Felicia Wong

Love in the time of Covid – gospel unity on an astonishingly divisive issue of our time

Felicia's is CMF's Head of Doctors' Ministries and a GP in London
The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of CMF.

Are you aware that there is a silent spiritual battle going on within our church families?

I have come across many Christian brothers and sisters who are very distressed and yet feeling very alone and isolated within church families because their conscience before the Lord does not allow them to be vaccinated. This has become a taboo subject of conversation with very little tolerance or margin for discussion even amongst the church. And many are silently suffering the threat of job loss and societal ostracism.

Some of us may be in danger of elevating a ‘disputable’ matter (Romans 14:1-23) to a gospel issue, such that we pass judgment on one another where God doesn’t.

On 11 November 2021, it became law in England that anyone entering a CQC registered adult care home must have had a complete course of an authorised COVID-19 vaccine. Care home staff and volunteers can therefore only continue to work if fully vaccinated. And Sajid Javid, the Health Secretary, has confirmed that it will become compulsory for frontline NHS staff in England to be fully vaccinated against Covid from April 2022. Northern Ireland has launched a consultation on the issue, while Wales and Scotland currently have no plans to introduce such regulations.

As a result of the Westminster Government’s mandate for care home workers, many Christian care workers have already had to choose between going against their faith conscience in order to retain their job or seeking alternative employment.

This is particularly devastating given that the majority of health and social care workers across the NHS have low income and job prospects, many are from Black and other minority backgrounds and there are already difficulties recruiting into the health and social care sectors.

Mandatory vaccination is designed to ensure that care home residents and patients are better protected from the risks of death and serious illness that can arise from contracting COVID-19. However, proponents of mandating vaccination for those who work in healthcare settings are working from the still-unproven assumption that fully vaccinated staff are significantly less likely to transmit the virus to others. Although initial studies for some vaccines show that there may be a small decrease, impact decreases over time, and we are still awaiting any conclusive data.

There are a variety of reasons why some may choose not to be vaccinated in our society: personal autonomy, concern for physical and mental wellbeing, the use of aborted foetal cell lines in the research or development of the COVID-19 vaccines currently available in the UK (not least because of the ongoing widespread acceptance of abortion in our society and organ harvesting from aborted babies).

There are two very important related considerations at stake with regards to this issue:

1) our attitude and love towards our unvaccinated (or vaccinated) brother and sister; and
2) the right of conscientious objection.

We have looked at the latter in previous blog posts, so this post will focus on the former.

We are called to welcome and not despise our brothers and sisters (Romans 14:1-3) who are fully convinced in their own minds that they cannot in good conscience before the Lord take this vaccine. Equally, we are told not to pass judgement on those whose consciences allow them to accept the vaccine.

The one who takes the vaccine takes it in honour of the Lord, giving thanks to God; while the one who abstains from the vaccine, abstains in honour of the Lord and equally gives thanks to God (v 6).

It is not for us to pass judgment on one another on disputable matters, ultimately each of us will give an account to God and it is before him that we stand or fall (v 12).

There is probably more disagreement in our church families than we realise, with brothers or sisters who are too afraid or anxious to talk about their position for fear of being despised because they are in the minority and feel isolated. This should not be so! We are called to be a loving family, not warring factions who ‘no platform’ those whose opinions we don’t like, as the wider ‘cancel’ culture does.

Both the GMC and NMC make allowances for doctors, nurses and midwives to exercise conscientious objection in good medical and nursing practice. If these secular organisations can practice accommodation for the beliefs of others, how much more should we?

So, let us not call ‘evil’ what another brother or sister regards as good. And if we hear others expressing negative opinions about one side or the other, let us urge them to consider the way of love.

If we grieve one another over this issue, we are no longer walking in love.  There should be no division in the body of Christ, but we should have equal concern for each other whether suffering or rejoicing (1 Corinthians 12:26).

And in standing together side by side united as Christians on this astonishingly divisive issue, imagine what a distinctive witness that would be to the watching world around us.

So how can we show our unity and love for our brothers and sisters on either side of this issue?

  • The ‘weaker’ Christian should not pass judgment on the ‘stronger’; the ‘stronger’ Christian should not despise the ‘weaker’ – we ought instead to repent and welcome one another, giving thanks to and honouring God
  • Christian leaders can speak more openly on this issue encouraging our church families to look out for and love one another and be united as a witness to the world
  • The vaccinated Christian can support, stand up and speak for the unvaccinated brother’s freedom of conscience in healthcare and wider society
  • Add your voice by signing a petition to Government to prohibit employers from requiring staff to be vaccinated against COVID-19
  • Pray for our nation and our world – that the Lord would be glorified by the witness of the church united, standing together to stand up and speak out for truth and justice.

For the kingdom of God is not a matter of being vaccinated or unvaccinated but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding (see Romans 14:17-19).

 

 

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