I stood in line at Macy’s in October and made conversation with a woman purchasing a simple outfit to accommodate her COVID figure. I could relate. She was going to a funeral. I could relate. And while COVID death has encroached upon our lives, I could not relate to the travesty with which she was dealing.
As we talked about her co-worker who died, I remembered The New York Times story—now buried in the trending news. Just two weeks earlier, Jeffrey Burnham of Cumberland, Maryland shot and killed a family friend, stole her car and drove to Ellicott City, Maryland, about 130 miles away. There he found his own brother and sister-in-law in their own home where he shot them fatally.
What prompted such a violent rampage? According to court filings, Burnham apparently thought his brother and sister plotted with the government to poison people with the COVID-19 vaccine. Obviously, Burnham’s mental health is in question. However, given the misinformation, volatility of discourse, and religious undertones with which many have approached this discussion, I’m not sure he’s the only one struggling out here. One county health department tried to allay fears in a COVID factsheet with this important bullet point:
So, for the record, I don’t believe COVID shots contain or implicate the Mark of the Beast either. The Mark of the Beast—a serious topic for another time—revolves around the issue of worship, and identifies those whose allegiance is to the enemies of God, particularly Satan. This is not that. The response to this very deadly pandemic—historic in scale and impact—hinges on a threat to health. It is not, as some argue, a right to worship. Yet, if one believes that, one has the right to their beliefs. How do we balance and live together? I turned to our colleagues Orlan Johnson, Director of Religious Liberty and Public Affairs for the Adventist church in North America, and Jennifer Woods, Associate Director of Religious Liberty and Public Affairs for the Adventist church worldwide.
Recognize that our freedoms are fragile, says Johnson.
None of us are as free as we might think. And under the right set of circumstances, we will be willing to live with less freedom if it is what we agree is for the greater good. But all of us will have very different belief systems and see the greater good through our own eyes.
Be Different, but not divided.
It is critical to allow my faith to shape my politics, and not allow my politics to shape my faith. That is the only way that I can be Christlike to those who I may disagree with vehemently on a host of religious, political and general issues. Division is an effective tool used by the devil to gain a foothold in our lives and separate us from the love of God. It is the oldest trick of the devil and we must pray without ceasing to avoid that trap.
Don’t waste this pain.
It is my belief that everything about our time on this earth should be a “dry run” in preparing us to one day see Jesus in glory. I believe that the Bible is truly “Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth.”
Your personal beliefs are just that.
One can have a religious, conscientious conviction that may even, at times, be subject to different interpretations or positions from one’s church or denomination. . . . Thankfully, the law does not grant you a religious exemption based on establishing a denominational credibility, but simply one’s personal beliefs.
Realize, there are limits, says Woods.
We should keep in mind that these rights are not without limits. The government can limit religious freedom when there is a compelling interest at stake, such as the protection of the common good or to limit an individual’s right to harm others. Also, as long as businesses comply with Title VII and state discrimination laws, employers also have the ability to place limitations on the religious freedoms of their employees.
Regardless, every person has a right to speak up when their conscience does not allow the performance of certain duties. If you need assistance in this area, please reach out to your local public affairs and religious liberty department. Our commitment is to continue to defend the religious liberty of all people, including those with whom we may disagree.
That’s a far cry from hurting someone with whom you disagree.
This article is part of our 2021 November/December Issue