Australian Christian leaders in the state of New South Wales (NSW) say they do not attend to turn away unvaccinated churchgoers despite Canberra’s claimed mandate to do so.
Sydney’s Catholic Archbishop Anthony Fisher and Anglican Archbishop Kanishka Raffel are among those who have insisted to Health Minister Brad Hazzard that attending church is an essential service and must be available to all, the Sydney Morning Herald reported Sunday.
“With Anglican Archbishop Kaniska Raffel, I would insist that ‘Jesus is Lord of all, and his gospel is a gospel for all. A “No Entry” sign at the door of the church is wholly inconsistent with the Gospel preached inside,’” Archbishop Fisher said in a September 9 statement.
Last Thursday, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian issued her “roadmap to freedom” declaring that adults who have received both doses of the coronavirus vaccine will be exempted from lockdown restrictions after NSW passes the 70 percent vaccination target.
“Our roadmap outlines the freedoms that twice vaccinated people will enjoy once we reach 70 per cent double dose which means a meal with loved ones or a drink with friends is just around the corner,” NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro said.
Only fully vaccinated people and those with medical exemptions will be able to avail themselves of the freedoms allowed under the reopening NSW roadmap, which includes attending church services.
In his response to the roadmap, Archbishop Fisher declared that “worship is an essential service, not mere recreation for many people,” adding that “many pastors and faithful would be uneasy with restricting worship to the fully vaccinated” and “doing so could prove very divisive.”
“Race, gender, ethnicity, age, education, wealth or health status (including vaccination) must not be points of division within the Christian community or barriers to communion with Jesus,” Fisher said.
Services deemed “essential,” such as grocery stores and pharmacies, are open to all without distinction. The government’s roadmap lumps church services together with non-essential services such as restaurants, cinemas, gyms, theme parks, and nail salons.
Fisher’s words were echoed by those of Archbishop Raffel, who insisted that churches cannot make distinctions among the faithful.
“Churches have a responsibility to minister to all, regardless of immunisation status, so we will be discussing with government how we can fulfil that ministry commitment in future stages of the recovery,” Raffel said. “We want everybody to be safe at church, but we also want to make sure we minister to everybody.”
The Rev. Phil Colgan, senior minister at St George North Anglican Church, questioned the government’s right to coerce churches into compliance.
“I think it’s really important to note that all of our acceptance of government limitations to date I consider to have been voluntary,” Colgan said, “that the government doesn’t have the right to forbid people meeting as Christians, and we have chosen to accept and comply – rightly in my view.”