The possibility of vaccine passports is back on the table again. On Monday the Prime Minister announced that these would be imposed on nightclubs as mandatory in September and that unlike with previous/voluntary options, the requirement would be for patrons to show they had been fully vaccinated. Currently, the COVID vaccine scheme offers three options
- That you can show you’ve been double vaccinated
- That you can show you have antibodies against COVID
- That you can show you have tested negative for COVID recently
The proposal from Monday would be quite a strong step into areas of civil liberties effectively binding consciences. There was understandably some concern as the PM referred to crowded venues/large crowds in poorly ventilated venues. Would some churches come under this? My suspicion was that this was intended as a bit of hardball to get nightclubs to act more responsibly following re-opening.
Then on Thursday, Vaccines Minister made a further announcement on the issue. Listening carefully, you will realise that this is in fact a softening of the Government’s stance. The Government now reserves the right to introduce vaccine passports on a mandatory basis but doesn’t seem so definite that it will do so. Further, they are once again including the second and third options. I suspect that after the immediate panic announcement the whips have done some parliamentary arithmetic and worked out that with opposition parties lining up to vote down a hard-line measure and a significant Tory backbench rebellion that there is no way they will be able to get Monday’s proposal through.
However, this tweet from Talk radio set hares racing because the tweet (not the actual speech) mentioned churches.
Understandably people reacted strongly. I think the assumption was that Monday’s threat was being extended to churches and the fear was that this would mean churches would be forced to turn away those unable or unwilling through conscience either to be vaccinated or to share this information with others. So, the result was that some people got quite inflammatory and announced that any church not opposing such plans tooth and nail was not a true church.
Hopefully we can take a step back, breath and look at this with some perspective. I think that the hardline proposal on Monday would cause all of us serious problems. However there will be amny in our churches and many leaders who will consider some form of checking as part of contact tracing not unreasonable as we move out of lockdown but with the threat of the pandemic overhanging us still.
In such cases, churches may choose to employ some version of the COVID passport. This does not mean they are about to exclude people from church based on a conscience issue. In such a circumstance, my presumption is that the church would expect someone who is at risk of transmitting COVID to stay at home for a Sunday just as they would if ill with any other infectious disease. They are not seeking to exclude people and they are not doing anything dishonoruing to Christ or against God’s Word. They are not compromising with Caesar, they are simply wrestling with how best to care for one another in the body.
Similar, other churches will feel that they cannot comply, that this is a disproportionate incursion too far. It is important that more cautious believers recognise that this does not mean those churches don’t care about love for neighbour or are being reckless. Just as with the churches using some form of certification, we need to look carefully at what those churches are proposing to look after their members and community.
At the moment, the system isn’t being enforced as mandatory and I remain hopeful that it wont do and that even if it does churches are likely to be below any threshold. However I cannto promise that for certain. So if this does get put through, we will need to decide whether or not we comply and on what basis. If we comply then we need to ensure that this is done in a way that does not discriminate or exclude.
If we don’t comply then we need to still think about what it means to be responsible. If you really believe that there is no risk at all from COVID then go ahead and protest by encouraging your congregation to pack into the building sans masks and sans passport Alternatively, if you agree that there are risks but COVID passports are wrong then you’ll need to decide how to go ahead, The obvious way forward would in my opinion be to run smaller, more spaced out services so that you don’t come under the “crowded” classification.
Whatever our decisions on this, let’s continue to be gracious in our conversations with each other and maintain true Gospel unity.