Health Politics Scotland the Church

Vaccine passports for church? – CT

This weeks Christian Today column – 
(Photo: Unsplash/Michael Marais)

Nicola Sturgeon has announced that Covid vaccine passports will be introduced in Scotland at the end of this month if, as seems likely, the Scottish government backs her plans.

The plan is for certain ‘non-essential settings’ including nightclubs, adult entertainment venues, unseated indoor live events with more than 400 people, unseated outdoor live events with more than 4,000 people and any event with over 10,000 people.

It appears as though the proposal does not directly affect churches – there are not too many churches in Scotland having 500 people unseated, and none with 4,000 seated. But mission creep is the modus operandi of this and churches need to think carefully and be prepared for the day when governments may make a mandate which will require all who go to church to have the vaccine.

Some churches are already considering this – whatever the government decree. Now is the time for us to think about it and to act appropriately. What should our position be?

Arguments for vaccine passports:

Those in favour of vaccine passports argue that getting the vaccine is an act of love for your neighbour and therefore it should be encouraged. They also point out that there will be people who will stay away from church, effectively being excluded, because they do not want to mix with unvaccinated people. Others argue that this is all about keeping people safe.

Some church leaderships might be concerned about the aspects of public witness. If big and small businesses are requiring vaccine passports because they want to ‘protect the community’, would it not look bad if churches were one of the few organisations which did not take this ‘protective’ measure?

Yet others argue that if the government make it law, then we have no choice. We are to give to Nicola what is Nicola’s (or Boris, Joe, Scott) we are bound by the teaching of Romans 13 to obey the government, even if we don’t agree with them. This is not an issue to die on the hill for.

Arguments against vaccine passports:

Getting vaccinated may be an act of love (although it could just as easily be an act of fear, self-preservation or guilt), but love is never compelled by law.

Those who are vaccinated are protected against the virus. Granted it may not fully protect them from getting or passing on Covid, but the evidence so far suggests that it greatly diminishes the possibility of serious illness or death. Therefore, if you are protected from the virus, why are you scared of other people, who through their own choice, have decided not to take it? If you fear the vaccine does not work, then why did you take it, and why insist that everyone else you meet has to take it? The Church cannot be bullied by irrational people who demand that others should be excluded in order to cater for their fears.

If we want to insist on total safety, then we should probably close down all public worship gatherings. That way we would ensure that no-one ever caught anything from another person in church. Plus, think of the lives that would be saved by not travelling or risking going outside – where there may be a lion! (Proverbs 22:13 “the sluggard says, ‘there is a lion outside! I shall be killed on the streets1.”)

As for the public witness, the Church is not a business, and we are not so much concerned for our own reputation as others. I remember once being told that our church welcoming down and outs was a bad witness because it encouraged ‘these sort of people’ into ‘our’ streets. Do we really want to go down that route? Businesses may choose to exclude – does that mean churches should follow suit? Perhaps our new Woke Jesus says, “come to me, all you who are weary and vaccinated, and I will give you rest…and yea, the unvaccinated shall be cast into outer darkness”?

A few years ago, a young couple came into our church, weathered and bruised by drugs. The first thing they said to me was, “Hi, we’ve got Aids, can we come in?”. Maybe for the ‘safety’ of the congregation I should have said no? Instead, we said, ‘of course’ and we welcomed them, the same as we would welcome anyone else. There may be circumstances where refusing entrance to a sinner into a church could be right, but these are few and far between, and certainly do not include the sin of refusing to be vaccinated!

But what about the government ordering us? Don’t we have to obey government? Are there no limits to that? It may be that in an authoritarian tyranny we don’t have any other option. We are not under that kind of State – although the signs are that we are heading in that direction.

However, while we are part of what remains of Western Christian-based democracies, we need to remind the State that it is not absolute. There is a line. When the State tells the Church who can and who cannot come to church, we simply say ‘no’. Thus far and no further; you are way over the line.

