The IMB and COVID Vaccine Mandates

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UPDATE: 6/8/22, 1pm – We have received word that the IMB has updated their COVID vaccine policy just now, and the COVID vaccine will no longer be required for any personnel where it is not a requirement for country access. We praise God for this, as this needed to happen for convention unity. On to Anaheim!

Read the full announcement here: https://www.imb.org/2022/06/08/imb-revises-covid-19-vaccine-policy-in-response-to-improved-global-access/


Original post, 6/8/22, 8am – 

We need to talk about the International Mission Board COVID vaccine mandate as we head into Anaheim.

This is an issue that threatens our convention’s long-term cooperation in ways many of our leaders do not understand.

When the vaccine mandate first came down, I have never, in my 12 years of pastoral ministry, heard such a negative reaction from my people about a convention policy. I agreed with them wholeheartedly. At a member’s meeting last fall we communicated that we believe the policy of the IMB is wrong and unjust. However, we told our people the situation on the ground was quickly evolving with a lot of bad information in public, and in time the picture should become clearer. We were not going to sever over a decade of fruitful partnership over one disagreement, as major as it may be. The situation would need to be resolved eventually. Last fall, wisdom said to give it more time.

More time has passed, and we now know much more than we did last September.

There are many IMB personnel serving in areas of the world where a COVID vaccine, while convenient, is not required to do the gospel work they have been doing for years.

I speak for many in the SBC who would be deeply disturbed to learn that any IMB personnel are being taken off the mission field because they will not take a COVID vaccine, specifically in circumstances where doing so is not required by any government agency. Yet it is my understanding that this very thing is in the process of happening.

I’m so sick of a lack of transparency in SBC life. I’m so sick of important things being swept under the rug, out of sight from the SBC rank and file.

What is happening with our missionaries and COVID vaccine mandates?

Last September, the IMB implemented a mandate that many of us in the SBC disagreed with. Indeed, other SBC entities went to court to battle COVID vaccine mandates. Why have we not received updated communication about this issue, given how much the situation surrounding COVID vaccines has changed in the last 8 months?

I know IMB President Paul Chitwood to be an honorable man, and I know I could have spoken to him directly about these issues. But we don’t need any more private conversations in the SBC. The questions I raised above are shared by many, and that there has been no public conversation is the point. I’m sending this publicly because we as a convention need public answers and a public conversation. It is *our* International Mission Board, after all.

Since last September, we have learned the efficacy of COVID vaccines is terrible when it comes to transmission and infection. This is not even to discuss potential side effects. The vaccines are at best proving to be therapeutics and this should transfer risk analysis to each individual. In other words, the arguments that were used last September to justify vaccine mandates are no longer valid.

If the IMB vaccine mandate is going to remain in place, we need new communication to explain why given the current circumstances. Any well-informed reader will know there are many other valid concerns regarding the COVID vaccines, but what I have stated here is enough to prompt the discussion.

My position is shared by many intelligent, well-informed men and women in our convention. It is not unreasonable.

Furthermore, this is a future issue coming for many of us in the SBC. If one of our church members desires to serve overseas in a place that does not require the COVID vaccine, what am I to do if they are blocked by IMB policy on this matter? This is unacceptable, and the grace period for dealing with this eventuality is running out. How could we stay cooperating with a missions agency that unjustly rejects our own applicants?

It would be an honor for any of my four children to be called to the mission field. As the situation currently stands, none of them will ever take the COVID vaccine. What then becomes of our cooperation? Many Southern Baptists share this sentiment.

I have heard it suggested the true reason for blanket mandates is the complications of international travel. While there may be no requirement in any one country, the COVID vaccine may be needed in other adjacent countries and in future situations that we cannot anticipate. While I understand this reasoning, it is not a good reason to put our cooperation at risk. I strongly believe that a majority of the SBC would much rather deal with the complications that would come from not having a blanket mandate, than continue with the division and risk to our future cooperation that we are currently facing.

In addition, international travel is not even the only vaccine issue at the International Mission Board. It is my understanding that there are still state-side requirements in place for some IMB employees who work with training overseas personel. It is my understanding that those who work even in janitorial or childcare roles at the training facilities are still under a COVD vaccine mandate. I would love for this to be corrected if untrue. If this is true, unequivocally this is an injustice that must stop, and apologies must be given.

Let me be blunt now. Much of the messaging that came from the IMB in September appeared to be from the same mindset as those evangelical leaders who peddled the lies of the now disgraced Francis Collins. We need an update.

Many countries across the world are loosening COVID vaccine requirements at this time. We must try to work with missionaries who do not wish to take the COVID vaccine when and where at all possible. This must be our policy going forward. There must not be a blanket mandate.

I’ve heard it lamented that it is a shame the COVID vaccine issue has become a political issue. However, that is the reality we have to deal with. There is no “pure” side of this that is medical and not political.

Those who did not allow dissent and silenced alternative viewpoints made this a political issue.

Those who chose to mandate experimental and unnecessary medicine made this a political issue.

Those who ignored the clear science regarding natural immunity made this a political issue.

Those who chose risk-aversion over doing the right thing with integrity made this a political issue.

Those who uncritically have believed the lies of a corrupted medical and media elite made this a political issue.

I have known a lot of missionaries. They are not risk-averse people. I want to say this as clearly as I can. It is evil to tell someone that injecting an experimental and unnecessary vaccine should be done in the course of “risking” for the sake of the gospel. That is spiritual manipulation, and we should condemn it unequivocally.

The key difference here is between necessary and unnecessary risk. Necessary risks for the gospel are Godly and to be praised. Unnecessary risks can often be foolish and must be left up to individual conscience.

In the last 9 months, I have signed and written over 40 letters of religious exemption for those who do not wish to take the COVID vaccine. I have been proud to do so. How can we treat our IMB missionaries with any less respect?

We must talk about this as a convention. We must not sweep this under the rug. This is a discussion that we must have headed into Anaheim.

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