P3 Christian leaders resist vaccine passports because the church is inclusive. But, is it? / A.J. Hendry

This is part 3 in a series where we will be exploring and imagining how faith communities may need to evolve in order to adapt to our changing times. You can find part 1 here, and part 2 here.

Since the announcement of the Covid Protection Framework and the revelation (if you can call it that) of the need for vaccine certificates for attending large gatherings; there has been a lot of kōrero within the Christian community about inclusion.

Over the last week or so I’ve listened to numerous Christian Leader’s sharing this whakaaro. That we are to be a community that does not discriminate, that is inclusive of all people, that refuses to segregate people based on who they are, the situation they are in, or the choices they make. We are to be a community that stands up for the poor and marginalized within our society. A community that embraces all people. A community that stands for Justice and Liberation, no matter the cost.

It is for this reason that several church leaders have argued that Christian’s cannot possibly follow the Covid Protection Framework as it forces them to do something the church should never do. Discriminate. In our previous conversation I’ve dealt with how the idea that we can’t follow the Protection framework and be inclusive of all, is essentially a false dichotomy. I won’t go further into that further here, so have a read (over here) if you’re interested.

In this piece, I would like to name what I know will be an uncomfortable reality for many of us who identify as Christians. The reality, that we are not as inclusive as we hope and imagine ourselves to be. Now before you push back on that I want you to pause with me for a moment.

I completely acknowledge that many Christian communities do a lot of good. Food banks, charities, creating spaces for people to connect and find belonging. And in our history there have been Christian leader’s who have led significant social reforms and stood for Justice and Liberation. I myself do my mahi under the umbrella of the Methodist Mission, and in doing so am a beneficiary of many such leader’s.

And yet, on issues of justice and liberation, how many of us can honestly say that in recent times the Church has been a voice for the poor, the marginalized, and the oppressed. Over the last few years, we’ve seen Christian’s mobilized to stand against drug reform, to resist abortion and euthanasia, to fight against hate speech, and the ban against conversion practices. Currently, we’re seeing Christian leaders mobilize in order to stand with and for the unvaccinated, preaching inclusion, welcome and embrace. But where have these voices, these resources, been in standing against poverty? In demanding Justice for kids who are forced to live on our streets? Where is this talk of inclusion and embrace when our queer whānau turn up to our gatherings? How many of us exist in pākehā dominant spaces, where pākehā leadership and way’s of being are dominant, whereas the extent of our welcome to tangata whenua is a pākehā hymn sung in Te Reo on the week of Waitangi?  

If you were to listen to the voices of the marginalized and oppressed in our society, you would hear and see that we are not who we think we are.

And yet, we could be.

I agree wholeheartedly that the church should be a place where all people are embraced, Loved and accepted without discrimination, and yet one of the greatest paradoxes of history is that the church, these clusters of communities formed around the teachings of Jesus, have not by in large, become known as Hubs of Justice and Liberation, centred on radical Love, inclusion and care for the most vulnerable, marginalized and oppressed.

And yet, the more I have gotten to know Jesus, the stronger my conviction that to follow the Way he laid for us, is an invitation into embracing radical, inclusive Love. It is a journey that leads us away from the Individualism and Consumerism that marks our present reality, and one that invites us to participate in Christ’s collective call to become the alternative community within the heart of the Empire.

To be a community that exists as a taste of the Divine’s Dream for this world.

And so, I write this because this is what we’re wrestling with. What does it mean to be community? What does it mean for us to be the church? Covid has thrown us a spanner, but this is a question that we’ve needed to wrestle with for a long time.

Too often I think we talk about doing church, as if it’s an activity or program we can simply participate in. But the church has never been that has it? No, the church is us, it’s the people. A movement of people, committed and dedicated to following the Way of Love, to Dreaming the Divine Dream, to joining the Revolution.

A community, not a program. This we need to say again, even if it seems self-evident. The church is not what happens on Sunday morning. The church is not the sermon or the worship, the preacher, or the pastor, the elders, or the children’s ministry. The church is not what happens on Sunday morning. Church is not something we can go to, like going to the movies or attending a game of footy. Church is not something we can do, like playing the violin, or making a sandwich, the church is us. The ekklesia, the alternative community. A movement of people devoted to the Way of Love that Jesus taught us, a community committed to realizing the Divine dream, a people who seek to Live Love as if it was the very air we breathed. The church is not something we can go to, it’s not something we can do, it is who we are.

