You stirred up a hornets’ nest with this one,” one WORLD reader wrote: “You should have left this alone.” Another sympathetically asked, “Why even delve into a topic that is so divisive?”
Why? We’re sometimes called journalistically to stir up hornets’ nests—and few things are more controversial today than vaccination, which can be a life or death proposition (but Christians disagree about which side furthers life and which death).
On the last day of February, when we published on our website some pro-vaccination views from doctors and ministers, we first received notes like “Thank you WORLD for putting this up. The Christian community needs to be reminded of the sensibility of vaccines.” Then came an onslaught of anti-vaccination views, some thoughtful, others strident.
I suspect we’ll get more mail about our article “Shot selection” in our most recent issue. On a sunny afternoon I had our mid-career journalism students venture into the streets of new age Austin to ask young parents what they thought about vaccination. Our students found 80 percent saying yes to shots for their own children. So far we’re hearing far more negativity from Christian commenters, but I wonder if that’s representative.
Whatever side you’re on in this debate, rest assured that we at WORLD will continue to explore this vital issue. You can go to our website and see a new article I’ve written with links to (and quotations from) my online reading. You can also read 19 previous WORLD stories on various aspects of vaccination.
In this column I want to bring up three underlying dispositions that affect Christian positions on vaccines: views of science, government, and parental authority. Let’s start with modern science, which Christians largely invented, as Nancy Pearcey showed in “The Soul of Science.” Our Bible-believing forebears from Isaac Newton on saw how God rules nature with regularity that we can discern, without fear that Neptune stirs up the waves whenever he’s mad.
Christians were strongly pro-science: Cotton Mather 300 years ago pioneered in promoting inoculation. But when scientists overreach by proclaiming, like Carl Sagan, that material existence “is all that is or was or ever will be,” the credibility of science diminishes. Honest laboratory research deserves great respect. Microevolution (changes within kinds) probably occurs. But when scientists anathemize anyone without faith in unproven macroevolution, they diminish respect for science.
Government overreaching across the board has also hurt. Christians largely have been and should be pro-government when the ruler is “the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer” (Romans 13:4). But when government becomes Government, setting itself up in place of God, its grab for more authority diminishes proper authority. When Government substitutes its definition of marriage for God’s, or when it mandates shots for diseases only contracted through sexual contact rather than those communicable by air or touch, it’s overreaching.
Overreaching by scientists and politicians leads some to think the “vaccine debate” in America is largely an excuse for Government to shove aside parents. I suspect such fear led some readers to write comments like, “The children you speak of belong to the parents.” Of course we want parents, not Government, to bring up children—but we don’t own our children, nor does a mother own her unborn child. God gives us our children to love and nurture, and we can benefit from the advice of others as to the risks we should try to minimize.
My wife and I chose to homeschool our children at times and place them in Christian schools at other times: We rightly did not want Government to be our boss. Many of us at some point have had a child tell us, “You’re not the boss of me.” Occasionally that’s my attitude toward God and the wisdom I need. At such times I particularly need to examine myself.
Journalists who bring up difficult subjects follow the adage of commanders such as George Armstrong Custer who said, “Ride to the sound of the guns.” We know what happened to him. Pray for us at WORLD as we explore hard matters with the goal of discerning what God would have us do.