Churches need to be preparing and campaigning on this now. It will be too late when the enabling laws are passed. (I note that as I write this the Anglican and Roman Catholic archbishops of Sydney have both expressed their opposition to mandating vaccination in order for people to attend places of worship).

We must tell government now that there are no circumstances in which we will obey any government dictate which tells us how, when and who can worship. The spiritual independence of the Church, and the Headship of Christ over the Church, is the principle on which my denomination, the Free Church of Scotland, was founded.  It is one we should not give up.

Whatever our church, surely if all Christians stood together and declared we will not give to Nicola, Boris, Joe, and Scott what is Christ’s, then our governments would have to listen. Or have we already gone too far down the rabbit hole?

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52 comments

  1. Hi David

    Dan Andrews in VIC is also talking about “lockouts” for the non-vaccinated. What are the legalities involved here? Will venues be forced to enforce? I see in Israel there is talk of COVID passports needing to be renewed with a booster shot after 6 months as the vax loses effectiveness. Where does this end?

  2. The fight has begun in the UK. A letter went round a long time back. Meanwhile, I know many congregations that will refuse to be part of such illogical behaviour. No one is to be kept away from the gathered worship. We will not be part of creating a new set of lepers.

    1. It is illogical that you are not encouraging people to ignore the lockdown- when no-one can attend church, but protesting it is unacceptable when the government reduces the lockdown so that some people can attend meetings.

      AIDS and leprosy are not analogies to COVID delta since they are not transmitted by either touch or shared air. A better analogy is smallpox or Spanish flu. I wonder what the churches did during the 145 day smallpox lockdown in Sydney in 1913.

      1. In earlier times people were well aware of infectious diseases. The 1913 smallpox outbreak was a mild form with only 700 cases. Churches were not significantly affected but there were strict quarantine provisions and restriction on travel to other states. A report of the 1881 outbreak, which took 40 lives, reflects virtually all the issues currently argued over Covid. The Spanish flu was much more serious with 12-15,000 deaths. Mask-wearing was mandatory in Sydney including in churches and worship and singing at church was officially restricted. Tensions between the states such as we are witnessing now were very evident.
        Vaccinations for diphtheria were introduced in Australia in 1932, and soon reduced the hundreds of deaths a year to negligible figures. I was vaccinated against polio in 1956 when mass school-based programmes were introduced because of outbreaks, the last in 1961-62. I suspect many a bit younger than me do not realise how prevalent infectious diseases were. We all recognise inconsistences in government endeavours to protect the population from Covid, the more understandable because it is an evolving disease. We may well look back and see many things were not appropriate or effective, but if we think of the good of the community we’ll be temperate in our criticism. Of course the other impacts of measures taken on community mental health, finances etc need consideration too.

      2. “It is illogical that you are not encouraging people to ignore the lockdown- when no-one can attend church, but protesting it is unacceptable when the government reduces the lockdown so that some people can attend meetings.”

        I’m sorry, but I simply cannot understand what this means?

        Here is my position.
        After the first couple of weeks of lockdown, during which time it became obvious that banning church meetings was simply wrong, I have constantly encouraged people to attend worship, right through. My church door has been open every Lord’s Day right through. By the end of lockdown we had several attending each week. People ‘could’ attend church – they simply had to come.

        As things stand now they can come to church – no-one is barring them from doing so here in the UK – this has been the case since last November. If the government of your country is barring people from doing so it has assumed the position of God, and there needs to be some serious repentance.

        If you are trying to claim that the government is doing Christians a good turn by telling us that they have the power to decide who may and who may not attend church, because they’re jabbed, then you’re simply not following the science, let alone the commands of God.

        What is more, it will mean people who can currently attend church in the UK would be barred from doing so, including a large number of pastors, also those who are exempt from having the jab on medical grounds; those who have a moral objection to being jabbed with something containing abortion-related tissue; those who don’t wish to have an experimental medication forced upon them because it is experimental and no-one has a clue as to its long-term effects; and those who have immunity from having had the virus and therefore have no need of medical intervention. Jesus went out of his way to touch and be in contact with lepers, and was clear that no-one should be prevented from coming into His presence because of some alleged uncleanliness (the woman with discharge). It is Christ-like to have the same attitude.

