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Paul Chitwood Addresses Missionary Vaccine Requirement: We Would Have ‘Lost Access to More Than 2 Billion Lost Souls’

Paul Chitwood
Paul Chitwood addressing messengers a the 2023 SBC Annual Meeting. Photo credit: Jesse T. Jackson

During the SBC annual meeting in New Orleans, Paul Chitwood, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) International Mission Board (IMB), was asked by an SBC messenger if he’d like to apologize for mandating SBC missionaries get the COVID-19 vaccine.

The SBC messenger also asked if the IMB would cover medical costs for any missionaries who may incur long-term effects, alluding to heart issues, such as myocarditis.

Chitwood responded by explaining that missionaries long ago boarded ships with caskets because “it was a safe assumption that their time on the field would be short lived” due to the fact that they would be introduced to diseases to which their immune systems were not prepared to respond as soon as they stepped foot onto the mission field.

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In fact, he continued, “your very first Southern Baptist missionary, appointed to China [at] the [first] annual meeting of this convention in 1845, boarded the ship in 1846, headed for China. Within a year, his funeral took place, as he died from a disease he was exposed to.”

The IMB president said the denomination is blessed today by the miracles of modern medicine, which allows the SBC to send missionaries into the world “who are prepared to die” if they are exposed to diseases their bodies cannot not fight off, “but who typically don’t have to because they receive a long list of vaccinations before they go.”

That list of vaccinations is “simply a requirement of serving with the IMB,” Chitwood said.

Acknowledging the COVID-19 pandemic was “incredibly unique,” Chitwood shared that the IMB’s decision regarding whether it would expose missionaries to a vaccine or a deadly virus wasn’t the organization’s biggest challenge.

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The biggest challenge was that missionaries who said they’d “give our lives to share Christ among the nations” had to receive the vaccine if the country in which they served mandated it. The IMB was facing a situation in which they would have lost access to more than 2 billion lost people if missionaries didn’t receive the COVID-19 vaccine.