Podcast Episode: Curtis Chang and David French | Christians and the Vaccine

With the rollout of several different COVID-19 vaccines and the prominence of anti-vaxx groups, gracious conversations between opposing sides are increasingly difficult to initiate. Yet when our family members and friends voice doubts about a vaccine’s safety or effectiveness, these are the exact conversations needed to bridge that divide. Our two guests on today’s episode, Curtis Chang and David French, offer eminently approachable places to start. Two well-known voices in the conservative Christian arena, Curtis and David are passionate about having informed and empathetic discussions around vaccination. Whether you have doubts about the vaccine or are trying to find common ground where you and your family members or friends can broach these difficult topics, this conversation is a great place to start.

I applaud Chang’s and French’s efforts, futile though they probably are. I remember Chang’s counter-culture difficulties at Tufts twenty years ago, and I have read his book on apologetics inspired by the arguments of Aquinas and Augustine. I have read many of French’s columns over the years. I have attended fundamentalist or evangelical churches all my life.

The evangelical spiritual sickness is deeper and older than this conversation implies. To invoke a particularly stark example, why are US evangelicals more likely than the general US population to say that torture (so labeled) is sometimes justified? (Simply search under evangelical Christians and torture to verify.) When you’ve plumbed that question, you may understand the extent of the anti-intellectualism, militarism, paranoia, xenophobia, and nationalistic idolatry that has for so long circulated unchecked in the bloodstream of the American evangelical church.

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As an outsider who is fond of a number of thoughtful Christians and find some Christian theology interesting I have an opinion about why evangelicals are more heavily represented in a number of regrettable trends. But they are not the sole reason for our problems. The general population seems more backward than in other first world countries. Brazil might be our only peer when it comes to mishandling the pandemic.

My suggestion is that there is too great an educational disparity between church leaders and the led. For people to believe fantastical things in simplistic ways sets them up to mishandle information and decisions in other areas as well. Not all theological positions are anti-intellectual. But those held by the masses of the led seem to be far too often. Perhaps religious beliefs which are not well understood are actually dangerous? Hard to say what the solution would be but I get the feeling that many with a more subtle grasp avoid saying things which could challenge someone with more simplistic beliefs, perhaps motivated to keep as many in the tent as possible?

But good luck in addressing these problems. I think this site represents an attempt to raise theological capacity to better accommodate a more thorough grasp of the world.

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And that’s where to be a Christian, is to say, what is necessary is not just what is necessary for me. That my view on rights is not just my own personal rights, but that in the whole biblical model of Jesus is laying down one’s rights on behalf of the others. It is to say that what is necessary is to adopt the posture of a servant. This is fundamental to the gospel.

He paints a picture of believers as doormats who should accept any draconian health measure as long as it’s for the public good, as defined by anyone in a leadership position.

Well, where’s the constitutional—it’s the same constitutional authority as exists, or in fact stronger, than for public decency laws.

Actually, no. And there is a case to be made that public decency laws (at least on the federal level) go against the first amendment. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness do not include the right to force others to change behavior in such a drastic ways as we have seen this past year.

They are not themselves—the cell line themselves are not fetal tissue. They are off descendants, you know, many generations removed and decades removed from the original cell that was cultivated.

They are still living human cells, carrying DNA foreign to anyone into whom it is being injected.

They would have to start from scratch if they were to do that kind of research on a on a new abortion,

And they would learn nothing from the past. Why use aborted tissue? Adult cells won’t do? I doubt that very much, as they keep trying and failing to use fetal stem cells for treatments when adult stem cells have worked wonderfully without the tendency to go rogue and cause cancers in the patients.

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Hi Patrick. My wife teaches both Bachelor’s and Master’s level Bioethics and Medical Law here in the UK. As you can imagine this subject comes rather a lot at the moment.

Firstly, I think it worth pointing out that first there are no human cells in the vaccine. The vaccines are cleaned of all cell-line culture medium manufacturing process.

Secondly, there is no DNA in the vaccine, and certainly not any human DNA. Rather, what some of the vaccines contain is the mRNA for the COVID virus. About mRNA vaccines, the CDC says:

mRNA vaccines contain material from the virus that causes COVID-19 that gives our cells instructions for how to make a harmless protein that is unique to the virus. After our cells make copies of the protein, they destroy the genetic material from the vaccine. Our bodies recognize that the protein should not be there and build T-lymphocytes and B-lymphocytes that will remember how to fight the virus that causes COVID-19 if we are infected in the future. (SOUCE: Understanding How COVID-19 Vaccines Work | CDC

For a good overview of the differences between DNA and RNA, see here:

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I suspect @T_aquaticus can probably answer this one. Anything thoughts, T?

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I didn’t mention cells in vaccines (not just the new ones), just DNA; more specifically DNA fragments. They are too small to clean out completely from vaccines.

Oxford adds and subtracts genes from its antivirus.

