To vaccinate or not to vaccinate that is the question, or is it?

This is certainly a question that we are all needing to answer when it comes to the COVID-19 vaccination roll out. But another has quickly emerged: how will I relate to those that have made a different choice to me? Recently I have had multiple conversations with people around this topic.   

How can we maintain peace when views on vaccination differ?

I have listened to some share the hurt and pain they have felt by being ostracised by their communities for their current thoughts on vaccination. I have heard others share disbelief and anger that people could think differently to them. I have also had several conversations with people lamenting over the division in communities arising because of divergent views and responses to the COVID 19 vaccination.

So how should we relate to each other when we hold to different views on COVID-19 vaccinations?

This was the topic we recently considered at our monthly online hub gathering. In looking at the question it became clear that approaching the question by turning to scripture and through the lens of the four part GOD – ME – YOU – US biblical peacemaking framework gives us a great starting point to work out our own answers.

1st step:  Start with GOD (Glorify God)

Like all conflict, a significant change happens when we see the opportunity conflict presents rather than just the hardship. Like any conflict, the challenge presented around differing views on vaccination presents each of us an opportunity to glorify God, serve others and grow to become more like Christ. And in doing so, to show the tangible difference that the gospel makes in our day-to-day relationships.

With this in mind, consider the words of Jesus recorded in John 13:34-35. Here we read Jesus give a new command, “love one another as I have loved you”. It begs the question – in what way is this new? Biblical scholar Don Carson answers the questions with these words, ‘the only reason why John 13:34–35 makes sense [is] ….. because it is a display, for Jesus’ sake, of mutual love among social incompatibles”.[1]

Arguably this is directly applicable in this area of debate. Our differences of opinions may literally make us socially incompatible under some government rulings – at least in the immediate future. We will glorify God, serve each other and grow to be more like Christ if we remember that we are to begin any response, word or action with love.

2nd step: ME – consider my contribution to the conflict (Get the Log out of our own eye)

One thing is clear when it comes to position on vaccinations: emotions can run very deep. This is because people see that lives are literally at stake, personal freedoms and sometimes even vocations are at stake, the tension of the community vs the individual are at stake, and even beliefs around health, the role of government and what matters most in the midst of all of that are at stake.  That’s a lot!

The challenge this can bring is that it can lead us to respond in ways that are less gracious that we ought, push ideas more strongly than we ought and expect responses more quickly than maybe we ought.

In Rom 12:9-21 we find thirty-four different commands regarding how we are to relate to each other that spiral out from the central teaching of love. Amongst these commands are the words: “As far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” (v18)

Reflection question: Is there anyone that you need to apologise to because of a passionate but aggressively or insensitively given communication around this topic?

3rd step: YOU – how can I talk with you about your contribution to this conflict? (Gently restore)  

Several church leaders have encouraged us to consider Romans 14 in thinking through how we should relate to each other in matters of difference in vaccinations, and for good reason. There are several principles from this passage that have clear application:

  • A recognition that there are matters, such as our view of vaccinations, that we can think differently on and remain unified in, for God accepts both.
  • To not judge each other when we have different views, but rather serve one another in our differences and consequences we may face from them.  
  • To act and support each other in acting on our conviction on vaccinations over time, which of course may change.

Applying these points to guiding how we speak to others around this issue in many ways points us towards another passage, James 1:18, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.”

4th step: US – working through the issues and restoring our relationship  (Go and be reconciled)

In John 17 Jesus prays, “Father let them (you and I, the church today) be one, as we are one” (see vv 20-23 in particular). Jesus knew that the church would be made up of people from every walk of life. Of people from every nation, tribe, and language and, in today’s context, both the vaccinated and unvaccinated. People who in our culture would not ordinarily be expected to associate together. So, Jesus prays, and so can we.

There is no doubt that different views on vaccinations is creating real pressures on maintaining unity amongst communities across our society. In Christ though, we can show that what unites the church – the good news of Jesus – is far greater than our different views on vaccination. May Jesus help us remain as one, so that the world will know that Jesus is Lord.

Our witness to the world is at stake.

[1] D. A. Carson, Love in Hard Places (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2002), p. 61.

Written by Wayne Forward.

Wayne currently serves as the National Relationships Manager for PeaceWise and a Board Director. He has a background in Mental Health Nursing, Pastoral Ministry, Leadership Coaching and Missions and currently works also with Pioneers of Australia. He is committed to helping people see the tangible difference the gospel of reconciliation can make in their relationship with Jesus and each other.

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