Churches and Vaccination Exemptions
It is disappointing that the leaders of the Roman Catholic and Anglican Churches in Sydney have foreshadowed they will seek exemptions to enable non vaccinated people to attend worship in their churches when, with ongoing safety measures, current restrictions are lifted. It would have been much more responsible to have advised the health minister they will do all in their power to ensure all who attend worship are vaccinated and that those not vaccinated will be pastorally cared for in an appropriately sensitive manner.
Of course, it is laudable that Church leaders wish access to their worship centres be open to all, but the request for exemptions for those who have had the opportunity to be vaccinated but choose otherwise, is not laudable. An exception should be those who have a medical reason why in their case vaccination is not possible. We are led to believe that while there are genuine cases, the number is quite small.
It should be the responsibility of Church leaders to do all they can to encourage members of their flock to be vaccinated. From a Christian perspective the reasons why are clear. First, we should take all reasonable measures to live healthy lives and avoid behaviours that mitigate against healthy wellbeing. There can be no reasonable argument that refusing to be vaccinated safeguards health. More importantly, from a Christian perspective we should do all that is reasonably possible to protect and safeguard others. It is quite clear that being vaccinated is to act responsibly in the interest and wellbeing of others.
The argument that religious communities are somehow exempt from regulations lawfully imposed by secular authorities on the whole community, is simply not plausible, unless it can be argued that what is proposed is morally wrong. Acting for the safety of the community is not morally wrong. From the first century onwards, Church leadership has been clear that the Christian community should comply with the requirements of secular authority in all things lawful and honest.
I am aware that both archbishops had earlier flagged they could not whole heartedly support the AstraZenica vaccine on grounds that historically it owes its origin to a foetus. While I do not support the argument, I respect the point being made. I do not support the argument for two reasons, first the link is historical and not dependent on the harvesting of contemporary foetus and second because I see no difference between harvesting life-giving material from a foetus or harvesting an organ from a deceased person. If the foetus was the result of an abortion, then the argument might have some force.
Notwithstanding all of the above, Pfizer and Moderna are mRNA vaccines manufactured in the lab and the majority of the population will have access to these vaccines as the supply becomes abundant before the end of the year.
It is singularly unfortunate that the most common reason given for refusing vaccination is that it is ‘against my religion’. We are aware that, emanating for the US, considerable material has become available on social media that has influenced the less well informed to resist vaccination on some spurious religious grounds. Apparently, this has become the most common reason given for vaccination hesitancy amongst the indigenous community. The decision of the Archbishops to seek an exemption unfortunately carries weight amongst the less well informed who need little encouragement to act on notions that carry no credibility.
That one Roman Catholic Bishop has flagged he will seek an exemption for unvaccinated priests to exercise ministry in aged care facilities is beyond irresponsible. Clergy exercise leadership, if only for members of their flock. They should be assisting the community to safely move into greater experiences of freedom. We know that vaccination is the pathway for greater liberty.
In these pandemic times it is the responsibility of all who exercise leadership to encourage behaviours that are consistent, behaviours that carry the same share of burden and the same opportunity for freedom.