Seventh-day Adventists around the world are confronted with an impending societal crisis that widely and generally threatens the religious liberties of many of our members.
The greatest immediate threat is government mandates of COVID vaccinations and penalties for non-compliance. In response, it is vital for the continuing mission of the Church that our leadership—in ministry, healthcare, education, and publishing—act with the utmost sensitivity, care, and courage. Action must be taken in a manner consistent with our Fundamental Beliefs, our established understanding of eschatology, and our longstanding commitment to liberty of conscience, both for ourselves, and as a true witness to the world in protecting that liberty for others.
This document does not argue for or against receiving a vaccination, but rather maintains that the decision is a personal spiritual choice which may be based upon a sincerely held religious belief. The Church is thus called to use its influence and agencies to reject mandates or other policies that would penalize members, or discriminate against them, for their conscientious decisions to decline.
This viewpoint fully recognizes the tremendous impact the COVID pandemic has had throughout the world, resulting in serious illness and much loss of life. As we open our hearts to minister to those enduring wrenching heartache, we must ensure that our response to a crisis such as this is consistent with our commitment to principles of wholistic health and of religious liberty and freedom of conscience.
It is with a spirit of deep concern for the success of our worldwide Advent movement and the spiritual, physical, mental, social, and economic well-being of our members that this open appeal is presented to all who would be true and faithful leaders among God’s people.
Thus, we respectfully request leadership of all entities and at all levels throughout the Church to do the following:
Duty to Minister to the Whole Body of Believers
- To recognize that there is rapidly growing medical, ethical, and philosophical concern among tens of thousands in our faith community and the wider medical and scientific community regarding the safety and efficacy of the COVID vaccinations.
- To encourage, by action and influence, our members’ full understanding of the Seventh-day Adventist Church Fundamental Belief #22, which states “that because our bodies are the temples of the Holy Spirit, we are to care for them intelligently” (Romans 12:1, 2; 1 Corinthians 3:16, 17; 10:31). Thus, the Church must recognize that members of goodwill and good sense everywhere may have widely differing convictions about the specifics of what it means to care for our bodies intelligently (Romans 14:1-4, 22, 23) in relation to the current crisis, and that many well-informed members understand the following to be true:
- It is possible for those who have been vaccinated to still contract COVID. This goes against what is often understood to be the purpose of a vaccination.
- It is possible for those who have been vaccinated to still spread COVID. This disputes the idea that the unvaccinated are a health threat to their colleagues and friends while the vaccinated are not.
- It is possible for those who have been vaccinated to become seriously ill and die from COVID. In fact, according to the official health reports from the relevant government health agencies, in some countries many of the deaths from COVID are occurring among those who are fully vaccinated.
- Some individuals have suffered serious and even fatal adverse effects from receiving a COVID vaccination. While there is dispute as to how rare such adverse events are, if such an event happens to you or your loved one, the rarity of the event is irrelevant.
- The long-term effects of the COVID vaccinations are unknown and unknowable at this point. This is due to the truncated timeline for the safety trials that took place prior to the vaccines being made publicly available.
- The COVID vaccinations present a greater threat to certain segments of the population than the virus itself, including, among others, children; those who already have natural immunity; and those with certain medical conditions. Thus, some segments of the population may be better off to forgo the vaccination and to focus on being as healthy as possible in keeping with the Adventist understanding of health.
These points do not assume a position that the vaccine should not be taken, and they may be disputed by some. But each of them is based on public health information provided by governmental agencies or other recognized authorities. Therefore, it is not unreasonable to recognize that many church members hold differing understandings and convictions in accordance with these points. Their convictions must be respected by the Church and factored into the development of any stance, policy, or public posture related to COVID vaccination.
- To recognize that leadership has a responsibility to minister to the whole church and thus is obligated to do the following:
- Avoid any public posture or stance on COVID vaccinations that is likely to cause deep polarization among members, as is already happening (1 Corinthians 12:25-27).
- Encourage, foster, and support respectful loving dialogue regarding differing views (Acts 15:1-12; Daniel 1:9, 10).
- Allow more time and consideration for positive or negative outcomes instead of taking punitive action against people who could be Spirit-led (Acts 5:34-39).
- Avoid extremes by supporting/adopting a balanced inclusive policy (Acts 15:13-29; Isaiah 30:21).
- To place far more emphasis—indeed, primary emphasis—on promoting confidence among our members in the principles of God’s health message in order to help avoid sickness and disease, and to position our Church in the public eye as the head and not the tail in advocating for natural forms of prevention against this disease (Daniel 1:11-16; 3 John 2; Exodus 15:26).
- To recognize that the Church’s current stance on vaccinations was adopted at a time when it was unforeseeable that new vaccines would be rapidly deployed worldwide without the customary safety and ethical protections common to the development protocols of regular vaccines, and, therefore, that the Church’s prior stance on immunization/vaccination should not be applied to COVID vaccines or any future vaccines which do not go through the usual testing period of 5 to 10 years with open analysis of data regarding safety and efficacy.
Duty to Protect Religious Liberties
- To recognize that the Seventh-day Adventist Church has a duty to vigorously protect religious and civil liberties for its members and others in light of its long-held understanding of Bible prophecy that certain freedoms would be restricted in the last days before Jesus comes (Jude 3; 2 Corinthians 3:17; Joshua 24:15; Revelation 13:11; 1 Timothy 4:1).
- To recognize that world conditions and governmental actions are threatening those liberties in the most vital area of spiritual conviction about our bodies as the temple of God (Matthew 24:7-9; 1 Corinthians 6:19, 20; 2 Corinthians 3:17).
