We would like to extend our thanks to all who have similar concerns as us and have signed our open letter to the Honourable Scott Morrison. We are thankful for the many messages of encouragement we have received at this moment in time.
We, as pastors, had a concern to maintain Christ as Lord over the conscience, to avoid segregation in our communities and to maintain unity within our churches. All of which would be impossible to preserve with the implementation of a ‘vaccine passport,’ under whatever name it is given. We thought it prudent to write an open letter to the Prime Minister on the matter and collect signatures from like-minded Christians in an attempt to influence public policy. It seems that many others had a similar concern. Over 2,700 church leaders and 21,000 church attenders signed the letter. Since we published the letter, a channel 9 news report has indicated that vaccinations are being tabled as a possible requirement for people to attend church services in New South Wales. This is the very concern we endeavoured to address in our letter.
We would like to offer a response to those who have raised issues with our letter.
OBJECTION ONE: Misquoting Sources
Source 1: Misrepresenting Greg Hunt
We would respond to this objection with Mr Hunt’s own words dated the 21 February 2021:
“Hunt: Well, obviously that is a long-term goal, but one of the things we’ve been cautious of is that you have three factors: You have coverage, you also have the question of the transmission capacity and impact, although the evidence coming out of international studies now, both clinical trials and real-world data, is that the different vaccines are showing a strong transmission impact, but we always have to be aware of the capacity of the virus to mutate, and we have to look at what it called the longevity of the protection with regards to the antibodies that are developed, and the world doesn’t know that answer. The world is engaged in the largest clinical trial, the largest global vaccination trial ever, and we will have enormous amounts of data, but what’s the message for the public? It’s safe, it’s effective, it will help protect you, but it will also help protect your mum and dad, your grandparents, your nonna, all of Australia.”
Where did Greg Hunt not say it was a “trial?” We did not misquote him. He did add that he believed it was a “safe” trial. But any “trial” inherently carries an element of uncertainty. Would anyone dispute this?
The American apologist and theologian Dr James White also questions the assertion that this statement was used incorrectly, stating on his podcast: “David [Ould] and others said, “that’s not a proper use of that quote,” well, I don’t know, as it stands, it was a clinical trial, it continues to be a clinical trial, if it was a clinical trial of any means, it would last minimally for five years, and hence we would be at the beginning of [the trial]…”
If you agree with the rollout being safe, by all means, participate, we simply ask that no one is coerced against their conscience.
Source 2: CDC Study
Granted for the sake of brevity, we didn’t include all the caveats of this study, nor did we include multiple studies. But the point remains the same, that vaccinated people can contract and transmit this virus. That’s the point! This can be readily confirmed by other studies.
For the serious step of excluding a segment of our population from many aspects of public life permanently, there has been zero justification in terms of quantifying the relative risk of a small number of the unvaccinated pose as compared to the risk from the vaccinated majority who can also spread the virus. It could actually end up being very little. To entertain creating an underclass or coercing a person’s conscience with pressure upon their livelihood, or ability to move freely, for so little potential gain seems unnecessary and abhorrent.
Source 3: Misrepresenting Kuyper
We reject the claim that we misinterpreted Abraham Kuyper because we did not quote him to cast aspersions on vaccination, but simply in reference to his desire to honour people’s conscience. In a chapter titled ‘Conscience cannot be coerced’ Kuyper writes, “[the government] will never coerce… compulsory vaccination, nor anything of the kind.” Kyper’s pro-vaccine stance did not nullify his anti-vaccine-certificate stance. Despite his belief that vaccination of children was the right thing to do, he still wouldn’t impose what he thought was right. In order to maintain liberty on this matter, Kuyper collected 43,000 signatures in opposition to ‘vaccine certificates.’ Kuyper’s primary concern was for the protection of vulnerable people being excluded and disadvantaged. In Kuyper’s context, it was a concern for the ‘little people’ with conscientious objections, because they did not have sufficient financial resources to keep their children at home and give them home education.”
