It doesn’t matter how bad a crisis is, the crisis is not God. You must not bring all things into submission to the crisis.
There will always be some things which are more important and that therefore must be protected from the crisis response. Even in wartime certain rights and freedoms were protected.
Crisis totalitarianism makes all things submit to the management of the crisis, no matter how important they are. That is wrong, but people accept it readily because they’re afraid and they’re looking for a saviour.
Totalitarianism often uses a crisis as an excuse to get started. The government becomes the saviour that people are seeking in their fear. I think the present COVID-19 crisis is an example of crisis totalitarianism.
The question is: Where are the lines in the sand? At what point must we say, “No, that’s too far”?
Here are three lines in the sand we can hold to as clear, obvious, moral principles – not just political philosophy…
- The first line in the sand is when conscience is coerced.
- The second line is when people are no longer equal.
- The third line is when the state interferes with the church.
The state should always allow for people’s conscience.
Even in wartime there were policies for conscientious objectors, and it doesn’t matter whether you agree with someone’s conscience or not, it ought to be given a place. That’s why I believe mandatory vaccination and vaccine mandates are wrong.
This must be a matter of voluntary medical treatment; it must never be coerced. Whether or not you’re vaccinated, the consciences of others still matter. We should not become so self-righteous as to forget that and impose our decisions on others without mercy.
Why? Because a person’s conscience is a faculty through which they are convicted of God and by which they respond to God. The state risks usurping the place of God in a person’s life when it coerces their conscience and injures their conscience - which, by the way, is a serious injury - because it creates guilt. Guilt has massive psychological impacts on a person. The state goes well beyond legitimate authority and does real harm when it injures the conscience.
It’s tragic that it’s a hallmark of Australian governments in this past decade that they have no time for conscience. They pass laws which make limited, or no provision for conscience. The most obvious ones recently have been abortion to birth laws – with no doctors’ conscience provisions – and the same with euthanasia laws in most states.
When it comes to conscience in the area of COVID vaccines, I think the issue is worse because vaccine mandates threaten peoples’ livelihoods. To unjustly rob a person of their livelihood is immoral. Work is God’s will for the human person. Policies which undermine people’s work or their ability to provide for their families are therefore wicked policies.
Here’s the second line in the sand: When people are no longer equal.
This goes to the issue of dividing vaccinated and unvaccinated in such a way that their rights are significantly unequal, and their participation in society is significantly unequal.
When the government creates an underclass by depriving them of participation in society and signalling their inferiority to others, people almost like robots start to hate them. This is one of the tragic reflections on human nature.
All the horror stories of totalitarian states begin with this kind of segregation, from the very worst like Nazi Germany to the very modern like Venezuela.
And see, Christianity was a key force in fundamentally transforming the way people are treated under the law. Each person is treated as equally made in God’s image, but fallen. Therefore the law guides us towards what is right as a standard, but it also applies to each of us equally with no discrimination.
I draw the line on people no longer being equal for good practical reasons from history – but also on strong Christian principle.
The unvaccinated have committed no evil. They are not preventing the nation from hitting world-leading vaccination rates. It is unnecessary therefore to treat them unequally – it is also just plain unrighteous in principle – and it’s socially dangerous.
But I have a greater concern even than these – this is my third line in the sand – and it’s when the state interferes with the church.
The issue I’m talking about is vaccine passports for churches or church services.
Most major denominations in NSW have expressed public concerns about this because it’s obviously unscriptural. It’s obviously not tenable. The state is interfering with the operation of churches and demanding that they put ‘no entry’ signs on their doors for the unvaccinated. That’s quite inconsistent with the nature of Jesus Christ, whose church this is.
Vaccination status is not a division which exists in Jesus, therefore it’s not a division which exists in His church. Any policy which imprints that division on His church, whether in reality or just symbolically, is wrong.
Vaccination itself is a matter of Christian wisdom and judgment. It’s not a clear-cut matter of sin and righteousness, and it’s only matters of sin and righteousness over which Jesus draws dividing lines.
