Category Archives: Topics

Rachel Held Evans Has Died

I am out of town right now, but pretty stunned in reading this. Rachel Held Evans, the popular millennial, progressive Christian blogger and author, who announced in 2014 that she was leaving evangelicalism behind, exhausted by “wearing out [her] voice in calling for an end to evangelicalism’s culture wars,” did not recover from a medically induced coma. She died today, at age 37, leaving behind her husband, Dan, and two young children.


About Vaccine Hesitancy: Having a Conversation

 

Several months ago, I blogged on Veracity about vaccines, encouraging Christians to consider that one of the best ways that we can express the love of Christ to our non-believing neighbor is by encouraging the use of vaccines, particularly with children. Though I received no comments directly to that post, I have since received some pushback offline. So, I feel obligated to address it, particularly in view of the current measles outbreak that is ravaging certain Orthodox Jewish communities, that have been particularly hesistant to vaccination.

Within the past twenty years, there has been an increase of concern about the safety and effectiveness of vaccines, despite the fact that we had nearly wiped out measles in the United States, in the early part of the first decade of the 21st century. Many doctors say that the recent measles outbreaks in America can be directly correlated to the decreased practice of vaccination across the country, and many Christians are involved in this movement.  Yes, there is misinformation in the vaccination debate, but there is also a lot of unnecessary vitriol, from both sides. Here are some points for discussion, that I hope everyone (maybe?? maybe?? maybe??) can adopt:

  • Parents who are hesitant about vaccination love and care for their kids. Take a trip scanning through social media, and you will quickly find rude and insulting comments lodged at parents who do not support vaccination. We need to find ways of encouraging conversation, instead of just shutting down conversation with un-Christlike comments. Parents need compassion, not condemnation.
  • Not everyone can take vaccines. Some people are unable to take vaccines, due to known medical risks. Folks should consult their doctor about those risks, before going ahead with vaccines. There is nothing wrong with asking questions. The good news is that across the broader population, those who are unable to take vaccines without adverse side-effects can be protected by herd immunity. Unfortunately, as the rates of vaccination continues to decline, the effectiveness of herd immunity continues to decline as well, leaving those who are unable to take vaccines at risk of exposure to deadly diseases.
  • Some vaccines have been developed from cell lines that were derived from aborted fetuses. As Young Earth Creationist scientist, Jay Wile, observes, most Christians are rightly horrified by abortion, and so might reject vaccination on moral grounds. Yet some, like popular Christian talk show host of Wallbuilders, David Barton, draw from this the conclusion that parts of dead babies are hiding in the vaccines, that your doctor wants you to take. This is misleading information. Cell lines derived from aborted fetuses are not the same as dead baby body parts, or “debris,” themselves. Nevertheless, how is a Christian who cares about the unborn to respond, regarding this connection between some vaccines and abortion? Following the lead set by the Roman Catholic Church here, is a wise move to make. Christians should lobby for the medical and pharmaceutical professions to find other ways of obtaining cell lines, without crossing ethical boundaries that violates Pro-Life concerns. Nevertheless, until those vaccines become available, across the board, the Roman Catholic Church teaches that the benefits of using such suspect vaccines outweighs such ethical concerns.
  • Time is limited, and not everyone can be an expert. That is why we have doctors. As is the case with you, my time is limited. I can not be an expert on everything. That is why it is important to find a doctor, whom you can trust, to help guide you through navigating cost/benefit analysis for taking vaccines.
  • In some very limited cases, vaccines can produce negative outcomes. I have known friends who have experienced such negative reactions, particularly to flu vaccines. Nothing in life is risk free. This may sound insensitive to someone who has a child who was injured by vaccines, but it need not be. We should encourage those in the medical profession to better help those who have concerns, or those in this small category who might have experienced some injury in using vaccines. In at least a few cases, some are probably receiving vaccines, when they should not, because they are not being properly screened. Every child, every person is important to God. Nevertheless, this point needs to be balanced by the next point.
  • The overwhelming scientific consensus in medicine today indicates that the benefit of taking vaccines, to protect against deadly diseases, far exceeds the risks involved in actually taking the vaccine.