OBJECTION TWO: Uncaring And Not Gospel Centred
Our motive was to defend a vital Christian doctrine, namely, that of ‘liberty of conscience.’ This doctrine is set forth in many of our historic confessions of faith and expounded especially in Romans 14. There, Paul says, “I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean” (Rom. 14:14). Commenting on this verse, Calvin in his Institutes writes, “By these words [God] makes all external things subject to our liberty, provided the nature of that liberty approves itself to our minds as before God.” One Christian will receive a gift of God through faith, another Christian, by way of some concern will choose to abstain from that gift. Paul’s solution to this problem is to “never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother” (Romans 14:13). Amidst this tension of respecting conscience, if one Christian were to make demands on another that is objectionable to conscience, then the Christian making demands would be in revolt against God. If another individual, who is endeavouring to honour God, is forced to act in some way objectionable to their conscience, they will be discouraged and their faith will falter. In fact, Paul would go so far as to say “But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Roman 14:23).
A Christian needs to be very careful when they proceed to say what is a proper action for another Christian on matters that are not opposed to God’s law. Since the advent of vaccines, godly individuals have come to divergent conclusions on the matter, either on vaccines in general or over one specific vaccine, indicating that it is indeed a matter of conscience. Under Paul’s logic, an appropriate way a Christian can love their neighbour is to respect their conscience.
There is a group of people in our communities and our churches, who find a certain action objectionable to their conscience, and who are feeling immeasurable pressure to act against conscience. Yet, this group of people is being labelled as “selfish” or being told that they cannot get their freedoms back, or will lose their jobs unless they comply with the very action that is objectionable to their conscience. This is akin to an abusive husband denying freedoms to his wife if she refuses to comply with his demands. Coerced consent is not consent. Over 23,000 Christians signed this letter, affirming the hesitant minority are not selfish but need to be offered liberty of conscience on this matter.
We hail from Baptist backgrounds. The early Baptists were adamant defenders of ‘liberty of conscience.’ The first paragraph of the book “History of the English Baptists: volume I” provides a short explanation of the period the early Baptists lived through, “…liberty of conscience [was] taken away, and the most cruel and barbarous actions committed.” To ignore conscience is to allow for all kinds of abuses. In this instance, the abuses that would occur would be the creation of an underclass in our communities, and division within the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 1:10-17). We believe that defending the vital doctrine of ‘liberty of conscience’ is very much a gospel-centred issue as the confession that “God alone is Lord of the conscience” is integral to a person freely and obediently worshipping their saviour and obeying the government.
OBJECTION THREE: Does Not Affirm Safety and Efficacy of Covid Vaccines
We would respond and say that this case has been made by the media, the politicians, the chief health officers, and many others. We endeavoured to neither actively persuade nor dissuade vaccination. Though we did highlight one issue in order to demonstrate that there are people in our communities and our churches who have concerns. The purpose of this letter was to object to vaccine passports and has been signed by people of various opinions regarding vaccines who hold a similar concern. As pastors, we believe our duty in issues of health is to discuss with a person matters such as ethics, conscience, choice, and impact on self and family, not to prescribe the treatment. Our concern was not over whether a person receives or declines a vaccine, but rather how these two groups would treat each other, both in society and in the church.
OBJECTION FOUR: Unnecessarily Political
Define “necessarily political?” There are so many and diverse views on political engagement in the church that it would be impossible to define the “Christian view,” or even the “Baptist view.” One article criticized us that a certain political party stood in public support of our document. This party supported the letter of their own accord. We find it strange that Christian leaders would seek to criticize a political party’s freedom of speech. We are aware that members of state and federal parliaments from several parties supported or shared the document. They too did this of their own accord. In fact, it was likely because we were not politically partisan that they felt free to share the letter.
We call on every single political party to protect people from being made into second class citizens. Australia is a very vaccine positive country, it is likely the national targets will be reached without needing to hold the carrot of people’s liberty out in front of them. Perhaps it would be better for leaders to trust their nation, rather than coerce them?
