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)

 

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