NZ church's coronavirus cluster is a cautionary tale

A church which has become the centre of a coronavirus cluster in Auckland, has caused such a negative reaction against Christians on social media that local leaders have appealed for people to stop stigmatising Christians.

A “sub cluster” of 43 cases was sparked after a member of Mount Roskill Evangelical Fellowship, who had been tested for coronavirus but failed to self isolate, attended a bereavement event the NZ Herald reports.

Police were “were called to shut down the Mount Roskill Evangelical Fellowship prayer meeting on August 15, while Auckland was under alert level 3 and gatherings of up to 10 were only allowed for funerals and tangihanga (a Māori mourning ceremony) or wedding services,” the paper says.

Members of the church were slow to have coronavirus tests or co-operate with contact tracing – but now most have been tested.

There is a risk the church has lengthened the time the Auckland outbreak will require the city will have coronavirus restrictions.

“We have had some pretty aggressive social media commentary.” – Michael Wood, Labor MP.

“Mt Roskill’s MP is … calling on internet trolls to stop writing nasty comments on social media,” Labour’s Michael Wood told Newshub, saying the comments were uncalled for.

“It is true that there has been some of that kind of behaviour where some people have reacted to what is going on or what they think is going on,” he said. “We have had some pretty aggressive social media commentary.”

Cath News reports that “Health officials believe stigma around Mt Roskill church members testing positive for Covid-19 is halting public health efforts. The Ministry of Health says the privacy of those who are part of the Evangelical Fellowship needs to be respected … to ensure members continue to cooperate with testing.”

However NZ’s outspoken Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters argues that a tough line should be taken against the church.

“The so-called team of five million had to follow the rules,” he told radio station Magic Talk. “… When someone is defying science and gravity… and costing the country a fortune [with] businesses going out of business and people losing their work, the response of the Government should be, ‘Here’s what the systemic rules are, and you’re going to abide by them – if you don’t, here comes the cost.'”

Mt Roskill Fellowship trustee Kelly Vogel … said that science does have a place in society but he wouldn’t do things differently next time.

Long-serving Mt Roskill Fellowship trustee Kelly Vogel told the stuff.co.nz website that the church was widely misinterpreted and unfairly described, but that was the price to pay for following God’s word in a society where many others didn’t. He also said that science does have a place in society but he wouldn’t do things differently next time.

“For months, I’ve watched on in frustration and deep embarrassment as the country’s most notorious and provocative Christian voices raged at limits on mass gatherings and others deliberately and arrogantly flouted the rules,” Christian Journalist Matt Burrows writes in a Newshub opinion piece.

Among others, Brown lists megachurch pastor Brian Tamaki  of Destiny Church as protesting against the government restrictions.

“I was contacted a fortnight ago by a Christchurch man whose former church [identified as Celebration Church in Christchurch in another article] had posted on Facebook urging members to invite ‘ALL your friends and family’ to a meeting, then gloated about violating the rules when more than 100 people turned up.”

“Later, presumably in explanation, the church wrote: ‘You will not get covid from God’,” Brown writes.

“The recent eruption of cases out of the Mt Roskill Fellowship Church – and the subsequent impact it may have on whether we shift down an alert level next week – should prove why that’s simply untrue, and why those measures were justified.”

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Some prayer points to help

Please pray for the members of Mt Roskill Evangelical Fellowship. Play for the family involved with the “bereavement ceremony” that sparked the cluster. Pray for wise words for New Zealand Christians discussing this cluster.

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