I don’t like being told what to do. Most people are similar. Freedom is an important biblical value. Even when humans fell into sin, we retained our freedom of choice (see Genesis 2–3). As visionary Adventist pioneer Ellen White comments, “To deprive man of the freedom of choice would be to rob him of his prerogative as an intelligent being, and make him mere automation. It is not God’s purpose to coerce the will. Man was created a free moral agent” (Patriarchs and Prophets, pp. 331, 332).
In the current COVID-19 pandemic, there are many who are feeling pressured by government mandates to be vaccinated to retain their employment. There have been “riots” and protests regarding lockdowns as well. People believe their civil liberties are being violated. I don’t like the lockdowns or mandates for vaccination, but I do understand the rationale for them.
The role of government is to care for the collective good of people. The Bible also recognizes this (see Romans 13:1–7). In democracies, all laws are voted by the representatives of the people. Such governments must act for the good of all people in the context of many conflicting values. The conflicting values in the COVID-19 pandemic are those of life and freedom. It is never easy to govern, but when there is a health crisis and conflicting values, it is more challenging. How do governments maintain the health of all and give liberty to all? The liberty of freedom has been restricted to uphold the value of life.
The Adventist health message is based on the value of life. The health resources, prescribed habits, and medical institutions that research and offer interventions are an extension of the healing ministry of Jesus. He came to give life —that is, a quality life now and ultimately the best quality of life forever (see John 10:10).
There are some among us who see the government coercion of vaccinations as a precursor to the mark of the beast and a religious liberty issue. The COVID-19 pandemic is a health issue that does have implications on freedoms, the economy, governance, law, and many other things.
From the research the governments have available, they believe the best way out of the pandemic—and to give people their usual freedoms—is to have most of the population vaccinated. They are restricting the freedoms of all people until this happens. However, those who are not vaccinated have fewer freedoms and feel they are being victimized.
When the mark of the beast does come, governments and religious bodies will cooperate to mandate religious laws contrary to the Ten Commandments (see Revelation 13). Those who choose to follow the Ten commandments will lose their freedom to buy and sell. This is a religious liberty issue and the followers of God will feel victimized, too.
There are parallels between the mark of the beast and the current situation. The government has limited the freedoms of those who will not be vaccinated in this pandemic. Before Jesus returns, governments and religious bodies will limit the freedoms of those who will not worship the beast or its image. However governing authorities limiting freedoms are the only parallels.
Most of us have thought through these issues and the important values of life and freedom. When doing this, I was challenged with these questions: Am I using the freedoms I have to enhance life now? Am I engaging thoughtfully and from a biblical perspective on other important community issues? Should I be standing up more for women against any coerced sexual experience or other forms of violence? Should I value life so much that I speak up about abortion and euthanasia? Should I be showing more care for the quality of life for those who feel marginalized—including refugees, LGBTQI+, and those who live with some form of disability?
It seems to me that as an Adventist leader, I should be advocating for all freedoms to life, whether they reflect my personal need or not. Otherwise, my voice is one of pure selfishness. Oh, that I could reflect Jesus’ values of life and freedom more in a troubled world!