Nearly 1,000 church leaders sign letter opposing vaccine passports




(Photo: Unsplash/John Cameron)

Some 948 church leaders have added their names to an open letter opposing the introduction of vaccine passports. 

The letter, to be sent to Boris Johnson and the devolved nations’ first ministers, calls the introduction of vaccine passports “one of the most dangerous policy proposals ever to be made in the history of British politics”.

The church leaders warn of a “medical apartheid” and “two-tier society” divided between those who have had the vaccine and those who have not. 

They argue that people should be free to turn down the vaccine on grounds of conscience, and that to do so should not exclude them from public life. 

They further state that they will keep their church doors open to all, regardless of whether they have had the vaccine or not.

Vaccine passports have been floated as a way of helping countries ease restrictions by requiring evidence that people have been vaccinated against Covid-19 before they are allowed to enter public spaces like shops, theatres, restaurants and hotels.

Over 32 million people in the UK have received the first dose of the vaccine, while over 7 million have had both jabs. The Airfinity tracker predicts that 75% of the population will be fully immunised by the first week of August. 

With the successful vaccine rollout bringing case numbers in the UK down to the low thousands, non-essential shops and outdoor dining resumed this week. 

The Government has expressed its openness to the introduction of vaccine passports, saying last week that they “could play a role in reducing social-distancing requirements”. 

A poll by The Times has found strong public support for vaccine passports if it means the end of social distancing, but the church leaders are urging the Government not to go down this route. 

Setting out their opposition, they argue that “those who have been vaccinated have already received protection”, rendering a vaccine passport unnecessary, but they also raise serious concerns about the impact on democracy and individual freedom. 

Vaccine passports, they say, would “constitute an unethical form of coercion and violation of the principle of informed consent”. 

“People may have various reasons for being unable or unwilling to receive vaccines currently available including, for some Christians, serious issues of conscience related to the ethics of vaccine manufacture or testing,” they said.

“We risk creating a two-tier society, a medical apartheid in which an underclass of people who decline vaccination are excluded from significant areas of public life.

“There is also a legitimate fear that this scheme would be the thin end of the wedge leading to a permanent state of affairs in which COVID vaccine status could be expanded to encompass other forms of medical treatment and perhaps even other criteria beyond that.

“This scheme has the potential to bring about the end of liberal democracy as we know it and to create a surveillance state in which the government uses technology to control certain aspects of citizens’ lives.

“As such, this constitutes one of the most dangerous policy proposals ever to be made in the history of British politics.” 

The letter has been compiled by Rev Dr Jamie Franklin, Curate of St George in the Meadows, Nottingham, Rev David Johnston, Minister Emeritus of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, Rev Dr William JU Philip, Minister of the Tron Church in Glasgow, Rev A Paul Levy, Minister of Ealing International Presbyterian Church, London, Rev Mez McConnell, Senior Minister of Niddrie Community Church, and Terence McCutcheon, Executive Director of the Hope For Glasgow Addiction Recovery Centre.

They “envisage no circumstances in which we could close our doors to those who do not have a vaccine passport, negative test certificate, or any other ‘proof of health'”, and hint of legal action if the Government should press ahead with the scheme. 

“For the Church of Jesus Christ to shut out those deemed by the state to be social undesirables would be anathema to us and a denial of the truth of the Gospel,” they said.

“The message we preach is given by God for all people and consists in nothing other than the free gift of grace offered in Christ Jesus, with the universal call to repentance and faith in him.

“To deny people entry to hear this life-giving message and to receive this life-giving ministry would be a fundamental betrayal of Christ and the Gospel.

“Sincere Christian churches and organisations could not do this, and as Christian leaders we would be compelled to resist any such Act of Parliament vigorously.” 

The letter concludes by drawing attendtion to their recent judicial review that overturned the Scottish Government’s ban on public worship during the lockdown on the grounds that it was disproportionate. 

“We cannot see how any attempt to prevent people gathering for worship on the basis of either testing or non-vaccination would not similarly be ruled to be a breach,” they say.

“We agree with those members of Parliament who have already voiced opposition to this proposal: that it would be divisive, discriminatory and destructive to introduce any such mandatory health certification into British society.

“We call on the government to assert strongly and clearly that it will not contemplate this illiberal and dangerous plan, not now and not ever.”




Post-Pandemic, Will China’s Church Be Changed Forever?

Each day, Aaron Zhang—all names in this story are pseudonyms—wakes up and helps his two children get ready for their day. His oldest is in elementary school, and like a growing number of other Chinese Christian families, their family homeschools.

