I’ve been asked why, as a church minister, I’m so vocally in favour of people getting the vaccine rather than holding my opinion privately so that everyone can make their own choice free of clerical influence. Here are a few reasons:
- This is the single biggest global health crisis we’ve faced in my lifetime. It impacts the whole world. The potential and creativity to tackle problems that the world faces – a potential woven into us, I believe, by God – has worked itself out through the vaccines.
- Looking at all the information I have been able to see (coming at me from all sides), I see no other way of slowing the loss of life, protecting the vulnerable, and slowing the huge run on healthcare systems that would happen if the virus was let loose.
- Sure, we might get to a place of reduced carnage as the virus worked itself through the human population over decades and we build immunity that way, but we get to fast-forward that process with less loss via the vaccine.
- Some sectors of the Christian community have been overcome by misinformation. I know that many won’t see it as misinformation and will likely believe I’ve been influenced by false propaganda, but, like everyone, I have to determine what’s true and what’s not in this. What I would call misinformation is different from understandable ethical arguments some have made, but much of what I see from people pushing against the government decisions and the vaccine is misinformation largely drawn from part truths. In the faith community and in other communities, those who, for various reasons, distrust govt, medical authorities, and science have been steeped in that misinformation and therefore I have worked to counter it. [It is not the intent of this post to address the misinformation. I have addressed some of it in others posts here, and various comments in other places.]
- Whilst I believe government’s and ‘big pharma’ can and do undertake awful things for terrible reasons (and therefore a level of skepticism is valid), I believe, in this instance our government has pursued the best way forward they can. It’s can never be perfect, but it’s what we’re doing. The same goes with the vaccine.
- I hate seeing the faith I hold discredited by those who have believed the misinformation and seem to place individual rights above all other concerns. As Christians we highly value the individual, but pursuing our own rights at all costs is not a Christian message. Faith leaders should be at the forefront of the wellbeing of our communities, that includes health. Where something like a virus is threatening people, it’s our job to step up and help. I have chosen to do this by taking the stance I have and using my public voice to do so.
- I trust, listen to, and defer to the majority of experts in the fields relevant to this crisis. Just as I don’t enjoy people who argue with me about God because they heard something in Sunday school or a Bible verse they disagree with, so I won’t presume to know better than the vast majority of experts in the field of viruses and medicine.
- Whether I like it or not I have a certain level of ‘influence’. Because of that, I was never going to be able to sit on the fence. I have to make decisions on various issues all the time. Those decisions then impact my local church community and others. I constantly weigh whether my opinion is something I should pursue publicly. Whatever choice I made, it would affect the lives of others. I have to live with the consequences of decisions I make and what those decisions mean for others. Weighing that up, supporting and encouraging the vaccine did and still seems wisest in my view.
- I stand within a tradition that includes people like Martin Luther and John Wesley who, when faced with big, society threatening health issues, sided with the best science of their day and encouraged the various measures necessary to combat those health issues. They did so recognising the gift of God in providing medical responses, and their responsibility as leaders.
- At the end of the day I do not control what others think and where others differ from me, they’re/you’re still welcome at my table to laugh, cry, and break bread together.
I work hard to counter the usual influence of social media in people’s lives – the misinformation, the division, the tribalism, the us vs them mentality. I know that too often, I probably feed it, but my aim is to offer a peaceful way forward. Sadly the fact that this issue has formed ‘sides’ means that was never going to be entirely possible.
Early on I saw division and an unchristlike criticism of those making the decisions for our nation, in those pushing against the C19 response so I chose to take a different stance in support of the govt approach, and doing my best to encourage us all through it rather than feeding discontentment and agitation. It doesn’t mean I completely agree with every government decision and nor does it mean that I will never voice that disagreement when I believe I need to do so. Now I see sentiment rising on the other side that I think is counterproductive. Eventually I believe we will see the other side of this.
Whatever your stance, please pray for me. My decisions are never and can never be perfect. I do my best to follow what I believe to be the heart and will of God, and what I believe to be the best reflection of Christ in any given situation. I will and do get it wrong often and sometimes the not-so-great parts of me come to the fore. I daily pray for humility and wisdom, but I know that how I approach things probably often looks like anything but humility. As with everyone, I have to live with the consequences of whatever I pursue, and I do and will have to give an account for it before my Creator. Your prayers, whoever you are and whatever you think of me, are appreciated. Peace.
Reverend Frank Ritchie is from the Waikato and is a minister in the Wesleyan Methodist Church of New Zealand. He curates a local congregation in Kirikiriroa Hamilton, called Commoners. Rev. Frank also works as a media chaplain, and co-hosts Sunday at Six on Newstalk ZB every Sunday evening from 6pm.