“But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s food, or with the wine that he drank. Therefore he asked the chief of the eunuchs to allow him not to defile himself. And God gave Daniel favor and compassion in the sight of the chief of the eunuchs …”
When Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he went to his house where he had windows in his upper chamber open toward Jerusalem. He got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously. Then these men came by agreement and found Daniel making petition and plea before his God. Then they came near and said before the king, concerning the injunction, “O king! Did you not sign an injunction, that anyone who makes petition to any god or man within thirty days except to you, O king, shall be cast into the den of lions?” The king answered and said, “The thing stands fast, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which cannot be revoked.”
One of the current and pressing issues is the viability of claiming a religious exemption from taking a Covid vaccine in light of the President’s mandate that companies over 100 employees are required to vaccinate everyone. The challenge is very real for many people. Some have chosen to get the vaccine to keep their jobs and others have quit their jobs because they refuse the vaccine. The question, of course: Is a religious exemption viable in this case? Is it biblical? Is it a good thing or bad thing?
First, we do, in some situations, have a biblical precedent for “religious exemption”. When Daniel and his buddies were taken into captivity by Nebuchadnezzar, they faced a whole new world that would not cater to their religious convictions. In the first scenario Daniel decided not to defile himself with the king’s food so he took action. He did not protest or demonstrate, but he went to his supervisor and made a request. He was trusting that God was still at work and this was his first course of action. Verse two tells us that “God granted Daniel favor and compassion in the sight of his commander.” Daniel could have just “gone to war” and demonstrated, but he appealed to these “ungodly” leaders in which God grants him favor. But the commander is worried about disobeying the king’s orders and putting himself in a compromising situation with the current political mandate; a little like what companies are presently facing. So Daniel proposes an alternative that would test the idea without putting his commander in jeopardy with the ruling political mandate. As you know, it works out great and we are never told if there was a plan B. There is room in these kinds of situations for creative alternatives and many times they work. Notice that this is a circumstantial situation because of a difference in culture; it is not like the second scenario where there is clear political posturing.
In the second scenario, there was no religious exemption. In Daniel 6, the political mandate was a scheme deliberately created by the governing ruling advisors to specifically trap Daniel with his religious convictions: “Then these men said, “We shall not find any ground for complaint against this Daniel unless we find it in connection with the law of his God.”(Daniel 6:5). Notice carefully that Daniel lives with distinction and his character is exemplary as we see it described in Daniel 6:1-3. In other words, Daniel has not been “bucking the system” nor become a rebel in his captivity. He had not been constantly demonstrating against this system but demonstrating outstanding character in spite of the system. The king’s advisors appealed to the king’s ego to make all prayer illegal except to the king alone. In this case, the moment Daniel hears that the king signs the document he continues with his regular practice of prayer, “… as he had been doing previously”. It is important to note that Daniel did not suddenly create new disciplines or habit of prayer that was not already part of his routine. He did not create new habits to spite the edict signed by the king. He simply kept on doing what he had already made as part of his walk with God.
As I understand the viability of religious exemption in our current culture, the best argument for an exemption is that all the vaccines created have been, in some form or another, developed, processed or tested with aborted fetus cells. Those who object to abortion have some grounds for a religious exemption. On the other hand, those who simply protest because they do not want anyone telling them what they have to do, faces the potential conflict of interest if they have ever taken inoculations or vaccines in the past for anything. The same issue is raised about how they have responded to “abortion” in the past. Even then the religious exemption based on moral grounds might lose traction if they had taken inoculations or vaccines in the past just on principle. That being said, if one had received any vaccines in the past that (known or unknown) were produced, develop or tested in the same way as these vaccines, might create a problem of true religious conviction. If we did not object back then on the same basis that we are asking for an exemption now, it might be difficult to claim that I would be “defiling oneself” if I take the vaccine now.
At the risk of sounding too “wishy-washy,” religious exemptions are not universal. It really comes down to how you are living out your personal convictions as to the viability of claiming a religious exemption or not. Some situations do present a basis to appeal for exemption; other situations do not lend themselves to exemptions. In many ways we simply choose to live with the consequence of our choices. I am not certain it will be the same for every person, and every situation is different. Daniel did both depending on the circumstances and the surrounding cultural and political climate.
In His grace,