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Vaccine Mandates & Religious Liberty


Sabbath School commentary for discussion on October 9, 2021

This week's Adult Bible Study Guide dips into the book of Deuteronomy looking for present truth. One of the hottest issues present in contemporary Christianity surrounds the question of science, God, and the duty to one's neighbor. And, incredibly, Monday's lesson brings up the topic of that age-old tension: 

Despite some of the error that modern science tries to promulgate as truth (such as that our universe by itself arose from “absolutely nothing” or that all life on earth arose by chance from simple chemicals), science has nonetheless given us some astonishing insights into God’s creative power. The harmony, the balance, the precision of many aspects of the natural world, even in its fallen state, continue to astound those who study them. And if God can be so precise with physical things, He certainly will be precise with spiritual things, as well. Hence, in the opening verses of Deuteronomy, we can see more of God’s incredible precision.

Are vaccines an example of divine redemptive precision evident in the natural world? Questions like these about how science should inform our understanding of the world—ancient to contemporary—lie at the heart of many flashpoints in Adventism. Addressing the science and faith false binary of the moment, last Sabbath the Northern California Conference of Seventh-day Adventists brought together a group of physicians, pastors, and attorneys to address the question of vaccine mandates and religious liberty. Perhaps it's not traditional Sabbath School fare, but the ideas touch on personal belief and communal responsibility—themes that run through the story of Moses, the Israelites, and the Deuteronomic narrative of communal wandering and redemption. 

A dialogue between Christians with diverse views—moderated by Steve Allred, NCC religious liberty liaison, the online discussion features several physicians and attorneys, along with NCC president Marc Woodson. In a recent article on "the constitution, conscience, and vaccines," participant Nicholas Miller writes in the Lake Union Herald

We do not have a record of anything Ellen White said about required vaccines. (Though she was on record for the use of state law and force to forbid alcohol sale and use, certainly a health-related topic.) But we do know that she came to appreciate the scientific advances in vaccine practices. Both her son as well as her personal Secretary record that she supported the decision of her workers, including her son Willie White, to take the small-pox vaccine. Her secretary wrote that Ellen White took the vaccine herself. This was at a time, mind you, that while vaccines had improved, they were nowhere near as safe and efficacious as they are today.

Updated: Click here for a six-page downloadable research document on vaccines in Adventism. It includes official church statements, Ellen White quotes, as well as references to work by past and current denominational scholars.

Alexander Carpenter is executive editor elect of Spectrum. 

Title image: Northern California Conference Religious Liberty/Spectrum


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