A Defence of the Signers of the Ezekiel Declaration

“Up till this point, there has been ‘crickets’ from the church but following the publication of the ED suddenly key evangelical conservatives were mobilised – no, not in support, but to undercut this initiative of other Christians.”

I am one of the ordinary Christians who signed The Ezekiel Declaration, an open letter to Prime Minister Scott Morrison expressing concern over digital passports being introduced into the community and potentially into gatherings that could include churches. 

At last, I thought, “It is not just left to concerned non-Christians to speak out.  At last, the church, which traditionally takes a role in being a moral conscience for society, has taken a stand.” 

In secular social media, there have been many asking why the church is silent as injustice after injustice occurs under State of Emergencies and other aspects of the COVID crisis (just think of football stars and celebrities allowed to travel or brothels allowed to open while desperate people cannot meet with dying loved ones for one). 

Within about a week, around 20,000 of us signed plus approximately 3,000 church leaders. 

Up till this point, there has been ‘crickets’ from the church but following the publication of the ED suddenly key evangelical conservatives were mobilised – no, not in support, but to undercut this initiative of other Christians.  To be fair, the Australian Christian Lobby is not one of these. 

These key evangelical leaders wrote articles and stated their express purpose was to: ‘caution’ others against signing or get you to remove your signature. In fact, we are told that we have been misled, duped in fact. 

I would ask you to keep an open mind and, if you have not read the ED, to read it for yourself first, asking God’s wisdom. 

From my point of view, these detractor’s assessment of the tone and language, for instance, bears almost no resemblance to the actual declaration.  Their claims of it being politically partisan are farcical given that both major parties have supported digital passports.   To be honest, their own language and the whole attack on the integrity of fellow Christians is far from gentle and conciliatory.

It is very unpleasant to have to be in the position of refuting high profile Christian leaders but I cannot see any way out of it.  I am sorry it is not an easy read. 

Claim 1: ED Casts Doubt on Vaccination

I don’t agree it does.  The biggest concern of the detractors seems to be that the Ezekiel Declaration authors do not positively encourage vaccination.  (Costello makes this the main focus of his article.)  

Likewise, I have seen ministers in social media question the orthodoxy of other ministers – not for their theology – but because they weren’t outspoken enough about encouraging vaccination. 

Reflecting the political activist culture around us, it is now not enough to do your job in a godly way but you must first affirm the latest Government Health Advice – the new badge of orthodoxy.  It is a worrying precedent and not one that I have seen conservative evangelicals take in this country on any previous issue. 

Aside from all this, perhaps the authors of the ED were of the opinion that the choice to be vaccinated is a wisdom rather than a gospel issue and they did not want to create division on a non-gospel issue which is why to this point both vaccinated and unvaccinated have happily signed this letter.  It shouldn’t be an issue that comes between Christians and we want to hold onto that unity.

(In a context where the Government creates division across society along these lines and the unvaccinated are actively denigrated by media and many politicians as ‘selfish’ or ‘covidiots’ with ‘anti-vaxer’ now the ultimate slur word, it is perhaps not surprising that the authors felt the need to include that there are ‘valid reasons’ for not being vaccinated which I will return to later.)

Claim 2:  Misleading/Inaccurate Use of Sources

So, we get to the ‘substantive’ claims that the declaration was misleading, misquoting, inaccurate etc.  This is simply incorrect.  Let’s tackle them one by one as they occur in the Ezekiel Declaration:

Source 1: Kuyper, “Vaccination certificates will therefore have to go… The form of tyranny hidden in these vaccination certificates is just as real a threat to the nation’s spiritual resources as a smallpox epidemic itself.”[1]

A whole article in Eternity on Kuyper sought to undermine the use of this statement as supporting the Ezekiel Declaration because evidently, Kuyper was strongly pro-vaccine as well as strongly anti-vaccine certificate. 

The argument goes that his pro-vaccine stance nullified his anti-vaccine-certificate stance.  Unfortunately, the author of this article missed some important context.  Kuyper was probably far more hard-line than the Ezekiel Declaration in opposing vaccine certificates. 