I know that some Veracity readers might be confused, or challenge me on some of these points (particularly the last one). But it is important to consider that when you search for information on the Internet, whether it be using Google, YouTube, or Facebook, these databases are designed to narrow your search field to include results, that by default, will skew what you are looking for. For example, if you do an Internet-based search for “vaccine injury,” the results of your search will be skewed to point you towards websites that favor anti-vaccine movement information, as opposed to pro-vaccine information, in line with the current scientific consensus. Likewise, if you search for “vaccine injury” on YouTube, you will be directed to anti-vaccine videos more than pro-vaccine videos, even though Google may force a CDC-sponsored video to pop up at the top of your search, in an effort to counter-balance the anti-vaccine info that otherwise pops up. And the more you watch anti-vaccine videos on YouTube, the more it will skew your searching for vaccine information in the future, to be biased towards giving you other anti-vaccine videos to watch, instead of pro-vaccine videos.

That is just how Internet-based social media works, folks. We live in an era of “fake news,” largely due to the proliferation of disinformation spread by social media. As someone working in the field of information technology for 34 years, I know how this works. It should be no surprise that the current rise of the interest in  the anti-vaccine movement coincides with the rise in popularity of social media websites, like Facebook, etc.

My grandfather served as a medical doctor missionary in South Africa, in the 1920s, vaccinating hundreds of Africans against the spread of tuberculosis. My grandfather’s actions to get vaccines out to people saved countless lives. But in letters I have from my grandmother from those years, while her  husband doctor was running off into the African hinterlands, with his bag of medicines, my grandfather’s greatest challenge was in trying to calm the fears of those, who would benefit the most from those living-saving vaccines.

Apparently, some things never change.

Vaccines were not 100% safe back then, with positively zero side effects, just as they are not absolutely, without any margin of error, 100% safe today. But their benefits surely outweigh the risks, by a significant order in magnitude. In fact, the order of magnitude is so great that the risks associated with taking vaccines is almost negligible, compared to the benefits. Serious negative reactions to vaccines are barely a fraction of a percentage point. You and your children are at a higher risk of contracting a deadly disease, that a vaccine can prevent, than having a negative, life-threatening result from taking a vaccine. I know of older family members, who have since died in recent years, who would tell me tales of barely surviving measles, mumps, and polio infections, some 70 to 80 years ago. These type of diseases are thankfully rare today, but the rise of anti-vaccine concerns threatens to reverse those gains that doctors like my grandfather fought so hard for.

Nevertheless, my own personal view is that vaccines should be received voluntarily, and not by mandatory government force (but stay home please, if there is an outbreak locally). People should do the right thing, because… well…. it is the right thing to do. I am also concerned when information content providers unduly restrict information about the anti-vaccine movement. Government sponsored dictates and censorship of ideas only serve to reinforce the perception of conspiracy. Instead, we need more information, specifically correct information, not less.

I am not a doctor, and I have never played one on television. I am not omniscient. So, if folks really want to challenge on the data, just make sure it is backed up by truly peer-reviewed science, and not some questionable source that passes itself off as “peer review.” Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidential backing in order to overturn a current scientific consensus.

It surely is possible that vaccines are not as completely safe as they have been made out to be. I could be quite wrong about my support for vaccines. But surely, peer reviewed science will sort that out. That is how science works.

So I simply ask that the challenger to the current consensus be willing to consider the other side of the argument, about the effectiveness of vaccines, and how God has given us a wonderful tool to do much good in the world, to limit some of the deadly effects of natural evil, exacerbated by the Fall. Consider giving vaccines a chance, if not to protect yourself, but also to help to protect others, and express the love of Jesus in a concrete manner. Can we have a conversation, please?

I am personally encouraged that Christian young people, like high school senior, Ethan Lindenberger, who grew up in a Christian family that opposed vaccines, was willing to do the research himself, to figure out if vaccines were good or bad, and weigh the evidence himself, and conclude that he should get vaccinated. This young man plans on pursuing a career in either Christian ministry or politics. The first video below is Ethan’s testimony before Congress.

The video with Ethan is followed after that with an interview by anti-vaccine leader Del Bigtree, with Ethan’s mother and older brother. What disturbed me the most about this video are several peculiar expectations Ethan’s mother originally had about vaccines:

  • (1) Ethan’s mother was told, as she put it, that she would need to get the chicken pox vaccine initially, and repeated again once every ten years after that. Current CDC recommendations are that vaccine recipients should get the vaccine only twice, “the first dose at 12 through 15 months old and a second dose at 4 through 6 years old.” For adults, the vaccine should be given twice, “4 to 8 weeks apart.” Perhaps the recommendations several years ago were different, but I highly doubt it. Did she not clearly understand her doctor, or was her doctor not properly informed, or worse, incompetent?
  • (2) Ethan’s mother expected that the vaccine need be only applied once, and that once a vaccine is given, it will be a “forever thing.”  But numerous vaccines require an additional treatment, for the fullest effectiveness. Yearly vaccines, like for the flu, should be taken every year, because of the changing nature of the flu. Again, did she not clearly understand her doctor, or was her doctor not properly informed, or worse, incompetent?
  • (3) Ethan’s mother expected that vaccines were always 100% safe, with no potential side effects ever. But as noted above, nothing in life is 100% risk free. Driving a car is risky. Stepping outside during a thunderstorm puts you at risk of getting hit by lightning. But does this keep people from driving cars, or being fearful of springtime and summertime, when thunderstorms are more prevalent? Where did Ethan’s mother get this expectation from?