Last year, they were dreaming about overseas mission work. Zhang even quit his job to prepare. But now, with restrictions tight, the family can’t obtain or renew passports. Their goal of being missionaries is on hold indefinitely.

These are difficult days for Chinese believers, and darker days loom. On February 1, 2020, harsh new regulations overseeing every aspect of faith practice went into effect across China. These completed a spate of regulations initially rolled out in 2018.

But during the 2020 rollout, the government’s attention was diverted: one week before, Wuhan was locked down. Chinese society entered a season of intense quarantine and separation.

More than a year later, life in China remains somewhat bizarre, yet largely functional. But there may be no return to normalcy for the church.

Restrictions

The new restrictions require Chinese Communist Party oversight for every measure of religious life—staffing, fund management, gatherings. China’s unofficial churches, known as house churches, have operated in recent decades in an ambiguous space: they have rented public space, welcomed visitors, and been open about some of their activities, all without official government sanction. The February restrictions effectively close that era of semi-openness.

In China, there may be no return to normalcy for the church.

More ominously, these measures specify that all religious activity within China must promote and support the Chinese Communist Party.

“I think a lot of the churches could disappear,” said S. E. Wang of China Partnership. Still, “God is leading the way forward. This pandemic . . . is not the beginning of the end; it is the end of the beginning.”

Short-Term Opportunities

Even before COVID-19, a lot of Chinese house churches couldn’t meet face to face.

“Persecution prepared the Chinese church to face this pandemic, because it forced churches to close their public meeting places,” said Simon Liu, a pastor who trains unregistered church planters.

All religious activity within China must promote and support the Chinese Communist Party.

Since the pandemic, Chinese pastors have held online crusades. These are not intended to replace Sunday worship, but to preach the good news and unite disconnected Christians. And they require courage: the evening’s preacher must be willing to show his face to a non-vetted crowd, which can be dangerous.

“The risk is there, but I think more and more see opportunity,” Liu said.

The online meetings average 1,000 to 2,000 direct connections. One northeastern Chinese pastor began his message this way: “The Christian hope lies in this—we are not stronger or purer than others, but rather than believing in ourselves, we believe in Jesus, who upholds us whenever we fall, who strengthens us when our strength is drained, who loves us when we are in pain.”

Christians have invited their family and friends, but also have asked their enemies. “Some people have even invited their local police,” Liu said. “The persecuting parties feel like they are also vulnerable: ‘Maybe I could get this virus. Maybe I will die. . . . You are not afraid of death, so maybe something in your faith is quite unique.’”

Persecution prepared the Chinese church to face this pandemic.

Believers have also done what they can to serve and care, whether next door or around the world. Chinese social media were replete with stories of Christians donating masks and caring for quarantined neighbors.

A Chinese Christian in New York received nearly 6,000 masks from mainland Chinese Christians at the beginning of the pandemic. Those masks came in small packs of 100 or 200, from Chinese brothers and sisters who reported it took as many as nine hours to obtain and ship one such small package.

Long-Term Worries

Even while leaning into short-term opportunities, Chinese pastors see problems ahead. The pandemic likely ushered in the beginning of a new reality.

In the United States, churches radically altered the life of their bodies to conform to pandemic norms. Although some of those modifications will remain, most American churches have already returned to worshiping together. In China, things may not ever revert to pre-pandemic days.

“This is not short term,” Wang said. “Even if the pandemic is over, the public space has been squeezed very small for the churches to gather. There is no public space for people to go back to.”

He’s referring to tightening government controls, which mean house churches will no longer be able to rent commercial space for corporate worship, as many have been doing.

In China, things may not ever revert to pre-pandemic days. . . . ‘There is no public space for people to go back to.’

Private space is also tightly controlled. These days, nervous neighbors are more likely to report a gathering of 20 strangers. “Basically, you cannot have larger than two families, or three,” Wang said. “That will be a new norm for Chinese churches.”

“The Devil is using this opportunity to crack down on the church, that’s for sure, but God will use it in a different way,” one Chinese pastor said. Before persecution intensified in the last several years, many in China were attracted to the celebrity-pastor model. Gifted teachers attracted national and even international followings.

This new normal means less elevation of central leaders and a sharper focus on smaller groups. As Christian communities are broken down into smaller clusters through plague and persecution, church leaders must raise up a new generation of local leaders equipped to walk their people through marriages, deaths, and family conflicts.

Much of the training has to be indigenous: many missionaries were driven out of mainland China last year. Even after the pandemic ends, the number of overseas workers ministering in China will be much smaller than before the pandemic.