If by being too political you mean that we spoke into an issue of a political nature, when we should have stuck to spiritual matters, we would respond that the Church condemned Gnosticism in the first couple of centuries of our faith. To separate the spiritual from the temporal too sharply is to make the same mistake as those gnostics, and ignore our responsibility to love our neighbour’s physical as well as spiritual needs. Scripture affirms the existence and importance of both of these. In this situation, it is impossible to address the physical needs of the people we advocate for without addressing our political leaders.
We considered it prudent to write to our government to highlight our concern over vaccine passports before our communities and churches were divided. We believe this is the responsibility of good citizens. This is not the first time in history the church has spoken into political issues. And speaking on behalf of conscience is a Christian tradition with many forebears.
OBJECTION FIVE: Conflating Issues
The vaccine-hesitant are being told they will continue to experience lockdowns at a higher level than people who are vaccinated. In light of that, we ask our brothers how this issue is not related to vaccine passports? We do not believe we have conflated the issue but endeavoured to show how these policies will compound people’s grief, namely, lockdown followed by lockout. Even our Prime Minister, praise God, is now highlighting that the lockdowns are reaching the point of being unbearable. A recent news report reads, “NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian says unvaccinated residents should be prepared to not be able to enjoy post-lockdown freedoms – whether government-mandated or imposed by private organisations.” Vaccine passports are another form of lockdown and these compounding precautionary measures are being used to coerce people into accepting the passports. How are these issues not related?
Lockdown is the stick, admittance to restaurants is the carrot. This is plain, obvious, and significant because the hesitant have been told that in some capacity their lockdown status will continue. The vaccine-hesitant have been accused of being “selfish,” but one could equally say that the vaccinated not being willing to share their protected status with the unvaccinated are also being selfish. Maybe a vaccinated person associating freely with someone who is hesitant will be what brings that other person around to their side? Maybe a vaccinated person freely associating with the hesitant and remaining safe may be what helps calm our society down. Have you considered these points? Punishing people on this matter will only confirm their worst concerns. We absolutely affirm the necessity of loving one’s neighbour, but it needs to be recognised that how this command applies can vary from conscience to conscience, hence why we are contending against a person’s conscience being coerced.
OBJECTION SIX: Combative and Uncooperative Tone
Criticising the tone of our letter is thoroughly subjective. Responding to David Ould on Twitter, Dr James White wrote, “…as I read the declaration, it struck me as sensible and moderate, not at all combative.” One man’s combative tone is another man’s encouragement!
OBJECTION SEVEN: Questionable Signatures
In regards to the critique of dubious signatories, we would acknowledge that there are some people on the list who “…preach another gospel.” But it was not our intention to write a detailed confessional document. Our motive was to highlight the need for conscience, and it seems that Australians of many faiths also believe in this important issue. In this sense, our letter has been an exercise in public theology. We sought to explain a distinctive Christian theological position in a way that adds to a public debate. That an unorthodox sect might agree on such a matter is neither surprising nor problematic. We do not have to agree with someone’s doctrine to stand with them in opposing the use of coercion upon a person’s conscience. We are thankful for the diversity of belief systems that uphold this core principle which is a foundation and pillar of our democratic society.
We did not gather signatures in any underhanded way, Caldron Pool simply put up the signatures of those who signed the letter. If anyone’s signature was put up without their permission we will investigate and remove it.
We maintain that our letter is intellectually honest and that it addressed an important doctrine of the Christian faith, namely, ‘liberty of conscience.’ We did so in hope of preventing an underclass of citizens from being created, and to maintain unity within our churches on a matter of disagreement. Our conscience is clear in that we strived to be good citizens in respectfully writing to our Prime Minister on an issue that we considered to be of incredible importance. We wrote imperfectly as imperfect men, but we believe the matter of vaccine passports to be so critical, that we were willing to put our names and reputations on the line in order to raise objections.
The views in this article are those of the individual pastors [who wrote it] and do not necessarily represent the views of the denomination they represent.