I was raised and baptized into the Jehovah’s Witness religion. While there are many terrible things that came from such a strict and oppressive religious upbringing, I have to acknowledge that there are also positive influences. There is always a silver lining 😉
When I was a child, Jehovah’s Witnesses did not participate in the Vietnam War. They were conscientious objectors. Some were jailed for failing to join the military, others were allowed to work in non combat roles like medic to avoid prison. As JWs we were taught from a young age that our religious convictions superseded all laws and expectations from outside our religion. I was taught that attending worship services and studying the Bible weekly as required by my ministry school was more important than homework from my public school. I was taught that upholding my religion’s deeply held belief that it was a sin to consume blood was more important than a life saving blood transfusion. In fact we all carried a medical directive on a small card in our wallet letting any emergency personnel know that we did not accept blood- under any circumstances.
While I no longer follow the traditions of the JW religion or believe that studying the Bible is more important than education or that God requires me to sacrifice my life to uphold that blood is sacred – I do appreciate being raised with permission to object to rules and mainstream norms that do not align with my own conscience.
My daughters have a book that we read to them at bedtime. It’s called, Rebel Girls. It tells the biographies of great women who changed the world through their courage and tenacity to do what no one before them had. I think it’s important to question and rebel sometimes. It’s important to re-examine why we are doing things and make sure that we are doing what is right considering all perspectives not just doing what we are told without consciously examining if it’s right. Challenging the status quo.
And sometimes doing what is right comes with repercussions and consequences. Which also should be weighed. The equation may work out that the consequence is too great. Or the belief is too strong no matter the consequence.
Today I am affiliated with three different churches. Three churches very different than the church I was raised in. One is a Unitarian Universalist church where I find alliance with my social justice values, another is a unity church where I sometimes attend services on Maui that is aligned with my spiritual values and the other is the Universal Life Church where I am an ordained minister. Each of these churches practice as part of their religion, inclusivity. These churches support gay marriage, uphold racial justice, two of them view paganism and even atheism as spiritual paths. When inclusivity is a religious tenet a multi denomination universal religion emerges. One that recognizes deeply held beliefs of many different wisdom and cultural backgrounds and philosophies as equally valid and within the sanctity of each individual’s authentic truth. Acknowledging that what is right for one may not be right for another.
I have met individuals who uphold that military service is of the utmost importance in their view and a necessary demonstration of love of country. I have also met persons willing to go to jail because of their deeply held belief that killing and war are wrong for any reason. Both views in an inclusive congregation must be recognized as truth for the individuals who decide to either join or object to military service. If the objector to war can be in community with a military participant each mutually respecting the decisions and motivations of the other while each holding directly opposing views – then a unity and coming together can happen. This is peace on earth. This takes love, open mindedness and deep understanding and acceptance of the other. This is my spiritual practice.
When one belief requires that another’s belief is wrong. Or when one view cannot also recognize the truth in another opposing view we find exclusive thinking. When we can only be in community with those who believe exactly as we do – we have dogma. Exclusive thinking limits who we can be in community with. This is divisive and makes peace on earth a challenge. Unless we can agree to disagree from our separate states, churches, camps.
When I founded Hale O Kauka Healing Garden I defined my business as an Ashram. A place where I live and practice my own inclusive spirituality. And while I hold inclusivity as my highest endeavor I also respect those who still crave and maybe need the strict dogma of an exclusive community. I am inspired by the intention behind the Hindu word Namaste- the soul in me greets the soul in you. All are welcome at my house. You do not have to believe as I do to be welcomed into my home. Belonging to one church or religion is not as popular as it was half a century ago. People either don’t go to church, aren’t religious or have come to a place of accepting their innate spirituality inclusive of multiple religions, maybe multiple congregations, a self defined convergence of beliefs or a general undefined “I’m spiritual”.
So lately there has been a lot of talk about conscientious objection to vaccination. And one of the exemptions for vaccination is religious objection. I am very familiar with the convergence of medical freedom and deeply held religious beliefs. The two have a long interconnected history. My sister, Linda never received the spine surgery that her doctors believed would have given her a better quality of life. Because she wouldn’t receive a blood transfusion. She lived a life of disability and pain. A polio survivor, she required supplemental oxygen her entire life. She had a tracheotomy at age 25 and lived a difficult existence into her 50s before succumbing to crippled lungs and an enlarged heart strained within a narrow rib cage and curved spine compressing her ability to breathe.
