The Ezekiel Declaration, a petition against “vaccination passports” launched by Baptist pastors has gained the support of the Australian Christian Lobby’s (ACL) National Director Martyn Iles, but also pushback from conservative evangelicals. It has been signed by thousands of Christians, including pastors.
The ACL’s position
“If you are in church leadership, this is worth your attention,” Iles posted on Facebook.
“It’s a very well put together open letter to Scott Morrison, appealing for no vaccine passports in Australia. In just a couple of days, it’s been signed by well over 1,000 leaders. I encourage you to join them.”
Why are churches interested in this, you ask?
1) A person’s conscience is a faculty through which they are convicted of God, and by which they respond to God. The state risks usurping God’s place in a person’s life when it coerces the conscience. It is well beyond the state’s legitimate authority.
2) Wiser heads than ours, who lived through grave human rights abuses, have written down principles for our warning… One of which is, no medical treatment should ever be coerced… Another is that rights must never be awarded unequally between groups.
3) No church can ever make vaccination a requirement of worshipping God, or hearing the gospel. It matters not who a person is, or what they have done, Christ welcomes them to Himself with open arms.
4) There is no certainty that such a step is even necessary to reach the stated threshold of 70-80%. Indeed, it probably isn’t.
“The vaccine itself is not a major concern of mine, but coercion is a very, very serious misstep.
Whilst you’re looking at this, please also email your premier and state MPs, to get them thinking seriously about restoring freedoms @ acl.org.au/cm_nat_fearnot – they do need to hear from you, or they may exploit the crisis for too long.”
In the interests of open reporting, we have quoted Iles in full. For reasons of length, we won’t be able to fully quote those who are critical of the petition and disagree with Iles that it has been put together well.
Inaccuracies in the petition
The Gospel, Society and Culture Committee (GSC) of the Presbyterian Church of NSW and the ACT (PCNSW) has issued a statement opposing the signing of this petition. The committee, speaking for themselves rather than the whole PCNSW, are concerned that the petition contains untruths.
“We share the concerns of the signatories that a Vaccine Passport could be unfair and may discriminate against people who are unable to access vaccines or have a conscientious objection to them. We commend the concern for the common good, for freedom of religion and for the glory of Christ which seem to be the primary motivation of this letter.
“While sharing these concerns, we cannot sign the Declaration because elements of it are inaccurate and therefore may damage the church and her witness. We set out here our most serious concerns about the Declaration…”
“Our greatest concern is that while arguing against Vaccine Passports the Declaration perpetuates untruths about the COVID vaccines themselves.
“The Declaration implies that the COVID vaccines are experimental, asserting that they are a “clinical trial”. In doing so, it quotes a statement from Health Minister Greg Hunt given in February 2021. The Minister was speaking about the trials prior to the approval of the vaccines not about the current vaccination program. The Declaration not only misconstrues the Minister’s words, it misrepresents the status of the COVID vaccines and may serve to increase vaccine hesitancy.
“The Declaration asserts that “vaccines do not prevent infection”, on the basis of a CDC report about infections in Massachusetts in July. The Declaration fails to note the comment in the report that the data was “insufficient to draw conclusions about the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines”. The 4 vaccinated cases which were hospitalised, represented only 1.2% of vaccinated cases. Based on statistically significant samples across the whole population of the USA, the CDC found that the unvaccinated are five times more likely to get infected, 17-29 times more likely to be hospitalised, and 25 times more likely to die once infected.
“The COVID vaccines are remarkably effective and safe. The medical case for almost all adults receiving them is compelling. It is likely that a similar case will be clear for children in coming months.”
The GSC also points out that vaccination passports are a way to lift lockdowns, and that how vaccination passports will be used are not yet known. They add “The Declaration uses highly charged language, which is likely to leave Christians unsettled, confused and uncooperative with government. The common good is served better by seeking to be cooperative with government, while remaining alert to concerns about freedoms and ready to advocate for those if necessary.”
The language of division
Ministers Murray Campbell and David Ould, who are very well-known spokespersons for conservative positions within their Baptist and Anglican denominations have also declared they cannot sign the petition. his is despite acknowledging a concern that vaccination passports may affect church attendance.
“Both the title and subtitle suggests a posture of hubris and even spiritual smugness: “The Ezekiel Declaration” and “Watchmen, it’s time to speak”.
“Really? Are the authors claiming a prophetic word or preaching Divine judgment upon those who are drafting Covid policies? This level of rhetoric continues throughout the letter. For example, the authors refer to “medical apartheid” and “the dangerous precipice of a therapeutic totalitarianism”. This seems to be inflammatory language that does not accurately represent the current situation.
