Getting vaxxed and unvaxxed to church without stirring up a culture war

“Jesus is Lord of all, and his gospel is a gospel for all. A ‘No Entry’ sign at the door of the church is wholly inconsistent with the gospel preached inside,” Anglican Archbishop of Sydney Kaniska Raffel wrote. “Neither race, gender, ethnicity, age, nor economic or educational status – or vaccination status – are to operate as divisions within the Christian community or barriers to the fellowship we share because of Jesus.”

Raffel is strongly expressing a desire that churches should be open to all, in the context of the NSW government plan to grant freedoms to the vaccinated shortly after that State reaches 70 per cent double dosed with the Covid vaccines. The plan is that those freedoms, including church attendance, will not be available to the unvaccinated.

Not every Christian or even churchgoer is so concerned about vaccine passports. As Eternity has reported, a majority of churchgoers support a vaccine passport without this exemption.

The Archbishop is not seeking to gather a band of supporters for a political position but simply to have churches as open to as many people as possible. He is not spoiling for a fight – as some other commentary appears to want to do. But he makes his point firmly.

The Archbishop is out in public supporting church for all telling Channel 7. “When it comes to faith communities, it tends to be very important, so we do think there’s a case to say it’s a bit more like shopping or going to the doctor than going to the footy or going to the movies,” he said.

“It’s something that is very essential to people.

“We do want people to be vaccinated, but we want to make sure no one gets left behind.”

In some Christian commentary, much of it on social media, a variety of other reasons for protesting vaccine passports alongside the principle of churches to admit all to worship can be found.

  • Supporting the arguments of Vaccine-hesitant people and/or anti-vaxxers.
  • The view that the state has no right to regulate the church – the stance of John Macarthur, reflected by some Australian websites.
  • Supporters of alternative medical treatments.
  • Libertarians and others are concerned that public health restrictions could become permanent.
  • Those who doubt vaccine efficacy.

Raffel is not making any of these points. But as well as his call wanting churches to be open, the way the Archbishop frames the discussion should be read carefully.

The word indefinite is important. The Archbishop is aware – like the rest of us – that after the 70 per cent “double dose” restrictions are implemented, we will be moving on towards a new set of restrictions and freedoms, possibly at the 80 per cent milestone. There might only be a few weeks between reaching 70 per cent and 80 per cent double dosed. Other measures such as rapid antigen testing may come into play.

Other nations such as Denmark and the UK are lifting their restrictions including vaccine passports.

For these reasons the restriction on unvaxxed people going to church is going to be time-limited. Is a temporary restriction a hill to die on? Is it worth running a civil disobedience campaign – defying the rules – over what may be a few weeks of waiting for the vaccination rate to climb?

It’s worth repeating the Archbishop is not spoiling for a fight. Instead, his balanced approach is one of public advocacy, engaging in negotiations, and not getting locked into civil disobedience. Is the Archbishop trying to get the restriction on church attendance by the unvaxxed removed? Yes. Will he call for churches to rush to disobey the public health order? We suspect not. Not unless it became a long-term ban.

The whole statement Raffel gave to The Sydney Morning Herald reflects the balanced view he is putting across. (Eternity is printing the whole thing, the Nine paper did not.)

“We are thankful that, in answer to many prayers, vaccines have been developed which give a measure of protection against COVID-19. 

“The government has rightly identified that places of worship provide an essential service and even more so in the isolation and uncertainty that COVID has brought. 

“Even with the interim easing of restrictions after 70 per cent, churches will only be able to open in a limited way under the 4 square metre rule and extra online services will have to continue. 

“Jesus is Lord of all, and his gospel is a gospel for all. Churches have a responsibility to minister to all, regardless of immunisation status, so we will be discussing with government how we can fulfil that ministry commitment in future stages of the recovery.

“We want everybody to be safe at church but we also want to make sure we minister to everybody.”

Raffel is leaning on the government, to treat church as truly essential. But Australia is experiencing a graduated re-opening and he notes that the 4 sq metre rule will cause churches to turn away people anyway.

Campaigners such as the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL), while calling for all freedoms (not just church) to be restored as soon as possible, also  “reluctantly” accept that a graduated exit from lockdowns is required – while opposing what they see as government overreach in the form of vaccine passporting.

Whether vaccine passports should be required for churches is one thing. Whether they should be used at all is a whole different issue. No vaccine passports is a view held by less than a fifth of Australians (and Australian Christians).

In this debate, ACL, though running with a broader campaign than the Archbishop, is nowhere near the right-hand edge of the debate where heated rhetoric about “communism” and scepticism about whether the Covid rules will be wound back, feature. And yes, 666 can be found. Some want to build a Christian libertarian political force, somewhat in the American manner.

“Kaniska is leading well,” a WA pastor told Eternity recently and we agree.

The Archbishop is not spoiling for a fight. Others are – and that is their right to campaign.

But quiet persuasion and patience will most likely see us back in church before long. God willing.

Let’s ban the laughing emoji

Whether it is unvaxxed people kept away from church, people who can’t fit because of the 4 sq metre rule, or people especially vulnerable to Covid who stay away, it is painful for the body of Christ. It is not a time to mock but to mourn that we are apart.

It happens to be NSW holding the unvaccinated in lockdown in greater Sydney. But it is unpredictable whether this happens elsewhere. Not only the Archbishop of Sydney but many other Christian leaders around the country will be discussing this with our State political leaders.

Please pray for them.







Some prayer points to help

Please pray for wisdom for our  church leaders and our politicians and their health officials