Whether lockdowns, masks or vaccine mandates, finding answers that we agree on is nearly impossible when it comes to Australia’s handling of COVID-19. But perhaps we can agree on the questions that need to be asked.
No doubt you’re over all things COVID-19.You’ve had enough of the lockdowns – especially if you’re a parent of young kids in a city like Melbourne. You can’t wait for life to return to some semblance of normality … and stay (somewhat) normal. Life hasn’t been easy for you over the last 18 months, and it’s taken its toll: economically, mental-health wise, and relationally.
You want to forget about COVID-19 and get on with your life. After all, our governments can take care of it all, can’t they? Why bother thinking about it anymore? And yet.
Over recent weeks, I’ve had many conversations with brothers and sisters in Christ who have been deeply affected by our government’s COVID-19. response. There’s a lot of hurt and trauma out there. And that shouldn’t surprise us.
Should we as Christians in a democracy try and move on, or should we take time to think deeply about our government’s unprecedented actions?
Let’s Not Wash Our Hands Like Pilate
Whether you like it or not, Christians in a democracy have a God-given responsibility. As Christian Theologian Russell Moore points out,
In [a democratic system of government, government decisions are] everyone’s problem, because the state is accountable to the people, who are, ultimately, the governing authorities.
Elsewhere he puts it rather poetically:
Shrugging this [political responsibility] off is not the equivalent of Jesus standing silently before Pilate. It’s the equivalent of Pilate washing his hands, so as not to bear accountability for our own decisions and precedents set.
And so, I think it’s essential for Christians to think through what we’ve gone through, and have meaningful conversations about it. All so that you might better fulfil your God-given democratic responsibility.
While this post won’t give you specific answers, I hope to provide you with some key questions that will help you frame the issue and think well about it.
While equally convinced Christians may land on different answers to these six questions, these questions will help move the conversation ‘further upstream’, to more fertile locations of conversation. You could ask a lot more of these, of course, but these six will start the process.
1) Was the Government’s response proportional to the threat posed by COVID-19?
As I’ve argued in previous posts (here and here), God has given governments the responsibility of upholding law and order, and serving the good of their people (see Rom 13:1-6, especially v4).
One of the ways a responsible government serves its people is by responding to threats to societal wellbeing, whether internal (e.g. crime) or external (e.g. invasion). In our time, COVID-19 was a threat, and governments responded – with restrictions, lockdowns, vaccinations, vaccine passports, and more.
The critical question then becomes whether government response was proportional to the threat.
Christians will disagree on what constitutes ‘proportional’ in this instance, but I think proportionality is a principle worth upholding, and therefore discussing.
2) What are the human rights in this area – especially ones that shouldn’t be violated?
This question is a tough one to answer.
While the Bible is clear that human beings have rights by being image-bearers of God (e.g. that people should not be murdered, see Genesis 9:6), the Bible doesn’t give an exhaustive list of what these rights are, nor whether or how they might be upheld, and under what circumstances. For example, lockdowns violate the right of Christians to assemble at church (Hebrews 10:25): is that an acceptable violation of that right?
In other words, when does a government response to a threat like a pandemic become unacceptable?
While the Bible affirms the equal worth and dignity of all human beings, it doesn’t give a direct answer to the issue of lockdowns and vaccine passports, or other such infringements of rights (although we can glean principles indirectly – but these will always be disputable).
And yet, it’s a question worth asking, not least so we understand what’s at stake.
3) What are the underlying values driving our decisions – or our support for government decisions?
All our decisions are driven by underlying beliefs, including values. Some people are happy to go along with vaccinations for the sake of safety; others believe that vaccines like Pfizer aren’t tested enough and are thus unsafe.
There may be other reasons why people are pro/anti-vax: my point here is to show that underlying values drive their decision-making. Former Australian PM (and devout Catholic) Tony Abbott makes this observation:
‘[During the Spanish Flu pandemic], there was a stoic acceptance that disease was part of life; now, the emphasis is on banishing disease and stoicism is mostly reserved for the restrictions needed to bring this about …
My sense is that it’s the seismic cultural shifts, now underway in the West, that have driven a pandemic response that’s so different from that envisaged under plans drawn up even just a short time ago.
‘We are materially rich but spiritually poor, and generally more fearful…Societies that retained more ‘faith in the world to come’ would have been less alarmed by a virus like those that have readily been seen off before’.
Whether you agree with Abbott’s conclusion or not, the point remains that our values drive our response. And 21st-century values are very different from the values of 1918. Again, it’s worth understanding and exploring these underlying values.
4) Are these underlying values true to God’s reality, or are they warped in some way?
It’s not enough to unearth the values that drive our response as individuals and as a collective. It’s also worth analysing how these values match up or depart from the Christian worldview.
Again, this is a contested exercise – Christians may well come to different conclusions from each other – but it’s worth thinking about nonetheless.
5) What particular policy decisions can we affirm – or at least, which bits of them can we affirm? And which should we challenge?
While there may be a place to weigh our pandemic response as a whole, it’s not an easy thing to do because it’s so complex.
There may be certain aspects of pandemic response that you might resonate with (e.g. free vaccinations for all eligible people) and others you might readily challenge (e.g. mandatory vaccinations for teachers or lockdowns).
It’s worth understanding what these are.
6) What’s the question that drives us the most: our rights, or love for our neighbour?
The question we ask most urgently is the question that will drive our thinking.
If the question we ask is ‘what are my rights, and how do I defend them?’, you’ll end up responding differently to COVID-19 than ‘what does it look like to love my neighbour?’ Being other-person centred will motivate us differently than being self-centred.
And the Bible pushes us to think about others and their concerns before ourselves. “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others,” Philippians 2:4 tells us – just as Christ Jesus became a servant to others, even though it led him to the cross (Philippians 2:5-8).
We may be so driven by our concerns and fears that we forsake meeting up with others at church lest we catch the virus – even if we’re vaccinated. Or being other-person centred might lead to us asking questions about the necessity of lockdowns or government mandates for people to get vaccinated, especially in sectors that don’t involve vulnerable people.
No easy answers: but more thinking required
I realise this blog post was heavy on questions and light on answers. That’s by design: we each need to do our own thinking, and preferably in conversation with others. These six questions are one place to start. In doing so, we’ll have a better chance of grasping the issues and carrying out our democratic responsibilities.
Originally published at Akos Balogh. Image by Cottonbro at Unsplash.