Some say the decision to withhold surgery was wrong. But I know my sister and I know her religious beliefs were everything to her. She would not have been in alignment with her own truth if she had received a blood transfusion. I respect that even though the consequences for her and our family were tremendous.
I respect that some individual’s religious beliefs do not support vaccination just as I also respect the people who would vaccinate for the good of their community. Each is valid and each opposing. This past year vaccination has really challenged my core belief and practice of inclusivity. I really see that when we respect each other we can be in community together but when we fear each other we cannot. Making decisions from a place of fear never goes well. When our decisions are based on fear and not conscience then we have a harder time. When we make decisions from our own truth we don’t need to impose our belief like dogma on another.
Arguably 😭, there are consequences to not vaccinating. Just like there were consequences for not going to war when the draft required it of every able bodied male. And there were consequences for my sister refusing a blood transfusion. You may not go to jail but you also may not be able to travel freely. Or attend public school. Or dine in a restaurant. And perhaps you will suffer physical illness and disability too. Perhaps these are small or even great prices to pay for upholding your strongly held religious belief. Whether you are Anthroposophic, new age, Christian Scientist or somewhere in between – know that your religion doesn’t have to be defined by anyone else. I am a minister to the undefined, to those who’s spiritual practice does not have a dogma or one church. As we begin to understand “religion” as multi- denominational with varying and different views that are equally valid within the context of unity, spirituality and with deeply held beliefs. If I can recognize that you hold a deep belief related to your spiritual perspective of vaccination and medical treatment then I can understand your objection is a religious decision and not a political or scientific one. Having been raised as a door knocking JW schooled in overcoming householders objections to our frequent visits to their neighborhood – I assure you that arguing with a person about their religious convictions under the mistaken assumption that it is about politics or science – will get you nowhere. And disrespecting someone’s deeply held religious belief is not inclusive.
While I have chosen to get the latest Covid vaccine, I know that others cannot make the same choice. I know that if they did they would be out of alignment with their own truth. It isn’t right for them. Their faith is on the line. And for some – that is more important than any health benefit or protection the vaccine promises. Like a woman who regrets deeply an abortion – it would be devastating to an individual who holds strong views against the intervention. Even though for others it is absolutely the right thing to do. Religion is no longer one size fits all. It’s deeply personal.
If you are a conscientious objector with deeply held spiritual beliefs about vaccination, contemplate if your decision is from a place of fear or from a strongly held spiritual belief. From love? Would making a different decision undermine your faith in all that is right and good in the universe? Recognize your right to object on the basis of what used to be readily defined as “religion”. To be a conscientious objector one must not just stick to a prior decision like a dogma but rather one must weigh the consequences of the current circumstances and determine if going against the law or violating a strongly held belief is more or less important than the related consequence. I made a different choice about vaccines after re-evaluating previous choices on the topic in light of a new situation – and that’s OK too. Know your truth. Be authentic. Operate from love. Don’t be afraid. Permission to rebel if needed but don’t push your religion on others. Dogma is not required for a rebellion. Loud demonstrations rarely achieve the same outcome as a confident objection. Passive resistance from a place of authentic alignment with your own truth can be very powerful. It’s not war. It’s love. Love yourself. Be authentic. Wherever that leads you.
If you are struggling with anger or fear over the decisions of others – contemplate what the fear is about. If you fear the conscientious objectors, can you bridge the divide by respecting those choices within the Context of religious freedom? Try on radical forgiveness. Repeat after me, I forgive the conscientious objectors who are un-vaccinated because…..(find a silver lining. Anything, fill in the blank). If you fear the vaccinated, can you choose Love instead of fear? Is there really anything to be afraid of? What if you chose gratitude instead? Try on radical gratitude. Repeat after me, I am grateful for those who got vaccinated because ….(find a silver lining, anything, fill in the blank).
When we can understand other perspectives. When we can find silver linings. We can move out of fear and anger. And move into love and gratitude. Peace in our families, on social media and in our communities. Peace on earth.