        The UK government position is likely to be that a double jabbed person can attend church even if they have Covid19, but a healthy unjabbed person can’t. THAT is about as illogical as it gets.

        Further, it is not within the government’s remit to decide who may attend church – especially not when they’re basing it on empty fear of an illness that even the over 70s have a 99.45% likelihood of surviving. And then if they decide to base who may attend church on the basis of who has had a jab that doesn’t prevent people getting, sharing, or dying from said virus, they’ve entered la la land. Church isn’t about la la land, it’s about Christ, and Christ is The Truth. If we in church won’t stand up for the truth by pointing out the truth, and by worshipping The Truth, and instead lay down and allow ourselves to be trampled over by a godless government that has no interest in the ‘little people’ (pace abortion law changes, and recent tax rises), who will?

      3. Regarding what you call the ‘lockdown’ of 1913 – both newspapers and other historical evidence makes it clear that the only lockdown that took place was in fact racist in nature, as the only people locked down were in NZ and were in fact Maori. In Australia there were quarantine centres for those who were physically ill with smallpox, but this is not “lockdown”. And although those in Sydney were told not to travel elsewhere, they were not locked down in their homes as if ill, despite being well, nor were they prevented from carrying on pretty much as normal.

  3. I feel that we must resist vaccine passports in the church and in wider society. I believe that this is about societal control and not about health. Thank you for your regular posts and may God bless and strengthen you in your ministry.

  4. Oh dear, do the churches want to pass covid around? It would appear that could be the case. We can see from gatherings in the USA . We know the prayer cannot protect people so we have to rely on the vaccines.

    Also, aren’t Christians supposed to pray in private and didn’t Jesus speak against those who put on their fine clothes and pray in public?

    1. So much ignorance and prejudice in such short sentences! No the churches do not want to pass covid around, we don’t expect prayer to protect us; we know that the vaccines have limited effect; and yes we are permitted to prayer in public….not sure what your point is about ‘fine clothes’ but I suspect like the rest of your remarks they are based on ignorance….

    2. The evidence is clear. Churches have not, do not, ‘pass covid around’. Grace Church in the USA has just received $800,000 in compensation for the way in which they were mistreated, including the false allegations of ‘passing on covid’ – note, they have never closed. In the Scottish Court Case which re-opened churches there was only one claim from the SNP that churches ‘passed on covid’, and that was nonsense, as it involved only two individuals in one congregation.

      And Christians are in fact told by God to gather to pray (Hebrews 10:25), and for the purposes of building one another up in the faith (Ephesians 4:12). The criticism from Jesus was not of praying in public, but of the FALSE ostentatious show of self-righteousness made by some. He was in fact criticising virtue signalling, the idea of claiming that ‘I am better than others’ because I do this, or that, or the other. Christians do not claim we are better than others, quite the opposite.

      1. But there was a spread of Covid in Grace Community Church in Dec-Jan including John Macarthur and his wife.

  5. It seems to me that a lot of middle-class people in the West have adapted their lives to Covid to such an extent that now they don’t actually know how to live without it. It’s almost like a form of Stockholm Syndrome.

  6. Although I myself am vaccinated, this is most definitely my line in the sand.

    Churches should not under any circumstances accept any kind of vaccine passport.

    Those that do will become little more than a pious arm of the State, and we know where that leads.

      1. You’re such a conformist….I guess you would have been urging the same in Nazi Germany, apartheid South Africa and the segregationist USA. Sometimes you have to disobey the government.

      2. How do you think that churches can disobey GOD’s law and there will be no ETERNAL consequences?

      3. NSW law – you are perfectly entitled to disobey the law – make sure you count the cost first.
        Penalties for breaching public health orders
        In the case of an individual, the maximum penalty is $11,000, or imprisonment for 6 months, or both and a further $5500 penalty may apply for each day the offence continues.

