The Wisdom of Rejecting Vaccine Passports

Vaccine Passport

Many have taken it upon themselves to write soothing, gentle articles about Covid-19-related issues and the church. They try to find a “middle way” and appease both sides. I am going to do something very different. I am going to write a deliberately scathing article because there are some things that simply need to be said. Sometimes people take foolish positions and there is a time and a place to call them out without apology. Paul did it in Galatians 5: “I wish they would emasculate themselves!”. Jesus did it in Matthew 23: “woe to you blind guides who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!”

Lately it has become clear that evangelical thought leaders in Australia are completely dropping the ball on issues surrounding Covid-19. Martyn Iles of the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) has posted on facebook to condemn lockdown protests and has called Christians not to participate in them. A piece appeared on Philip Jensen’s website with the provocative title Getting Vaccinated is Our Christian Duty. Megan Best has written a piece for The Gospel Coalition (TGC) arguing that churches should embrace the practice of requiring vaccine passports in order to attend church.

At one level, this is not a surprise. High-brow evangelicals have always had a soft underbelly, an achilles heel. They want to be seen as respectable by the powers that be. Even if they are thought of as “wrong”, “misguided” or even “religious”, they are still desperate to have some kind of standing among the cultural aristocracy. They seem to regard this as an “outreach” opportunity. Perhaps it is. But it is a mission field that comes rife with temptations to compromise, piece by piece, on everything that is not an absolutely central “gospel issue”. Just as it is not necessarily wise for an unmarried man to do outreach to the red-light district of Amsterdam, so not every Christian intellectual is ready for the temptations of trying to rub elbows with metropolitan cultural elites.

Understood through that lens, the rush of Christian intellectuals to side with the government, tech giants and corporate media is understandable. People have been arrested in this country simply for sharing facebook posts about protests. Many evangelical thought leaders would die a thousand deaths before suffering the indignity of being lumped in with those hillbillies who insist on taking Scripture literally. You know, the kind of people who believe in things like creationism or premillenialism. They are certainly not going to risk letting themselves be associated with something so deplorably common as being “anti-vax”.

And so, to preserve their estate, they have rolled up their sleeves and towed the party line with all their might. It falls now to those of us who have long since given up our dignity to reassure you of something: you are not crazy.

If you’re not sure that Covid-19, as a disease, deserves the hysteria that has grown around it, you are not crazy.

If you’re nervous about the police and the military being brought in to lock people in their homes who have committed no crime and are not sick, you are not crazy.

If you think something smells fishy about the way these vaccines are being pushed on us so intensely, you are not crazy.

And most important, if you think that Christian leaders are going too far when they tell you it’s a sin to resist any of this, then you are definitely not crazy.

There are many sub-issues that deserve to be dealt with amidst these global events. But for now we will deal with the issue of requiring vaccine passports to attend in-person church. We will start with this one because it’s so clear cut and so many Christians are getting it wrong. If we can’t get this one right, it’s like missing the big “E” on the eye chart.

The Basic Case for Vaccine Passports

First, let’s review the case that is made for requiring vaccine passports to attend church. This is based on the TGC article by Megan Best: I would summarise Megan’s points as follows:

These are all wrong. Yes, all of them. Let’s take a brief tour and see.

The Hebrews 10 Argument

I start with this one because it has been raised by many Christians on both sides. Christians who are against vaccine passports for church argue that this passage commands us to meet together and churches that block people from doing so are violating that instruction. Christians who argue for embracing vaccine passports (including Megan Best, but also many others) counter that Hebrews 10:24-25 is written against people neglecting to meet together out of apathy, not against people deliberately refraining from meeting together out of concern for public health.

On even a moment’s reflection, it should be clear that the hermeneutics underlying this counter-argument are absurdly naive. Of course Hebrews 10 was written in a different context than what we are currently facing. No disputing that. But the command given here is also based upon an underlying principle. There is something deeper at play than just “don’t be apathetic”. Apathy is fine in some situations. I’m apathetic about cricket. I cannot be excited about a game that takes five full days to play. It’s not apathy itself that is the problem, it is the object of that apathy. According to Hebrews 10, we are not to be apathetic about meeting for worship. Why? Because (here’s the underlying principle) meeting together is an important part of our spiritual life. It is part of how we grow, encourage each other, admonish each other, sharpen each other and love each other. For the writer of Hebrews it could not be replaced by just sending each other letters. For us it cannot be replaced by live streaming.

