A prominent megachurch pastor who served as a faith advisor to former President Donald Trump says he doesn't believe there are "credible" religious reasons not to take the COVID-19 vaccine.
Robert Jeffress, the senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas and a member of the Evangelical Advisory Board during the Trump administration, told the Associated Press he and his staff "are neither offering nor encouraging members to seek religious exemptions from the vaccine mandates." Jeffress is fully vaccinated.
"There is no credible religious argument against the vaccines," Jeffress told AP. He was one of the most visible evangelical supporters of the Trump administration's policies. "Christians who are troubled by the use of a fetal cell line for the testing of the vaccines would also have to abstain from the use of Tylenol, Pepto Bismol, Ibuprofen, and other products that used the same cell line if they are sincere in their objection."
Although Pfizer and Moderna did not use cell lines from abortions during the development or production of their vaccines, they did use a fetal cell line during the testing phase, according to the Charlotte Lozier Institute. The specific cell lines were generated from kidney cells from a 1973 abortion. That specific cell line, known as HEK293, is popular within medical research. The cell line is not part of the vaccine.
More than 210 million Americans ages 12 and older – or about 75 percent of that age group – have received at least one dose of a COVID vaccine. The vaccines are effective against preventing hospitalizations and deaths, according to state-level hospital data. HealthPartners, a Minnesota-based hospital system, reported that 85 percent of its COVID hospitalizations and 89 percent of its COVID ICU admissions the past month were among those not fully vaccinated.
Earlier this month, Curtis Chang, a senior fellow at Fuller Theological Seminary and the founder of the website ChristiansAndTheVaccine.com, made a similar argument as Jeffress.
"Vaccine hesitancy has never been a core religious belief of evangelical Christians," Chang wrote in a column. "The vast majority of evangelicals have historically chosen to be immunized against polio, measles, tetanus and other diseases. As a child, I attended evangelical summer camps that required vaccinations, and as an adult, I worked for ministries with similar mandates. Some conservative evangelicals just don't like the political taste of this particular vaccine on the menu."
Chang added, "The consensus of mainstream Christian leaders – from Pope Francis to Franklin Graham – is that vaccination is consistent with biblical Christian faith."
Jeffress previously asserted that taking the vaccine is consistent with pro-life principles.
"I believe if we are intent on protecting life inside the womb, which I am, we need to also be careful to value life outside the womb and do everything we can to preserve it," he said earlier this year.
Jeffress has quoted Philippians 2:3-4 in his support of the vaccine.
"'Do not merely look out for your own personal interest,' Paul said, 'but also look out for the interest of others. Have this attitude in yourself, which was in Christ Jesus,' who gave Himself, was crucified for our sin payment.
"And I think that's something that the evangelical community needs to be reminded of. It's not just about me; it's about us," Jeffress said. "And, if we're really Christians, we need to think about the wellbeing of those we come in contact with – spiritually and physically as well. You know, Jesus came to earth to die for us, not for His benefit, but for ours. And we're to have that same attitude toward other people as well."
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Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.