Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Love in a Time of H1N1

-Polls show a majority of Americans are concerned about the H1N1 virus (swine flu), but also about the safety and efficacy of the swine flu vaccine. Is it ethical to say no to this or any vaccine? Are there valid religious reasons to accept or decline a vaccine? Will you get a swine flu shot? Will your children?

Love in a Time of H1N1

God calls Christians to be engaged with the world, to do God’s work with our hands. For this reason Christians have a valid religious reason to accept the H1N1 virus. In particular, those who are called to work and care for those most vulnerable to the flu must seek the vaccine on religious grounds.

For those who fulfill their vocational callings by working with the sick, elderly, and the young (those most susceptible to the H1N1 flu) there are only two realistic options: vaccination or quarantine. For the sake of those most vulnerable to the flu, their caretakers must be vaccinated or removed from their positions of care. With these two options, Christians are called to be vaccinated and to engage in their work of care and healing.

It is this same call to care and healing which marked the identity of the meager Christian movement in the 2nd and 3rd century. As the Antonine and Cyprian plagues ravaged Rome, killing up to 2,000 people a day, most people of means fled the city to avoid the deadly effects of the disease. Those who stayed within the city sought quarantine and shelter from the sick.

But in these times many Christians sought out the sick and dying. In the face of epidemic, they sought to bring comfort and healing to those facing disease and death. One of the results of this radical offering of love and care was that Christians gained a level of immunity from close contact with the disease and survived the plagues in greater numbers than those who sought quarantine. But more importantly, the Roman world was greatly impressed by the Christian’s witness of love in action. It is this fulfillment of the call to do God’s work with our hands that played an important role in the development of the Christian movement.

In our times, people of faith are called to seek that same immunity, this time through vaccination, so that we might do God’s work of healing and comfort with our hands. A faith that calls for quarantine, that calls for disengagement from the world, until the time when all danger has passed, is a faith that has little bearing on the realities of our world. Rather, Christians are called to engage this world, to offer actions of love and care. Vaccination empowers God’s people to do God’s work in the world.


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