Measles and the Least of These

Measles and the Least of These May 4, 2019

Image from the CDC

by Cindy Kunsman

I’ve tried to write about this subject many times, and I find myself flooded with a myriad of thoughts. I also fear the loss of friendships because I know that it became a sacred cow that determines whether or not a parent is a worthy and honorable Christian homeschooler. Vox beat me to the punch, and I hope that many parents will read their excellent article about Measles and take it to both heart and mind. I’d like to add a Quiverfull spin to it, and also remind people that all intervention comes with risk. Physicians make decisions based on the benefit of intervention when weighed against the risk that their intervention creates. I do not envy them in this.

I could write many reasons why I choose a rather centrist position on vaccines, but I will limit it to just one that may explain why I don’t hold a black and white view on the matter. Perhaps the most significant factor came through my mother’s church friend who lost two toddlers to encephalitis within hours after each received the MMR vaccine. Her guilt and complicated grief grew exponentially when her second toddler died after she consented to the MMR vaccine, believing that such wicked lightning couldn’t possibly strike twice. There was no doubt in the physician’s mind as to the cause of death for both children, rare though it was. I wish that I’d interviewed that mother when I reached adulthood, but I no longer have the opportunity. I only have the second hand, layperson’s anecdote which means little. I don’t even know if the CDC would have adequately captured data about these deaths which occurred shortly before 1971.

Yet I know this with assurance: when I’ve encouraged friends to vaccinate their daughters who care for children or the elderly in private homes, they respond as if I’ve urged them to offer their children on some fatally evil altar of sacrifice. They saw my pleas as a criticism of one of the most sacred of choices they had made as parents. I was treated as if I’d fallen just short of an insult to the Christian Faith, even though these Evangelical Christians should have no religious issues with vaccinations.

Ideas for Quiverfull Acolytes to Ponder

I offer some Quiverfull directed arguments in the hope that they will help some parents make more informed decisions. Thanks to the Vox article, I need not reinvent or redefine the wheel. Now is not the time for black and white thought or even a centrist attitude toward the new epidemic.

Changing Seasons. The article capitalizes on a very significant point that falls flat when I present it to my friends: the incidence of many childhood diseases has skyrocketed. When you live on the slope of a mountain and never see water pooling around your home, you don’t buy flood insurance. Flooding doesn’t present a tangible threat, so it warrants no real consideration. For several decades, we in the US enjoyed low risk of infection outside of communities like the Amish who suffered small, annual outbreaks of childhood illnesses. Today, we face a very different world.

In one of the letters that the Apostle Paul wrote to his protege, Timothy, he advises being ready to preach “in season and out of season.” Have the seasons not changed from the days when Measles and the like were rarely heard of in the US? Paul’s letter goes on to charge Timothy to be sober in all things, enduring hardship. Our world today faces a new season of hardship, but so many Christians cling to the time when everyone enjoyed low risk of such things. The flood waters now rise, but the floods of Influenza that devastated the US circa 1920 and the fear of polio that my parents and grandparents knew have long since been forgotten. It is easier for many to bury their heads with “likeminded” friends to repeat to themselves that summer has not ended and that the water is not truly rising around them. I honestly don’t understand it.

Not All Viruses Are Created Equal. The other element of the Measles crisis that the Vox article highlights concerns the ease of the spread of that virus. The robust Measles virus hangs around much longer than other viruses, it is transmitted through the air which we all must breathe, the infected person generally spreads the virus to as many as eighteen other people, and children under the age of five are most apt to die from the infection. Many other viruses present lesser threats to life and health, and many are much harder to transmit. Measles now presents a crisis because of it’s staying power and the ease at which it can be transmitted.

Herd Vulnerability. ‘Herd immunity’ became a key factor in nearly eradicating preventable diseases. We know now that like the Amish communities where infections used to be relatively contained, tightly knit communities and subcultures now foster Measles like huge incubators, but all within it become ‘at risk’. Think of a homeschooling co-op where many families with unvaccinated children gather together, but most of them lack the immunity that vaccines would have provided. (It’s almost like college. The moms who make the decisions enjoy immunity just like they benefit from a good education, but their children don’t have the same benefits or opportunities to acquire them.)

Reproductive Consequences. The Quiverfull culture places such high value on birthing, I wonder if anyone ever thought seriously about the threat that many childhood illnesses pose to reproductive health? Grown males under 40 who contract Mumps after puberty face a 40% incidence of testicular inflammation which can cause significant organ atrophy and sterility. Measles can also produce the same condition, though its prevalence is much lower. In women, Mumps can also cause ovarian inflammation.

I’ve also never read or heard anything in Quiverfull circles about the devastating harm that German Measles (Rubella) presents to the unborn if the mother develops the infection during pregnancy. Contact with a person infected with Rubella can also cause miscarriage. The people who pioneered homeschooling developed immunity to Rubella because they endured the infection as children. But what of their children and grandchildren who were not vaccinated? Have they placed them at much higher risk?

Moral Duty. During Jesus’ lifetime, each citizen was required by law to carry the gear of a Roman soldier for one mile if they were asked to do so. The Jews hated it, but Jesus told them to carry their gear for two miles. They were to go out of their way to care for those whom they deemed outsiders if not outright enemies. Jesus told followers to love their enemies and to do good, even to those who treated them poorly. I think of this principle and how it applies to the growing problem of childhood diseases that are now on the rise. Christians must bless and help others, treating others as they would wish to be treated. I don’t know why that virtue does not apply to a Christian’s duty to help their own community – a community that their faith compels to reach with God’s message of love and hope. (is there hope in disregard?) One friend of mine claims that immunizations do not prevent infections while she tells me that her daughter with whooping cough continues to work at the local nursing home, caring for the elderly there. When two residents contracted the infection, instead of realizing that her daughter had transmitted the illness, she saw it all as evidence that vaccines do not work. What???!!! She did not speak to me for two months after that because I suggested that she consider that her daughter served as the vector that transmitted the illness to two very vulnerable people. Didn’t her daughter owe them some duty to protect them from such a thing?

Jesus also said that at the end of all things, He would separate people into two groups. To one, He will say, “Well done, good and faithful, servant. Enter into the joy of the Lord.” To the other group, He lists the many maladies that He suffered alone without them, ranging from thirst to a prison sentence with no comfort. When the people tell Him that they didn’t know of his suffering, He says, “When you’ve done it unto the least of these, you have done it to me.”

If you oppose vaccines, please think about whether you’d ever want to infect Jesus with Measles and why the issue of vaccines overrides your duty “unto the least of these.”

Cindy is a nurse who was raised in Word of Faith, a Second Generation Adult of cultic Christianity. She and her husband dabbled in Calvinism and Theonomy as a foil to Christian anti-intellectualism, and they were exit counseled together when they walked away from a church that embraced Gothard’s teachings. Cindy escaped many Quiverfull pitfalls but became a social pariah for failing to birth a family. She’s been decrying the abuses of the Patriarchy Movement since 2004, and she writes about spiritual abuse at her blog, Under Much Grace. Read more about her here.

Editor’s note: The issues surrounding vaccinations and diseases takes on a more urgent note as we have more preventable illnesses like measles having widespread outbreaks.

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