of four interviews Skye Jethani did with Kristen Kobes Du Mez on The Holy Post podcast. These interviews summarize some of the points covered in the book:

  1. Cold Warriors: The 50s and 60s
  2. Culture Warriors: The 70s and 80s
  3. Tender Warriors: The 90s and 00s
  4. Fallen Warriors: The 10s and Today

Lastly, Jim Lyon did a really fine, more personal, interview with the author on the All That to Say podcast. He interviews Kristen Kobes Du Mez about her background and faith in a very wholesome and helpful manner. I found this interview quite helpful.

This is a book that many are talking about, and rightfully so. Kristen Kobes Du Mez will take some heat for this work – just like her Lord did, when He told the truth.

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W. H. Auden on Change

We would rather be ruined than changed.
We would rather die in our dread
Than climb the cross of the moment
And let our illusions die.

– W.H. Auden, The Age of Anxiety

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Job 28 – Wisdom and Understanding

I tend towards reading (or listening to) scripture in wider and wider context. More at one time. Sometimes, however, a jewel can be lost in the wider scope of a ….narrative? Poetry? Whatever one wants to consider the Book of Job in the Hebrew Bible, what we call chapter 28 is a gem that ends in an even more precious gem. Here it is, from the NIV translation.

1 There is a mine for silver
and a place where gold is refined.
2 Iron is taken from the earth,
and copper is smelted from ore.
3 Mortals put an end to the darkness;
they search out the farthest recesses
for ore in the blackest darkness.
4 Far from human dwellings they cut a shaft,
in places untouched by human feet;
far from other people they dangle and sway.
5 The earth, from which food comes,
is transformed below as by fire;
6 lapis lazuli comes from its rocks,
and its dust contains nuggets of gold.
7 No bird of prey knows that hidden path,
no falcon’s eye has seen it.
8 Proud beasts do not set foot on it,
and no lion prowls there.
9 People assault the flinty rock with their hands
and lay bare the roots of the mountains.
10 They tunnel through the rock;
their eyes see all its treasures.
11 They search the sources of the rivers
and bring hidden things to light.

12 But where can wisdom be found?
Where does understanding dwell?
13 No mortal comprehends its worth;
it cannot be found in the land of the living.
14 The deep says, “It is not in me”;
the sea says, “It is not with me.”
15 It cannot be bought with the finest gold,
nor can its price be weighed out in silver.
16 It cannot be bought with the gold of Ophir,
with precious onyx or lapis lazuli.
17 Neither gold nor crystal can compare with it,
nor can it be had for jewels of gold.
18 Coral and jasper are not worthy of mention;
the price of wisdom is beyond rubies.
19 The topaz of Cush cannot compare with it;
it cannot be bought with pure gold.

20 Where then does wisdom come from?
Where does understanding dwell?
21 It is hidden from the eyes of every living thing,
concealed even from the birds in the sky.
22 Destruction and Death say,
“Only a rumor of it has reached our ears.”
23 God understands the way to it
and he alone knows where it dwells,
24 for he views the ends of the earth
and sees everything under the heavens.
25 When he established the force of the wind
and measured out the waters,
26 when he made a decree for the rain
and a path for the thunderstorm,
27 then he looked at wisdom and appraised it;
he confirmed it and tested it.
28 And he said to the human race,
“The fear of the Lord—that is wisdom,
and to shun evil is understanding.”

Job 28

Wow. Once more.

And he said to the human race,
“The fear of the Lord—that is wisdom,
and to shun evil is understanding.”

This reminds me of the transfiguration of Jesus. God speaks, and He says Mark 9:7:

This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!”

Simple, eh? As usual, the theory is simple but the practice more challenging. May you and I be blessed in the challenge.

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On the Cost of War: A Demonstration of Extreme Love and Loyalty at Great Cost

A recent trilogy of Rough Translation podcasts tells an amazing story of two people who make great sacrifices. I was struck by the display of the often unseen cost of war and violence and by the great display of love demonstrated by one who joined in with the sacrifice of a hurting veteran for whom she grew to care a great deal. There are many dimensions to the story and its implications; I’m still processing. The humanity, vulnerability, loyalty, love, sacrifice…

Here are links to the three podcast episodes that tell this story. They are worth your time. Beware if you are squeamish; the first episode tells the story of terrible injury and suffering in war.

  1. Battle Rattle
  2. Battle Lines
  3. Battle Bourne
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The crucifixion is not a defeat.

“The crucifixion is not a defeat to be overturned by resurrection. The crucifixion is a victory revealed by resurrection.”

– Brian Zahnd
@BrianZahnd

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Lectio Divina between Palm Sunday and Resurrection Sunday

Well, I don’t believe any one week is holier than another, but here’s a set of links for the Long Beach Friends Church lectio divina readings from 2020 at the start of the pandemic, one for each day of the week leading up to the Sunday on which many Christians traditionally celebrate Jesus’ resurrection.

What happened to Saturday? There are no videos to watch or audio tracks to listen to for Saturday, the day after Good Friday. Traditionally this is a day of silence to remind us of when Jesus was in the tomb. If you missed any of the week’s readings, Saturday might be a good day to catch up.

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