The New South Wales Berejiklian government plans to require proof-of-COVID vaccination certificates, or Vaccine Passports, as a condition of entry for attending church services once the state is no longer in lockdown.
In other words, pastors will be expected to turn unvaccinated members of their congregations away, and failure to do so would amount to a breach of public health orders, meaning they face fines of up to $11,000 and up to six months imprisonment, according to the N.S.W. Health government website.
To date, I have not heard a remotely coherent argument as to why unvaccinated people pose a threat to vaccinated people. If a vaccinated person is concerned about being in close proximity to an unvaccinated person, then they are admitting that they do not trust the vaccine to protect them from either catching COVID or its effects, so separating the unvaccinated from the vaccinated makes no sense.
Regardless of this logical conundrum, the idea that churches must endure being told by the government who they can and cannot permit into their buildings is an abhorrent violation of religious freedoms. I have no doubt that when the history books are written about this time, the churches who happily comply with this mandate will be remembered in the same way as churches who enforced racial segregation or encouraged their members to join the Nazi Party – as cowards who cooperated with tyranny in order to avoid negative consequences and maintain the status quo. Vaccine Passports are an egregious incursion on the part of the government on the Christian duties to meet together and to welcome all people into their midst.
The unwillingness of Christian publications to call out governments on this injustice and the tendency to minimise the issue are unfortunate aspects of this issue, though hardly surprising in an era when the church has spent so long accommodating the culture in order to remain relevant. The Gospel Coalition Australia published an article that reads:
Of course, there may be all sorts of reasons why Bible-believing Christians are uncomfortable with getting vaccinated or having vaccine passports as individuals. But an appeal to religious freedom shouldn’t be one of them.
How are Vaccine Passports not a religious freedom issue? Christians are being told that if they do not receive an experimental vaccine with zero long-term safety data then will be prohibited from attending church. Pastors are being told that they must enforce these mandates or suffer penalties. This is tyranny, plain and simple, and now is the time for the church to be bold and take a stand for her right and duty to gather together, worship Christ, and receive the sacraments.
Vaccine Passports are the most important, as well as the most obvious, religious freedom issue in Australia for decades. The ignorance, wilful or otherwise, of The Gospel Coalition, is staggering.
The same article goes on to argue that governments have the right to restrict religious liberties in the interest of public safety, as keeping the public safe is (arguably) one of the duties of government. Vaccine Passports, it is argued, may be necessary to prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed in the same way that building regulations concerning fire hazards may be necessary to prevent loss of life.
This is a ridiculous comparison. We accept fire hazard requirements because they make good sense and pose a minimal level of restriction upon our actions. No one would conscientiously object to fire hazard rules or argue they pose a threat to their wellbeing, and they do not prevent us from gathering (a congregation could still gather in a home if they didn’t have access to a building). My point is that comparing Vaccine Passports to such a trivial issue as fire hazards trivialises the issue and mischaracterises those who oppose Vaccine Passports as getting themselves wound up over nothing when this is in fact the greatest threat to religious liberty Australia has seen for many years.
Pastors have been placed in a profoundly difficult position. Vaccine Passports have the potential to cause real persecution of religious people (and unvaccinated people more generally), and The Gospel Coalition’s weak response is of no comfort to those who may soon be really suffering. As far as I’m concerned, church leaders who actively advocate for Vaccine Passports have forfeited all credibility.
Another Gospel Coalition article reads:
If a regime of vaccine passports is to be with us for some time into the future, then our energy should be expended not on fighting against it but on finding safe, inclusive and responsible ways to gather and minister within such a context. One obvious option would be to advocate for a system that permitted those who remain unvaccinated or incompletely vaccinated to provide evidence of being COVID-negative as a condition for church attendance.
In other words, subject unvaccinated people to regular medical testing, for a virus with an over 99% survival rate, in order to determine if they’re allowed to mix with the vaccinated congregants, a process so intrusive and annoying that they will probably end up wanting to get vaccinated just to put an end to this nonsense. The way this article dismisses the rights of unvaccinated people to attend church is both callous and short-sighted. The author appears not to understand, or care, that liberties surrendered to the state are not easily regained.
It’s also worth noting that the notion of being completely vaccinated is rather foolish, given the evidence that the protective effects of the vaccines wear off after around six months and booster shots may be required (for how long, I wonder?).
As for the idea that Vaccine Passports may be necessary to prevent the healthcare system from being overwhelmed, perhaps The Gospel Coalition should spend some time researching the efficacy of Ivermectin, a low-cost drug with an excellent safety profile, in preventing and treating COVID. However, even if Ivermectin didn’t exist, suggesting that people have some kind of moral obligation to be vaccinated when the vaccine might harm them is nonsensical and, dare I say, uncharitable. No one should have to undergo a medical procedure that they don’t want, and especially to be able to attend church.
C.S. Lewis had a great quote on tyranny which is pertinent to our times:
Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than omnipotent moral busybodies… those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.
Vaccine Passports are a threat to religious freedom that could result in persecution, and the lame responses of Christians who wish to avoid rocking the boat will be remembered as cowardly, not wise.