USMB statement on religious exemptions to COVID-19 vaccine mandates
This statement has been approved by USMB Leadership and the USMB Board of Faith and Life and is endorsed by USMB national director Don Morris.
USMB Leadership Board and USMB Board of Faith and Life have received questions from individuals and pastors about whether or not USMB can provide a denominational statement which supports individual members in requesting a religious exemption from a government or employer mandate to take the COVID-19 vaccine as a condition of employment or acceptance at a college or university. Some pastors and individuals are inquiring if the U.S. Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches can provide a statement which says that U.S. Mennonite Brethren have a theological position which stands against taking the COVID vaccine.
First, let’s address the nature of the conviction. It must be deeply held and be consistent with both belief and practice. If an individual has received other vaccinations, there is a good chance that the person does not have a deeply held religious conviction against being vaccinated. He or she may have deep concerns about the COVID-19 vaccine’s safety, development, potential side effects or other concerns, but unless it is rooted in a religious conviction, it would not likely satisfy the requirements of an exemption.
Second, there are two types of religious convictions, those held by the denomination or religious order and those held by individuals which may be different than that of the denomination or religious order.
USMB Leadership and USMB Board of Faith and Life are in agreement that our Confession of Faith and our current and historical practice do not provide the necessary rationale for granting a religious exemption based on the theological convictions of the denomination. Individuals seeking such a denominational stance and pastors being asked to sign an exemption form could not, with integrity, list USMB doctrine or practice as evidence of a deeply held conviction by the denomination that taking this vaccine (or others) goes against our teaching. In fact, many (though probably not all) USMB leaders, theologians, pastors and lay leaders have been vaccinated, have advocated and continue advocating for being vaccinated as a means of slowing the spread of the COVID-19 virus and protecting oneself and others.
This does not mean that all USMB church members/attenders are in agreement with this position or that individual members can’t or don’t have deeply held personal convictions that prevent them from wanting to be vaccinated. There may even be groups of individuals or perhaps entire church families which hold such convictions. This statement is not intended to disparage or devalue any person’s sincerely held religious convictions. USMB recognizes that we don’t all think or believe exactly alike and there are those who may have deeply held convictions about receiving one of the COVID vaccines which are not held by others. However, USMB is not able to make a universal statement which would support an individual’s claim that he/she has a religious conviction based on our denomination’s theological or doctrinal opposition to the vaccine. That wouldn’t have integrity.
Persons wishing to claim a religious exemption from a vaccine mandate should carefully check with their employer, Human Resources department or school officials to determine whether exemptions can be made for a personally held religious conviction. There are some instances in which an exemption may be granted based on the individual’s religious belief and not on their church’s or denomination’s convictions.
Some have wondered if the fact that at least some of the COVID-19 vaccines originated from fetal cell lines might be reason to stand against using these vaccines based on the Article XIV of the USMB Confession of Faith which takes a strong stand against abortion. Some of the COVID vaccines were developed from cells that have long been grown in laboratories and are not directly taken from aborted babies. The information from the North Dakota Health makes this statement. “While fetal cell lines may be used to develop or manufacture COVID-19 vaccines, the vaccines themselves do not contain any aborted fetal cells.1
Article XIV also takes a similarly strong stand for valuing life and valuing healing through “…the life-sustaining findings of medical science…”2
If you believe you have a religious objection to taking the COVID vaccine, the counsel of USMB Leadership and USMB Board of Faith and Life is to:
- Carefully and with personal integrity, consider whether that objection is rooted in your own personal religious convictions or if it is rooted in other concerns and/or fears about the vaccine and the unknowns surrounding it. You may want to seek the counsel of your pastor and/or church leadership to help you differentiate and sort through those issues.
- Carefully read and understand the personal religious exemption being offered at your workplace or school. It may be that a denominational exemption is not required and that an individual exemption may be allowed. It may still require a pastor’s affirmation of your personal convictions based on conversations he/she has had with you to help you sort through the concerns you have.
- You may want to seek the advice of an attorney to determine whether your community or state, business or school allows for a personal religious exemption to any specific vaccine mandates.
- Above all, have integrity with your faith and your convictions.
USMB Board of Faith and Life