Don’t be coerced, be convinced! Kuyper on vaccines and passports
An email [the Ezekiel petition] has been doing the rounds of in-boxes recently that uses a quote from Abraham Kuyper – a Theologian and Politician of the 19th and early 20th Century – to urge people to sign a document and oppose (among other things) the introduction of Vaccination Passports.
The quote, drawn from one of two paragraphs that address vaccination in Kuyper’s work Our Program: A Christian Political Manifesto, first published in 1879 is as follows:
“Vaccination certificates will therefore have to go… The form of tyranny hidden in these vaccination certificates is just as real a threat to the nation’s spiritual resources as a smallpox epidemic itself.”
I say among other things, because the email makes no bones about the opposition of its authors to any continuation of other public health measures, especially restrictions such as lockdowns, and makes statements that cast doubt on the efficacy and safety of the COVID vaccines when it speaks of those who choose not to, or refuse to be vaccinated.
As I have often found during these COVID times, people will latch on to a part of something – usually one or two verses from the Bible – and use them to show support for their view. Such use lends ‘authority’ to the whole, for other believers who read what they trust – words from Scripture – alongside the words of the wider document. But sadly what is quoted is often only part of the story – and reading a little wider one finds things that throw a different light onto the interpretation and use made of the initial quote.
I wondered if the same might be the case with this Ezekiel Declaration email. So I dug out a digital copy of Kuyper.
The first thing I noticed was that the chapter titled Public Hygiene from which the quote is taken, begins by listing a portion of his policy position on the role of government. This says in part “…at the manifestation of contagious diseases (excepting the right of everyone to make decisions about his own body and his own conscience) it is to take all such measures as may be conducive to and are indispensable for preventing anyone without their will or consent from being dangerously exposed to the viruses of these diseases.”
So far so good. It appears Kuyper here is clear that he doesn’t support imposing vaccination on others. And so it is fair to say he would likely say the same now regarding COVID. But just as clearly, it seems he would argue that the role and responsibility of government is to take “all“ measures, even if they only “may be conducive” to keep people from being dangerously exposed to the dangers of COVID. I think Kuyper would be more supportive of the broad public health measures about which the original email is more equivocal.
I then did a bit more reading. In another, three volume work of Kuyper’s, Common Grace: God’s Gifts For A Fallen World first published in 1902, I found two chapters in the second volume titled The Vaccination against Cowpox (1) and (2) that dealt specifically with vaccination, in particular the ‘cowpox’ vaccine to guard against smallpox.
While again in these chapters Kuyper is quite adamant that people should not be forced into taking a vaccine if they do not wish to have it. He comes down pretty strongly in favour of having the vaccine! To the point of saying that someone who could take a step to prevent their child from contracting an illness that led to their death – and did not – was “guilty of breaking the sixth commandment” (To save you looking that up – Thou Shalt Not Kill)
He quite plainly states that “… it also is true that if our child does not yet have the pox, but it may strike, we are therefore obligated to take all precautionary measures available to us in order to ensure that our child will not be infected by the pox” – note: in the context of writing about vaccination – he says we are “obligated to take all precautionary measures…”
He even throws in some comments pertinent to lockdowns and other public health measures imposed broadly for the protection of others: “…measures intended to protect third parties against dangers that affect them through our omission may and must be taken by the authorities”.
As I read Kuyper’s arguments for myself it seems clear that Kuyper would indeed say that we shouldn’t IMPOSE “vaccination certificates” – but it seems just as clear that he would say we shouldn’t NEED them.
Contrary to what I expected to find, based on how the Ezekiel Declaration email used their quote to oppose vaccination passports, I didn’t find Kuyper spending pages on why government ought not coerce people to be vaccinated. I did find that he convincingly argues why we should feel compelled to be!
And that ought not be foreign to us as Christians – after all – we don’t sing a hymn with the line ‘Love so coercing…demands my soul my life my all.. ” But for me, it is not anything coming from government that compels me to comply with public health measures or to be vaccinated. It is Love. Amazing. So divine. Its demand on me is not an unwelcome imposition from without, but a rising within of the same grace and compassion shown to me. As the hymn reveals, it is when looking upon the wondrous cross, where we see what personal sacrifice for the good of others looks like, in the One that the very name Christian means we pledge to imitate. If I can take steps to benefit others, to care for them, to bring them life, then I will.
