Is it always wrong to coerce somebody’s conscience?

In their Ezekiel Declaration, three Queensland Baptist pastors, and now 3019 ‘Church Leaders’ who have signed their declaration[1], say that one reason why our governments should not introduce a ‘vaccine passport’ is that the ‘conscience should never be coerced’.

Really? There is no occasion where it is reasonable for a Christian to have to do something against their sense of right and wrong? I don’t think so.

‘Coerce’. ‘to persuade someone forcefully to do something that they are unwilling to do’[2].

‘Conscience’. ‘a person’s sense of whether a behavior is right or wrong.[3]

We cannot rely on our conscience to always match God’s view. This is because the conscience is from God, but it is not God. We are all on a continuum stretching from new birth to perfection. And sometimes we are not very far along. Or moving very slowly. Or even slipping backwards in an area.

An example: however much you believe in your right to protect yourself from harm, if you carry a weapon into church, that’s an illegal act, and you will be coerced. For the common good. I think the signatories would all accept that coercion in this case is something that is reasonable by God’s Word (Romans 13:4).

If your COVID test has come back positive, it is likely that you are highly infectious. Therefore, whatever your conscience tells you about how much freedom of movement you should have, you won’t be allowed to come to church. Coerced. For the common good. I think the majority of the signatories would accept this coercion too.

If you are COVID unvaccinated, you are at greater risk of catching COVID. Whatever your reason for not being vaccinated. And you might not know that you have it. And then you can pass it on. The government may therefore require you and your unvaccinated friends not to attend an indoor function at the same time as those of your friends who are vaccinated. Whether or not the government institutes this requirement, I can see how a person using the wisdom of the Bible can come to the same conclusion. Others using their interpretation of that wisdom will not come to the same conclusion. This shows that it is not black and white like the Declaration suggests.

The Ezekiel signatories say that

A government that endeavours to force or coerce an individual who is striving to honour God, will find that they only encounter resistance.

We should all be ‘striving to honour God’. The fact that one or more of us resists the Government’s ‘coercion’ may mean only that we need to get a better sense of what’s right and wrong.

Let’s get….Back to The Gospel.

 

 

  1. In between writing and publication the signatures were removed and this message substituted:
  2. https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/coerce. Accessed 20 September 2021.
  3. Mangum, D. (2014). Conscience. D. Mangum, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, & R. Hurst (Eds.), Lexham Theological Wordbook. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press. Accessed via my Logos Bible Software, Version 9 (www.logos.com)

 

The Ezekiel Declaration: God’s warning without God’s reasoning?

On Thursday three Queensland Baptist pastors[1] published, on Cauldron Pool, a letter to our PM. It is an objection to the introduction of ‘vaccine passports’. They called the letter the ‘Ezekiel Declaration’. And their subtitle, ‘Watchmen, It’s Time To Speak’, made it clear that this was a warning from church leaders, the people who took over the role of the Old Testament prophets like Ezekiel).

The pastors don’t define what they mean by ‘vaccine passports’, but the content of their letter is consistent with this Australian Human Rights Commission explanation:

The pastors say that they are not the first in history to issue a warning about ‘vaccine passports’, quoting approvingly Abraham Kuyper’s 1880 equation of the threat from ‘vaccination certificates’ with that from smallpox. (Australia already has a vaccination certificate, so that boat has sailed, but if Kuyper had an objection to the use of the certificate to distinguish acceptable from unacceptable, the reference is valid.)

These pastors, and now 2011 church leaders who have signed the letter, say that

For many Christian leaders and Christians, this [the introduction of a ‘vaccine passport] is an untenable proposal that would inflict terrible consequences on our nation.

Their ‘terrible consequences’ are five: ‘an unethical two-tiered society’, ‘immeasurable pressures on ordinary people’, ‘coerced consciences’, ‘vaccines do not protect infection’, and Jesus is the only one who can legitimately restrict entry to church services.

Here’s the first one, the creation of ‘an unethical two-tiered society’[2]:

I can see how those who willingly get the vaccination form one group (but not a ‘tier’). But if there is only one other ‘tier’, then they have omitted a group in their second ‘tier’: those who have declined to be vaccinated but do not have ‘good and informed reasons for declining’. And if the people that I know are anything to go by, there are a significant number of people in this group who will, when presented with information, change their mind. The pastors are therefore either missing a ‘tier’ or overstating the strength of the ‘two-tiered society’. Of course, a binary conflict is the more powerful image.

One of these ‘good and informed reasons for declining’, the pastors say, is the belief that the vaccine rollout is a ‘clinical trial’. It is plausible that some people may believe this, but the pastors offer no evidence for the claim.

But it gets worse: the pastors then use a sentence taken completely out of context (and without proper citation), from a speech by the Commonwealth Minister for Health, to justify these people’s fear. Here’s the quote, highlighted, in context:

To suggest that the Minister was saying that the vaccines are still in the trial phase, is dishonest, and, to use the same yardstick that the pastors use, behaviour that is clearly contrary to Scripture.

The pastors then move on to claim that the proponents of the ‘passport’ are ‘promoting segregation’. Without evidence, this claim is beneath any right-thinking Christian, certainly a group of Christian leaders, and brings shame on the name of Jesus.

In the same emotive and unsupported way, they then claim that the ‘passport’ represents ‘therapeutic totalitarianism’, a totalitarianism and that would use the aim of the ‘personal safety health and safety’ of Australians to hide a measure that would ‘dehumanise and control’ Australians.

Conclusion on their first reason

The use of a ‘vaccine passport’ to determine whether I and my fellow Australians are eligible or ineligible for certain goods, services, and activities, may well be something that an evangelical Christian like myself should be against. But the authors of this letter, have not, through their first reason, made the case. (There are similar flaws in the reasoning for their other four claims.)

Let’s get….Back to the Gospel.

 

  1. Timothy Grant of Mount Isa Baptist Church, Matthew Littlefield of The Baptist Union of Queensland New Beith Baptist Fellowship, and Warren McKenzie of Biota Baptist Church
  2. The pastors’ division of the population into those who hold and ‘vaccine passport’ and those that don’t, ignores the fact that there may be possiblility of a third group: those people who get vaccinated but are allowed to elect not to be issued with a ‘passport’.

 

Leaders: a painting or a window?

A painting[1]:

A white window with black shutters Description automatically generated with low confidence

A window[2]:

A picture containing window, clouds, appliance Description automatically generated

I would like to be like the apostle Paul, a window to Christ:

We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters,[a] about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. 10 He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, 11 as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many [NIV].

Think of your leaders, the people you follow on social media, watch, see at conferences: are they a window to Christ?[3]

Let’s get…Back to The Gospel.

 

 

 

 

 

  1. Photo by 贝莉儿 DANIST on Unsplash
  2. Photo by Sasha Freemind on Unsplash
  3. Thanks to Paul Tripp in his book Lead [p. 60. Crossway. Kindle Edition]. Recommended for all Christian leaders (whether formal, ‘Big L’ leaders, or informal, ‘Little L’ leaders).