To that end, preparing capable teachers remains a priority.

“Even if today everything is going down, all of a sudden the door could open widely,” Wang said. “It is our responsibility to make that start to happen, so that when the door opens, a group of ready preachers can go to the streets and stadiums and preach the gospel.”

Pandemic and Persecution

The book of James is clear that no one knows what tomorrow will bring. Life is a mist that appears and then vanishes.

“The pandemic and the persecution have led to a new situation,” one Chinese pastor said. “We still do a lot of active planning, but more humbly we say, ‘Lord, if you are willing: this is your time. Use it.’ . . . We don’t know what the future holds.”

Chinese Christians have watched God work in uncertain times before. During the Cultural Revolution, believers were forced underground for decades, and many Western observers despaired at the church’s future. But in the 1980s, the Chinese church experienced an explosive period of growth. Today, there may be as many as 100 million Chinese believers.

“Sometimes we feel like God is pretty close to these things; sometimes we feel like God is pretty far,” Liu said. “But we know that everything is under his control, and he is behind everything. Whatever happens is God’s way to prepare his church. He is always preparing his church.”

Aaron Zhang agrees. “Through uncertainty, we depend on our certain God,” he said. “God calls us to live an uncertain life, so that we can trust and rely on him.”

Reflections on the Killings in Atlanta

Today I heard for the first time all the names of the eight people who were killed in three Atlanta-area spas: 

  • Daoyou Feng
  • Hyun Jung Grant
  • Suncha Kim
  • Paul Andre Michels
  • Soon C. Park
  • Xiaojie Tan
  • Delaina Ashley Yaun
  • Yong A. Yue

The names are as distant as they are familiar. So, I grieve. I grieve with and for the families of those who lost their loved ones. And though I don’t know much about their histories or backgrounds, their joys and sorrows, I know this: all eight, like me and my loved ones, are bearers of God’s image, having been fearfully and wonderfully made by the powerful and providential God of the universe. Yet their lives are now tragically and irreversibly gone in a senseless and horrific act of violence. 

But I also grieve because I fear for my loved ones. Even though I’m several thousand miles away and this incident seems so isolated, nevertheless for me, it still hits close to home. I worry for my Korean-American wife, similar in age to those who were killed. I’m anxious for my daughters, ages 20 and 18, for the possibility (probability?) that they too might be numbered among the almost 3,800 who from March 2020 to February 2021 experienced anti-Asian incidents of harassment, discrimination, and acts of violence. How do I deal with this grief and pain?

Providence

As someone who follows Christ and believes in God’s sovereignty, I know I shouldn’t worry for my wife and my two daughters. But right now, as I see and speak those eight names, my mind is having a hard time convincing my heart. It’s too personal and painful. 

The Bible teaches the unmistakable truth that nothing happens in my life without my heavenly Father knowing about it and ordaining it. In fact, God is infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth (Westminster Shorter Catechism, Question 4). 

So, even this heinous and tragic event is part and parcel of God’s providence. It’s hard to imagine and believe, but I know that without the reality that God is good, and that he is in control, I would be in complete despair. 

John Calvin, in a particularly insightful section of his Institutes of the Christian Religion, says that understanding God’s providence brings relief and freedom “not only from the extreme anxiety and fear that were pressing him before, but from every care. . . . His solace, I say, is to know that his Heavenly Father so holds all things in his power, so rules by his authority and will, so governs by his wisdom, that nothing can befall except he determine it” (1.17.10). 

Calvin knew that everything that happens in life, even the dark things, is never outside the will and wisdom of God. So, he took comfort and found peace in surrendering to the truth that not even the sparrows that fly and fall is outside the care and concern of God (Matt 10:26–33).

Pain

But Calvin also knew that sin and sin’s effects continue to cast a dark shadow not only in our own hearts but also in our world. 

Though it may be true that the murders were prompted solely by an individual struggling to take captive his sexual addictions, it’s not unreasonable to see the convergence of this perversion to the probable sexualized objectifying of Asian women, leading to the choice to target these specific places while bypassing others. 

So, while I may never fully know the internal motives that drove the murders, I nevertheless have to wrestle with the reality that the United States has a history of dehumanizing people of color, especially women. For me, then, this evil act must be seen within that historical and social context. I must see both individual agency and situational contexts.  

The pain I feel, then, is not only for the families of the victims. It’s also for those who’ve been subjected to the pain of discrimination and prejudice; to the shame that comes in being dehumanized or destroyed because you look different. From the lynching of Chinese Americans in 1871 to the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, the history of anti-Asian sentiment is real. And while my history is different, I’ve felt similar pain and shame. 