There is certainly an argument for staying away from church temporarily when there is a substantial health risk. If you are blowing out green snot every 10 minutes and you know your church is full of people who are elderly or have weaker immune systems, then maybe you should take a couple of weeks off until you recover. But that is not what we are talking about in 2021. We are talking about healthy people being denied access, on a potentially permanent basis, at the discretion of the government. That is way too extreme.

Scripture does caution us that lazy fools will overstate the dangers of normal activities in order to get their way:

The sluggard says, “There is a lion outside! I shall be killed in the streets!”

Proverbs 22:13

It is possible to overstate the risks that are posed by going about everyday life. And Scripture is openly critical of people who do that.

Getting vaccinated is about loving your neighbour

On the face of it, this argument appears to make sense. If there is something I can do for little-to-no risk and little-to-no cost which has a high probability of keeping my neighbour from harm, then it seems like a good idea to do it. But there’s a bunch of qualifications in there. The argument only works if there is little-to-no risk, if there is little-to-no cost and if I am likely to harm my neighbour if I don’t do it. All of those conditions are up for debate.

How risky is it to get a Covid-19 vaccine? Reasonable people may differ on this point. What social consequences may come from accepting the vaccine? Again, reasonable people may differ. How much risk does the presence of an unvaccinated person really pose to a vaccinated person? Plenty of scope for disagreement.

When the issues are not so cut-and-dry, it does not make sense to bind people’s conscience this way. And that is exactly what evangelical leaders who talk this way are doing. They are saying “do things our way, or you are being unloving.” Or, being translated, “do things our way or you are in sin.

In reality, there are many reasons that a person may have for declining to get vaccinated. There are even some that are motivated by loving your neighbour. Of course, there are the usual issues like a person who believes from past experience that they are likely to have a bad allergic reaction to the vaccine or something like that. But there are more fundamental reasons. Suppose that you believe (as I do!) that the vaccine passport system is almost certainly going to be abused by current and/or future governments. There are many ways that your life might be made easier if you just go ahead and get vaccinated. If you have a nice buffer of accumulated wealth, etc. then you may not be in all that much danger from gradual increases in government tyranny. But your poorer neighbours may be very much in danger. You may choose not to get vaccinated (or to get vaccinated but refuse to show a passport) precisely to show solidarity with your neighbours. They are the ones whom you expect to be abused by the passport system. The more people there are who decline the vaccine, the harder it becomes for the government to impose draconian punishments for refusing it. So by refusing the vaccine (or the passport), you are helping build a sort of “herd immunity” against tyranny.

Now, as I write that, I fully expect that some readers will regard it as “paranoid”. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. But it’s at least plausible. A person who genuinely loves their neighbour and is operating in good faith may genuinely believe that it is more loving to protect their neighbour from the greater threat of future tyranny by resisting mandatory vaccination than it is to protect their neighbour from the lesser threat of Covid-19 by accepting vaccination. You may think that they are wrong. You may think that they are evaluating the relative risks inaccurately. But that doesn’t mean you can categorically say that they are in sin or that they are being “unloving”. You do not possess a perfect risk-o-meter that everyone else is morally obliged to heed. If someone disagrees with you in good faith about relative risk, that is their prerogative and you should respect it, just as they should respect yours. They should not morally oblige you to refrain from getting vaccinated if you choose, even if they think that doing so is riskier than remaining unvaccinated. As God has given us each a brain, a body and responsibility to steward them, each of us must assess the costs, benefits and risks for ourselves. We may argue and attempt to persuade each other, but we should not compel one another by claiming that our own assessment is the only one that is righteous.

It is justified to restrict the movement of the unvaccinated because they pose a threat to others.

