Will Braun’s three-part series in the Canadian Mennonite, “The Sweet Solace of Polarization,” is an important reminder of our calling to love one another even through our strong differences of opinion. Walking in humility, listening patiently, being gentle with each other, showing compassion—loving one another, in other words—is crucial if we truly want to live into the unity of the Spirit as the body of Christ (Eph 4:1-2).
We do have a tendency to view things in binary terms. But life is complex. Humans are complex. Human societies are complex. The church is complex. There are few if any true binaries.
As one who has been outspoken about the importance of COVID vaccinations and protections through the pandemic, I have had to learn this lesson myself. Conversations with vaccine hesitant folks have reminded me that it’s important for individuals to consult their doctor about any medical prevention or intervention. They have reminded me that behind alternative opinions are real flesh-and-blood people who have many of the same hopes and fears that I do. They have reminded me that Christians indeed share a common desire to love our neighbours, even if we don’t always agree on the best way to do that.
Nevertheless, there are more questions we should ask each other, more conversations we should have. While humility, patience, gentleness, and compassion are foundational aspects of Christian love, there is more of love to discover. We need to dig deeper into love.
At the time I write this, over 46,500 people have died in Canada because of COVID. In my province of Manitoba, one out of every 625 people has died because of this virus. COVID has disproportionately affected the elderly, racialized persons, and the immune-compromised with severe outcomes. Statistics Canada estimates that 15% of Canadians who have contracted the virus have developed “long COVID,” with symptoms lingering from a few months to potentially years after the initial infection. Some of these long-term symptoms are relatively mild, but for some people they are debilitating.
Major health-governing and research-collecting bodies like the World Health Organization continue to conclude that COVID vaccines are safe, with extremely low risk of health complications from the vaccine (a far lower risk of harm than COVID itself presents). While vaccines have not provided the “bullet-proof immunization” many of us hoped for, they do reduce the forward transmission of the virus and they significantly reduce severe outcomes for those who are vaccinated. When good masks and ventilation are added into the mix in indoor spaces, the risk of virus transmission is lessened considerably.
All this should prompt us to ask more questions of each other, to dig deeper into love.
How do we relate to “experts” as we make ethical decisions? Which “experts” do we trust, and why do we trust them and not others?
How do we relate to our “governing authorities,” to use Paul’s term in Romans 13, especially as it relates to the only debt we should owe, Paul says there, the debt to love our neighbours?
How do we balance a concern for the common good with a concern for individual freedoms, again especially as it relates to the call of Jesus to love our neighbour as if their needs were our own?
If we do accept the reports noted above regarding COVID’s impact on the most health-vulnerable in our society, what does it mean for us to love these neighbours, and how do we weigh that against any potential harms we may be concerned about from vaccines or other public health protections?
Love in the way of Jesus requires a particular posture toward one another, yes, a posture of humility, patience, gentleness, and compassion. But that is not the totality of Jesus’ way of love. His is a devoted love of God expressed pre-eminently through loving our neighbour as if their needs were ours (Matt 22:36-40). And as we see from Jesus in the Gospels, the neighbours we should pay special attention to are the sick, the poor, the stranger—all those most vulnerable to harm.
May the fullness of this love drive us forward as we navigate the complexities of the ethical decisions we face.
This article was published in the Canadian Mennonite (Nov. 28, 2022) as “A biblical case for vaccines.” Not only is that title inaccurate, it encourages readers to see the piece as arguing for one side in a polarized debate, and thus badly misses the point of the article. That title change was an editorial decision.