Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
This is an update to my Jan. 21 letter. As OSHA prepares to announce the vaccine mandate that President Biden called for on Sept. 9, we have received many inquiries about what this mandate means for Christians. As before, these questions come from deep personal convictions about the sanctity of life and concern for religious freedoms. After consulting with our district presidents, many competent theologians and our own legal counsel, we are providing the following resources to help you navigate these complex issues.
As I said in January, this is neither legal nor medical advice, and it should not be treated as such. This is pastoral counsel to help you make the personal decisions that align with your conscience. In addition to this letter, please read the updated COVID-19 fact sheet (produced in collaboration with the staff of the Commission on Theology and Church Relations), the FAQ document produced in consultation with Synod legal counsel, the essays and video provided by the LCMS Office of National Mission’s Life Ministry, and the link to the resources provided by our friends at Alliance Defending Freedom. (Visit lcms.org/vaccinemandate for these resources.)
The questions you were asking in January are similar to those we are hearing today.
1. Are COVID-19 vaccines related to abortion? The science regarding this is complex. All three of the vaccines currently available in the United States have used fetal stem cells derived from abortion in some way. The Janssen/Johnson & Johnson vaccine used the PER.C6 line of embryonic stem cells in development and production. Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna developed and produced their vaccines without using cell lines derived from aborted human fetal tissue, but they used the HEK293T line of embryonic stem cells derived from a 1972 abortion to confirm the final vaccine quality (perhaps surprisingly, so do many other commonly used medications and vaccines). For more information on how the COVID-19 vaccines relate to abortion, I encourage you to consult the website of the pro-life bioethicists at the Charlotte Lozier Institute and the list they maintain there: lozierinstitute.org/update-covid-19-vaccine-candidates-and-abortion-derived-cell-lines. Neither the Pfizer/BioNTech nor Moderna vaccine contains any substance derived from aborted human fetal cells.
2. Does the Synod have a position on the reception of vaccines developed using human fetal tissue? The Synod does not have an official position on such vaccines at this time. Official decisions of this nature come through the Synod acting in convention, and no convention action has yet been taken. However, our church body remains firmly committed to the sanctity of life, and we continually advocate for pro-life positions in the public square.
3. Can I obtain a religious exemption for the COVID-19 vaccine? Religious or personal belief exemptions are based on conscientious objection and do not require official support from the denomination. The absence of an official Synod stance does not impact your ability to seek an exemption. In fact, most requests for religious exemption must be for personal, deeply held religious convictions, and not for the position of a church body or church official. Please consult your employer, local lawmakers or public health officials for more information on how to proceed should the need arise.
4. Should I take the COVID-19 vaccine? This is a question only you can answer. Some may choose not to receive the vaccine because of concerns over its relation to abortion or because of other health complications. Others may be vaccinated despite such reservations out of concern for their own health or that of their neighbor. Since neither Scripture nor the Synod has explicitly addressed this issue, it remains a matter of Christian freedom, which you must decide according to your individual conscience.
5. How should I talk about the vaccine with others who disagree with my view? In a sensitive issue of this nature, we remember the words of St. James: “Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (James 1:19). Listen carefully and openly to others’ points. Consider them. Share your positions patiently and objectively. Reflect upon your own penchant for error. Forgive others where they sin against you and ask for forgiveness where you wrong them.
In this contentious issue, we must respect the consciences of fellow believers who share our same commitment to Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions, as well as our life together as a Synod. As St. Paul urges regarding matters of conscience, “Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor” (1 Cor. 10:24), and “let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother” (Rom. 14:13). At a time of cultural upheaval, I would encourage you not to allow disagreement even over undoubtedly important matters such as this to take precedence over the faith that unites us in Christ. In all things, we should heed the call to “maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3).
Please study this collection of resources, which provides a summary of what we know about the COVID-19 vaccines, their relation to the issue of abortion, and what we can (and cannot) say about these matters from the Synod’s perspective. I hope it proves useful to you as you wrestle with how to bear Christian witness in this world through your love of both God and neighbor.
“May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen” (Rom. 15:5–6).
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