Suppose for a moment that this argument is true and that it is indeed justified to restrict a person’s movements if they pose any kind of threat to someone else. We can’t just limit it specifically to Covid-19. Other diseases can also be spread at church. People have caught the common cold and other communicable diseases at church since the church was born. Why have we allowed this? Have we been in some dereliction of duty by NOT making everyone wear full PPE to church for all these centuries? Every time someone gets behind the wheel of a car and drives to church, they pose the danger that they may have a heart attack while driving and swerve into oncoming traffic, killing dozens in the process. Should a good Christian therefore abstain from driving?

Of course we recognise that these examples are absurd. But why?

It’s because in normal life (before 2020 arrived and germophobia became a fashionable virtue), we recognise that everything we do involves a certain amount of risk. “It’s a dangerous business walking out your front door.”

If you went to church (or anywhere people were gathered), someone might have had a cold and you might have caught it. We would shake hands with people all the time. How often did we stop to actually ask them if they had washed their hands the last time they used the rest room? Rarely, if ever. We tended to give them the benefit of the doubt and we made sure that we washed our own hands before eating.

So what is different now? Again, it comes down to relative risk assessment. The proponents of mandatory vaccination and passports seem to be assuming that the danger posed by the presence of an unvaccinated individual is so great and so indisputable that it is tantamount to an implicit threat of violence. It is as if a person walked into church wearing a bomb on their chest and holding a dead-man switch. In that case, we might ask them to leave for everyone’s safety. They may argue that asking them to leave is unfair because they haven’t “actually done anything”. But we would all recognise that the act of walking in with a live bomb posed such a great and unnecessary danger to others that it must be interpreted as a threat (the bomb-vest kind of screams “I’m planning to blow someone up at some point”).

The question is, does the fact of a person being unvaccinated put them into the same category as the person who walks in wearing a bomb-vest, where their mere presence amounts to a threat of aggression?

On this point, I think people could disagree in good faith. A person who has been watching far too much TV news may conclude that the probability of catching Covid-19 and dying approaches 100% if you dare to sit within 6 feet of an unvaccinated person. If a person genuinely believed that, then their policy of excluding the unvaccinated from entry would make sense. I would try to persuade them that their risk analysis is flawed, but it is ultimatley their prerogative to assess the risk for themselves.

The issue is that I don’t think most people, in their heart of hearts, really believe that an unvaccinated person with no symptoms poses that great of a threat by their mere presence. There is some threshold below which we would simply accept the danger of sitting next to a stranger at church. What if they have been working with toxic chemicals, which are still on their skin, and I inhale some? What if they had smoked a cigarette before coming in and I am now breathing some residual second-hand smoke? At some point, we just have to accept the danger and live life. The question is, do you think an unvaccinated person with no symptoms is closer to the bomb-vest case or closer to the had-a-cigarette-outside case? I personally think it’s the latter. But even if we disagree, that does NOT entail that one of us should use men with guns to impose our view upon the other. If paranoid germophobes want to have a church service that is only open to people who have been triple-vaccinated and show up double-masked, then so be it. Let them have at it. If normal people want to have a normal church service, let them do that too.

The risk-reward analysis has been done for you by your betters

Megan Best writes:

Early recommendations restricting the use of the Astra Zeneca vaccine were based on a risk-benefit calculation for the individual, a calculus which changed when the Delta variant of COVID-19 appeared. The Delta variant is highly transmissible, estimated to be 60% more transmissible than previous variants. In light of this new situation, COVID-19 vaccines are a safe and highly effective way to avoid serious illness, hospitalisation and death.

Just take in the implications of that for a moment. “The calculus changed” when Delta appeared. Who’s calculus? Yours or someone else’s? That’s the thing. A risk-reward calculus is not an objective fact. It is a subjective valuation. You cannot have two people independently measure the amount of “risk” or “benefit” posed by something and agree on a numerical value. Those things are inherently subjective. How much risk is it to swim in the ocean? You might be eaten by a shark. What are the precise odds of that happening? Impossible to say. You have to die some way or another, so how valuable is it to you to die by a non-shark method? It depends on lots of things about how you evaluate your life. How valuable is swimming in the ocean to you? Some people can take it or leave it. For others, swimming in the ocean is one of life’s purest pleasures. No two people have the same risk-reward calculus about swimming in the ocean. Likewise, no two people have precisely the same risk-reward calculus about receiving a Covid-19 vaccine.

