Peoria Church grants religious exemptions to COVID-19 vaccine
- Northwoods declined an interview for this story.
- Other churches have spoken about the subject of religious exemptions.
PEORIA – At least one local church offers formal support for members seeking religious exemption from COVID-19 vaccine mandates.
Northwoods Community Church in Far North Peoria has placed a form on its website for members and participants requesting an affirmation statement regarding objections to mandatory vaccinations.
Religious exemptions have become a topic of discussion after President Joe Biden presented a plan to require COVID-19 vaccines for as many as 100 million American workers, as a condition of employment. In some cases, weekly tests for the virus would be accepted in place of vaccination.
“Vaccination warrants are a violation” of constitutional rights
In a statement posted on its website and during a recent Sunday service, officials at Northwoods said they supported worshipers who believed they should be vaccinated. The officials also said they support those whose faith leads them to believe they should not be.
“We believe that the Constitution of the United States grants a person the freedom and the right to follow his or her religious beliefs and convictions and that the limitation of this right is a direct attack on family fabric, liberty, education, l ‘jobs and, ultimately, our country,’ part of the church’s statement read.
“We believe that the recent vaccination warrants constitute a violation of these rights.”
The form asks respondents for basic identification, information about their attendance at church, the name of their employer, and any accommodations the employer might offer regarding the vaccine objection. He also asks what specific beliefs led the Respondent to request an exemption.
Church officials could contact respondents with additional questions, the statement said.
Northwoods Senior Pastor Mike Bell referred to the statement in declining to answer the Journal Star’s questions about church policy. Other churches were willing to discuss the subject of religious exemptions.
Following:These hundreds of employers in the Peoria area will fall under the Biden vaccine mandate
“Submission is part of being a Christian”
Richwoods Christian Church, a non-denominational congregation in North Peoria, does not accept vaccine exemptions, according to its senior pastor.
“We know COVID is a real thing. Vaccines are a real thing. We know the data,” Chad Manbeck said recently. “But we are not constrained by the basis of our faith, which is our writing, that this is something that we are supposed to do as a local church.”
Manbeck said several Richwoods members had requested a vaccine exemption. He recognized that these conversations are not easy.
“You can work somewhere else or get the shot,” Manbeck said of the options. “And God, we believe, will work through them all.
“Part of being a Christian is submission. We follow things that we may or may not agree with, as long as they don’t challenge what God tells us to do.”
A religious exemption “was not part of our thinking”
Reverend Chip Winter of the Redeemer Lutheran Church in northwest Peoria said he had not heard from worshipers about the vaccine waivers. When asked what he might say to someone who asked for one, he started answering twice but stopped each time.
“I guess I haven’t really thought about it,” Winter said. “I guess I don’t understand a religious exemption. It wasn’t part of our thinking.
“I would like to speak with them. I would like to counsel with them. I would probably seek advice from our church body, regarding our practice in this area.”
Winter, who also teaches at Concordia Lutheran School in Peoria, had COVID-19 about a year ago but was vaccinated in April.
“I felt the need to do it, since I deal with all kinds of people,” he said.
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Winter said he could understand exemptions for abortion opponents who oppose COVID-19 vaccines being tested on fetal cell lines. The lines were developed in labs and vaccines do not contain such material, according to the Associated Press.
The Catholic bishops of Colorado and South Dakota are prepared to consider such exemptions, the AP reported. But according to the Vatican, the danger of the pandemic and the lack of alternative vaccines outweigh its objections to how the drug was developed.
The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are among the religious organizations that do not provide exemptions.
Manbeck said he understands Northwoods’ point of view, as well as that of other churches that may offer religion-based vaccine waivers. He also said he believes in free will and understands why people might or might not want to be vaccinated.
But rather than entering a secular realm that can be controversial and polarizing, Manbeck prefers to emphasize a higher calling.
“We are focusing on things that are more important than a paper mask, which are more important than a vaccine, which are more important than getting emotionally involved in politics,” he said.
“To love God, to love our neighbor, and to help people take a new step in their relationship with God, whatever it is. Our leadership here is focused on our greatest purpose, our greatest mission.”