The God of Christianity, Judaism and Islam has always cared about the health of the community. Love your neighbor and help them stay healthy!
My 22 year old patient refused a flu shot during her yearly physical: “I don’t do shots,” she said. I let that one pass; as a primary care physician I need to choose my battles carefully, but I remembered that she is the mother of a 2 year old child. “Are you getting your son immunized?” I asked. “Oh no” she said, “It is against our religion.” “Really? What religion do you belong to?” I replied. “My husband and I are —“ she said, naming one of the three major religions practiced by followers of the God of Abraham and Sarah (Christianity, Judaism, and Islam). “Well,” I replied, treading carefully again, “I don’t know what you have heard in your house of worship, but I happen to know for a fact that your religion does NOT forbid vaccinations. Please don’t use your religion as an excuse to not make the difficult decisions of parenting. Your son is depending upon you to make the right decisions for his health, and I recommend that you make sure that he is immunized, not only to protect him, but to protect your community as well.”
I am a practicing primary care physician and a practicing Episcopal priest, and there is no conflict whatsoever between my faith and my scientific training concerning immunizations: both of these traditions encourage vaccinations. And as a woman of faith and science I get angry when I hear people using religion as an excuse to justify bad decisions made on the basis of fear, ignorance, or selfishness. I worship a God who cares about my health and the health of my community, a God who has always cared about the health of the community; you only have to turn to the Bible to find proof of this.
The Bible is a remarkable document. In it you will find stories, poetry, wisdom and prophesy, but you will also find laws. Most of the laws have to do with how God expects us to interact with one another and with God, but others, the dietary and purity laws that modern Christians largely ignore, were actually early attempts to establish public health practices. From the very beginning of our relationship with God, thousands of years before the birth of Jesus, God has expected his followers to adhere to rules that are meant to safeguard the health of the community. The greatest commandment is to love God, but the second greatest commandment is to love our neighbors as ourselves (Mark 12:28-31). In response to that commandment we are expected to do certain things: follow the laws, pay our taxes, vote, and protect the health of our vulnerable neighbors by vaccinating our children and ourselves.
Last year, with the passage of Legislative Document 798, our Legislature made the wise decision to no longer allow parents to claim religious or philosophical beliefs as a reason to refuse vaccinations for their children. None of the major faith traditions forbid immunizations; all of them ask us to love our neighbors as ourselves.
Doctors and people of faith agree on this as well: a publicly funded system of universal healthcare is good for the community and the morally right thing to do. Love your neighbor and help them stay healthy!
The Reverend Doctor Suzanne Roberts is a physician and Episcopal prist. She is a former member of the Maine AllCare board. The above letter appeared in the Portland Press Herald on February 27, 2020.