It is sheer arrogance to look down from on high and tell the peasants that “the calculus has changed”. As though some panel of their betters had handed down a ruling to which they must now submit. As though their God-given right to retain individual control of their own body was worth nothing at all. That is a shameful thing to say and it suggests a shockingly feeble doctrine of creation and stewardship.

We have to prioritise the needs of the weakest and most vulnerable

It’s easy to say “prioritise the needs of the weakest and most vulnerable”. It sounds very pious indeed. But since we are not disembodied spirits, we still have to deal with the inherent limitations of the physical universe that we occupy. That means that the prioritisation of the weakest and most vulnerable is never absolute. To absolutely protect the vulnerable from Covid-19, we could immediately kill every person who gets infected. But some would object that this would be a sin. We could instead put everyone who has ever had any remote contact with Covid-19 on an island, then cut off all trade and travel between that island and the rest of the world. But most would consider that “extreme” or even “inhumane”. Evidentally, our prioritisation of the weak and vulnerable has at least some limits. It’s not enough to just say “we should prioritise them”. If you don’t specify what costs we should be prepared to pay for doing so then you are contributing nothing of value to the conversation.

In the context of her article, it would appear that what Best is actually claiming is that barring the unvaccinated from attending corporate worship is an acceptable price to pay for the marginal increase in safety enjoyed by those who have an above-average vulnerability to infectious diseases. Again, that assumes that everyone should have the same cost-benefit analysis and that Best’s analysis is the correct one to force upon everyone else.

There are, however, those of us who think differently. Some of us simply don’t think that barring the unvaccinated from corporate worship is the right trade-off to make.

We could make everyone safer by making all road speed limits be 20km/hour and no higher. We would definitely have fewer fatal crashes. But we don’t. We accept the increased fatality rate in exchange for the many benefits that come with faster travel.

I am all for taking precautions to protect the health of people who are more vulnerable to infectious diseases. If there are people in your church in that condition, here’s a crazy idea: ask them how you can best serve them. Would they appreciate you wearing some PPE around them? Then do that. Would they appreciate you keeping away from them if you are not vaccinated? Do that too and don’t take it personally. It’s okay that individual people set their own boundaries.

But all of that is very different from saying that the government should get to impose one blanket rule on everyone. It would be abusrd to say that a vulnerable person could never rationally choose to take the opposite trade-off and accept the increased risk contracting Covid-19 in order to get the benefits of more intimate and vibrant connections with other believers.

A word of gratitude

There is one element in Best’s analysis that I am grateful for and I would be remiss if I didn’t mention it. She makes allowance for the idea that some people will prefer not to get vaccinated and that churches should aim to accomodate them as best as possible, perhaps by accepting evidence of a recent negative Covid-19 test in lieu of a vaccination passport. Not everyone is prepared to make this allowance and so I’d like to take a moment to thank Best for that.

With that said, let’s go on to make the dramatically stronger case against embracing vaccine passports at church.

The Case AGAINST Vaccine Passports

The case against vaccine passports is a case based on principle. Reasonable people may disagree about many of the fine details of our current situation. How deadly is the virus? How transmissible? How large is the impact of widespread masking? Or of social distancing? While some commentators have tried to review the data and make an empirical case that lockdowns are an ineffective policy, I want to do something different. I want to make the principled case that even if Covid-19 was just as deadly and infectious as the TV news would tell you, vaccine passports at church would still be an absolutely terrible idea.

The Importance of Separating Church and State

The first reason to take this position is because vaccine passports for church attendance will forcibly intertwine the churches with the State. Once you have to scan an ID in a government system in order to walk through the church doors, you’ve given the government a seat of authority over church life. The separation of Church and State is an important political principle that we should by no means take for granted. For many centuries, religion was inseparable from tribe and kingdom. In today’s world, most of us just assume that it is normal for people to be able to practice their preferred religion without interference, no matter which political party is in power. But we need to remember our history as Christians.