Furthermore, though I recognize that correlation does not always equal causation, and that there doesn’t seem to be a direct link between the shooter’s childhood in an evangelical church and his sinful actions, this event is nonetheless difficult for me to process. So, while I want to be careful in drawing conclusions before more data emerges and is interpreted, I nonetheless grieve that murderers, be they from Georgia or California, are from churches that are similar to mine.

Prayer

This is why my commitment to providence leads to prayer, even in pain. As my friend Mark Vroegop taught me in his book Weep with Me: How Lament Opens a Door for Racial Reconciliation, the biblical language of lament, especially in the Psalms, helps put into words the deep groanings of my soul. These prayers of lament provide a path from pain to hope: “Prayers in pain lead to trust—together. Tears, love, and unity replace misunderstanding, distrust, and hurt.” 

So, I will continue to weep with those who weep (Rom. 12:15). I will start with compassion, not caution. I will tenaciously bring those who are hurting and broken to the feet of Jesus, for healing and restoration through the gospel. Can we lament . . . together? 

With all the sin and brokenness around me, I need the gospel. As I lift up prayers of lament to my Father in heaven, I not only cast my cares and complaints to my gracious God, but I also begin to reorient my heart and life on the good news that the perfectly sinless Jesus Christ took my sin and shame upon the cross, yet rose in glory for my justification and adoption. So even though this pilgrim journey is marked with pain, I continue to walk with him in trust and obedience.

Now What?

As I process this tragedy and write these reflections, I want to recommit myself to live by the reality that this world is not my home. I’m an eschatological pilgrim, on a difficult journey to my heavenly abode, awaiting the feast at the marriage supper of the Lamb with brothers and sisters from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation. And with one voice we shall sing a new song, crying,

Worthy are you to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation,
and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
and they shall reign on the earth. (Rev. 5:9–10)

But until that day, I want to love those who are hurting, by listening to them and lamenting with them. I want to help my family, especially my daughters, see the beauty of Jesus, knowing that his perfect love casts out fear and worry. 

I want to be slow to speak, quick to listen, and slow to become angry, especially as I seek to winsomely pastor those I love understand the history and pain of racism and how the gospel is the only solution to that sin. Kindness leads to repentance. 

I want to be neither too proud nor too discouraged to keep praying and pursuing peace. After all, I’m eternally loved and accepted by the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ.

Then, as we grow in our love and trust in God and with one another, I want to leverage our time, talent, and treasures to work toward more gospel faithfulness and fruitfulness—in our homes and our churches, in our institutions and communities. 

Maranatha. Come, Lord Jesus. 

Electoral College Names Joe Biden President-Elect

Electoral College Names Joe Biden President-Elect


On Monday, the electoral college gathered to confirm former vice president Joe Biden as the president-elect of the United States.

According to the Associated Press, President Trump, who has yet to concede, received 232 electoral votes while Biden received 306 electoral votes, the same amount that Trump had over Hillary Clinton in 2016.

“Once again in America, the rule of law, our Constitution, and the will of the people have prevailed. Our democracy — pushed, tested, threatened — proved to be resilient, true, and strong,” Biden said in a speech Monday evening.

Biden criticized President Trump, arguing that he created an “unprecedented assault on our democracy” in light of “baseless claims about the legitimacy of the results.”

Nevertheless, Biden stressed that “now it’s time to turn the page as we’ve done throughout our history, to unite, to heal.”

Following the conclusion of his speech, a reporter asked Biden about the federal criminal investigation into his son Hunter for his foreign business dealings. Biden ignored the question and instead responded, “Thanks for the congratulations. Appreciate it.”

On Tuesday, the hashtag #BidenWillNeverBePresident trended on Twitter as many, particularly Trump supporters, believe that the 2020 election was rigged.

Despite Biden being confirmed as the president-elect, senior White House adviser Stephen Miller told Fox & Friends that Trump will continue to contest the election results.

“The only date in the Constitution is Jan. 20. So we have more than enough time to right the wrong of this fraudulent election result and certify Donald Trump as the winner of the election,” Miller asserted.

He added that “an alternate slate of electors in the contested states” will vote and will send the results to Congress, who will tally the electoral votes in a joint session on Jan. 6.

“This will ensure that all of our legal remedies remain open,” he continued. “That means that if we win these cases in the courts, that we can direct that the alternate state of electors be certified.”

Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Drew Angerer/Staff


Milton Quintanilla is a freelance writer. Visit his blog Blessed Are The Forgiven.