Of all the Mommy-War debates, I can think of few that are as emotionally charged as the war over vaccines. Does that make me want to avoid the topic? Like a nuclear missile! But (like a nuclear missile) that also makes it so important. My goal is not to re-hash the hundreds of arguments for or against vaccines. Rather, my goal is to answer a simple question: As Christian mothers, how should we approach this sensitive and volatile topic personally, among friends and strangers, and in our social media testimony?
When I set out to answer this question, I started by asking myself why the vaccination debate is so heated. I think there are three predominant factors. First, it involves personal heartache. Many (if not the majority of) mothers who choose not to vaccinate have what they would call a “vaccine-injured child.” They truly believe vaccinations have had adverse effects on their child. In some cases, the conditions their children face are extreme, lifelong, and even deadly. Whether or not vaccines are to blame for these conditions, the point is these moms (who are not stupid, nor short on research) truly believe they are. My children are vaccinated, and I have not experienced adverse side effects. However, I can imagine how outraged, confused, and afraid I would feel if I thought my kids were suffering because a doctor told me to do something that I believed hurt them.
But unfortunately, this issue is also emotionally charged because it has communal implications. Whether or not you believe in “herd immunity,” our society still functions in support of it. In other words, our government and medical professionals believe immunizations are in the best interest of society at large. That’s why you’re still asked to present an immunization record at kindergarten Open House. It’s why doctors talk about mutations of previously eradicated diseases emerging as the anti-vaccination movement grows. Whether or not you agree, you can understand why vaccinating parents find this scary. Ironically, it’s the exact same fear non-vaccinating parents feel–the fear that something poses a threat to our children.
The final reason I think the debate is so heated is because it’s a high stakes issue. I’ve seen articles and videos that claim infants have died from adverse reactions to vaccinations. On the flip side, I’ve talked to doctors who claim they’ve seen infants and children die from vaccine-preventable diseases. Any way you look at it, fear, suffering, and the desire to protect our children are the primary emotions driving the war over vaccines. Our fleshly instinct is to respond to these emotions with all manner of ungodliness. Both sides are guilty. For brevity sake, let me summarize some of the sentiments I’ve heard and/or read:
|Pride / Condescension||“I love my babies too much to put such-and-such chemicals into them.”||“I love my babies too much to put them at risk for preventable diseases.”|
|Hatred||“I hope your kids end up injured by a vaccine so you change your tune!”||“I hope your kids catch a disease and die!”|
|Judgment||“Parents who vaccinate are un-researched, blind followers.”||“Parents who don’t vaccinate ought to be jailed for child abuse.”|
|Selfishness||“This isn’t about your children. I’m not thinking about your children at all! This is about my children.”||“I don’t care what your story is, if your kid isn’t vaccinated, keep him away from my kid!”|
The problem isn’t that we have an opinion on this issue. It’s not even that our opinion is bound to differ with someone else’s. The problem lies in how much we value our opinion. Biblically, I believe Christian moms are free to stand on either side of the debate. I don’t believe there is anything inherently sinful about vaccinating or not vaccinating your children, so long as you are submitted to God and motivated by love for Him and your kids. But, it is sinful to elevate this issue above Christ.
Before you assume you’re not guilty of this, here are some hard questions I’ve had to ask myself: Does thinking (or reading) about this issue ever evoke feelings of hatred or judgment within me? Has it ever made me wish suffering on someone else? Do my words and lifestyle reflect that I’m more passionate about this topic than I am about the gospel? Does it consume my thoughts and/or control my emotions? When others think of me, is this issue one of the first things they think of?
Yes, this is a high stakes issue. But when it comes to how we interact with it, there is something even greater at stake: our testimony to a watching world. Vaccinations impact this life, but our testimony for Christ impacts eternity. How foolish we would be to sacrifice something of eternal value for the sake of an earthly cause! Am I saying it’s wrong to share your opinion on vaccinations? Of course not. But if you value your opinion to the point that it causes you to sin against others (in thought, word, or action), then for you this issue has become an idol. In essence, you are more devoted to it than you are to the mandates of Christ.
Let me be the first to admit, I’m on the guilty side of this reality. This issue has stirred arrogance, judgment, and anxiety in my heart and mind. The only way I’m “de-throning” it in my life, is by fighting fear with the true, biblical antidote. The fact is, the solution for fear and suffering has never been found in “winning” the external war. You can’t get rid of the turmoil in your heart by converting the world, one tweet at a time, toward or against vaccinations. The only true antidote is faith. If we truly believe that all the days ordained for our children are written in God’s book (Psalm 139:16), that He alone is the author of their lives, wiser than any parent and stronger than any threat, I believe it would change the way we approach this debate.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be the mom who hopes other kids suffer because their mother doesn’t agree with me. I don’t want to be the mom who turns unbelievers off to the gospel because of my testimony over a spiritually gray issue. Like the Psalmist, I want to be the kind of mom who says, “The Lord is the stronghold of my life–of whom (or what) shall I be afraid?” The kind of mom whose heart, passion, and legacy cries out: “One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple” (Psalm 27:1, 4). Only then, will I be able to take a stance on this issue with love, humility, freedom, and peace.
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