Adenovirus - The Oxford Vaccine
Note that genetic engineering is an essential part of the development process. Firstly, vector viruses are stripped of any genes that might harm you and actually cause disease. Genes that cause replication are also removed, so the virus is harmless and cannot replicate.

Then the coronavirus spike protein genes are added — a classic use of recombinant DNA. So yes, the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine does actually mean a genetically engineered virus is injected into your body.
https://allianceforscience.cornell.edu/blog/2020/12/yes-some-covid-vaccines-use-genetic-engineering-get-over-it/

There are a host of stories of pastors losing their jobs during the pandemic because they wanted to cancel services or insist on masks or because they spoke up against QAnon or Trump. Sometimes the motivation is to keep a salary and benefits. The masses control the money in a lot of churches.

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They don’t use aborted tissue, please stop insisting on this misrepresentation. They use a cell line propagated in a lab that was originally derived from an aborted fetus decades ago. The cells involved in making the vaccines have never been part of a human baby. Stem cells are a different issue altogether.

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In addition, even if someone like you shares what you know about linguistics and theology, it doesn’t mean that someone with a less nuanced understanding is going to be at all interested in what you have to say. You see it here regularly. And sometimes people just disagree.

I read the transcript and I heard descendant cell line. Cell line descending from whom? Decades ago? From who? What does that mean?

Tissue that was donated to science after an abortion in the seventies or eighties (several cell lines are in use) was used to extract cells. Those cells were then made to divide in a laboratory and then those cells were made to divide, and then those cells were made to divide, over and over again, for decades creating millions of cells which are used for all kinds of medical research. Some vaccines must be grown inside cells, so labs get a supply of cells from one of the “fetal cell lines” available.

These are not “stem cells” which are cells taken from human embryos, so anything you read about the ethics of stem cell research does not apply here.

The cell line used by Johnson and Johnson were originally extracted from the fetus’ eye. But the cell line has been artificially propagated for millions of generations in a lab. A cell line is not “aborted tissue” which implies harvested baby parts were used to grow the vaccine.

Cell lines were used in different ways by the different companies developing the COVID-19 vaccine. Pfizer and Moderna tested their vaccine using a fetal cell line. Johnson and Johnson grew their vaccine in fetal cells. So some people think their is an ethical difference.

I think benefiting from research done with fetal cell lines is ethically similar to a situation where someone was shot in the head, died, on the operating table, had their family donate their organs, and someone got a heart transplant from the murder victim. The patient who benefits from the donated heart is not complicit in any way in the murder and neither are the medical professionals involved. The guy wasn’t murdered for his heart, it was a separate unfortunate event that is part of the causal chain of events.

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Technicalities. Would you prefer clones of aborted cells? Whether or not these particular cells were the ones pulled out of the dead baby, that is their origin.

No, I would not prefer “clones of aborted cells” because cloning is a specific process, and it wasn’t used to propagate the cell lines. What is so hard about using the accurate term, “fetal cell lines”?

Something sounds fishy there. From Wikipedia:

Immortalised cell lines are an important research tool offering a stable medium for experiments. These are derived either from tumors, which have developed resistance to senescence, or, in a few cases, from stem cells taken from aborted fetuses.

Tumors or stem cells. Not very appealing either way. I wonder if the leftover DNA fragments in vaccines have anything to do with cancer rates today?

The fetal cell lines used to develop COVID-19 vaccines did not come from tumors or embryonic stem cells.

Historical fetal cell lines were derived in the 1960’s and 1970’s from two elective abortions that have been used to create vaccines for diseases such as hepatitis A, rubella, and rabies. Abortions from which fetal cells were obtained were elective and were not done for the purpose of vaccine development.
The fetal cell lines being used to produce some of the potential COVID-19 vaccines are from two sources:
● HEK-293: A kidney cell line that was isolated from a fetus in 1973 (undisclosed origin, from either a spontaneous miscarriage or an elective abortion)
● PER.C6: A retinal cell line that was isolated from an aborted fetus in 1985
https://www.health.nd.gov/sites/www/files/documents/COVID%20Vaccine%20Page/COVID-19_Vaccine_Fetal_Cell_Handout.pdf

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Cell lines have a reality called senescence. After 50-70 replications, they refuse to continue, and they die. They must transform the cell to continue to divide. The transformation is called “immortalization.”

In 1973, Frank Graham (a postdoc in Alex van der Eb’s group in the Netherlands) cultured cells from human embryonic kidneys (HEK) to generate an immortalized cell line by transfecting DNA from adenovirus type 5. By integrating into the genome of the cells, the adenovirus DNA should prevent the arrest of the cell cycle and therefore allow for a continuous propagation of the resulting cell line.

Most places carefully leave out that it takes cancer to keep the cells replicating past their lifetime.

I have zero confidence that you know what you are talking about.

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Sounds like a personal problem to me. Check for yourself if you know how.
You have lost all credibility with me by your attitude toward anything you don’t already believe.

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

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