Dear People of the LCMS,
We live in disturbing times. Jesus’ words on the night of His betrayal are ever true: “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
The resources that follow this note are mostly self-explanatory, but I want to make a few somewhat personal remarks to you before you read on. This COVID-19 pandemic has challenged the world, as well as us as Christians individually and corporately as a Synod. Attitudes and approaches to the challenge by LCMS individuals, congregations and districts vary. This is due to a variety of factors: the intensity of the disease; cultural and political contexts; and our own varying views on the medicinal, social, political and — to some extent — religious issues involved. Government intrusion into churches through various regulations — attempted by states and municipalities across the nation — have even sought to regulate our sacred practice of Holy Communion (the holy of holies where government has no place), which has been troubling. In many cases, we have seen governments treating churches unfairly, even closing churches while leaving theaters or clubs open. Local and state governments have taken advantage of COVID-19 to push regulations into our parochial schools, where such state regulation has not existed before. I, for one, am deeply concerned about increasing government overreach into areas of the First Amendment. “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). And I aim to resist this increasing encroachment wherever and whenever I can.
The vaccine issue is challenging from a legal perspective. Those most interested have deep personal, medical and religious concerns about government mandates. Unfortunately, constitutional case law has for a century upheld the government’s ability to mandate vaccinations. Some legal experts have not wanted to challenge this because of what appears to be an impossibility of legal success. Expected presidential mandates that force employees of companies and nonprofits to release or terminate unvaccinated employees will be challenged legally from various directions. I believe — and so do others — that such mandates for churches violate the “free exercise” clause of the First Amendment, because they would force the termination of pastors and called workers in larger church institutions who refuse vaccination. Our military chaplains are increasingly pressured by the LGBTQ agenda of the U.S. military. In addition, those chaplains who have conscientious objections to the vaccine mandate are now faced with the question of continuing to serve or leaving the military. Thus far, free speech protections still remain, thank God.
The LCMS has no official position on vaccines in general or the COVID-19 vaccines in particular. We are not “anti-vaxxers.” I’d venture that the majority of LCMS clergy are vaccinated. I am. I’ve been saddened many times at the loss of personal friends, including a number of pastors. I know that the majority of those hospitalized are unvaccinated. I know that the death rate for COVID-19 increases dramatically for those unvaccinated. But still, death occurs mainly among those with other health conditions. I also know that the risk of death overall is very small. I know that healthy young people rarely die, and that for the vast majority the symptoms are fairly insignificant. My two sons and their spouses have all had COVID-19. Thankfully, they recovered well. Many have not been so fortunate.
As the other resources note, the vaccines, in various ways (development or testing), made use of stem cells from aborted babies. This is limited to two lines from two babies from 36 and 48 years ago. I was able to obtain the vaccine that is less morally problematic, but it is still problematic. I was present in the White House when President George W. Bush limited research to such lines and ensured that no others would be taken from later or current abortions. We gave thanks for that. But this remains an ethical quandary that has to be judged by each Christian conscience. I respect that. So does your church. And we want to be as helpful as we can. Please give charitable attention to the message below and the other related documents.
“Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess. 5:23).
Pastor Matthew C. Harrison
The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod
Information about COVID-19 vaccines and mandate
Visit lcms.org/vaccinemandate for these resources:
- LCMS President Harrison’s update following the White House vaccine mandate announcement
- Facts and considerations about COVID-19 vaccines
- Q&A about vaccines and the government mandate
- LCMS Life Ministry video and articles
- Information from Alliance Defending Freedom