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Stirring up a hornets' nest

Vaccine stories spark intense reactions

Stirring up a hornets' nest

(Associated Press/Photo by Damian Dovarganes)

You stirred up a hornets’ nest with this one,” one reader wrote: “You should have left this alone.” Another sympathetically asked, “Why even delve into a topic that is so divisive?”

Why? We’re sometimes called journalistically to stir up hornets’ nests—and few things are more controversial today than vaccination, which can be a life or death proposition (but Christians disagree about which side furthers life and which death).

On the last day of February, when we published on our website some pro-vaccination views from doctors and ministers, we first received notes like “Thank you WORLD for putting this up. The Christian community needs to be reminded of the sensibility of vaccines.” Then came an onslaught of anti-vaccination views, some thoughtful, others strident.

I suspect we’ll get more mail about our article “Shot selection” in this issue. On a sunny afternoon I had our mid-career journalism students venture into the streets of new age Austin to ask young parents what they thought about vaccination. Our students found 80 percent saying yes to shots for their own children. So far we’re hearing far more negativity from Christian commenters, but I wonder if that’s representative.

When government becomes Government, setting itself up in place of God, its grab for more authority diminishes proper authority.

Whatever side you’re on in this debate, rest assured that we at WORLD will continue to explore this vital issue. You can go to our website and see a new article I’ve written with links to (and quotations from) my online reading. You can also read 19 previous WORLD stories on various aspects of vaccination.

In this column I want to bring up three underlying dispositions that affect Christian positions on vaccines: views of science, government, and parental authority. Let’s start with modern science, which Christians largely invented, as Nancy Pearcey showed in The Soul of Science. Our Bible-believing forebears from Isaac Newton on saw how God rules nature with regularity that we can discern, without fear that Neptune stirs up the waves whenever he’s mad.

Christians were strongly pro-science: Cotton Mather 300 years ago pioneered in promoting inoculation. But when scientists overreach by proclaiming, like Carl Sagan, that material existence “is all that is or was or ever will be,” the credibility of science diminishes. Honest laboratory research deserves great respect. Microevolution (changes within kinds) probably occurs. But when scientists anathemize anyone without faith in unproven macroevolution, they diminish respect for science.

Government overreaching across the board has also hurt. Christians largely have been and should be pro-government when the ruler is “the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer” (Romans 13:4). But when government becomes Government, setting itself up in place of God, its grab for more authority diminishes proper authority. When Government substitutes its definition of marriage for God’s, or when it mandates shots for diseases only contracted through sexual contact rather than those communicable by air or touch, it’s overreaching.

Overreaching by scientists and politicians leads some to think the “vaccine debate” in America is largely an excuse for Government to shove aside parents. I suspect such fear led some readers to write comments like, “The children you speak of belong to the parents.” Of course we want parents, not Government, to bring up children—but we don’t own our children, nor does a mother own her unborn child. God gives us our children to love and nurture, and we can benefit from the advice of others as to the risks we should try to minimize.

My wife and I chose to homeschool our children at times and place them in Christian schools at other times: We rightly did not want Government to be our boss. Many of us at some point have had a child tell us, “You’re not the boss of me.” Occasionally that’s my attitude toward God and the wisdom I need. At such times I particularly need to examine myself.

Journalists who bring up difficult subjects follow the adage of commanders such as George Armstrong Custer who said, “Ride to the sound of the guns.” We know what happened to him. Pray for us at WORLD as we explore hard matters with the goal of discerning what God would have us do.

Email molasky@wng.org

Comments

  • AABA
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 12:54 pm

    I was hoping from the title of this article that it would be a discussion about what shots to get when but alas, no such luck. I know that the main debate is between the pro-vax and anti-vax communities, but as a parent I would really like concrete information such as: if I vaccinate what shots are most necessary, and what ages would be best to beginning those specific shots. On the other side: what should a parent who chooses not to vaccinate or can't vaccinate be on the look out for and what steps can they take to best protect the community around them (for example, should an unvaccinated child be kept away from other children for 1 week after certain symptoms or 2 weeks or what?). I feel like so much energy has gotten tied up in the first step of the vaccination debate that we haven't been able to get on with debating the other issues within the larger debate.I'd love to see articles on some of these other issues!

  • W Radigan
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 12:54 pm

    "Pray for us at WORLD as we explore hard matters with the goal of discerning what God would have us do."  Amen!  I need that prayer as well.Let's be cautious though about assuming that all Christians should act in the same way at the same time.  That may very well NOT be the case.   "In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity."I would argue that vaccination is non-essential to the Christian faith.

  • Narissara
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 12:54 pm

    Just because parents speak of "our children," it doesn't necessarily denote possession.  You used the expression yourself, Mr. Olasky.  I doubt that's what you meant, so why assume other parents do?  When parents use the term, they are describing a relationship.  On the other hand, government's use of the term is a claim of ownership.  That's what's at the heart of the outrage over vaccines.  The parent-child relationship is a God-ordained institution which He intended for His glory.  Whether they recognize it or not, parents' responsibility is to raise their children in a fear and knowledge of the Lord.  In the process, that generally makes that them good citizens.  Government's role is to secure our rights as citizens, including the right of parents to do just what God intended, not to take over and manage institutions it didn't create. 

  • Magistra
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 12:54 pm

    Thank you for being faithful to bring us all sides of the topic. We need to be informed so we can make informed decisions. 

  • Florida Cracker's picture
    Florida Cracker
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 12:54 pm

    Babies and children can get hepatitis B in the following ways:At birth from their infected motherBeing bitten by an infected personBy touching open cuts or sores of an infected personThrough sharing toothbrushes or other personal items used by an infected personFrom food that was chewed (for a baby) by an infected person

  • Florida Cracker's picture
    Florida Cracker
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 12:54 pm

    In the 2013-14 flu season there were 130 pediatric deaths in 30 states. 

  • rom828
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 12:54 pm

    I know for us, the biggest issue regarding vaccines, is being forced to do things that are not necessary for our child. Vaccines certainly have their place, but to tell every parent that their infant needs vaccines for STDs (hepatitis B) is ridiculous. It is also ridiculous for me to give my child a vaccine for diseases that are primarily contracted from coming in contact with other children's bodily fluids and waste. My child may or may not be exposed to that. While vaccines are not yet government mandated (except in government schools), it is only a matter of time. Even now, it is hard to find a doctor who will see a child that is not up to date on their government recommended vaccinations. In few other (maybe no other) medical fields, will a doctor refuse to see  patient, based upon a list of procedures that all children in the nation are expected to follow. They may tell individuals that certain procedures must be preceded by other procedures, but refusing to even see a patient until he has completed a government recommended list is ridiculous. And yes, this is the norm among pediatricians.  Again, vaccines are wonderful scientific inventions, and they have their place. We are in a much better state as a people, without epidemics of polio, rabies, etc. But, the second thing I take issue with is the fact that so many of the vaccines are for diseases that just aren't dangerous in a modern society. Many of them do not spread in a sanitation filled society like they did centuries ago. And even some of those that do spread regardless of sanitation, are no more dangerous than the flu or cold.In summary, vaccines are not the problem. Vaccines are scientific tools that can be used or abused by individuals and those in power. Parents do not own their children, but parents do know their children better than anyone, and they know what they are exposed to better than anyone. Parents should be allowed to make these decisions for their children, and not forced by pediatricians into decisions they are uncomfortable with.