Church leaders: vaccine passports would be un-Christian

April 20, 2021
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Over the weekend, a group of over 1,200 church leaders from a range of denominations sent an open letter to the Prime Minister. It warned that vaccine passports raised serious ethical concerns and risked creating a ‘surveillance state’ that would ‘bring about the end of liberal democracy as we know it’. 

We spoke to two of the original signatories — Rev Dr. William Philip, of the Tron church in Glasgow, and Rev Dr. Jamie Franklin, curator of St. George in the Meadow in Nottingham. Both offered a scathing assessment of the concept of vaccine passports and explained why they could not support it:

It’s impossible theologically for the Christian church to close its doors to those who have been branded by society as socially undesirable. It is absolutely anathema to the Christian gospel. It would be like the Lord Jesus Christ standing up and saying, ‘Well come to me all you who labour and are heavy laden, except those of you who are sick, blind, tax collectors and sinners — you’ve got to produce your passport’.
- William Philip, UnHerd

Both men were of the view that there has been a failure of church leadership since the start of the pandemic, both to remind the community of the spiritual dimension, and to object to closing the churches last year:

Many of us have been frustrated, both in the church and in society, with what we see is a considerable lack of Christian Leadership over the last 12 months. We feel that senior church leaders across all denominations have given an imprimatur to the dictates of the government and of the secular, unelected technocrats who appear to be running things at the moment. People are extremely frustrated with this.

I’m a curate at the bottom of the food chain. I’ve only been ordained for less than two years. But there’s such a dearth of leadership that I felt like it was necessary for me to do something.

- Jamie Franklin, UnHerd

A Christian would never argue that physical health and protection is the ultimate thing. A Christian must say that eternal health is infinitely more important…And this is the problem: the message of the church collapsed into one of merely health and safety in a temporal way. It has entirely omitted speaking about hope and salvation. That is a catastrophic failure of the institutional church.
- William Philip, UnHerd

They do not accept the argument that the fact of the established Church of England makes it hard to overtly object to government policy, as Church of England leaders have been happy to in previous controversies:

The Church of England bishops had absolutely no problem with denouncing Brexit in a very enthusiastic manner. So there is a justification for this, but it’s just an inconsistent justification…we’re not a thermometer simply telling the temperature of the culture but we’re a thermostat. We’re supposed to have an influence on the culture, not simply to follow the culture.
- Jamie Franklin, UnHerd

William Philip, who was a medical doctor prior to being ordained, detailed a scenario where members of his congregation might have an ethical objection to taking the vaccine on the grounds of how it was produced, if it included stem cells. Although he personally didn’t object to such a process, he would not seek to persuade otherwise a Christian who felt it was a matter of conscience.

The crucial issue as far as Christian churches are concerned is: am I supposed to say no to somebody who doesn’t want a vaccine? Someone who is in obedience to their conscience? And, as they see it, in obedience to the commander, Jesus Christ? Am I to say to them, ‘Well, then you cannot come into the church of Jesus Christ, your obedience to Jesus prevents you from coming into worship?
- William Philip, UnHerd
As ministers of the gospel, our message is to not stay at home and stay safe. It is that the only salvation is Christ — he’s the only one who can save us from death. So if people want to take a vaccine because it will protect them and they feel it’s right for them, that’s great. But as ministers of the gospel, our message is that ultimately Jesus is our Saviour, and not a vaccine or indeed any medical treatment.
- Jamie Franklin, UnHerd


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