Around the time of the Reformation, Catholics and Protestants fought bitterly and there was much bloodshed. Why? Because the Church was not separated from the State. Both factions were trying to take hold of the reigns of power. If the monarch was Catholic, it would be bad times for the Protestants and vice versa. It was dangerous to proclaim a different creed to that of the crown.

Even after the Protestants had come to settled dominance in England, the turmoil was not done. John Bunyan famously wrote the Pilgrim’s Progress while in prison. He spent 12 years rotting away in there. Why was he in prison for so long? He had the audacity to be a Baptist when the government had decreed that the only acceptable denomination was Anglican.

Governments intruding upon our consciences and presuming to tell us what creed we must hold is the rule of history, not the exception. If we are not very careful, we risk reverting to the standard ways of old instead of preserving the liberty that took the West so many years to establish. We risk having the government step in and start dictating what ideas our pastors are (and are not) allowed to espouse from the pulpit. If the Victorian government can criminalise the act of praying privately with someone who wishes to leave the LGBT+ life behind, then they can definitely criminalise the act of preaching publicly against whatever horrifying policies they dream up next.

Losing the rose-coloured glasses

If the last 18 months have taught us anything, especially in Australia, it’s that we cannot trust our rulers to be reasonable. We have seen towns locked down over a single “case”. We have seen police brutality at levels that most of us assumed were reserved for military dictatorships (police using pepper spray on children and the elderly, firing rubber bullets at protestors, throwing people to the pavement without warning, etc). We have seen police shut down outdoor church services and assault the attendees (“for our safety”, of course). We have seen whole cities put under house arrest, only allowed to be outdoors for an hour per day, the way that criminals in prison get limited “yard time”. We have seen small businesses decimated by lockdown orders and mid-city border closures that didn’t make any sense.

Did you vote for any of this? When you last went to vote at a state or federal election, did you think that you were giving your consent to these kinds of extreme powers? I’m sure that, for most of us, the answer is a resounding “no”. And yet, here we are. What this should teach you is that the people who rule over us have far too much power and they are loving it. They are doing things to us to which we would never consent. In many cases they are flaunting their own rules and living by a different standard than the one they impose on the rest of us. They have no problem accepting a salary that is paid off the backs of the very peasants whom they are now forcing out of work. They take international flights and cross state borders freely while we are locked in our homes.

They are no paragons of virtue. They are wicked hypocrites.

So now there are these deeply wicked people who have a history of getting drunk on power. They are asking us to give them even more power over our lives. Power to track our every movement. Power to grant or deny us access to businesses. Power to grant or deny us access even to our churches. It is baffling that any rational person could think that this was a wise idea.

Given that it is the nature of governments historically to dictate what will be considered “orthodox” religion within their dominion, how could we think that the sociopaths who rule over us today would not try to exercise that same power? Once we need their permission to attend church, they will quickly find it expedient to withhold that permission for their own ends. Today they can use “public health” as a convenient excuse to establish the precedent. But once it is established, mark my words, it will be hardly any time at all before people are denied the right to gather for purely political reasons.

Object to a few government policies on social media? You’ll be labelled with some vague and ominous term like “extremist”, then the machine which verifies your vaccine passport will start responding “no access” when you try to go places. Think I’m crazy? Banks in the Netherlands have already started closing bank accounts belonging to people they deem to be spreaders of “misinformation” ( Don’t think it can happen here? I bet you didn’t think they’d stoop to closing kids playgrounds and taking down the hoops at the baskball courts either. I bet that two years ago you didn’t think Australians would be arrested for mentioning protests on social media. I bet you didn’t think you’d see people assaulted by police for being 6km from their home. Your rulers are wicked, power-hungry hypocrites. Never underestimate how low they can go.

Vaccine passports are the perfect gateway drug to a Chinese-style “social credit” system. Have you been saying things that make the regime look bad? You lose some points. Maybe your neighbour gains some points for tattling on you. Lose enough points and you can’t catch public transport, or your bank accounts get frozen, or you get denied access to the hospital system. I’m sure they’ll get creative with ways to keep you in line.