      4. theweeflea (September 7) “Sometimes you have to disobey the government. ”

        theweeflea (September 11) “YOu are not entitled to disobey the law. ”

        ??

        As Lawyer kaz said “make sure you count the cost first.” (And also check what you said before)

      5. David, a “simplistic world” where you equate disobedience in Nazi Germany apartheid South Africa and segregationist USA with the inconvenience of not being physically together with people in a church building until we are vaccinated against Covid?

      6. Exactly – you illustrate my point by dumbing down analogies to the point of farce – just to suit your preconceived prejudices. The question is not as simplistic as you put it – but then I suspect you know that and you are just having a dig – plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose!

  7. “…….there are no circumstances in which we will obey any government dictate which tells us how, when and who can worship.” As I have said before, too late for this stance,. As far as I understand, even the Free Church went along with declaring church attendance illegal in Scotland. They appear also to have gone along with the mandatory wearing of masks. The latest position is that at the last meeting the Scottish Government sent their expert, Mr Leitch, to meet the churches and tell them that masks must remain. He went away to speak again to his political masters. They are still waiting on his response. I find it difficult to understand your highlighting a founding principle that appears to have been so easily given up. I may be completely wrong, and would be happy to be so, but as far as I know the Free Church has gone along with the Scottish Government the same as the others. Perhaps the only hope is that Patrick Harvie, the new Scottish Government Minister, will drop his principled opposition to Christians in politics as quickly as he dropped his opposition to vaccine passports. The elevation of the Greens is more bad news for biblical Christianity in Scotland.

    1. Maybe this statement is not a founding principle of the Free Church as David suggests it is. The Free Church view of Church and State recognises the protection of public health is a matter that is a proper province for the State. We can certainly recognise that the State can go beyond what is proper. We can all grieve at aspects of the application and sometimes the lack of proportionality.There may be occasions where will have to disobey and accept jail, but David’s unguarded statement is not at all helpful in the current climate here in Australia.

      1. The spiritual independence of the Church is a founding principle of the Free Church. There are two distinct spheres. It would be a novel interpretation of that principle (which the Free Church Fathers would never recognise) to suggest that the State has the right to determine who can, and who cannot gather for public worship. My statement is not unguarded – it is very carefully hedged about – and I would suggest that it is helpful in our current situation in Australia – where the State (or more accurately States) are taking to themselves ‘rights’ which are not theirs – witness for example Victoria telling us what and who we can pray for.

  8. The sad reality is that the church has mostly not stood up for the importance of meeting together to worship and for the support of the lonely, the elderly, the vulnerable. I think it will be another fudged compromise, but don’t expect a courageous stand.

    1. Some congregations will make what you term a courageous stand, but what I’d simply call ‘getting on with it’. However, the main group leaders have by their language used already signalled their readiness to cave on in jab passports – including the FIEC.

      There is a group called the Fellowship of Biblical Christians (thefbc.uk) which gives support and encouragement to those who wish to continue to worship as God commands (taking sensible precautions, as always. We have always, I hope, shown common sense when making the decision whether to attend and worship on the Lord’s Day, why it should be any different now I do not know – the facts of these events do not justify blanket closure of anything. And congregations should be meeting, especially in such times when panic and ungodliness are sweeping the world. Are we ready to turn to the Lord or not?

      We (thefbc.uk) have a meeting in Warrington soon, to which people are welcome to come – but you need to let us know you are coming.

  9. Isn’t the example of the couple with aids a strawman on your part? Unlike covid, you cannot be infected with HIV by being in the same room as an infected person.

    1. No – at the time there was a great deal of ignorance about Aids – but it was considered that it could be passed through body fluids such as spittle….of course someone who has covid should have the sense to stay away from church – but we are not talking here about people who have covid – but those who have been vaccinated (who could also still carry covid). To ban people for not having a vaccine would be a sin.

