Update: Since posting this, I was invited to speak with LBC as well, although I’ve not seen that interview online anywhere. I have also been informed that churches and places of worship will not, in fact, be subject to vaccine passports.
I made an appearance on talkRADIO this morning. It is not a station I am familiar with, nor one I would generally be inclined to listen to. But I commented on something they posted on Twitter about the possibility of vaccine passports being required to enter churches and places of worship, and they invited me on to give a brief comment.
My hope was to stress the welcome of the Church, and the opportunity to encounter Jesus. As is always the case with these things, I only managed to say about half of what I wanted to say, and the conversation, not unexpectedly, turned towards the political side of things. But I thought a few further comments were in order, and this will get to the heart of the issue for me.
First, let me say that I have had the vaccine, and I would encourage others to do the same. I think the dangers of this virus are very real, and that on balance, the evidence proves vaccination to be beneficial both to individuals and to broader society. But at the same time, I will never stand in the doorway of one of my churches and tell someone they cannot come in because they have not been vaccinated.
There are three main reasons I will not do this. The first has to do with what I mentioned in the interview, and my concerns about an overreach of government power and control. The second has to to with human dignity. We have a long-standing tradition in this country – and indeed, in the Western world more broadly – of respecting and upholding the freedom and responsibility of each person. This is something we inherit from our foundation in the Christian tradition, and something I believe needs to be cherished and protected. Many people seem fairly relaxed about removing such freedoms temporarily in the name of the ‘greater good’, but this is a dangerous precedent to set, and I am glad to see a growing reaction against the idea.
Related to this, my opposition to something like vaccine passports is about refusing to be complicit in a new level of discrimination. The Church has always been a place that welcomes anyone, regardless of who they are, what they do, or what they think. More, we have been at the forefront of caring for the least in society, and in particular, making ourselves vulnerable and taking significant risks to care for people in times of sickness and distress. This is because of the example Jesus set for us. He had no conditions for who could come to him, and reached out to those who others wouldn’t. This is why, as I mentioned in the interview, I am glad the Church of England made clear last night in its guidance that we are in principle opposed to these vaccine passports, because it runs contrary to that idea of the Church being a home and a refuge for all.
The third reason for my stance on the idea of vaccine passports gets to something much deeper, and this is the bottom line for me. In these past eighteen months, both the government and the media have (very successfully) convinced many people that our physical health is the end and purpose of life, and that this matters more than anything else. But we have also been told that many people have been asking questions about who God is, where he is in all of this, and doing online searches for how to pray. The erosion of so much of life’s normality and the things people love and hold dear has pushed them to look for something deeper. As a priest, I believe those questions and longings can only begin to make sense in light of Jesus and his death and resurrection, and I do what I do because I believe that this story is the only one than ultimately offers meaning, purpose, and hope in a world of pain and confusion. And nowhere does this story become clearer than in the Church gathered in the presence of God in worship, receiving his grace in word and sacrament. Because of that, it would be a dereliction of my duty – and much more, a violation of the vows I made at my ordination – to prevent anyone from coming to a place where they can discover this.
Granted, I am coming at this from a Christian perspective, and there are lots of people who will see these matters of faith differently than I do, not least those who profess different faiths. But my point is very simply that every person should have the right and the freedom to explore these deep questions of life, and nothing should be able to stop them from doing so.