Churches cannot — and must not — comply with health orders that require them to exclude unvaccinated people from worship services. To do so would be profoundly unchristian.
Yet that is exactly what New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian is telling them they must do.
Under her Reopening NSW Roadmap, released last week, churches will be permitted to resume in-person services once 70 per cent of adults are fully vaccinated, but only for double-jabbed parishioners.
Two weeks to flatten the curve has become two jabs to get into church.
Jesus may well have said that He will sort the sheep from the goats but not –- it seems — before NSW Health has sorted the vaxed from the unvaxed.
“Hallelujah,” said nobody.
Places of worship have, to this point, complied with state health orders aimed at containing the spread of coronavirus.
Churches introduced QR codes, social distancing and masks for congregation members.
They banned singing, stopped passing the collection plate, cancelled Christmas and invented church online to minister to people during lockdown.
But this latest government edict represents an unprecedented and unacceptable overreach that churches cannot, in good conscience, accept.
It is not for the NSW Government, nor any other for that matter, to determine who can and who cannot go to church.
If this indulgence is allowed, what will be next? Archbishop Brad Hazzard bringing the sermon?
I can hear him now …
Let not your hearts be troubled. Trust in big tech and also in contact tracers. Mask, and it will be given to you; social distance, and you will find. Vax, and it will be opened to you. Amen.
Jesus told His followers to “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and give to God what is God’s.”
But now the NSW government is insisting that Christians “Give to Caesar what is God’s and give to God the things that Caesar allows you to”.
This cannot be allowed to stand.
Unsurprisingly, leaders of Sydney’s Catholic, Anglican and Pentecostal churches have flagged that they will not comply.
Anglican Archbishop of Sydney, Kanishka Raffel, told the Seven Network’s Sunrise program this week: “We’ve been compliant with the public health orders. We’ve tried to promote vaccination. I’m double vaccinated. But it’s the nature of churches to have our doors open and to welcome all people. We have a commitment to that.”
Hillsong pastor Brian Houston, who has been vaccinated, told church members at the weekend: “I strongly believe that no government has any right to dictate who can attend church. Everyone – irrespective of their vaccination status – should be free to worship, pray and seek spiritual guidance and support. It’s not only a fundamental human right, but it’s even more important at this time of such great anguish and need.”
It is important to note that church leaders are not saying parishioners should not be vaccinated. But they are saying that a government-issued vaccination certificate should not be a prerequisite for receiving Holy Communion.
That Gladys Berejiklian’s roadmap to reopening likens going to church with going to the cinema – a special treat to be handed out to well-behaving citizens – shows that she and her advisors completely misunderstand religion.
People’s faith, and the practice of it, is at the very core of who they are. Being able to worship alongside other believers is essential.
But more than that, with a myriad of social problems caused by three months of lockdown, you’d think the NSW Government would make it easier — not harder — for people to practice their faith.
At the best of times, but especially during a mental health and wellbeing pandemic, the church is an essential service.
Sunrise host David Koch was dismissive of the Anglican Archbishop’s protest.
“The answer to unvaccinated parishioners is to get vaccinated if you want to go to church,” he said dismissively. “And if you don’t, just keep watching online. Simple.”
The suggestion that unvaccinated people can simply watch church online for the rest of their lives does not work. The church is a community of faith, not a broadcast. The Bible explicitly commands Christians “do not give up meeting together”. And nowhere is that command subject to vaccination status or the whims of the NSW Health Minister.
“Well then get vaccinated,” Koch argued. “I don’t see the problem.”
If our media and political elite cannot see any problem with demanding that perfectly healthy people undergo a medical procedure in return for permission to practice their religion, then we have a much bigger problem than Covid-19.
The Australian Immunisation Handbook. It says: “(Vaccines) must be given voluntarily in the absence of undue pressure, coercion or manipulation.”
Get jabbed or you cannot practice your religion sounds a lot like pressure, coercion and manipulation.
But aren’t Christians supposed to love their neighbour? Shouldn’t they get vaccinated for the common good?
Sure. They should be vaccinated of their own free will.
But ceding control of one’s body to the state in order to participate in society is not an example of “serving the common good”. It’s an example of acquiescing to a very specific kind of evil.
Giving up your bodily autonomy to the state is not an example of limiting one’s freedoms in the name of loving your neighbour. It’s an example of permitting tyranny to reign while spiritualising your lack of care for freedoms – your own and the next generation’s.
Freedom to worship is a right we are born with. It is not something that is ransomed back to us in the name of compliance – no matter how worthy the cause.
Far from being irresponsible for insisting unvaccinated people must be allowed to attend church, it would be negligent for church leaders not to take such a principled stand.
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