      1. Agreed, wholeheartedly.

        When AIDS first made its appearance I was a hospital chaplain in PLymouth. We had one of the very first hospitalised cases, who was treated with utmost dignity, but had to be isolated purely because no-one understood the nature of what was going on with his illness, AND because HE needed to be protected from US.

      2. But that was the 1980’s where as at this point in time we know much more about the transmission of Covid. I’m sorry but using Aids as an example is just false equivalence.

      3. Not even remotely. The point is about perceived safety. The chances that you as a vaccinated person are going to get a deadly disease from a visitor who isn’t is remote….

      4. David, how remote is it that a person who isn’t vaccinated catches Covid from someone who is vaccinated and ends up seriously ill?

  10. “We must tell government now that there are no circumstances in which we will obey any government dictate which tells us how, when and who can worship.” This is really helpful. Thanks Dave.

    1. But S. J. Park, this statement is too broad. For example, the State has the right to regulate many temporal matters, hence it will not allow a church building to be erected unless it meets fire and safety standards. There are certainly significant proper limits on the state far as religious worship is concerned and it would be a help if these were carefully spelled out, but the spiritual independence of the church does not mean a church can do what it likes under the claim it is spiritual. That was an argument in the 1860s in the Free Church of Scotland and in Australia around 1910, and rightly failed both times. I can’t see vaccine passports will be required for churches in Australia. I would find it very unpalatable and doubt I could or would comply. But in opposing the extremes one needs more careful discussion in my opinion. As an aside, does your argument change if we speak of non-Christian worship?

      1. The State does not have the right to regulate who can, or who cannot, attend church services. You have a weak case when you have to argue against the extremes – no one is suggesting that a church can do what it likes as long as it says it is spiritual. But your position leads to a reductio ad absurdum, whereby the State can claim that everything it does is for public health. You may not be aware of this but the NSW government already indicated that QR codes and proof of vaccination status will be required to go to Church. That is what I was arguing against – Also what Archbishop Kanishka Rafael was arguing against.

      2. Hi Rowland, no my argument doesn’t change with non-Christian worship.

        Of course the church has to keep the rules from the state regarding child safety, building projects and etc, but I don’t think the church should listen to the state regarding who can come for a worship service. This is because Jesus is the head of the church, not the state and Jesus says everyone is welcome to His church. So the church should listen to Jesus and continue to welcome everyone even
        if it means disobeying the state. If the church allows only vaccinated people to come, then the church is implicitly and explicitly saying to the community that the Gospel is only for a certain group of people.

      3. Well put.

        It also means that the state can tell the church, Christ’s church, who may attend and worship. This would make the situation no different to that in China.

    1. If I ‘were’ in NSW then I’d risk the fine. The law and commands of God way way surpass the laws of a godless administration – especially when considering a virus which has an IFR of well below 1% – which is well below the chance of anyone dying in any given year anyway.

      However, I’m not living in that dystopian and totalitarian nightmare of a state. So your comment is irrelevant to me, and to the overwhelming majority of people throughout the world, who all give thanks that they’re not living there either.

      1. How does the state then deal with different religions each claiming that it is the “laws and commands” of their god that “surpass the laws of a godless administration”?

      2. In the same way that the State deals with the various secular philosophies claiming that their laws and commands are the ones to be applied.

  11. “Bruce SymonsSEPTEMBER 5, 2021 AT 8:07 PM
    But there was a spread of Covid in Grace Community Church in Dec-Jan including John Macarthur and his wife.”

    Facts would be better than media tittle tattle. Grace Community Church had two individuals who had Covid19. This is one of the reasons that the State of California recently had to pay them $800,000 in damages for what they tried to do to them.

    1. John MacArthur stated from his pulpit last Sunday that “Covid had gone through Grace Community Church in Dec/Jan” and that both he and his wife had Covid during that time. The damages of $800,000 were paid to the Church for breach of their Constitutional right to continue gathering during the pandemic.

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