That’s not the future we want for our kids. And more importantly, that’s not an environment we want to be in if we are trying to spread the gospel. We want wide open doors. We want the liberty to talk to anyone who wants to listen about any subject we want. We should not be looking over our shoulder to see if there are cops nearby. We should not be worrying about whether an evangelistic conversation is going to show up negatively on our digital report card. Christianity is true. It is the one worldview which actually corresponds to the real world that we live in. We alone, of all creeds, have nothing at all to fear from scrutiny. Free speech, free association and free movement are good for us. They are only bad for people who want to keep the gospel suppressed, since those freedoms give us room to spread dangerous ideas like “Jesus is Lord, not Caesar”.

We fully intend to:

[pray] for kings and all those in high positions - so that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.

1 Timothy 2:2

When Christians can be left alone to live in peace, that is when the gospel shines. That is what we want. We do not want to be stuck in a police state.

Precedent from history for rejecting vaccine certification

Finally, it’s worth noting that this position is not something novel that belligerent rednecks came up with in 2021 just because we like being anti-establishment. There is historic precedent for this position. Abraham Kuper, one time Prime Minister of the Netherlands, took a stand against vaccine certificates for smallpox/cowpox in his day. Why did he do that? Did he think that the ‘pox was “fake” or a “conspiracy”? Not at all. He simply recognised that requiring certifications was inherently a terrible policy.

For this reason alone, compulsory cowpox vaccination should be out of the question. Our physicians may be mistaken and government may never stamp a particular medical opinion as orthodox and therefore binding. Moreover, compulsion can never be justified until the illness manifests itself and may therefore never be prescribed as a preventative.

Vaccination certificates will therefore have to go - and will be gone at least from our free schools. The form of tyranny hidden in these vaccination certificates is just as real a threat to the nation’s spiritual resources as a smallpox epidemic itself.

Abraham Kuyper, Our Program, 1876

It’s worth noting that Kuyper’s party actually won and got elected on this platform.

Many Christians have rushed to point out that the Reformers recommended people quarantining themselves to avoid spreading the plague. They have also pointed out precedent from the Old Testament of people living “outside the camp” when they were made unclean by leprosy (e.g. Leviticus 13:46). As you can see from the above quotation, Kuyper would agree with those points. When people are sick and contagious, it is reasonable to take steps to keep them from infecting others. But Kuyper makes an important distinction that we would all do well to heed. Imposing restrictions upon healthy people is a whole other ball game. Once we allow for that, we are opening a floodgate. Any and all tyrannical measures can be justified once we accept the principle that restrictions can be placed upon you with absolutely no evidence that you are actually carrying a given disease. Kuyper also reminds us that medical professionals are not infallible and so it would be folly to give their opinions the full weight of binding laws. But clearly that is exactly what we have done. In Australia you can now be arrested for “breaching the Chief Health Officer’s directive”. In practice, this means that anything the CHO says has the force of law and violating it instantly becomes an arrestable offense. This happens with no vote in parliament, no pretense of representative democracy, nothing.

It’s time that we admit something to ourselves: the medical profession has become politicised. Just because people are doctors, that does not mean that their objectivity is above suspicion or that their opinions will never be flawed. Giving the TGA or a state CHO the power to dictate treatment options from on high is no wiser than giving that kind of power to anyone else. Kuyper realised that doctors are just people and people can be mistaken or corrupt. It’s time that we realised the same.


If we are Christians who love our neighbours and know even the most basic lessons of church history, then we have excellent grounds for standing up and refusing to let a vaccine passport system be rolled out in our country. That is what my family and I will be doing. And because we are Christians, we will sing joyful songs while we do it.

We will accept no pious hectoring from Evangelicalism Inc. about how God wants us to always tow the party line. That’s nonsense. There is a time and a place to stand up to the government and say “no way, not on our watch”. And that time was here well over a year ago.

Our position is simple: No forced jabs, no passports, no compromise, no apologies.

Those powers are far too ripe for further abuse and no government can be trusted to wield them. We love our neighbours far too much to let those things happen without a fight.