Agreeable disagreement, Eternity and the vax mandates

“The rush of adrenaline soars through my veins, as my heart pulsates in my chest,” writes protester Cartia Moore on the ChristianToday website.

“I take a moment to look around. The courageous smiles, the fierceness in their eyes, the strength in their voices – these are my people, my tribe. They are the heartbeat of Australia.

“Together we walk, no, we march, side by side through the streets, united. Families, children, newborn babies cradled in their mother’s arms, the old and the young, doctors, nurses, teachers, firefighters, tradies, carers – we all march together in unison, peacefully protesting, and standing for our rights and our freedoms.”

For Moore, who goes on to claim a million Australians marched against vaccine mandates ten days ago, and that those who support mandates are the ones sowing disunity and division, as she sees her “tribe” as representing most of Australia. Marching in a large crowd is indeed a powerful experience – where the unity of the crowd is palpable.

(Police estimates of the crowds 20,000 in Melbourne, 9,000 in Sydney, invite readers to work out where between these two estimates the crowd numbers were.)

Last week Eternity pointed out that a majority of Christians supported vaccine mandates, according to a survey. Stephen Chavura responded “If these events are an embarrassment to the majority of self-identified Christians – as Eternity Magazine recently suggested – and to Christian institutional/intellectual elites, just remember, that’s nothing new in church history. These rallies are remarkable evangelistic opportunities, and laypeople are making the most of them.”

Chavura is a deservedly respected Christian academic and author. Eternity reporting that many Christians take a different view to him does not equate to us saying that Christians should be embarrassed.

But he raises a very important point. There are Christians in these demonstrations and there are Christians who have decided not to go. Perhaps people on either side are frustrated, puzzled or, yes, embarrassed at the other. We disagree – and perhaps any public disagreements between Christians is embarrassing.

But can we agree to disagree, agreeably?

Cartia Moore’s accusation of promoting disunity is a charge Eternity has heard to describe both sides of the vaccine or vaccine mandate questions.

Who knows what the next steps will be in the Covid story? The new variant or another newer variant may turn out to be something that needs extra precautions at a time most are weary of lockdowns and travel bans, or it may be what some epidemiologists have hoped for – a more transmissible variant that produces a milder response.

At some of the rallies, the Lord’s prayer has been recited, and speeches made – particularly in Sydney and Brisbane – that delare human freedoms come from God (not the state) that all of us are answerable to our creator. Some in the crowd have asked to find out more and free Bibles are on offer. Controversial evangelist Pat Meseti, a political conservative who is holding a series of his own rallies, tells Eternity over 150 have come to Christ recently.

All Christians should rejoice in the gospel being preached. Paul rejoiced in the gospel being preached no matter the motive in Philippians 1:18, and I think we might say “rejoice whatever the politics of the preacher or their views about Covid” in the present age.

We all need to be genuine about this.

Eternity has been clear that we respect the science that supports the efficacy of the vaccines in reducing the chances of being infected, becoming seriously ill or being hospitalised with Covid disease and reduces the time in which people have a high viral load.

We have published Christian responses to the issues of cell lines derived from aborted fetal tissue and provided details of how this affects the specific vaccines in use. There are some Christians who refuse vaccines on these grounds, a small number with a profound issue of conscience.

Others have objections to vaccines or mandates on the basis of a philosophical or political position – for example, a Libertarian view on the role of government. We have published opinion pieces, for example by Tim Costello and the authors of the Ezekiel declaration, on general views on mandates. But they were general pieces, not about the specific mandates in each state or about political leaders. We aim to be a non-partisan news source.

One of the tasks facing Christians is sympathising with the pain of the unvaxxed, even while a large majority of us disagree with them.

Here’s one Christian teacher’s response:

“I am sitting up at Wivenhoe Dam, enjoying the peace and beauty and pondering my future. Last Tuesday my life was changed in an instant when I heard that the Queensland government had mandated the Covid vaccination for all school staff. I knew immediately that I would be resigning from my teaching position. I will be finishing next Wednesday.

“While I am past retirement age, I’d hoped to work for another two or three years. I enjoy and find great satisfaction in my work – I love the children and it is a joy to know I can make a positive difference in their lives. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing several former students return to the college as my colleagues, and of seeing others in time bring their own children to us. I have an amazing group of colleagues whom I will miss greatly. There will be a huge gap in my life for a while.

“I will be fine and I have the peace of God, but my heart goes out to younger colleagues whose life’s work is just beginning and who have major financial responsibilities. I will continue to pray and advocate for them, while standing against this arrogant, heartless and power-hungry state government. I pray that God will turn their hearts and I rejoice in the fact that nothing is too hard or too wonderful for Him.”

There is another group – those especially vulnerable – many of whom view having unvaccinated people in the community as dangerous.

Here’s how one commentator on Eternity’s Facebook page responded to some protesters’ stories we published.

“Frankly, I am horrified that EN feels the need to be ‘balanced’ and to offer inches to this side of a no-brainer argument. Those who refuse to get vaccinated are putting my life – and the lives of countless others – at risk. I am double-dosed, and about to get a booster because any extra load on my immunity is likely to result in organ failure. And then, of course, there are those who medically cannot be vaccinated. Your ‘youth’ and ‘strong immune system’ will not protect me or them, yet this is the reason I have heard most often from Christians who don’t want to be vaccinated.

“Why exactly is this deserving of an article? If you have issues with how the vaccine is being rolled out or required within different sectors of society, then, by all means, protest politically. But those who couple their objections with a counterproductive move of not getting vaccinated, or attend such protests which only stoke the fires of vaccine hesitancy or refusal – shame on you.

“Especially those who – as I have heard several people mention in the media – when you don’t consider yourself an anti-vaxxer, ‘just this vax’. Why this vax? Would you feel the same if the death rates were higher? If the disease caused more obvious results, as in smallpox? How deadly or visible does something have to be before you put the lives of others before your own political agenda? How dare you prioritise your ‘rights’ over the LIVES of others.”

Two cries of pain. Arguably, Christians should care for both groups.

Eternity has not put forward a position on particular mandates – because the first issue would be “which ones?” – the NSW ones which are now easing, the WA ones, or the Victorian ones which are far tougher. We suspect that there would be a huge majority in favour of mandated vaccines for nursing homes and medical staff, and others such as restricted numbers of unvaccinated in Victorian churches would be less popular. And depending on how Omicron turns out, opinion will shift. But it is not Eternity’s mission to take political sides.

We have concentrated our news coverage on how the rules have affected churches, and even provided technical advice on how to make sure you have good ventilation.

But the point is that Christians disagree on mandates. Accusations of causing division, however well-meant, can simply be a version of “if you all agreed with me things would be fine”.

There is a real need, on Facebook and off, to talk kindly to each other. No one should feel they have to hide their opinions. Attack ideas, not people. If someone disagrees with you, they are not sinning. Yet Scripture warns us against “rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy” (Galatians 5: 20–21 ESV) all of which are risks when discussions get heated.

Disputes over mandates are not the first time Christians have been divided on a political issue. Australia saw two referendums over conscription during WWI which pitted (nearly all) Catholics versus (nearly all) Protestants. The Catholic-backed side won twice. No Conscription. Looking back a century later, one lesson is that even very bitter fights can be left behind and barely remembered.

Yet during later wars, Australian young men were conscripted. And perhaps the lesson from that is that those who believe that “bodily autonomy” once lost is forever lost – and conscription into an army is the most extreme example of denying bodily autonomy – should look at our all-volunteer army. This dispute like many others will pass into history. In the meantime, we need to learn how to talk to each other.