But back to Kuyper. At the time, he is writing about a vaccination that was made with a live virus – and some objected on the basis that they would be introducing a ‘poison’ into their bodies.
The COVID vaccines available to us do not contain COVID virus particles. They use techniques to cause our own immune system to prepare to encounter the COVID-19 virus, by creating antibodies ‘armed’ to recognise the distinctive spike protein that COVID-19 has – and send the immune system into battle against it.
However, even though the vaccines we have for COVID are different, Kuyper even argues that people should not use the argument that it introduces a poison into the human body to refuse vaccination.
“That would be true if the poisonous substances worked destructively always and under all conditions. But since this is not the case, and the destructive working often comes about only if we introduce the poison in large quantities and under certain conditions… an entirely different rule follows from this: poisons must not be administered to a human being in such a quantity and in such a way that they harm a person, but only in such a measure and in such a way that they benefit him. When it comes to vaccination, this raises the question of whether the inoculation administers the pox vaccine in such a way that it destroys or in such a way that it saves. If the former is the case, then it is not allowed, if the latter then it is allowed.”
In fact – he even addresses the issue that the vaccine may cause some deaths, by saying “…such testing may indeed cost human lives, but this is not a fact that as such invalidates the rule. No one will dispute that it is God’s will that we sail the seas, and yet how many human lives did it cost before we learned how to sail the seas? Building houses is a duty, yet how many human lives did it cost… It therefore would seem clear that God’s order for humankind in learning… does not preclude loss of human life'”
Kuyper again (and unlike the Ezekiel Declaration document) speaks forcefully of the obligation upon us to take what steps we can – and remember, he is writing in these two chapters specifically about vaccination – “if the results of the research are favourable, then not only does nothing stand in the way of its application from the standpoint of faith, but it would be foolhardy – even immoral – not to apply a means that God has shown us for protection of the life of our child.”
Yes, he then restates his view that he is not advocating coercion. But he then goes on to make an appeal – that to me seems either lacking entirely or at best is obscured in much that is being circulated to Christians today – motivated by care and duty that one should choose to be vaccinated.
“we wish to lay it before the conscience…We ask what the sixth commandment imposes on them as a duty for protecting the life of their child. And we would very much like to spare parents who still hesitate from the bitter regret that, sadly, we have seen in so many instances when they finally decide at their child’s grave that they will let their remaining children be inoculated.”
That last statement is extremely poignant, even difficult to read – with the many video clips and accounts of people regretting having earlier been hesitant about being vaccinated or who had refused to do so, pleading from their own hospital beds, even from their own death beds or by the beds of loved ones who have passed.
You may want it to be your choice, you may like Kuyper argue that no one should be coerced – but it is – as Kuyper himself stated – “foolhardy – even immoral” not to take advantage of the means before us to protect those around us.
A Church of Christ Pastor that wants to stay out of the social media war
1 September 2021
Kuyper quotes sourced from
Our Program: A Christian Political Manifesto Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology
Copyright 2015 Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty Lexham Press, 1313 Commercial St., Bellingham, WA 98225 LexhamPress.com
Originally published as Ons Program. Tweede druk (2nd ed.) © Amsterdam: J. H. Kruyt, 1880. First published unabridged in 1879.
Common Grace: God’s Gifts for a Fallen World Volume 2: The Doctrinal Section
Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology
Copyright 2019 Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty Lexham Press, 1313 Commercial St., Bellingham, WA 98225 LexhamPress.com
Originally published as De Gemeene Gratie . Tweede Deel. Het Leerstellig Gedeelte. © Boekhandel voorheen Höveker & Wormser, 1902.
 I know there are some who want to question whether the COVID vaccines are effective. But questioning without taking notice of the quality and quantity of answers available is to be disingenuous. The verdict is in. The results of the research is favourable. Kuyper’s injunction applies with its full force.