Though I think most people who identify with the Church would accept this, both the way Christian’s often speak about church, and our practice surrounding it, shape us into a different way of being.

The Sunday-centric model of Church community that many of us are fighting so hard to protect, does not inaugurate us into being the church. Not by itself at least. In many ways, the dominate structure which directs many of our gatherings, conforms us into the patterns of this world, rather than shaping us into a community that can be a real alternative to it.

We’ll unpack this further in a future blog, but before we do, let’s address the most obvious question first.

If we are to be an alternative community, what is that community to be alternative to? 

When our movement first began it was fairly clear how the community known as the Church existed as an alternative to the dominant culture and society around them. The Church came to be in a world shaped by the oppressive powers of the Roman Empire. When Paul speaks of there being no more Jews, nor Gentile, slaves nor free, this is a revolutionary statement. The lines between class and race were drawn tight. The rich and the wealthy – both Jewish and otherwise – held their status at the expense of the poor, having benefited from the oppressive tax regimes of the Jewish and Roman elites. Add to this the fact that Jews saw Gentiles as other, as unclean, and defiled heathens, and that the Romans were literary responsible for the domination and colonization of the Jews, the indigenous people of the land, you can imagine there was not a lot of warmth between these two groups of people.

And yet, it’s in this environment the church grows. Jesus’ message of Love, of unity, of human value and intrinsic worth, planted the seeds for a community that stood in contrast to the community and society of the Empire. This community bore witness to the Good News that the Divine had entered into our human existence and was taking back our world for Their glory. That through this community Their Kingdom was being established on earth, that Their Divine Dream for this world was becoming reality.

This community was a radical alternative to the community and society of the Empire. Where the Empire was established through Violence, Dominance, and coercive power, the Kingdom of God was built from the self-giving, self-sacrificing, and nonviolent Love of its Lord. Where the Empire consolidated its power by pillaging the whenua, and stripping the people of their resources, the Kingdom sought to create a society where our humanity was truly realized, where the people shared what they had with each other, where no one went hungry, and all who had gave, and all who needed, received. And where the Empire sought to divide humanity through setting up the great walls of class and racial division, the Kingdom reached out beyond its borders, embracing all people, regardless of gender, race or class.

The Kingdom was the place where the Divine Dream was Dreamed. It was the birthplace of a new humanity, a people reborn in Love, a society that sought first the realization of the Divine Dream, who renounced their allegiance to Empire, and who sought to follow the Crucified One.

A community that took seriously the teachings of Jesus, that became Hubs of Justice and the people’s Liberation, a community centred on radical Love, inclusion, and care for the most vulnerable, marginalized and oppressed within the Empire.

If we accept this, then what?

So, if we accept this definition and whakapapa of the Church, how does that inform how we are to live, and Be, church today? This is the question we’ll be discussing as we go forward in this series. However, before we dive into it, we’ll first stop to explore and name, the Empire we’re currently in.  

But, as we round this out, let’s reflect on what it mean’s to embrace, to Love, to stand with and for the marginalized and oppressed. I agree that unvaccinated people should not be treated as other within our society, and especially within our church communities.

And yet, if we are going to use this argument, then let us seek some level of consistency. If the church is to embrace all, then is the structure and gathering of our communities prioritizing the least and most marginalized within our society? How are we making space for the poor and oppressed? How are we reaching out to embrace the outcast, the homeless, the poor, our queer whānau?

If our theology of embrace does not move past the unvaccinated, into the realities of people who have been experiencing oppression within Aotearoa for generations, then that whakaaro is empty.

Love is the Way.

And if we’re serious about following it, we don’t get to choose who is worthy of our Love, and who isn’t.

A.J. Hendry is a Laidlaw College graduate, and now a Youth Development Worker and housing advocate, working in the Youth Housing and Homelessness space. He leads a service supporting rangatahi experiencing homelessness and is also an advocate working collectively to end youth homelessness in Aotearoa. He is also the curator and creator of When Lambs Are Silent.

Though we try to keep up with all our comment’s and feedback, we do sometimes struggle to monitor all platforms. If you do want to engage in the conversation join us on facebook and find the relevant post or connect directly with A.J on his facebook page here, twitter here, or Instagram here.


4 thoughts on “P3 Christian leaders resist vaccine passports because the church is inclusive. But, is it? / A.J. Hendry

  1. Thank you for your simple common sense definition of what it is to be a follower of Christ. You are my favourite NZ Writer.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. whenlambsaresilent 01/11/2021 — 7:25 am

      Appreciate that my friend 🙂


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