"So just when do we conform to, and when do we oppose, civil requirements? What should we render to Caesar—or in the words of Paul, when should “every soul be subject to the governing authorities” ()? When does an oppositional stance toward government requirements needlessly open ourselves up to premature persecution, and when is failure to comply not only morally defensible but also our God-given calling?"

August 26, 2021

Commentary: Holding conscience and community together

Perhaps we should have seen it coming. Long before he had become a household name, Dr. Anthony Fauci was involved in a far less publicized campaign of...

Perhaps we should have seen it coming. Long before he had become a household name, Dr. Anthony Fauci was involved in a far less publicized campaign of “usurping freedoms” and that “in the public interest.” The year was 2015. An unidentified woman from India had arrived in the United States. After visiting relatives in Illinois, Tennessee, and Missouri, she was apprehended by the Public Health system. She was then incarcerated at the National Institute of Health’s hospital facilities. There was no trial and no alleged crime. Her only mistake? She was infected with XDR-TB, extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis.

The fate of this woman and others like her? They “are usually kept in the hospital for weeks or even months, until sputum tests no longer find the bacteria, indicating that the disease is not contagious anymore” Fauci was quoted as saying.

Why all the fuss? Couldn’t the authorities simply have educated this woman about the dangers of her disease and asked her to stay quarantined at home? Wouldn’t it have been better to have taught her about the importance of taking the necessary months of anti-tuberculosis medications and then trust that she could decide what was in her own best health interest? After all, what gives a country (or any municipality) the right to restrict the freedoms of its citizens, or even its international visitors, due to health concerns? Was this not an erosion of freedom?

Judging from the absence of public debate in 2015, most Americans either saw no problem with those practices or, more likely, were totally unaware of the infringement of “freedoms” exercised upon XDR-TB-infected patients. To be clear, I also saw nothing objectionable in our public health system’s general approach to these individuals.

In contrast, in the 1980s, few US adults were unaware of the public health battle that was heating up against the tobacco industry. Data was accumulating that “secondhand smoking” was dangerous. “36 states had some form of smoking restriction in place by 1981” and smokers were decrying the usurpation of their freedoms.

As a physician and public health professional who trained in that era, I was happy to see that, with seemingly one voice, Seventh-day Adventist public health workers did not side with those fearing government restriction on personal freedoms (to smoke, in this case), but rather aligned with the growing civil movement to restrict “the freedoms” of those who science was showing endangered the health of those around them, not to mention themselves. After all, we had a noble tradition in our church. Under inspiration, Ellen White had virtually underscored one appropriate realm of civil government: restricting the so-called freedoms of those whose actions were harming the health of society.

In Sister White’s day one of the great public health struggles centered on temperance. She made it very clear that Seventh-day Adventists were not to defend the personal freedoms of alcohol sellers or consumers. For example, she wrote: “those who by their votes sanction [allow or defend the freedoms of] the liquor traffic will be held accountable for the wickedness that is done by those who are under the influence of strong drink” (Temperance, p. 255).

These selected vignettes speak to me: I’m misguided if I try to make a case that government restrictions on “personal freedoms” are categorically inappropriate, immoral, or contrary to the law of God. Public health laws are not intrinsically evil; they are not categorically paving the way toward the Mark of the Beast or any other-end time scenario. This is not to say that public health could not be leveraged by Satan in any of his end-time diabolic schemes. It is simply recognizing that I should not be so fired up by “religious liberty” rhetoric that I misrepresent the cause of God and find virtue in opposing reasonable public health guidelines.

But that’s the problem isn’t it? What really is reasonable today? In our politically charged world who can determine, for example, whether mask wearing and COVID vaccinations are truly in the interests of public health? When I watch videos of dueling experts, who can I trust? Should I have more confidence in a graduate of Harvard or Oxford than one from Andrews or Loma Linda? Do a large number of peer-reviewed publications in the scientific literature trump an equally prolific author in the Adventist press? Then what about those with seemingly equivalent credentials, is it not right to side with the one who aligns most with my own biases?

In the circles where I move, I’ve heard a lot of inspirational language that seems to make resistance toward public health laws a virtue. I’ve heard the example of Paul and John evoked, “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).  The noble stand of Daniel and his three friends has been brought to the fore. If those stories resonate with me, might I be more likely to align with those who seem to take issue with prevailing public health guidelines? But does that automatically mean such resistance is appropriate?

Strangely it seems, I’ve heard few, if any, quote the words of Jesus in His succinct reply dealing with religious freedom and the role of government: “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s”  (Matt. 22:21, KJV) That response, given some 2,000 years ago, was articulated when Christ’s enemies thought they had finally found a way to derail His mission. I would suggest that the historical context is relevant, as it seems Satan is currently seeking to use divisions regarding the appropriate role of government to derail God’s mission for His remnant church.

