According to Wikipedia, Richard Albert Mohler Jr. (born 1959) is an American historical theologian, the ninth president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, and host of the podcast “The Briefing” where he daily analyzes the news and events from a “Christian worldview.” He has been described as “one of America’s most influential evangelicals”.
On Wednesday, March 3, 2021 Mohler’s title for his podcast was this: Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 Vaccine Approved by U.S. for Emergency Use: How Should Pro-Life Christians Think about This Newest Vaccine?
After reading through the transcript, it was clear to me that the main thrust of his argument is coming from a very narrow Evangelical worldview.
In his post Mohler asks the following question: Can a Christian, a pro-life Christian committed to the sanctity of human life and to avoiding complicity and evil, take the Johnson & Johnson vaccine?
In a very lengthy argument Mohler tracks the history of vaccines and mentions the usage of cloned cells coming from aborted fetuses. Being adamantly opposed to abortion, Mohler feels compelled to talk about this when commenting on the making of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
He says that although the cells used by Johnson and Johnson are ‘not absolutely direct’ from any aborted fetus, ‘we have to recognize that morally there is an indirect … or a link between the aborted tissues and the evential Johnson & Johnson vacccine.’
Mohler then goes on to elaborately talk about the dangers of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine based upon the principle of proximity. Mohler defines this as how far from the original evil is the product, which is now under consideration?
In this case, the product is a vaccine and the original evil for Mohler is the act of abortion that was conducted decades ago. Mohler states that current vaccines were based upon cell lines dating back to the 1970s, when tissues were used from aborted fetuses.
He goes on to say that one cell line that has become very much interwoven with modern medicine. And we’ll have to talk about that.
Although Mohler does not come right out and explicitly state that this ‘one cell line’ is found in the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, he pretty well infers it.
Mohler relies heavily upon the findings of one institution, the Charlotte Lozier Institute, who put a ‘red diamond’ beside the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in terms of development, production and testing. Without explaining what this means or the significance of the ‘red diamond’, Mohler blatantly asks, ‘now how do Christians think about this?’
Believing that the Charlote Lozier Institute to be the ‘most authoritative research body in this field’, Mohler calls for all ‘Evangelical Christians‘ to give serious thought into what he presents.
Mohler says that Evangelical Christians, operating via ‘Sola Scriptura’ (Scripture only) need to apply the ‘scripture principle’, and be ‘dependent upon biblical teaching and biblical logic’. Right. Who was the voice of authority mentioned earlier?
Furthermore, Mohler says that Evangelical Christians ‘do not have as much room for negotiating or thinking through some of these issues. We don’t have some of the alternatives that other groups might have.’
The ‘other groups’ must be the Roman Catholics, because he does not mention anyone else. I also do not know what he means by what the ‘other alternatives are’ when it comes to our thinking? I guess we are to simply believe his take on it.
But this is where things begin to go really sideways for me. Mohler states that the ‘Christian worldview reminds us that moral actions mean that we are never free from all responsibility, but the Christian worldview also helps us to understand that even though we can be unconsciously complicit in evil, there’s a particular moral responsibility, a particular sin, in being consciously involved in evil.’
‘We would have to avoid any action, taking any drug, undertaking, any medical treatment that would implicate future evil that would lead to the abortion of even a single infant or even the conducting of a single explicitly immoral act in the future.’
For Mohler, consciously doing so would be a ‘far greater sin.’
What are we to make of all of this?
Well for starters, Mohler admitted that there is no direct connection to the use of aborted tissues in the Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine. So what’s the issue?
Also, he seems to speak for Christians, Evangelical Christians, Pro-life Christians, and all Christians with a biblical worldview. Hmmm.
So … what are we to think?
First, nowhere does Mohler quote Scripture or reference a single thing from the Bible. So much for being Sola Scriptura. This is probably because there is no chapter and verse talking about this specific issue. Jesus certainly did not nor could not address every issue that would surface in our contemporary world. Jesus was living in a peasant society east of the Mediterranean in the first century A.D. The Biblical writers also were not concerned about the complexity of particular problems that confront Christians in today’s world. They had Someone else to talk about.
Second, we have to remember that the Kingdom of God is not based on human morality. In other words, God’s Kingdom is based upon His righteousness, not ours.
Jesus taught a lot about the Kingdom of God. There is no greater subject area for Him. Much ink has been spilled throughout the centuries attempting to to define and articulate exactly what the Kingdom is and looks like. I will not attempt to do that here!
However, it is extremely important for us to not attach specific issues of morality with the Kingdom of God. The Evangelical world is often guilty of this. We need to remember that it is not the self-righteous who enter God’s Kingdom, but those who receive it with humble child-like trust (Mark 10:15). In other words, it is not the self-righteous moralist, trusting in their own virtue and their own fidelity to the law, who enters the Kingdom.
Third, to focus on sin issues continues to miss the mark. Jesus had ample awareness into this issue and said that it was due to the “hardness of heart” that Moses permitted divorce (Matt. 19:8; Mark 10:5). In response to questions pertaining to moral law and issues of life, Jesus actually said that love seemed to be the best way (Mark 21:30, Matthew 22:37, Luke 10:27). In other words, Jesus did not play the game of sins and ladders.
Georgia Harkness (1891–1974) was an American Methodist theologian and philosopher. In her book, Christian Ethics, she says that “it would never have occurred to Jesus to talk about the “lesser of two evils,”. For Jesus, ‘sin was the supreme evil which must be eradicated’ (Matt. 5:29-330; 18:8-9; Mark 9:43-48).
For Mohler to suggest that there are ‘greater sins’ seems to contradict what Jesus said.
Here is where I will end.
Harkness believes that taken as a whole, ‘the message of Jesus does not tell us to choose the lesser of two evils.’ However, it does tell us that we are to live with a realistic awareness of the range of these evils, and to choose the greater good. In other words, life should always supersede the law.
For Rabbinal Jews there was a common understanding that life was to always supersede the Law. This is probably why there was no pushback from the Pharisees who were accusing Jesus of violating the law by healing a man on the Sabbath.
Jesus said the following:
“Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” (Mark 3:5)
I love what Mark says next: But they remained silent.
For us today, I think that Jesus models a ‘greater good’ course of action that, in any given circumstance, there can be a full embodiment of faith and love with God at the center in the act of decision. (Harkness)
Harkness again points to the fact that we are constantly living in times when circumstances change, and with them, so do courses of action. However, God does not change, nor should the type of obedient, faith-filled love which Jesus embodied and proclaimed. For Jesus, life always superseded the law.
Knowing this can help us navigate some of the concrete decisions that we need to make today. Like, if given a choice, which vaccine to choose.
For Mohler it is very clear: The Christians operating out of biblical conviction simply have to respond, if the sanctity of every single human life isn’t important, then what is important?
I think that Jesus would agree with Mohler that life is important. But I am not convinced that Mohler’s argument speaks for Jesus.
Here’s the thing. There is no end to issues that deal with morals and ethics. These decisions will continue to plague the conscience of humanity until the appointed time when God will be all-in-all. But to make blatant claims about ‘moral responsibility’ pertaining to every action around the ‘sanctity of human life’ moves things into a Christendom conversation rather than a Kingdom one.
As a follower of Jesus, it gives me great hope to know that one day our world will be filled to the brim with the awareness and knowledge of His glory. Habakkuk says it this way:
For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea. (2:14)
However, until then, we are left to navigate many issues and opinions that Jesus simply did not talk about. Like whether or not to use a vaccination that may have abortion in its backstory.