Get this:  He opposed vaccine certificates being required for even the most at-risk groups which was, in this case, children – as 80% of infected children would die. See here and here.

(We don’t even get close to this with COVID at any age with an estimate of infection fatality rate of 0.5-1% and an average age of mortality of around 80 – varying slightly by country.) See here and here.

Kuyper did this because he knew the danger of violating the human conscience (Romans 14 for instance).  Despite his strong belief that vaccination of the children was the right thing to do, he still wouldn’t impose it on others. 

He did more than just privately object.  “Abraham Kuyper voted against the law with his party.  According to the Protestant Christian politicians, the indirect ‘compulsion to vaccinate’ violated the freedom of conscience…  Kuyper collected about 43,000 signatures against the law…”

And echoing the concerns of the ED writers about lockdown, which disproportionately affects the vulnerable in society, another reason for his objection to vaccine certificates for schooling was that it would “mainly affect the ‘little people’ [the poor] with conscientious objections because they did not have sufficient financial resources to keep their children at home and give them home education.”

So, like the signers of this open letter, he courageously fought against vaccine certificates.  Once again it is Christians who stand for freedom of conscience because it is so intimately linked with our humanity and spirituality – and the destruction of it has incalculable consequences for society.  Clearly, there ARE things worse than COVID.  

Source 2: MP Greg Hunt, “The world is engaged in the largest clinical trial, the largest global vaccination trial ever, and we will have enormous amounts of data.”[2]

Well, that’s a true enough statement.  Trials for Pfizer end in 2023.  As the ED goes on to say, it is a reason some people decline the vaccine.  (They want to wait for more long-term data.) 

The detractors argue that because, in the next breath, MP Hunt is quick to assert vaccines are safe that this means the ED authors do not fairly represent his position as believing in vaccine safety.  This really does feel like clutching at straws. 

We all know Hunt’s true position because there’s no way he could be in that job and say vaccines are unsafe.   By all means, if you felt you’d inadvertently signed this on the basis of thinking Hunt thought vaccines were unsafe, then do unsign. 

Source 3:  In the fourth point of the ED, the writers refer to a CDC study showing that 74% of people infected in Massachusetts COVID outbreak were fully vaccinated.  

ED authors were then accused of ‘failure to handle sources responsibly’ because they did not include all the usual lengthy caveats in a scientific study such as that the CDC also said ‘the report is “insufficient” to draw conclusions about the effectiveness of the authorized vaccines against Covid, including the delta variant, during this outbreak.’ As is obvious, as no single study is ever the final word in Science. 

Admittedly, it was probably a mistake to reference a single study but then listing numerous studies rather than just one study becomes very unwieldy in an open letter.  And again, if you are interested in truth and not nit-picking, there is plenty of well-known, real-world evidence from highly vaccinated countries that vaccinated people get the disease and transmit it and increasingly so with delta.  That’s the point.

For the serious step of excluding a segment of our population from many aspects of public life permanently, there has been zero justification in terms of quantifying the relative risk a small number of unvaccinated poses as compared to the risk from the vaccinated majority who also spread the virus.  It could actually end up being very little.

Claim 3:  Vaccine Passports Don’t Coerce the Conscience

The PCNSW Gospel, Society and Church Committee (and thankfully it clarifies that this is solely the view of the committee and not the Presbyterian church) put together a short and completely unreferenced response which mainly repeats the same things, but they did make the separate accusation that it was erroneous for the ED to suggest that ‘Vaccine Passports coerce conscience’ and then made some unusual definitions of both coercion and conscience to justify that. 

Despite the Government quite clearly and repeatedly threatening that if you want your job or full participation in society, then you’d better get your jab, the GSC has chosen to say that is not coercion. 

The GSC committee then argues it is only a conscience decision if it is for the reason of objecting to the use of aborted foetal cells.  Kuyper respected the sovereignty and conscience of the individual far more.  

