I’ve spotted two examples questioning lockdown this week. The first is that some people have been arguing that lockdown was never required in the first place, that the curve was already being flattened before we entered lockdown.
The other is specific to the measures concerning churches as the Christian Legal Centre/Christian Concern For our nation and a number of prominent Christians have been protesting against the closure of church buildings as an infringement of religious freedom. There is apparently the possibility of a Judicial Review case.
Let’s take the two in turn
Should the lockdown have never happened at all?
I am happy to put my hand up as a bit of a lockdown sceptic. You may remember that I wrote very early on in this crisis that there is more than one way to die. Lockdown risks damaging people’s livelihoods and emotional health. It has disrupted how we interact socially with one another. There have also been physical risks too as people have been nervous about going to the hospital with other medical complaints (both the fear of catching the virus and also wanting to heed the call to protect our NHS).
So, I wasn’t sure that a lockdown was needed or the best thing to do. My personal opinion is that if we had done better at shutting down the borders and shielding care homes and other vulnerable people in the community then much of life could have continued as close to normal as possible. I also suspect that if we had to do lockdown then shorter but stricter would have been the way to go.
Yet, I felt that the reality of lockdown became inevitable over time. There were three reasons for this.
- The level of wilful non-compliance with the initial social distancing rules which we were seeing as people headed to the beeches and Snowdonia meant that stricter measures became inevitable.
- Peer pressure, what was happening in the wider world and the response of our media and public pressure here.
- The advice of SAGE and other experts.
Now, I may have thought that lockdown was unnecessary. However, my perspective came as an ordinary member of the public. I’m a pastor I know a little about human behaviour, my past career gives me some perspective on statistics, modelling, risk assessment and logistics. However, I am neither an epidemiologist nor a behavioural scientist.
Further, I am not the Prime Minister or a leading member of the government. This is crucial because it became very clear that our leaders were in a no-win situation. Whatever happened they were likely to be attacked on all sides. Those who thought measures were not needed would see the success of them as evidence that we never needed them in the first place. Meanwhile on the other side were those waiting to blame the government for any bad news.
The Government had to make a judgement call based on the best advice they had at the time. In the end, they were going to be legally, morally and politically accountable for whatever happened. I hope this affects how we engage with their decisions. It does not mean that we cannot disagree, criticise, challenge. It should affect how we engage with them though.
What about the churches
I am to be honest rather confused by this sudden protest and the prospect of a judicial review. This seems to be about using important resources and getting a lot of publicity for something which is about to happen in a few weeks time anyway.
I wonder how much this is about disagreement between the church and the government and disagreement between different people within the church. Much of the conversation seems to be more critical of other church leaders. The suggestion is that by complying with the measures, we have failed to stand up for religious liberty or to care for the flock and the Gospel. Those are quite serious charges.
Again, I have made the point time and time again in our discussions on communion that if it comes to a choice between what God tells us to do and what the Government tells us to do then we must obey God first. This is a Biblical principle. Further, I believe that the command to gather together to hear God’s word, encourage one another, praise him and share in the Lord’s supper has not been revoked or suspended. However, I am clear in my mind and conscience that we are obeying that command when we use technology like zoom to enable us to come together.
We have been asked to close our buildings for a time but we have not been asked to stop being churches or to silence the Gospel. My understanding is that the government have consistently been consulting church leaders -and those from other faiths too – to ensure that we are able to continue to function.
The very things that this group are asking for, to be able to open buildings and to provide for private prayer in them will be available from July 4th. I am not sure what benefit a Judicial Review will have. In fact, it is potentially detrimental. First of all, it is asking for things that will unhelpfully confuse the government. As a non-conformist evangelical, I have been bewildered at the emphasis on private prayer because I believe the Bible makes it clear (John 4) that we do not need to be in special buildings to pray. I have written an open letter to the PM explaining that this provision will be of no help to us at all. Secondly, I wonder whether this is a wise use of kingdom resources.
There may be issues about precedents set and the ability of governments to do things in the future that restrict liberties. However, I think we would do better to consider those issues as part of a wider, long term debate.
However, I can respect the right of those who disagree and feel strongly to take the action they feel necessary.
How do we respond when we disagree?
My concern here is about how Christians respond. I think that the following principles apply
- That we live in a democracy, we have freedom to think and to challenge. Therefore, we have the right and the responsibility to speak up. The responsibility comes from a concern for the truth.
- That as Christians we are called to love God with our whole heart, mind and soul -therefore, we should be speaking up where we are concerned for God’s glory. We should speak up in a way that honours him.
- That as Christians we are called to love our neighbours as ourselves. Therefore when we speak up, we should prioritise the rights and needs of others before our own personal preferences.
- That we are called to make disciples. We should speak up when this work is hindered.
- That we should respect the law and law makers, therefore we obey unless it contradicts God’s commands.
The last point is vital. There will be lots of times in life when we disagree with government policy. However, unless we are being asked to go against what God says, then whilst we can disagree and debate, we should obey the law that is in place.
It is probably too early to tell whether or not Lockdown was the right decision. If we disagree with decisions being made, it is absolutely right for us to speak up and say so. However, we need to remember that the Government has to make its decisions based on the best advice available to them. We may not always like or agree with the advice but when it comes to the crunch, we should seek to comply.