LCANZ Bishop John Henderson has urged church members to ‘act for the good of all’ as they respond to issues around COVID vaccines and ‘passports’.
‘It’s our individual choice to be in favour of vaccination or to oppose it, and to form our own views on any purported “passport” scheme. Whatever we think of such things, however … under God each of us has the right, privilege and duty to act for the good of all, restrain any sense of panic, and to maintain good order and a spirit of neighbourliness and compassion that goes beyond self-interest and seeks to serve others.
Bishop Henderson gave the encouragement in a ‘Heartland’ eNews entitled ‘A Pastoral Note to Members of the LCANZ: COVID Vaccines and Passports’, which was published on 21 September.
‘We are in the midst of a pandemic, a disease which is likely to be with us for quite some time’, he said in the eNews. ‘Our elected Australian and New Zealand governments – with some exceptions – seem committed to relaxing COVID-related restrictions and opening up borders when we reach agreed vaccination thresholds.
‘It’s a time of mixed feelings. One emotion is relief – vaccines are an answer to prayer, giving us a means of protecting lives and ending mass lockdowns. But another emotion is apprehension … We are apprehensive about living with COVID … How much smaller (than other places) our toll of disease and death will depend directly on how many of us are vaccinated.
‘I respect people’s right to make their own choice, and I recognise that a few people cannot receive the vaccine for medical reasons. In general, though, I do encourage church members who are eligible to take advantage of the vaccines.’
He said that the national Australian church leaders with whom he has spoken about these issues see the hand of God at work in the unprecedented cooperation that resulted in not just one but several vaccines. They see this as an answer to prayer.
‘Yes, there are ethical questions about the vaccines to be considered. I encourage Christians to look into the evidence which overall shows that we can, in good conscience, accept the vaccines currently on offer through our governments.’
Bishop Henderson said that, at the time of writing, there had been no confirmation of any Australian or New Zealand jurisdictions requiring ‘vaccine passports’ for access to events, gatherings, activities, resources, services or venues, including in-person church service attendance. He affirmed that public worship should be open to all, but does not think it helpful to regard any future temporary moves to restrict access to venues to those who are fully vaccinated or have exemptions, as ‘persecution’.
‘An implied benefit is to motivate people to get vaccinated if they want to get back to normal life’, he said of the passport concept. ‘A large part of the population appears to consider this approach ethically justified as long as it is temporary.
‘For our part, we in the LCANZ want to keep our public worship services open to all … It is very likely that, for some time yet, we will need to continue the personal hygiene and physical distancing measures with which we have become familiar.
‘I see no evidence that the concept of a vaccine passport constitutes a deliberate attack or persecution against Christians. I don’t think it is helpful, or fair, to view it through the lens of a threat to religious freedom. So far, during COVID, our governments have done their best to understand the needs of churches and accommodate them … Their concern is to … bring us through the pandemic with as few illnesses and deaths as possible.
‘The Christian church has survived the ravages of the centuries … The faith we share is one in which we believe our Creator and Saviour God personally reached into his creation, taking all our burdens on himself. Such faith is an enduring source of confidence, courage and strength as in our day we discern how to respond to this pandemic in God-pleasing ways.’