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.
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?
David Robertson works as an evangelist with churches in Sydney, Australia. He blogs at The Wee Flea.