Thursday, November 4, 2021

Doctor's Notes and Get Out of Jail Free Cards

When I was in high school, we had to take one year of PE as a graduation requirement. It was the late 80s, so this meant calisthenics and team sports in year-round hot Miami weather wearing the official school PE shirt and the smallest possible shorts - no exceptions or substitutions. Unfortunately, I misjudged my uniform size and ended up with a pair of shorts one size too small. One day, while we lined up to head to the field of sticky burrs and broken dreams, one of my sassier friends, a girl, yelled from across the quad, "Hey, Harrison, nice legs," and everyone pointed and laughed. The entire experience was awkward, uncomfortable, and thoroughly ineffective is educating me about physical fitness.

For this reason, several sneaky students found a loophole to the PE requirement - the fake doctor's note. This was the ultimate get-out-of-PE-free card, an official note, sometimes even from an actual medical practitioner, stating that the poor, infirm student couldn't possibly participate in the types of strenuous physical activities required of a top-flight physical education program. Instead, they took the health credit and spent the PE period watching sports movies in the detention hall. They were the envy of all of us.

It seems as if many of those PE exempted were deeply affected by the power of the fake doctor's note, because many of them grew up into adults looking for dubious excuses to opt out of other social norms or requirements, like the Covid vaccine.

To be clear, I understand the hesitancy some people feel about getting the vaccine. It's new, and some people are wary of being early adopters. Personally, I got vaccinated as soon as I could, and don't regret the decision at all. In fact, if this turns out like the flu shot, requiring a yearly booster, I'm down for that as well. But some people are concerned about side effects, and that's not unreasonable. In addition, I have friends with compromised immune systems whose doctors have advised them not to get the vaccine, or any vaccine, while their condition persists. This is also a good reason not to get vaccinated, and an even better reason for the rest of us with healthy immune systems to get the vaccine, in order to protect those in our midst who are more vulnerable. Some people, unfortunately, are buying into all kinds of ridiculous conspiracy theories about chips and mind control, peddled on the most partisan media outlets. As much as I wish those people would widen their scope of news sources to include some that are not crazy, I do understand how someone can get trapped in a feedback loop of misinformation.

But none of that is religious.

The truth is, Christians do not have a religious reason, a religious excuse, or a religious right to refuse the vaccine. That doesn't mean they are morally or spiritually obliged to get vaccinated, only that it would be a lie to claim that their reasons for refusing are somehow based in Scripture or church tradition. In fact, several passages in the Bible would suggest that getting vaccinated is the more moral decision. Consider passages that command us to protect the weak (Psalm 82:3-4 & John 15:13) or tell us that our body is not solely our property (I Corinthians 6:19-20). On the other hand, there is no word from God to distrust science or medicine, no command to disobey the government, and no sanction for zealously defending your personal rights at the expense of others' health. In fact, Philippians 2:3-4 tells us "Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others." This doesn't mean that you have to get vaccinated, although it was a guiding principle in my decision to get the shot. What is does mean is that if a Christian is claiming religious exemption from the vaccine, they don't have a scriptural leg to stand on, and should stop hiding behind a fake shield of faith and be bold enough to admit the real reasons they are abstaining.

Unfortunately, this is not a new tactic for Christians, the idea of coopting religious exemption as an excuse for their fears or immoral behavior. In the 1950s and 60s, during desegregation, plenty of protests against the integration of school included so-called Christians, spitting at Black students and holding up signs that said "God hates miscegenation." It's just a dishonest and ugly way of manipulating both adversary and ally, and twisting the Word of God to baptize and justify one's selfish desires.

Again, for the sake of clarity, anyone who doesn't want the vaccine can state their reasons and debate the merits. But for Christians to claim religious exemption is a lie, a power grab, and a perversion of the gospel. It's patently unChristian.

For instance, if your reason for refusing the vaccine is your allegiance to your political beliefs or affiliations, and you claim religious exemption, then your politics is your religion, and your party or leader is your idol.

On the other hand, if your reason for refusing is your concern about the side effects or long term consequences, and you claim religious exemption, then your health is your religion, and your body is your idol.

Christianity is not a Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free card for all the things we don't want to do, or a political trump card for winning arguments or owning the opposite side. Following Christ requires the constant focus on Him and on others, the constant denying of self, the constant sacrifice of my will and my rights to the Kingdom of God. It is not the escape clause from the hard parts of life, but the constant embrace of suffering, if that suffering advances the cause of Christ and the well-being of my neighbor.

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