- To recognize that the Church and its members should maintain independence of judgment from the wise ones of the world. Christ warned us that in the end times, we should be careful lest anyone deceive us (Matthew 24:4, 5, 11, 24). Specifically in matters regarding the requirement to protect our bodies as the temple of God, the Apostle Paul warns, “Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, ‘He catches the wise in their craftiness,’ and again, ‘The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.’ So let no one boast of men…” (1 Corinthians 3:18-21). In times of social upheaval and uncertainty, restraint in choosing a particular side on a contentious issue before all the facts are known is a virtue (Matthew 7:15-20). In such times, silence is not only eloquence; it is also prudence (James 1:5, 19).
- To fully embrace the Working Policy of the General Conference for Public Affairs and Religious Liberty (Departmental Policies), Section FL 05 Philosophy, which states, among other things, that:
- “The use of force and coercion is inimical to life, to dignity, and to authentic religion”
- “the union of church and state is a sure formula for discrimination and intolerance and offers a fertile soil for the spread of persecution”
- “Religious liberty includes the fundamental human right to…manifest and practice one’s religion individually or in fellowship with other believers… subject to respect for the equivalent rights of others”
- To publicly oppose any course of governmental action that will condition us to accept new principles and techniques of societal control that at a yet future time will be used, as we believe, to bring economic and physical harm to the lives of those who hold differing views regarding worship; and to resist the formation now of a de-facto and unwitting union of church and state by supportively anticipating or embracing state mandates that will trample on the conscience of individual employees and members (Revelation 13:11-17; 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12; 2 Corinthians 11:2-4, 13-15).
- To eliminate policies and actions in our church organizations and institutions that negatively impact individuals for exercising their freedom of conscience by forcing, coercing, or rewarding employees to take a certain action, or discriminating among employees in job opportunities, functions, activities, travel, or association based solely on an honorable, informed personal health choice to accept or decline the vaccination (Romans 14:5; Acts 23:1-5; 2 Corinthians 3:17; Luke 10:40-42).
- To insist and ensure that those who are entrusted to protect our religious liberties are fully engaged in this crisis and do so with the full force of all means available to them, without regard to secular political considerations or partisan preferences, and that they will champion the cause of religious liberty in the halls of governments, in the press, before scientific agencies, and in the courts, by specifically opposing COVID vaccination mandates which infringe upon the members’ bodily integrity and the Church’s ability to meet and minister to its members and the community (Ephesians 6:9-20; Romans 2:11; James 2:1).
- To counsel pastors and other church leaders that they are free, when asked, to write letters in the name of the Church to support members seeking a religious exemption from COVID vaccinations, and that they should use careful language such as: “In accordance with the Church’s teaching on health, Seventh-day Adventists believe that religious, faith-based reasons may exist for avoiding some immunization programs, and that it is the counsel of the Church to urge their members to follow their conscience in these matters,” or words to that effect. Any current church policy and/or online materials referencing pastors’ participation in such activity should be adjusted accordingly.
We offer this appeal for courage in the defense of liberty of conscience in a spirit of Christian concern and fellowship, and we earnestly solicit the support of people who are vaccinated and those who are not. We trust in the good faith of all readers to recognize that the position advocated in this appeal has not been arrived at hastily. It is not based on a specific political persuasion nor on an attitude of hostility toward duly constituted authority and appropriate legislation. Rather, this position has been reached after prayer and careful study and reflection, and it is grounded in relevant biblical principles and thoughtful consideration of the readily available but sometimes conflicting medical and health information. This position is in complete harmony with the following paragraph published December 18, 2020 in the Adventist Review, the general church paper of the Adventist Church [emphasis in the original]:
“We reiterate: THE DECISION TO BE IMMUNIZED OR NOT IS THE CHOICE OF EACH INDIVIDUAL, AND SHOULD BE TAKEN IN CONSULTATION WITH ONE’S HEALTH-CARE PROVIDER. PERSONAL RESEARCH ON THE SUBJECT IS IMPORTANT. WE ULTIMATELY RELY ON FOLLOWING BIBLICAL HEALTH PRACTICES AND THE SPIRIT OF PROPHECY, AND FOLLOWING GOD’S LEADING IN OUR LIVES, WHICH WILL BRING US PEACE AND ASSURANCE IN OUR DECISION-MAKING.”
This appeal is respectfully addressed to Seventh-day Adventists everywhere, and especially to those in positions of organizational, institutional, and local church leadership. Its development has been organized by the Liberty and Health Alliance, a ministry of Seventh-day Adventist members promoting the health message of the Church and liberty of conscience in making specific health decisions, particularly in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic.
President: Lela Lewis, MD, MPH, Phoenix, Arizona
Vice President/Legal Affairs: Jonathan Zirkle, JD, Loma Linda, California
General Vice President: Scott Ritsema, Lakeview, Michigan
Vice President/Spiritual Affairs: Wyatt Allen, New Albany, Indiana
Vice President/Medical Affairs: Andrew Chung, MD, Clear Lake, California
Director of Media and Communications: Chris Chung, Avon Park, Florida
Telehealth Director: Alan Maycock, Phoenix, Arizona
Spiritual Advisor: Greg A. King, PhD, Collegedale, Tennessee
This appeal has been written with the counsel and support of other Adventists who share the concerns of the Liberty and Health Alliance. That their names are listed below means only that those individuals are publicly affirming their support of this document, and that such support may not necessarily reflect the position or views of any entity or organization with which they otherwise may be professionally affiliated.
Michael G. Hasel, PhD, Ooltewah, Tennessee
Ron Kelly, Berrien Springs, Michigan
Ronald A. Knott, Berrien Springs, Michigan
Gregory Nelson and Wendy Nelson, MD, Loma Linda, California
James Rafferty, North Fork, California
Conrad A. R. Vine, DMin, Berrien Springs, Michigan
Wes Youngberg, DrPH, Temecula, California