US. Mennonite Brethren who are seeking a religious exemption from required COVID-19 vaccination learned recently that the theological position of the U.S. Conference of MB Churches (USMB) does not stand against the COVID-19 vaccine.
“USMB leadership and USMB Board of Faith and Life are in agreement that our Confession of Faith and our current and historical practice do not provide the necessary rationale for granting a religious exemption based on the theological convictions of the denomination,” says a statement released Aug. 14, 2021.
The statement, approved by USMB leadership and the USMB Board of Faith and Life and endorsed by USMB national director Don Morris, was issued following questions from individuals and pastors about whether USMB could provide a denominational statement supporting individual members in requesting a religious exemption from a government or employer mandate to take the COVID-19 vaccine as a condition of employment or acceptance at a college or university.
While a growing number of private businesses, hospital systems and universities are requiring COVID-19 vaccines, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 gives individuals the right to request a vaccine exemption on the basis of religious convictions.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said that COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective, but some Americans remain hesitant to be vaccinated. Overall, about 189.9 million people—or 57 percent of the total U.S. population —have received at least one dose of a vaccine, according to latest figures from the CDC. About 163.9 million people, or 49 percent of the total U.S. population, have now been fully vaccinated.
The “USMB Statement on Religious Exemptions to COVID-19 Vaccine Mandates” addresses an individual’s religious conviction regarding vaccines in general and having concerns about the COVID-19 vaccine specifically and the difference between an individual’s convictions and those of a denomination.
The statement emphasizes the importance of integrity in claiming a religious conviction. “Individuals seeking such a denominational stance and pastors being asked to sign an exemption form could not, with integrity, list USMB doctrine or practice as evidence of a deeply held conviction by the denomination that taking this vaccine (or others) goes against our teaching,” says the statement. “In fact, many (though probably not all) USMB leaders, theologians, pastors and lay leaders have been vaccinated, have advocated and continue advocating for being vaccinated as a means of slowing the spread of the COVID-19 virus and protecting oneself and others.”
The statement recognizes that some U.S. Mennonite Brethren have “deeply held convictions about receiving one of the COVID vaccines which are not held by others.” It continues: “However, USMB is not able to make a universal statement which would support an individual’s claim that he/she has a religious conviction based on our denomination’s theological or doctrinal opposition to the vaccine. That wouldn’t have integrity.”
The USMB statement affirms healing through medical science and discounts concerns that some COVID-19 vaccines originate from fetal cell lines, which would allow individuals to claim exemption based on the stand against abortion taken in Article XIV of the Confession of Faith.
“Some of the COVID-19 vaccines were developed from cells that have long been grown in laboratories and are not directly taken from aborted babies,” the statement says, adding, “Article XIV also takes a similarly strong stand for valuing life and valuing healing through ‘…the life-sustaining findings of medical science….’”
The statement includes counsel for those who believe their reason for not getting the COVID-19 vaccine is due to religious conviction. That guidance includes:
- Checking with their employer, human resources department or school officials to learn if exemptions can be made for a personally held religious conviction;
- Considering carefully whether the objection is rooted in personal religious convictions or is rooted in “other concerns and/or fears about the vaccine and the unknowns surrounding it;”
- Talking with one’s pastor or other church leader to differentiate and sort through the issues; and
- Seeking the advice of an attorney.
The statement concludes with a final call to act with honor: “Above all, have integrity with your faith and your convictions,” it says.
To read the full statement visit the USMB website: https://usmb.org/portfolio/usmb-statement-on-religious-exemptions-to-covid-19-vaccine-mandates/
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Connie Faber joined the magazine staff in 1994 and assumed the duties of editor in 2004. She has won awards from the Evangelical Press Association for her writing and editing. Faber is the co-author of Family Matters: Discovering the Mennonite Brethren. She and her husband, David, have two daughters, one son, one daughter-in-law, one son-in-law and one grandson. They are members of Ebenfeld MB Church in Hillsboro, Kansas.