Sorry—Exemption Denied

The thoughts expressed in the following article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the consensus of opinion of B. H. Carroll Theological Institute’s faculty, staff, and board of governors. They are offered in the interest of stimulating respectful discussion.

Lately, I’ve been brushing elbows with those who say, “I should have a religious exemption!” This is not a new topic for anyone who follows church and state issues even casually. 

Opting out of Social Security was my first encounter with religious exemptions. I enrolled in seminary in 1980, and there was a significant minority of students celebrating having signed a form which stated accepting help from the government was objectionable. After filling in their religious affiliation, and the date they began their religious duties, they put their signatures on the form, swearing:

. . . as a follower of the established teachings of that group, I am conscientiously opposed to accepting benefits of any private or public insurance that makes payments in the event of death, disability, old age, or retirement; or makes payments for the cost of medical care; or provides services for medical care. Public insurance includes any insurance system established by the Social Security Act.

How did these seminarians sign this clause when no such “established teachings” existed? That question was never mentioned when others encouraged me to jump on the bandwagon. All they saw were dollar signs. “Think how much more money we’ll pocket from our paychecks every week!”

Of course, if you were Amish or Mennonites, you could sign without a moral quandary because this is the sincere theology and practice of those churches—their “established teachings.” If you are not an old-school Anabaptist, but just a common Baptist, evangelical, or Protestant—the exemption doesn’t apply to you.

Over 40 years later, I’m watching as the same ones who opted out of Social Security are reaching retirement. A few worry and say, “I was wrong. I made a mistake.” But most others say, “It doesn’t matter. My wife worked, paid into Social Security, and I can still get Medicare as a SPOUSE.” With a twinkle in their eyes, there is no remorse or guilt or confession. There’s just the wink-wink-nod-nod-nudge-nudge that “I cheated the system and got away with it!”

If you wonder how they’ve explained this to the ministries where they’ve worked, church leadership has made it clear to me that it’s usually a secret kept from the members. “It would have caused a blow-up.” I’ve heard those same leaders say, “And that’s not the only place where we found basic dishonesty.” 

Where else do these ministers play loose with faith and laws?

Before you damage your reputation, if you are tempted to try for a religious exemption regarding taking a COVID-19 vaccine, take a moment to think it through.

In The Report from the Capital, Holly Hollman reports for the Baptist Joint Committee that: “No major religions oppose vaccines; most encourage them as a way of caring for their adherents and their surrounding communities” [Fall 2021, p. 5]. She explains that only a few fringe groups truly have a united practice—i.e., established belief—which bars them from accepting medical care or from taking ANY AND ALL vaccines. Furthermore, she quotes from an op-ed piece:

The biggest threat to a legitimate right is the illegitimate abuse of that right.

Though I believe strongly in the priesthood of the believer, and the ability for each born-again believer to hear straight from God, or to have a unique and divine message speak to one from scripture—it does not mean I get to make up my own rules and theology.

At the Texas Baptists’ Chaplaincy Relations office (a strong partner with the Marsh Chaplaincy Center of B. H. Carroll), I’ve found it interesting that only a tiny handful of the over 1,000 endorsed chaplains have asked for the endorsement office to issue them a religious exemption. The requests have all been turned down. 

So, if you don’t want to take the vaccine, but you being pressed to by public opinion or forced to by employment or government mandates, at least be honest. Just say:

  • Those vaccines are a huge experiment by our government to test how to alter DNA—as part of an LBGCTQ+ agenda.
  • Those vaccines put a tracking device in our bodies so the government can control us and take away our guns. 
  • I have trypanophobia—an irrational, extreme fear of needles.
  • I don’t care that over 1,000,000,000 people have been vaccinated worldwide, I just don’t have enough evidence to trust the science.
  • My political affiliation requires that “here I stand; I cannot do otherwise.” 
  • Soon, enough people will have received the vaccine or caught COVID, and I will benefit from the herd immunity of the survivors without having gotten a shot, myself.
  • Hardly anyone gets really sick. In fact, only 1 in 100,000 children who get COVID die, so it’s not bad enough to really worry about. 

All of these are reasons I’ve heard firsthand from others. I think they’d make better-informed decisions by going to a solid resource that’s Christian and science-based. But I’d rather hear these reasons than see a finger point at God and say, “The Lord told me not to!” 

Published: Nov 18, 2021


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