“Straight away the letter therefore signals an ‘us versus them’ position; we the churches against a bullish and autocratic Government. At this point in time in Australia the situation is more akin to Daniel ch.1 than Daniel ch.6. We are appealing for a fair hearing before the Government, not open defiance with our lives being threatened for any dissent. We are seeking to persuade, not calling for civil disobedience.”
Campbell and Ould point out the lack of any commendation of vaccines in the petition. And in an example of the petitions attitude towards government the misuse of a statement by the health minister.
“The letter nowhere encourages people to be vaccinated and it fails to affirm the safety and efficacy of the available COVID-19 vaccines.
“There is a single word that is accepting but not positive about vaccinations, and even then it is partnered with a word of dissent,
While some individuals will receive the vaccination with thanks, others may have good and informed reasons for declining.
“The Declaration does not define what these ‘good and informed reasons’ are. It then proceeds to misuse the words of the Federal Health Minister in February 2021 in support of refraining from being vaccinated.
One such reason [for declining vaccination] is highlighted in the statement of the health minister Greg Hunt:
“The world is engaged in the largest clinical trial, the largest global vaccination trial ever, and we will have enormous amounts of data.”
“When we read the linked transcript of the interview we see the Minister endorsing the vaccination process, not casting aspersions upon it. He states,
One of the things that is absolutely fundamental to confidence is the belief in safety. And the essence of safety is a full and thorough assessment…that’s ultimately about making sure we have the maximum take-up in Australia, and above all else, safety, safety, safety. That’s our duty. But it also leads to confidence and take-up.
“Hunt’s argument is not that the vaccine is unsafe. On the contrary, he is stating that the approval process for the vaccine is there to provide confidence in it; confidence in the face of the uncertainty that some feel – the same uncertainty that the Declaration promotes.”
Speaking of this and the petition’s use of a CDC study about vaccines from the CDC, Campbell and Ould comment that “Christian leaders have an obligation to quote people in context and to represent their position with fairness. Christian leaders also have a duty of care to listen to experts, convey accurate information, and to refer people to their local GP, rather than publicly undermine health advice. We have documented how at two critical points in its argument the Declaration does not do this.”
Giving a full picture of Abraham Kuyper’s position
Abraham Kuyper, who was both a theologian and politician in the Netherlands of the 19th century – and the founder of that country’s chief newspaper Die Telegraf – is quoted accurately in the Ezekiel Declaration as being strongly against the use of vaccination passports. But a Church of Christ Minister – who wishes to remain anonymous in the social media storm over the petition has written a paper suggesting that a fuller picture of Kuyper’s position on vaccination is helpful.
He has no well-read website to put his paper on so Eternity has published it here.
A Kuyper quote in the petition reads “Vaccination certificates will therefore have to go… The form of tyranny hidden in these vaccination certificates is just as real a threat to the nation’s spiritual resources as a smallpox epidemic itself.”
“As I have often found during these Covid times, people will latch on to a part of something – usually one or two verses from the Bible – and use them to show support for their view,” the minister writes. Such use lends ‘authority’ to the whole, for other believers who read what they trust – words from Scripture – alongside the words of the wider document. But sadly what is quoted is often only part of the story – and reading a little wider one finds things that throw a different light onto the interpretation and use made of the initial quote.”
On reading further into Kuyper he discovers that the Dutch divine believed that Christians were obligated to take the vaccine – in an age when vaccines contained live viruses. “To the point of saying that someone who could take a step to prevent their child from contracting an illness that led to their death – and did not – was ‘guilty of breaking the sixth commandment (To save you looking that up – Thou Shalt Not Kill)
“He quite plainly states that ‘… it also is true that if our child does not yet have the pox, but it may strike, we are therefore obligated to take all precautionary measures available to us in order to ensure that our child will not be infected by the pox” – note: in the context of writing about vaccination – he says we are “obligated to take all precautionary measures…’
“He even throws in some comments pertinent to lockdowns and other public health measures imposed broadly for the protection of others: ‘…measures intended to protect third parties against dangers that affect them through our omission may and must be taken by the authorities’.
“As I read Kuyper’s arguments for myself it seems clear that Kuyper would indeed say that we shouldn’t IMPOSE ‘vaccination certificates’ – but it seems just as clear that he would say we shouldn’t NEED them.
“Contrary to what I expected to find, based on how the Ezekiel Declaration email used their quote to oppose vaccination passports, I didn’t find Kuyper spending pages on why government ought not coerce people to be vaccinated. I did find that he convincingly argues why we should feel compelled to be!”
The debate about the Ezekiel Declaration will raise concerns about a division between Christians. This is not a normal “progressive” versus “conservative” split, but one that will divide people with very similar theological beliefs. That is evident in this article with all the authors named being evangelical and recognised as theological conservative within that group.
Can Eternity suggest ha people use moderate language of each other, and pray for each other?