I hesitate to say anything about this because it’s so polarizing and, to be honest, I don’t want to give advice on something I realize I could be wrong about. But people keep sending me articles and posts from other Christians who are adamant that Christians can’t receive the COVID-19 vaccines because they were developed using fetal tissue from an aborted child. I don’t think it’s quite that simple.
Let’s start with what IS simple. These are some facts as I see them:
- Abortion is wrong.
- Therefore aborting children in order to obtain cells used to benefit other people is wrong.
But that’s not what’s been done. The cells used to develop the COVID-19 vaccines were the result of many generations of replicated cells, with the original parent cell having been taken from an aborted child many decades ago. And the abortion was not done in order to provide scientists with these cells. The cells were harvested after the abortion was performed for entirely unrelated reasons.
Now, the fact that the cells are many generations removed from the aborted child does not, in and of itself, justify the taking of vaccines developed from those cells. Distance and time don’t automatically cleanse ethical problems.
But here’s the bottom line question: is it always wrong to benefit from an evil done to someone else?
And before you say yes, consider two biblical test-cases:
- The crucifixion of Jesus was an evil done to him, yet all Christians benefit from this evil done to him. Our salvation depends on it. Of course, one might argue that Jesus’ death was voluntary and this changes things. But consider:
- Joseph was thrown into a hole by his brothers and then sold into slavery. This was an evil done to him and it was in no way voluntary. And yet, the Jewish people survived a famine because of this. As Joseph so interestingly put it: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Gen 50:20). One might argue that God’s intention to redeem the brothers’ evil act changes things, but I would contend that neither the brothers nor Joseph knew about God’s intention at the time the evil was done. So this seems like a pretty clear case of many people benefiting from an evil done to someone else. And God seems to have been ok with that.
Both of these examples seem to make a pretty strong case that God does not ALWAYS hold those who benefit from an evil done to someone else accountable for that evil. He seems to be just fine with others receiving good because of harm done to another, at least in some cases.
So, is it always wrong to benefit from an evil done to someone else? The answer, for those of us who take the Bible as our moral compass, seems to be a pretty clear “no.” It’s not always wrong.
Of course it is sometimes going to be wrong. If the good we experience necessitates the evil or in some way propagates it, then it would be wrong to accept the benefit as this is leading to more evil. But I don’t see how taking a vaccine developed from cells that are many generations removed from cells taken from an aborted child fits this descriptions. Developing the vaccine didn’t necessitate an abortion and taking the vaccine doesn’t lead to more abortions.
Now I believe that many people will still have a moral objection to taking a vaccine developed with the use of these fetal cells. And i support that objection and their decision not to take the vaccine because of it. But I think it’s a matter of conscience rather than black-and-white biblical teaching we have to be obedient to. Therefore it’s not ok for Christians to lambast or deride other believers who don’t see it the same way.
The most applicable biblical teaching on this may come from 1 Corinthians 8 where Paul addresses the issue of food sacrificed to idols. In the ancient world, animals sacrificed in pagan religious rituals were one of the major sources of meat. Therefore, buying meat in a market often meant buying meat that had been sacrificed to idols (a clear evil). Given the way the meat was obtained, the conscience of some Christians prevented them from eating that meat. Other Christians didn’t feel such a conviction, apparently reasoning that they hadn’t worshipped a false god in order to get the meat…they had only bought it at the market…and therefore they could consume said meat with a clear conscience. Paul’s instruction to the church essentially said “if you feel you’re dishonoring God by eating the meat, it will be sin for you to eat it…but if you understand that it’s just meat, regardless of how it was obtained, you’re free to eat it…but be careful how you exercise your freedom so that you don’t cause another to stumble.”
The principle seems pretty applicable, doesn’t it? In both the meat-sacrifice-to-idols and the cells-originally-taken-from-abortion situations we have an evil done by one group which leads to a benefit for another group. But again, Paul, under the inspiration of the Spirit, doesn’t condemn those who feel free to experience that benefit.