But to reiterate, it is apparent that Ethan’s mother really loves her son, and only wants the best for him. If this story moves you, you might want to consider praying for this family.

After that is another video, which shows several pro-vaccine people in dialogue with several anti-vaccine people. After that is the last video, by the well-known “Dr. Mike,” critiquing the pro/anti-vaccine discussion video. Is this a good way of having the conversation?

 

 


Pray for Rachel Held Evans

Rachel Held Evans is a progressive Christian blogger, and popular author. Though I do not share the theological trajectory she has pursued, I was grieved to hear that this relatively young mother of two, has been in a medically induced coma, for the past week, due to complications from the flu, an infection, and allergic reactions to antibiotics. Difficult times. Whether you know of her or not, please pray for her and her family.


Notre Dame Cathedral Spire Collapse

What a way to start off Holy Week….

As many already know, on April 15, 2019, the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris, France caught fire, resulting in the collapse of its roof and signature spire. Mostly completed in 1260, the Notre Dame Cathedral has been an icon of medieval architecture, known throughout the world, for centuries. To lose this structure is a catastrophe, not just for the citizens of France, but the Roman Catholic Church in particular. I wish I had seen it in person. I grieve with my Roman Catholic friends. Hug your Roman Catholic neighbor today.

What will be interesting is to see what type of kooky conspiracy theories get dreamed up, and how many of those ideas will come from otherwise earnest Christians.

————————————

UPDATE 7pm:

Absolutely heartbreaking.


An Interdenominational Church Asks: What Are the Core Doctrines of the Faith?

It is kind of hard to know what it means to celebrate our unity in the midst of our diversity, when we do not even know what that diversity is.”

— Troy Knapp, philosopher, poet, Michigan Tech fan, and fellow connoisseur of Mexican fajitas

The 19th post in a multipart series.

I am part of what might be called an evangelical interdenominational church. What I really appreciate about it is that there is a core set of fundamental beliefs (eight, to be exact), that guide the life and practice of the community. In a more denominational church setting, you will find certain doctrines or beliefs that are elevated in such a way, that it becomes difficult for other believers to fully subscribe to those beliefs, without going, “And, so, why is this such a big deal here? Can we not just focus on the essentials of the faith?”

The problem with being an evangelical interdenominational church is that it is not always that easy to figure out what a core doctrine is, versus a non-core doctrine. My Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox friends do not have this problem. It is all a “package deal,” my friends across the Tiber or across the Bosphorus might say.

In the meantime, we Protestants have to wrestle with how much our interpretation of the Bible bears on determining what an essential matter is, versus a “disputable matter.” I have been a Protestant evangelical long enough to realize that what might be an essential matter for one Christian, might not be an essential matter for another Christian. Some like and value confessional creeds, to help guide the faith of the church membership. Others believe creeds to be too divisive, and that all you need is the Bible. Therefore, you do not need a creed! Without a magisterium authority to settle matters, it is pretty difficult to know exactly where to draw the line. This is why there are so many thousands of Protestant denominations to begin with!

So, while I may cringe at some of the things that my Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox friends have to swallow somehow, they come back to me, looking around at all of the GAZILLION Protestant denominations we have, and they ask, “So, tell me, Clarke. How is that whole ‘sola scriptura’ thing working out for ya?

I just crawl back into my little hole and avoid giving an answer.

As a result, some think of an interdenominational church as simply a “pie-in-the-sky” wish dream. I do not think so, but I can see why there are those who disagree. It is just that such churches are really hard to find. But as my friend Troy says, a lot of times you may not even be aware of what the differences are that exist between believers.

In one of our foundational documents, in our church, we have the following statement: “Those other elements which have caused confusion and division in the past within the Church of Jesus Christ shall not be permitted to destroy the unity of this body. Accordingly, we urge that attitudes of Christian love and tolerance be expressed toward those within the Body of Christ holding different points of view.” But according to my friend Troy, many of us are simply not aware that there exists other believers in Jesus, who hold to “different points of view,” much less do we know how to love those people, despite those differences.