We are all one in Christ Jesus and the church must be a beacon of that truth. A practice or policy which divides the body of the church, which shows partiality in the church, or creates groups in the church and limits participation without Scriptural license, is wrong.
James 2 reads as follows, “Show no partiality as you hold to faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory.” Then he gives an example which is in a church setting, of giving preferred seating and showing deference to someone because they’re wealthy. He says, “Have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?” He concludes, “If you show partiality you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.”
That would seem to me to strongly warn against putting unvaccinated people on Zoom and giving the pews to the vaccinated. It’s partiality. It’s a symbol of divisions among us which are not divisions which we find in Christ.
The alternative to partiality and exclusion is found in Christ. Jesus said, “He who comes to me, I will never cast out.” He modelled that in reaching out to the poor, the marginalised, the sick, the underclasses, and even the lepers, and He broke down those divisions in society which did not exist in Him.
The functions of the church – administering sacraments, proclaiming the Gospel, teaching Scripture, corporate worship – they are open to all on this basis. To say no to someone’s equal and unqualified inclusion in any of these activities would require a reason based in Scripture.
The only Scriptural reason to exclude someone from unmitigated church fellowship is church discipline which attaches to matters of serious sin. Of course, sin and righteousness is a dividing line which we find legitimated in Christ. Although, church discipline hasn’t existed in 99% of Western churches for a long time. I don’t believe we can put the unvaccinated under church discipline.
The problem is, these things are already happening. It’s fine to say it’s wrong – which it is. But what on earth are we supposed to do?
The fact is, you are faced with a choice.
If you are under a vaccine mandate - get vaccinated or face a big consequence - my heart goes out to you. What I say now, I am saying in the hope that it is helpful to you.
I don’t believe it can be said that the vaccine itself is right or wrong. The vaccine is a piece of medical technology which serves a particular purpose; it is not in itself right or wrong. But some people say, “But everything that’s behind all of this is wrong.” Well, welcome to the real world! It has been like that for a long time.
I think our motives can be right or wrong. The person in this situation is being forced to examine their motives. The Apostle Paul says in matters of conscience, “Let each one be convinced in their own mind” (Romans 14). Then he says we’ll give an account to God for our decision.
A bad motive would be fear, or simply considering your own rights. But some people conscientiously object on the basis of the foetal cell lines issue. Some are taking a stand for political or solidarity reasons to oppose what they believe to be wrong in principle.
A lot of people are taking the jab simply to keep their job. Is that wrong? It definitely is not wrong! You’re doing something that is not sinful in order to preserve your place in a righteous endeavour – which is work – so you haven’t done anything bad at all.
I’m not saying that people who have a conscientious objection and therefore have lost their job have done wrong. But either way, check your motive. If you’re still in doubt, follow your conscience.
Of course, none of this frees us from consequences, whether it be the loss of a job, the loss of equality in a two-tier society, whether temporarily or long-term.
What about vaccinated church services?
The phrase, ‘Dare to be a Daniel’ comes in here. Daniel is an example of someone seeking to be faithful to God in an ungodly society. There was an edict by King Darius that nobody prayed to any God, instead, they must pray only to King Darius for a temporary period of time. And it was Daniel’s practice to pray three times per day, in his window.
Many are dismissing vaccinated church services on the basis that it is temporary, or likely to be temporary. But the edict of the king was only for 30 days. Others are dismissing it because church can be changed in a way that accommodates people differently.
Notice this though, Daniel didn’t change the manner of his praying. It always seemed to me that he had other options; he could have gone into his closet out of view. Why didn’t he? Because what he was doing was right, he wouldn’t cease doing it – even temporarily – and he also wouldn’t change the manner of doing it to accommodate an unrighteous law.
I tell you, big things are happening in our day. Global political changes are happening because of this pandemic. It is reshaping the world in key ways. This is a moment that history will record as a pivot for the whole Western world, at least. We should be praying that good will come from this, and evil will be thwarted.
This is an edited transcript of the sermon, “Crisis totalitarianism and COVID-19.” Watch the entire message here.