Q: My husband and I live in the USA and have been heartbroken by our church’s lack of precautions during the pandemic. Now that we are fully vaccinated, we’re looking forward to worshiping in person again, but we’re struggling with whether to go back to church. We love it deeply, but doesn’t their behaviour indicate a serious difference over how we apply the command to love our neighbours?
Recently, I had emails from two very old friends, almost at exactly the same time. One, from a friend in a southern state in the USA, lamenting the careless way in which many people in their part of America seemed to be treating vaccines and masks as a “silly left-wing irrelevance which we don’t need”.
Simultaneously, a friend in Canada got in touch to say how frustrated they were that the rate of Covid cases were, at the time, almost at rock bottom and yet “our prime minister is now offering major inducements to states that introduce vaccine passports”. They believed the leadership was constructing a “theology” of state control which reduced people to QR codes. My friend saw this as scary and manipulative.
So, I’m faced with good and wise friends, both of whom I love and pray for, who take diametrically opposite positions. My own position has been much more like the first friend. Nobody that I personally know has died from Covid. However, one member of our extended family, now in his 80s, was admitted to hospital and was firmly told by doctors and nurses: “If you hadn’t had the double jab, you would be dead by now.” Fortunately, he has come through and is making a good recovery.
When doctors say: “Look, masks may not be perfect, but they’re a lot better than no masks”, or “The vaccines may not be perfect, but they’re a lot better than no vaccines”, then I think it’s much like seatbelts: if you’re driving up the motorway, then get your belt on, for goodness’ sake! If you’re going to church, make sure that you’re vaccinated, and if you can, wear a mask when it’s appropriate to do so.
As for this particular situation, I always grieve when somebody says: “Because of A, B or C, I can’t attend this church anymore.” It seems to me that church is always full of potential disagreements on everything – from the colour of the flowers at the front to the kind of songs that you sing – and also when it comes to policies about health and safety.
The way to deal with that is to engage prayerfully with the leadership and to work with them. To say: “Look, we’ve got a problem. Please can we talk about it? Please can we pray about it?” Sooner or later, you may meet a brick wall where you just don’t feel welcome any more, and that is always a tragedy. But the danger in today’s ‘pick and mix’ Western world is that often, when we have just one disagreement, we’re off to find somewhere else. So, I think we ought to work with church leadership wherever possible to try to find ways forward.