These are remarkable times for sure. Conversation after conversation is dominated by debates over risk of death and illness and how best to mitigate that risk on a national level. Two examples;
1) Irish Quarantine
A furore has broken out here in Ireland about mandatory hotel quarantine – its legality (whether it is in reality a form of detention breaching constitutional rights) and its inflexible application – already more than one court case has been won against detaining already vaccinated people, or where someone returns (vaccinated and Covid free) to see a dying relative only to be quarantined for 2 weeks and possibly being denied the chance to say farewell. The irony is not hard to see – a dying person cannot see their son in order to ‘protect’ them from risk of infection. And this does not touch on its military-style application, even for people with negative tests and who have already been vaccinated. This from the Irish Govt website.
Designated fresh air breaks will be accommodated at the hotel. A designated safe and secure space for fresh air breaks will be available at the hotel. These breaks should be booked in advance. The hotel will endeavour to accommodate guests at their preferred time.
At the requested time, a Security person will knock on the guests door and escort them to the designated area. All outdoor areas are monitored. Security will escort guests back to their bedroom after their break. In order to protect other guests and the hotel team, a fresh air break will only be permitted after you have received a negative PCR test.
Penalties for breaking the rules are €2000 in fines and up to a month in jail.
2) The Astra Zeneca Vaccine
And this evening it has been announced that the AstraZeneca vaccine will not now be given to anyone under 60. This is the advice of the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC). This follows a report from the European Medicines Agency (EMA) which concluded that a small number of unusual blood clots in the brain are likely linked to the AZ vaccine. These cases are serious and potentially fatal.
From what I’ve read there have been about 222 cases in the UK and EU out of about 34 million cases. That is risk of about 0.00000652941176471. This compared to a many hundreds of times higher risk of being unvaccinated and getting Covid-19, especially the older you are.
As I understand it, the NIAC advice, accepted by the Irish Govt, goes much further than the EMA advice which says that the benefits of vaccination far outweigh the minimal risk.
Ministry amidst “An Abundance of Caution”
There are no easy answers here. And this is not an argument for law-breaking, arrogance, lack for respect and care for others, or a selfish insistence on individual rights at the expense of the common good. Neither am I a doctor or politician. These are complex, difficult decisions based on multiple factors. I don’t envy those who have to make tough calls. Everyone has their own opinions and the comments sections on newspapers are rather places of rather vitriolic debate (no change there on most comment sections come to think of it). On those issues my opinions are probably as (mis)informed as anyone else.
But as a Christian and church elder and someone trained to think theologically, the point I want to focus on is a phrase used by one of the NIAC advisors who said that the advice to limit the AZ vaccine to over 60s was made out of “an abundance of caution“.
Safety first. Minimise risk. Lockdown. Protect the vulnerable. Save the health service. This is, rightly or wrongly, the dominant narrative of 2020-21.
But such a narrative raises many questions for Christian life and ministry.
One of the last things believers or churches should be characterised by is “an abundance of caution.”
Thankfully God is not characterised by “an abundance of caution.” He is a God of outrageous grace and extravagant salvation whose saving love finds ultimate expression in the cross of Christ.
Christian mission is not to be marked by “an abundance of caution.” Countless martyrs throughout Christian history testify to that.
Christian love is not be marked by “an abundance of caution.” It is to be poured out generously for others, often at great cost to the self.
Christian worship is not be marked by “an abundance of caution.” It is to be joyful, wholehearted and holistic.
Christian faith is not a “safe investment’ with a guaranteed return. It is a call to an adventure of following the Risen Lord wherever he leads and who calls his followers to an un-cautious life:
27 “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.Luke 6:27-31
All this raises questions for individual believers and church leadership teams. And pershaps answering these sorts of questions will be one of the main challenges for churches as the rest of 2021 unfolds.
What does it look like to live an ‘un-cautious’ life in times characterised by ‘an abundance of caution’?
What does it mean to be communities of faith, hope, joy and courage in a culture shaped by fear of making a mistake?
What does the gospel have to say about life and death in times confronted with, and traumatised by, the reality of death?