Tim Costello: beware the Ezekiel Declaration's 'sowing seeds of vaccine hesitancy'

Christians are again being caught up in a dilemma about who to trust. This is not simply the vaccination or anti-vaccination camps or the lockdown or open-up camps but more fundamentally it’s about which Christian leaders do I trust?

On one side we have those who have publicly stated they have been vaccinated such as the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney, Brian Houston of Hillsong and Archbishop Mark Coleridge president of the Catholic bishops’ conference, along with most other denominational heads of the Baptist, Uniting and Churches of Christ.

On the other side, there are the signatories of the Ezekiel Declaration who are subtly undermining vaccination and dressing up the national push by our Government towards 80% vaccination before a Freedom Day as coercion. In their minds it will lead to two tiers of Australians, those with vaccine passports and those without. And separating between them will deny religious liberty. So, who as a Christian do you trust?

At this stage, no one in Government is mandating vaccinations as they accept that there are both moral and religious objections to such a mandate. But they have commissioned the Doherty Institute to model a responsible way forward and are backing its findings. It concludes in short that we can only reasonably open up when 80% of adults are vaccinated. Even then that modelling suggests that any opening up will still have restrictions and there will be 280,000 Covid infections in the first six months and a thousand deaths. There is no easy path out.

The Ezekiel project are very focused on liberty and exhorting people into not being afraid. But that is only one side of the fear coin as many in the vaccine hesitancy camp are very afraid of the side effects of the vaccine. Many are convinced that this is a UN or World Health Organisation and or a Bill Gates plot.

Many are fearful that this is the thin edge of religious liberties and that the unvaccinated will be unable to freely attend Church. Or worse still, Church leaders will have to turn people away. Fears abound. They choose to only emphasise that they stand for freedom from the fear of lockdown with its mental health and economic restraints. Fair enough. But to quote verses that say ‘fear not’ requires that they transparently acknowledge they are just as fearful as those they target for trusting the vax.

In the US many white evangelicals are refusing the vax because they assert that God protects them and they celebrate their faith. However the same group are loud supporters of the right to carry a gun and among the highest percentage of gun owners. To which the reasonable question might be asked if God protects you, why do you need a gun? Indeed fears abound among those Christians who are now crying fear not about the threat of Covid.

The irony should not be lost if Christians decide to trust the leaders of the Ezekiel Declaration. Why? Because they are sowing seeds of vaccine hesitancy which will likely see Australia never reach 80% set by our PM. He has declared that the target must be reached to safely avoid lockdowns and the surrendering of freedoms that they entail. Without reaching that target we will never open up. A significant minority has a veto over us reaching that point in the name of their religious liberty. And they torpedo the very thing they are demanding – namely liberty to open up.

In the end, an individualist libertarian ethic of my rights is not a biblical worldview.

A workers compensation tribunal here has just found that an employer whose staff member died from Covid in the course of his work duties is liable. This case of George Sara goes beyond the current State ‘deeming’ provisions for essential workers where such a death because it occurs in front line work, is deemed to be compensable by the Employer. It extends to all businesses that are required to provide a Covid safe workplace. This inevitably means that Employers will be demanding evidence of vaccination to come to the office and workplace. This is not Government coercion of ‘no-job if no-jab’ but an extension of the common law duty of care. To cry loss of liberty must reckon with the liberty of small businesses to protect themselves and their workplaces. ‘Fear not’ does cut the ice as there are multiple legitimate fears.

In the end, an individualist libertarian ethic of my rights is not a biblical worldview. Focusing on ‘my liberties and my rights’ has little resonance in Scripture. The message of Scripture is always about the needs of the other person, or the least in the Kingdom, not the rights of the strong. Indeed, the Son of Man came to serve – not to be served.

Humans are made in the image of a Trinitarian God. The Trinity is a community of three which is self-serving, self-surrendering and going out in love on mission for a lost world. If we are made in that image we are made for community and not for ourselves. Selfishness and fear even cleverly dressed up as faith, is not about community. It is not a Christian faith.

So which leaders should Christians trust? Those leaders who are thinking of others, not themselves. Leaders who are not trumpeting their libertarian rights. Those leaders caring for the welfare of the whole community and are prepared to put their self-interests aside for the benefit of others. We are all in this together and we need to walk the path towards coming through it together.

Editor’s note: in the original the church leaders cited as being vaccinated were said to have been urging their flocks to do likewise. Some have done this in words, others have simply let their personal stance be made public.  


Some prayer points to help

Pray for wisdom for church leaders as the Covid emergency continues