For three Sunday afternoons, my church held a series of teachings on the “Nature of the Chapel,” (the name of the church is the Williamsburg Community Chapel). The first week, led by our lead pastor, Travis Simone, and our Connect team leader, Hunter Rue, offers some teaching on the difference between biblical authority and biblical interpretation, a theme that shows up quite often here on the Veracity blog. The second week, led two other pastors, Rich Sylvester and Claude Marshall, focus on trying to figure out the difference between what is a core issue and what is a non-core issue in the church, using the issue of the charismatic gifts as a case study. The third week, led by Travis Simone again, looks at the issue of complementarianism versus egalitarianism, with respect to women in leadership in the local church.

It should be no mystery to realize that the question of having women as elders/pastor is the most contentious of these issues, particularly in view of the tremendous pressure being exerted on the church by the surrounding culture, regarding any and all matters pertaining to gender and sexuality, within the past few years. For an extended discussion, I would encourage the reader to go through the blog series I have been writing on the topic, that starts here.

The benefit of these sessions is that they demonstrate that there are some very real differences in biblical interpretation, held by members of our Christian community. Sadly, as with just about every evangelical church in America that I know, most people in our particular local church are unaware that such strongly held views even exist. Are the core values of this church core values for you? Or are there issues that are core values for you, that do not reflect the eight core values of this church? How do you live as a faithful follower of Christ, in your church, when everyone does not share the exact same core values as you do? How do you determine a core value, versus a “disputable matter” (Romans 14:1)?

After each presentation, a live Q&A session processes some of the content generated by the presentation, with another Q&A session recorded with just our pastors, the following week. I think all of our pastors did a fantastic job in their presentations. In the notes below, I offer some personal observations, that are mine and mine alone, that do not necessarily reflect the viewpoints of our church leadership. Enjoy!

  • First Video (General Session: Week One) 1:12:00 mark:  Guess who asked this question, about the timing of the Rapture, and the nature of the millennium?  Yours truly!! Your ever curious Veracity blogger!!!!
  • Second Video (Q&A: Week One) 44:50 mark: A question was asked about how decisions get made at our church. The response given was that we have an elder board, plus a leadership team, made up of pastors, where the lead pastor serves on both the elder board and the pastoral leadership team. When asked about the job description of elders, it is partially described as setting the “long term strategic direction” of the church (46:00). I address this perspective in the Veracity blog post series on the topic related to gender and church office.
  • Third Video (General Session: Week Two) 1:06:25 mark: To follow up on the previous point, this discussion of how the church handles matters of church discipline and protecting the church against false teaching is related to the function of elders, including pastors. Yes, to a certain degree, all believers should be on guard against false teaching and unrepentant public sin, in the church. But ultimately those responsible for stepping up, to do the most difficult things, in my view, as expressed by Cliff Brigham, are the elders (1:08:46).
  • Third Video (General Session: Week Two) 51:40 mark: Backing up a bit, after Rich Sylvestor’s excellent talk on the “Postures of Polemics,” perhaps my favorite part of the sessions, only to be slightly rivaled by Hunter Rue’s presentation, the previous week, Claude Marshall speaks here about the cessationist vs. charismatic controversy. Claude is right that this issue was more divisive 30+ years ago, but the issue is still ever present, as the Charismatic Movement continues to grow across the global world, as the fastest growing segment of the church, at an ever expanding rate. But to be rather frank, most folks in our church are completely unfamiliar with the Charismatic Movement, as is the case with the majority of American evangelicals.
  • Fifth Video (General Session: Week Three) 6:45 mark: Pastor Travis goes into the most treacherous territory of explaining four views of women in ministry, based on a book, Women in Ministry: Four Views, that I wrote about in a previous blog post. He did a fantastic job, in my view.  At about 54:00 mark, Travis goes into the heart of the egalitarian view, to end up with exegesis of Galatians 3:28, which is often regarded as the egalitarian “manifesto” verse. I need to think about Galatians 3:28 a bit more, but as I see it now, there are problems with both the typical egalitarian and complementarian readings of Galatians 3:28. But to get a fuller grasp of the difficulty, I would suggest that the Veracity look back at my most recent blog post on Andy Stanley.
  • Sixth Video (Q&A Session: Week Three) 50:00 mark: Pastor Rich relates a story of someone in his small group from a Salvation Army background. I will save my response for the next and final blog post in this series.

%d bloggers like this: