All of us face the tension of dealing with people in our orbit who are responding differently to vaccine and mask mandates. The pitch is rising as major companies and those who fall under newly enforced federal regulations, require vaccines for in-person workers. Police, home health aides, nurses, and white-collar workers are being let go or put on leave for refusing to comply.
Those who aren’t vaccinated and oppose the mandates are having to make hard choices, choices they feel threaten their values. Some are losing their jobs.
Those who are vaccinated face a three-part challenge: they feel endangered by their unvaccinated colleagues, they feel the vaccine conversation is a distraction from the work to be done, and they are left with more work to do.
To begin, we must address caveats and assumptions for this piece:
1. This is not about your personal choice on getting vaccinated
This is not a piece arguing whether or not Christ-followers should get vaccinated. This article addresses what to do with the fracturing of our workplaces brought on by deep disagreement over this issue.
2. Common Ground: Everyone is affected negatively
Our lives are being upended, our relationships are fracturing and work is getting more complicated no matter which side of this you fall. If you’re a leader building a team, your job just got harder. If you’re a worker navigating your career, whether you're looking for a job or looking for a way to make up for the loss of colleagues, that process just got more complicated.
3. Christ-followers Should be Different
While we share in the tensions of our times and connect with our fellow citizens at the level of human experience, Christ-followers literally march to the beat of a different drummer. When the first Christians said “Jesus is Lord,” it was a spiritual and political statement–they were saying they bowed to a higher power than Caesar. This subverted the cult of the Emperor.
Paul suggested Christ-followers do everything without grumbling and complaining, and if we do, we will shine like stars. My concern is that we aren’t shining very well.
So in this post, we will explore three sub-Christian responses to the mandates and then sketch out an approach rooted in our identity as women and men deeply marked by grace.
Three Sub Christian approaches
There are three approaches to this topic that are common but sub-Christian. They are unfit for anyone who seriously claims to have Jesus at the center of their operating system.
1. Leading With Your Rights
Demanding our rights is a very American thing to do but it is not the Jesus thing to do.
“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:3-8)
As Paul points out, we follow a savior who gave up his rights to save, who relinquished his privileges and prerogatives out of love, whose way forward was sacrifice. This is a far cry from the angry demands so ubiquitous in the current debate. It is true that there were a few times Paul played his “I’m a Roman Citizen Card” and demanded certain rights. (Acts 21). But more often than not, he forwent his rights for some greater good (See 1 Corinthians 9)
2. Yelling at the Evil Out There
This is the error of assuming the other side is completely evil and your side is completely right. Moral hubris blinds us to our own faults and prevents any kind of constructive dialogue.
As the Russian dissident, Alexander Solzhenitsyn wrote in Gulag Archipelago:
“The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either – but right through every human heart…even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained. And even in the best of all hearts, there remains…an uprooted small corner of evil."
Christians should be the most humble people in the world. It is the recognition of our broken and flawed nature that drives us to Christ in the first place. Jesus warned us to take the log out of our own eye before we attack the speck in the eye of another. As the apostle said:
Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. (1 Corinthians 10:12)
3. The Orphan Mindset
We act as if it is our job to rule the world. We fight for control over things we will never control. We are rebelling against our creaturely status, grasping for god-like sovereignty. The truth is many of the things that cause us concern are beyond our grasp. But nothing is beyond God’s grasp and he promises to care for us.
Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you (Matthew 6:31-33)
Intense anger, stridency, and fear are all signs we are living as those who have no heavenly father who knows what we need--we are living as spiritual orphans, forced to fight our way through the universe. This shaking foundation for our souls is leaking out in our vitriolic social media posts.
Sub-Christian approaches like demanding rights, judgmentalism, and the orphan mindset further discredit the faith in our cultural context. They also ruin our hearts–consuming our interior worlds with anger, fear, and a quest for power that leaves us smaller, brittle, and bereft of peace.
A Gospel Way Forward
So in light of these sub-Christian ways forward, how are we to live up to our calling?
1. Deepen Your Gospel Center.
Just before Jesus washed his disciples' feet, we read this: “Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands and that he had come from God and was going back to God.” For Jesus, his sense of identity and security rested in two things: What he had received from God and God as his ultimate destination. From and to God.
We will never be able to cut through the noise of our times if we do not rest on what we’ve already received from God and if we don’t rest our hope in what God promises us in the future.
The pandemic has aroused a fight or flight survival reaction in many of us which rest more on animal instincts than a God-defined, God-empowered center. Passages like Matthew 6:24-33, Romans 8, and 1 Corinthians 15 remind us of the Gospel and how it shapes our sense of confidence.
2. Lead with Love
Jesus and Paul taught that the whole law is summed up by the idea that we are to love others. Love is sacrificial action for the benefit of others driven by genuine concern. Love is attitude, tone, and action.
Will we love those who take a different approach to the vaccine choice? What if a friend loses their job because they won’t comply with a mandate, will you help them find a new job, even though you disagree with their decision? What if a friend gets vaccinated and has an adverse reaction? Will you help them cope with the complication even though you advised them not to get the vaccine?
And how will you treat those who passionately disagree with you? Jesus told us to love our enemies, to pray for those who persecute us, to turn the other cheek, and go the extra mile. Jesus demands we enter into debate and conflict with this very disposition than the one we so often see in our social feeds.
3. Honor the weaker brother and sister
In Romans 14, Paul is writing to the Christ-followers in Rome and telling them how to handle disagreement in their community. He is talking about passionate disagreement over what he calls “debatable things:”
Therefore 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 (Romans 14:13)
Don’t judge your brother or sister. Don’t force your views on them. Let them honor their conscience as you honor your own. Why? Because each person you are judging belongs to Jesus and he will judge them. It’s not our job to condemn anyone.
Think about the freedom that could come if you had the following resolved:
Before the Lord, I have engaged in a thorough process of deciding what I am going to do on this matter. My conscience is clear.
I am resolved to never look with condemnation on my brother or sister who has come to a different conclusion than I.
I am resolved to never force my perspective on them, causing them to violate their conscience on the matter.
I will let Jesus judge my choice and theirs, my life and theirs. In the interim, I will treat them with the grace that makes no demands, with the grace that may involve a sacrifice of freedom or security on my part.
The Pandemic is a crucible, showing the depth and reach of our trust in Jesus. As it drags on, governments and companies are desperate to get past it. The current situation forces us to make choices–vax or not vax. Each choice has risks and consequences. Instead of looking at those who chose differently with condemnation or fear, the Jesus way is to respect it as a matter of conscience and love each other EVEN if the person sitting next to you disagrees, even if they “are a danger to you.”
Ultimately it’s a choice between mercy and judgment. And as Jesus’ brother James says, mercy always triumphs over judgment (James 2:13)