Romans 13, Vaccines and Other Mandates
November 24, 2021
Matt is getting pressure from his job; they are pressuring him to get the COVID-19 vaccine against his own, personal decision. His boss, knowing that Tennessee is a more conservative state, cited Romans 13:1,2 as the need for Matt's compliance in regards to the vaccine. Matt wants to know if Romans 13 should be used in this way and does force him into compliance to get the vaccine if he wants to obey God.
I think that the Christian is supposed to live in compliance with the government's rules. (Paul writes this during the days of tyrannical Nero Caesar, who was a worse leader than we've ever imagined. See the secular histories about his persecution of Christians which came a little later than Paul's writing of Romans.) So, obeying speed limits, stop signs, etc., etc. are minor annoyances to us (and for our good, as Romans 13:1-6 reminds). The “minister” or “servant” in the context is a governmental official; his task is actually for the good of the citizens. I'd also remind us that capital punishment is the medium/vehicle by which God's wrath/justice/judgment is now carried out. (See Romans 12:18-21, which prompts much of this lengthier discussion.) Even real annoyances, like “taxes,” are explicitly addressed (Rom. 13:7-9). All of this assumes the government's ideal role; Paul is reminding saints to be viewed as submissive and law-abiding people, a point that is emphasized about the early saints all over the book of Acts (23:9,29; 25:8,25; 26:31).
So, if the government followed its task ideally, we wouldn't have infringements on freedoms and would still have laws against crimes. The question comes in when government starts to abandon the “ideal” and starts to endorse crime and take freedoms; at this point, the government is overstepping and not performing the ideal task that God had set it up for. (You can see the tasks of government laid out in Romans 13.)
In the case that the government explicitly insists on violating God's law, we have cases where the apostles said, “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). So, I'd argue that a government that tells me that must abort my second child (as in communist China), actually, as a Christian, must be opposed, since Paul's remarks in Romans 13 are surely “filtered” by his assumption that the government is fulfilling its ideal task and assuming that the government's rules are not in direct violation of God's law.
Now enters the vaccine question . . . This is a subcategory of the governmental question, but it also intersects with another discipline: ethics. So, we're not just dealing with civics, at this point, but we're also needing to handle a discussion on ethics.
Imagine that a government sets up a law that states that “jaywalking” is illegal (which is quite realistic); but, now, imagine that the penalty is “death” for committing that crime. I think that most would agree that such a low value of human life would render such a government to be ineffective and worthy of rejecting; the punishment needs to fit the crime. Examples like this could easily be duplicated, where government overreaches and practically starts infringing on freedoms. I hardly think that Paul (in Romans 13) is saying that we should allow our freedoms to be infringed upon. You'll notice the radical difference between the things of Romans 13 and a vaccine mandate, won't you?! And, notice that Paul isn't saying that a government has a right to do anything and everything . . . Can a government steal our God-given rights to marriage, free speech, breathing air, etc., etc.?! While Paul insists on obeying government, the kinds of things that he has in view are hardly infringements upon human rights!
So, what about mask mandates? Or, vaccine mandates? I think Paul would, on the one hand, take a moderate approach and say that the Christian should try to conform for the sake of “getting along” and not distracting from the “big picture,” which is to try to reflect Christ and live in a way that pictures selflessness and might draw people to Him. On the other hand, I think that advice would be something that Paul would say under the assumption that he's not observing a major agenda as being attached to these things; if Paul were to notice/discern that the mask mandates and vaccine mandates are simply being used as a “gateway” to eroding our human rights and freedoms – well, again, I'd point out how different from such a government ordinance is from what Paul actually is saying in Romans 13. (Again, Romans 13 doesn't endorse tyrannical governments and their arbitrary attempts to dictate human rights and freedoms which were given by God; can't you see the difference between such “laws” and paying taxes for roads and obeying speed limits and etc.?!) At no point does Paul advise our relinquishing our God-given human rights. In fact, on a spiritual plane, Paul has rightly been termed as the apostle of “freedom,” which seems to be a – if not “the” – core theme (especially as it flows from justification in Christ) in all of his writings. If Paul were with us, I think he'd advocate for human freedom and rights, simply based on a casual reading of all of his writings.
Such a use of Romans 13 – insisting that Paul would back governmental vaccine mandates – really seems to smack of 1) ignorance in the context of Romans 12 and 13, 2) ignorance on Paul's broader writings and 3) ignorance on Christian ethics, civics and philosophy.
Finally, there's the question as to whether or not the vaccine is even effective and thus “ethical” in the first place. There are simply too many assumptions that would need to be made in order to argue that it is effective and ethical. (You and I both know that a government's assurance or a medical assurance have been horribly abused in past history! So, there's no argument by appealing to the “professionals” and their testimony, which has been exalted by the media. There's a large, conservative “voice” that is “calling out” the agenda-driven slant of the media; you might have noticed that the conservative angle is being censored heavily?! Oh, yes it is! And, one's basic working knowledge of Nazi Germany shows that such agendas and “games” aren't too far into our recent past!)
I'd argue that there could easily be an agenda and slanting of the vaccine and its purpose. (I'm not saying that there is one; I'm saying that it wouldn't shock me.) Are we simply to trust the government to intrude into our lives and take over everything about us? Raising our children? Censoring our speech? An honest and sincere reader of Romans 13 knows that that is not Paul's angle/intent . . . and an honest and sincere reader of past human history also knows, I might add, that governments of the past have played “games” with the people and human life before. What if the vaccine – whether we know it or not! – actually does do more harm than good?! (Anybody who says that we know all of the side-effects already is either lying or ignorant.) Now, are we to allow the government to start injecting things that are harmful to us into our bodies?! Again, if it were to be the case that the vaccine harmed more than helped, I'd refer to Acts 5:29 and insist that such a devaluing of human life and low use of the body is in violation of God's intending us to use our valuable, human lives to His glory (1 Cor. 4:1,2; 6:12-20).
I also might add that I think that there is freedom to wear a mask or get a vaccine. I think that God has allowed us this kind of freedom (under the assumption that we're convinced that the mask or vaccine is either neutral or helping). If we were convinced that the vaccine is going to kill us – even if it doesn't and even if it actually helps! – I'd argue that getting the vaccine under such a mindset would be wrong (i.e. suicidal in scope/intent, tantamount to self-murder and a low view of human life). See Romans 14:21,22, where it says that our actions have to align with our conscience, which is not the standard, but the mind's making a judgment of the standard.
Maybe, some of this helps Matt? I don't think that Romans 13 endorses infringements upon human freedom. I think that we're only hearing one slant of the vaccine's “results” and that making a decision about the vaccine's effectiveness needs to be thorough. I've seen enough censorship of qualified, conservative, medical professionals to know that I'm not getting all of the evidence; until I investigate both sides thoroughly, I remain neutral and undecided on the vaccine, but I know that there's been enough suppression of the alternative angle to know to hold the vaccine as “suspect” for the time being. Until the vaccine is proven – beyond an “appeal to the majority” or an “appeal to authority,” both of which are illogical evasions of the law of rationality – to be effective and ethical, I don't think that Romans 13 comes anywhere close to insisting that Christians are to accept the government's arbitrary, tyrannical ruling and overreach by infringing on human rights and freedoms.
Subscribe to get scholarly articles and brotherhood news
I will never send you spam and it's easy peezy to unsubscribe at anytime.
© Copyright Drew Leonard 2019