As a mother, grandmother and Christian Scientist, I appreciated Dr. Jennifer Mullendore’s balanced perspective on the laws regarding vaccination and public health [“Community immunity: Vaccinations prevent disease and build ‘herd immunity,’“Jan. 25, Xpress]. May I offer a word of additional perspective, simply as someone who wants to be a good neighbor and citizen in my community, too?
Concern for public health and safety is something that all responsible people share. I am grateful to live in a country where religious freedom is valued and honest differences can be respected, but I’m also mindful of the obligations we all have to respect the rights of others in return.
On the specific issue of religious exemptions from vaccination, we recognize the serious civic responsibility that these involve and would certainly agree with Dr. Mullendore that people shouldn’t misuse the religious exemption by claiming religious beliefs that they don’t honestly hold.
Historically, public health officials in the U.S. have been broadly supportive of these exemptions when they have not been considered a danger to the wider community. Christian Scientists, in turn, have appreciated this consideration and conscientiously reported suspected communicable disease, striving to cooperate with measures considered necessary by public health officials.
For Christian Scientists, this has been a matter of basic Golden Rule ethics, going back to the church’s founder. As an article by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health — the state where the denomination is headquartered — pointed out in a medical journal some years ago, the accommodation of “religious minorities” on this issue has been based on “mutual” respect for each other’s views:
“In part, this mutual tolerance owes much to the original teaching of [Mary Baker] Eddy, [the church’s founder]. In modern practice, the Church has also drawn a careful distinction between what the individual may be forced to do against his own beliefs and what society may reasonably expect him to do for the general good…” (Massachusetts Department of Public Health, The New England Journal of Medicine, 2/14/1974, 401-2).
Christian Scientists normally rely on prayer for healing. It’s a deeply considered spiritual practice and way of life that has meant a lot to us over the years. So we’ve appreciated the vaccination exemption and sought to use it conscientiously and responsibly when it has been granted. On the other hand, we understand that public health concerns relating to vaccinations have risen in recent years, particularly as exemptions from them have been claimed in larger numbers by those with broader philosophical or medical objections.
At the core of our values is love for God and mankind. Church members are free to make their own choices on all life decisions, in obedience to the law, including whether or not to vaccinate their children. These aren’t decisions imposed by their church, which is why the current religious exemption does not include a pre-signed form. Christian Scientists in North Carolina, as individuals, are in touch with officials each time we request to use the exemption.
Our practice of healing isn’t a dogmatic thing, as I hope this letter conveys. The reason we turn to it ultimately grows from the actual experiences of healing in Christian Scientists’ lives. In an account of her healing of an intestinal infection, published in 2006, a church member then living in Fletcher shared the spirit of this practice in this way: “My trust was in the healing and spiritual regeneration exemplified by Christ Jesus’ ministry — in the illumination of God’s grace to human thought. … I got a more tangible understanding of God as Love, and of Love’s abundant care for all.”
— Cynthia Barnett
Christian Science Committee on Publication, NC