According to Reverend Adriaan Geuze, who serves as a pastor at Fraser Valley, Canada, vaccines are an interference with God’s providential care. He said that his 1,200-strong Reformed Congregation of North America in Chilliwack shares the same view, which is why vaccination rates within the community are very low.
“We leave it in (God’s) hands. If it is in his will that somehow we get a contagious disease, like in this case the measles, there are other ways, of course, to avoid this. If (we get sick), he can also heal us from it,” he said on March 14.
A few weeks ago, health officials confirmed two cases of measles and identified close to 100 suspected cases at a religious school in Chilliwack where there seems to be little to no vaccinations available. On March 13, the Fraser Health Authority suggested that the disease had spread into the general population of Chilliwack and Agassiz and said that it would set up special vaccination clinics in the localities over the following weeks. To date, only one nine-year-old child has been hospitalized after being diagnosed with the disease.
Measles is a potentially fatal viral infection characterized by high fever, rash, runny nose, coughing and tiny spots inside the mouth. According to Tasleem Juma, spokesperson from Fraser Health, a vaccination rate of 95 percent is necessary for the community immunity to work. She also mentioned that in the eastern Fraser region, vaccination rates are only 60 to 70 percent.
Geuze believes that there is no need to make a healthy “God-given” body a little bit sick through vaccination. However, he does not oppose other means of boosting immunity such as healthy living, resting and eating well.
When asked if he advises his congregants not to vaccinate their children, Geuze said, “Of course I openly express my own point of view according to the Bible, absolutely. But it’s not that we force them. It’s through their own conscience that they have to act. They expect that from me, that in a clear way I lay it all before them.”
However, opinions on whether or not to vaccinate are divided within the community. Reverend Abel Pol from Chilliwack’s Canadian Reformed Church said that most of his congregation, if not all, is in favour of vaccinations.
“My 15-month-old son has been vaccinated, and I certainly hope everyone else would vaccinate their children as well,” he said.
According to Pol, those who oppose vaccinations on religious grounds commonly quote the same passage of the Bible - Matthew 9:12: And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, ‘Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ But when he heard it, he said, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick do. Go and learn what this means: I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.
“Jesus was not making a statement regarding vaccinations, but stating a general principle regarding the behaviour of people in order to illustrate a theological point. Such misreading also takes place when other passages are invoked in a similar vein. Someone begins with their personal opinion and then attempts to back it up with scripture, as opposed to letting the plain meaning of scripture speak for itself,” explained Pol.
Pol also said that most people who oppose vaccination on religious grounds do so because they see it as an attempt at evading the providence of God. He believes that it is a false dichotomy to compare to what extent medical knowledge and technology should be used to combat disease and to what extent people should depend on the providence of God.
“It implies that when we avoid exercising control over particular situations (such as the health of our children) we are submitting to the providence of God, as if the two are mutually exclusive. This is a life in which we are called to exercise our moral responsibility while recognizing our ultimate dependence on him as our creator God,” he argued.
Monika Naus, medical director at the BC Centre for Disease Control says measles is the most infectious of all diseases and can be transmitted easily through airborne spread though it can be prevented with the help of vaccines. While children under five are most at risk of serious disease from measles and should obtain the vaccine from a family doctor or public health clinic, older children and adults are advised to get the vaccine through a family doctor or pharmacy.