The International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention announced that its missionaries must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and strongly recommends that their children who are at least 12 years old be vaccinated as well.
The IMB posted a statement online earlier this month noting that missionaries planning to attend the Field Personnel Orientation before undertaking longterm missions must be vaccinated, while missionaries attending the Stateside Conference during a return to the United States must also be vaccinated. Both conferences are mandatory events.
Additionally, IMB is requiring staff who have to interact with field personnel at the conferences to be vaccinated.
“Volunteers serving with IMB field teams must follow the recommendations and requirements of the government of the hosting country for the volunteer trip,” stated the IMB.
“IMB does, however, recommend those who are not required to be vaccinated by the host country to consider being vaccinated, given the risks associated with travel. The recommendation for volunteers is designed to protect not only the volunteer, but also the field personnel, national partners and ongoing field ministries.”
The missions body went on to explain that, in the past, the IMB has required staff and missionaries to be vaccinated against other diseases, going at least as far back as the 1980s.
“We must make every wise decision, even when a decision is exceptionally difficult, that maintains our team members’ access to the growing number of unreached peoples and places around the world where vaccines are required for entry,” explained IMB President Paul Chitwood, in remarks included in the statement.
“We also want to do all we can to undergird our team members’ spiritual and physical health to maximize our effectiveness as we serve Southern Baptists in our global gospel endeavors.”
In recent months, multiple religious bodies and prominent American pastors have called on their members to get vaccinated against COVID-19, rejecting the idea of religious exemptions.
Southern Baptist Pastor Robert Jeffress of the Texas-based megachurch First Baptist Dallas, for example, recently told The Associated Press that there were no valid religious objections to the vaccine.
“There is no credible religious argument against the vaccines,” Jeffress told the AP, adding that “Christians who are troubled by the use of a fetal cell line for the testing of the vaccines would also have to abstain from the use of Tylenol, Pepto Bismol, Ibuprofen, and other products that used the same cell line if they are sincere in their objection.”
Others, however, have taken issue with the COVID-19 vaccine, including the use of aborted fetal cells as part of its research and development, and have sought to be exempted.
In August, for example, Pastor Greg Fairrington of Destiny Christian Church in Rocklin, California, announced that his church would provide letters of exemption to anyone opposed to the vaccine.
"America is a free country. We have freedom of religion, and if a person has a moral objection to taking the vaccine, we want to come alongside of them," stated Fairrington at the time.