A special online meeting of the Presbyterian Church of Australia’s top council, the General Assembly (GAA), has voted to suggest churches re-open when all – vaxxed and unvaxxed – can attend.
The decision was that the Presbyterians desire to have everybody back in churches. Although it was never debated in the meeting which concentrated on the principles of who should be in church* a delay will be the practical effect in the lockdown states.
State roadmaps for NSW and Victoria allow churches to re-open with vaccinated people only, then after more vaccinations targets are met, unvaccinated people can attend. The NSW roadmap puts that at 80 per cent of 16 and over, but the Victorian Roadmap has a severe limit at that stage with access to all when the national plan is achieved.
The debate over whether churches should accept having only vaccinated people in church meetings has been vigorous in some Presbyterian discussion groups.
The GAA overture (motion) passed with clauses to
- Exhort all members and ministers to work hard at maintaining the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, treating issues of vaccination as a matter of liberty of conscience not determined by church law (Rom. 14:22, 15:4; WCF chapter 20).
- Affirm that in light of the Bible’s teaching on the free offer of the gospel and the unity of the Church, the Presbyterian Church of Australia does not desire anyone [to] be denied entry for the public worship of God on the grounds of vaccination status.”
The Romans passage applies Paul’s teaching about respecting the conscience of others in respect to meat offered to idols. WCF is the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Presbyterians lengthy statement of faith, chapter 20 deals with “Christian Liberty and Liberty of Conscience”.
The overture was moved by ministers Darren Middleton from Geelong, and Mark Powell from western Sydney both strong advocates for having no separation between vaccinated and unvaccinated people attending local churches.
The Presbyterian Church of Australia is a federation. “The GAA offered a principial statement and it will now be for state assemblies to apply the principle in the context of their state directions and or regulations,” Darren Middleton tells Eternity. “Victoria will meet as an assembly on Friday to respond to the GAA decisions.”
“Does not desire” replaced “should deny entry” in the original as the meeting wanted to be clear it was setting out a principle rather than giving direction to the states.
Asked if there was opposition to the motion Middleton says “Yes, but the vote was a clear majority. Another long and tiring day dealing with this issue.”
The debate was complex with a number of amendments and the “previous question” (which is a device to not put something to the vote) used twice.
In NSW and the ACT, there are only a few weeks until churches are open to all. Victoria will be complex, with a greater time period involved. While in Queensland vaccine mandates won’t apply to religious services.
*modified sentence to make clear the practicalities were not discussed at the meeting which dealt only with principles.
In the original we described one observer’s comment that the meeting was “heated”: a number of people have disputed this.