Even if, like the weak Christians of Romans 14, a person comes to a different conclusion than you on vaccines and you decide that they are misinformed, even then you are not to violate their conscience by pressuring, threatening or bribing them to act against it.  It is also a central tenet of medical ethics – informed consent includes ‘without coercion’. 

But for those who perhaps have not come across other reasons, the article ‘We have Good and Godly Reasons to Decline the Vaccine’  touches on some reasons Christians themselves have.

Even the idea that people must always sacrifice themselves for the greater good is actually something ethicists have always treated as problematic.  The extreme of this is Communism where the individual counts for little and is readily sacrificed for the greater good in a way that is dehumanising for society. 

To put it into today’s context, for example, the risk-benefit analysis for a teenager taking the vaccine is very different from that of an older person and to do it for Grandma may or may not be ethically right to everyone. 

Claim 4: Questioning Signatures

Campbell and Ould cast doubt on the validity of some signatories – for example, whether they are Christian.  The one notable example they give is Reignite Democracy who did not sign. 

They also claim that some people have approached them to say that their names have been added without their consent or action but apparently the same people do not want to be identified to have their names removed or tell the hosting website.  Why anyone would do this and then not want their names removed is beyond me. 

Claim 5: Lacking Submission to Authority

Apparently, the authors consider the letter (and let’s not forget tone) ‘a defiance of God-ordained authority rather than a trusting submission to the Lord’.  This is a curious statement.  

Since when is writing a respectful letter to the Government expressing concerns and a desire to pray for them ‘defiance of God-ordained authority’?  It is actually part of being a good citizen in a democracy.  It seeks to highlight an issue such as concern over digital passports for church before it might become an issue where we have to disobey the Government because they ask us to disobey God.  Seems like wisdom to me. 

Claim 6:  A Bad Witness

If this is a core concern, then the same charge could be levelled at Wilberforce’s initially very unpopular anti-slavery position which led him to challenge the laws and the conscience of a nation for most of his adult life.

Claim 7: Quibble Over the Name Ezekiel Declaration

I understood this to be a Biblical allusion as so common in literature.  For example, ‘George proved himself a Judas’ is generally taken to mean he is a betrayer.  No one argues it is invalid because he didn’t also commit suicide or that it wasn’t Jesus he betrayed but someone else. 

So, to spell it out, Ezekiel was a watchman and the signers of the letter are trying to be watchmen over the city/country. It’s that simple.

Claim 8: Conflation of Lockdown with Vaccine Passports

At last, a fair criticism.  Yes, if you believe in the extended stay at home orders and closure of businesses are the only solution to COVID and outweigh the damage done then you may not want to sign and I assume you wouldn’t. 

What is damaging is the false dichotomy presented by Campbell & Ould that those who speak in favour of freedom are selfish and those who favour safety are righteous or care about the ‘common good’. 

Campbell and Ould might be interested in studies such as the one comparing ten different countries that didn’t find any significant benefit for strict lockdowns.  

Yes, the letter might have been better to keep the focus squarely on digital passports.  On the other hand, one main point of the lockdown section is to remind the Government not to add to the burdens of already burdened people – adding lockouts to lockdown. It is an appeal for mercy. 

Now I understand that most of locked down Australia (a prison term incidentally) are clinging desperately to the hints being given that if we reach 70-80% vaccination, we will be given some level of freedom back.  This is an article of faith so strong feelings are understandable.  It is also a moving target and may well be added to the ‘two weeks to flatten the curve’ type statements.

In Conclusion

It is clear to me that there is little substance to the wholesale discrediting of the ED.   Perhaps we should have expected opposition and need to be in prayer for God’s mercy on our nation and God’s wisdom for our leaders.  If you consider vaccine digital passports in the community to be something detrimental for the whole of society and the church then the ED is a very reasonable and appropriate response to participate in.

[1] Kuyper, A. 2015. Our Program: A Christian Political Manifesto. (p. 249). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press; Acton

Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty.

[2] Australian Department of Health – MP Greg Hunt

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