So just when do we conform to, and when do we oppose, civil requirements? What should we render to Caesar—or in the words of Paul, when should “every soul be subject to the governing authorities” (Rom. 13:1 ESV)? When does an oppositional stance toward government requirements needlessly open ourselves up to premature persecution, and when is failure to comply not only morally defensible but also our God-given calling?


In Romans 12, Paul may have provided at least a partial answer in his prelude to one of his lists of spiritual gifts: “For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith” (verse 3). Ellen White built upon this same truth when she condemned mistaken ideas of independence or “freedom of conscience” that bring us into conflict with the spiritually-gifted leaders of experience in our church:


“True independence never disdains to ask advice of the experienced, and it treats the counsel of others with respect... That personal independence which leaves one to trust to his own judgment, to be self-willed, and to despise the counsel of his brethren, is not what is needed at this time...

“When we go to the Lord and earnestly plead for wisdom; when we truly long for His guidance in all things, not wishing our own way, but earnestly desiring to walk in His way, then we are glad to advise with those of experience, those who desire to see us do good work for the Master. After we have earnestly sought the Lord for light, often our duty is made plain to us as we counsel with others. When we feel sure that we know the right way, and will listen to nothing unless it agrees with our ideas, we are in no condition to be shown the true path, and are in danger of making mistakes.” – Pacific Union Recorder, December 5, 1901.


Indeed, God has placed men and women of experience within His remnant church who have spiritual gifts that bear on current divisive issues. These gifts include medical arts, jurisprudence/legal ministry, and Biblical research/teaching. However, on the surface, this observation seems to offer little help, as it seems there are equally gifted individuals taking very different positions on issues involving COVID-19.


Consider this: Which of the following groups of “experienced counsellors” would you expect to give the most unbiased insights into the issues at hand: the newly formed “Board-Certified Adventist Doctors for Universal COVID Vaccination” or the equally recently convened “SDA Attorneys Against Vaccine Mandates”? Of course, there are no groups with such names. But the point should be obvious: neither group should be expected to give an unbiased perspective on the issues at hand. Why? They have no track record of group process prior to addressing (and rallying around a specific position on) the currently controverted issues. This is not to question the qualifications or the sincerity of the individuals involved. However, if we want a platform for unbiased guidance, it seems we should look to individuals whom the church has deemed to have the requisite spiritual gifts and have been working together, solving church problems prior to the issues at hand.


As far as the matters at hand, the reality appears to be this: The great body of experienced, dedicated Seventh-day Adventist health professionals and religious liberty leaders have aligned on giving consistent counsel on natural remedies, mask-wearing, vaccinations, etc. as they relate to COVID-19. This counsel can be seen emanating from denominational sources like the North American Division Health Department, the General Conference Health Department, the Biblical Research Institute, and our various Public Affairs and Religious Liberty departments. However, it can also be seen in dedicated lay organizations, like the Adventist Medical Evangelism Network (amensda.org).


No, we are not a hierarchical church, and none of these groups make any claims of infallibility. However, to set aside the counsel of broadly representative groups of gifted, experienced Seventh-day Adventists who have been collaborating, often for many years, in favor of divergent minority opinions (even if they unite in their opposition), seems to undermine the purpose for which God gave gifts to His church, “for the common good (1 Cor. 12:7 ESV).


There may be well be a need for church leadership to better demonstrate that they are engaging with those of experience in our ranks who have taken positions that differ from their general recommendations. However, in the meantime, can we re-learn a lesson from the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15? “The entire body of Christians was not called to vote upon the question. The ‘apostles and elders,’ men of influence and judgment, framed and issued the decree, which was thereupon generally accepted by the Christian churches.” Acts of the Apostle – p. 196


I don’t see a problem with my personally differing with certain positions taken by those in church leadership. I have stood in that place before and may well again. However, by God’s grace, I want to be careful that I don’t not find myself now, or in the future, in the place of those who are publicly opposing God’s work through His organized and spiritually-gifted church, “Not all, however, were pleased with the [Jerusalem Council’s] decision; there was a faction of ambitious and self-confident brethren who disagreed with it. These men assumed to engage in the work on their own responsibility. They indulged in much murmuring and faultfinding, proposing new plans and seeking to pull down the work of the men whom God had ordained to teach the gospel message. From the first the church has had such obstacles to meet and ever will have till the close of time.” – {Acts of the Apostle, 196.2}


As we pray for those who we have delegated to have leadership roles, may the Lord keep me, and us, from such a fate.


Dr. David DeRose is a physician with specialties in both Internal Medicine and Preventive Medicine. He also has a master’s degree in Public Health (MPH) with an emphasis in Health Promotion and Health Education. In addition to his conventional training, DeRose has three decades of experience with lifestyle medicine and other natural therapies. Dr. DeRose also holds a Masters in Pastoral Ministry degree from Andrews University and serves as pastor of the Fort Wayne First Seventh-day Adventist Church in Indiana.