A Pastor’s Submission to the Human Rights Commission

“We continue to look back at the COVID years in disbelief and heartbreak.”

During the COVID years, I was the senior pastor of a Baptist church. In the beginning, I gave the government the benefit of the doubt in addressing the potential threat of a pandemic (i.e. Two weeks to flatten the curve). However, those precautions began to drag on, into months and years. Churches were closed or limited, deemed as ‘non-essential’, while at the same time, ‘Black Lives Matter’ rallies were allowed to take place, brothels were opened and liquor stores were deemed as essential.

One of the primary distintives of Baptist faith and practice is “liberty of conscience.”  For example, at the heart of one of our primary documents titled “The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution for Cause of Conscience” is this statement “Forcing of conscience is a soule rape”[1] This book was written in 1644, at a period when civil and religious liberties were denied in both England and America. The state church had seized the levers of power and used the sword entrusted to the magistrate by God to persecute anyone who disagreed with the requirements of the state church (i.e, infant baptism, forced requirement of the use of prayer books and wearing of surplices, required registration to preach, the use of power to enforce the force four laws of the Ten Commandments, rejection of oaths that bound people to the requirements of the state-church). In good conscience, the Baptists and other non-conformists could not assent to these requirements, they dissented and suffered. Thomas Crosby, in his four-volume work, “The History of the English Baptists” begins in this manner,

THOUGH the English have, above most nations, been always very zealous of their natural rights and privileges; yet the spirit of persecution has often prevailed in this land, and under the mask of religion, the properties of men have been invaded, liberty of conscience taken away, and the most cruel and barbarous actions committed. And whenever it has been thus, those who were branded with the name of Anabaptists have been sure to feel the sharpest part of these things.[2]

When liberty of conscience is denied, that is when laws are created, where God has set no law, terrible oppressions occur.

This Baptist sentiment reflects three truths in scripture:

  1. Romans 13 – The magistrate has been ordained by God, as his servant to be a terror to bad conduct and to approve good conduct. The standard of righteousness set by God for the magistrate to oversee is the last six commands of the law of Moses (Romans 13:8-10);
  2. Romans 14 – that we are not to quarrel of various opinions, and that to persuade someone to act against conscience is to cause them to sin;
  3. Matthew 13:24-30 – The parable of the Wheat and the Tares. If we believe that someone has an ill-conceived conscience, but is otherwise a law-abiding citizen (i.e., to the standard of the last six commands of the law of Moses) then we are to leave that person free from civil punishment, and let God be their judge.

It was evident as a pastor by late 2020 that:

  1. People in my congregation and in the community (not all, but many) had an issue of health, ethics or religion to be required to take a COVID vaccine;
  2. The government was setting up the framework to coerce and mandate the vaccine (i.e., QR check-in systems);
  3. That coercing the vaccine would cause terrible divisions, especially if the vaccines were required to attend places of worship.

From my perspective and the perspective of other like-minded Baptist pastors, the government was repeating the mistakes of the previous generations, when the church coopted the state, to coerce religious diktats. Except this time, it was science and Big-pharma that coopted the power of the state.

To defend Baptist distinctives, which emphasise religious and civil liberties, I coauthored an open letter to Prime Minister Scott Morrison, objecting to vaccine mandates and passports. The letter was called “The Ezekiel Declaration[3] and published on 27 August 2021.  A week after the letter was published vaccine passports were introduced into several states in Australia.

The letter received incredible support, 30,000 people signed the letter. But it also received incredible criticism.

  • My denomination distanced itself from me and fellow like-minded pastors;[4]
  • Multiple Christian publications wrote in criticism of us;[5] [6] [7] [8] [9] [10] (Those links represent a small portion of the published criticism we received);
  • The Guardian Newspaper wrote a hit piece on us;[11]

We wrote with genuine concern of genuine Christian concern. In what free nation does disagreeing with the government and defending civil and religious liberties illicit such criticism?

Vaccine mandates came into effect, and I counselled men and women in my office in a great state angst out of losing their jobs. Others left my church because they disagreed with my position of conscience and wished that I had used my position from the pulpit to encourage vaccination.

We were stunned that a good many Baptists did not understand the extent of “liberty of conscience” for which the Baptist forebears fought and advocated. I co-authored articles[12] [13] and a book titled “Defending Conscience.”[14] To demonstrate that the liberties we have enjoyed in the West, are attributed first and foremost to the Baptists.

The stress of the period caused tremendous adverse effects to the physical and mental health of my wife and I.

Toward the end of my call at the church, I was privately taken aside by one of the elders who was assigned to conduct my 5-review. This private meeting took place prior to the review being conducted. I was told:

  • People resent me because of the position I held during the COVID years;
  • People think I am a conspiracy theorist;
  • People don’t like it when I talk about ‘Liberty of Conscience”;
  • People don’t like it when I talk about Baptist History;
  • People don’t like my association with other like-minded Baptist Pastors;
  • That I shouldn’t expect a favourable review.

At this point, my wife and I were exhausted from having to defend Baptist principles within a Baptist church so we resigned.

I was later told by a member of a search committee of another church, that I had been rejected for the position because my advocacy of conscience during the COVID years would be too divisive.

We continue to look back at the COVID years in disbelief and heartbreak. Genuinely held civil and religious liberties were denied during the COVID years.

[1] Williams, R. (1867). The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution (S. L. Caldwell, Ed.; p. 182). Narragansett Club.

[2] Crosby, T. (2011). The History of the English Baptists (Vol. 1, pp. 1–2). Logos Bible Software.













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