BC Humanists want Dr. Bonnie Henry to require vaccine cards in churches

Dr. Bonnie Henry announced September 7 that the province was launching the BC Vaccine Card. Government of BC photo

Sometimes those of us in the church wonder whether anyone cares what we do or say. But we needn’t worry; the eyes of the BC Humanist Association are ever upon us.

They have made it their business to assess, research and report (complain) about the many ways in which we overreach.

Here are some recent initiatives of the “voice for Humanists, atheists, agnostics and the non-religious of Metro Vancouver and British Columbia”:

  • They thought we might be praying too much (in the BC Legislature), so a couple of years ago they produced a 138-page House of Prayers report which analyzed the daily prayers offered in the Legislature between 2003 and 2019. I wrote about it here.
  • In May they posted “The ‘support group’ loophole?”, which fretted that despite religious services being banned, at least one Vancouver church had continued meeting under the guise of a support group. They reported the alleged violation to the city.
  • Earlier this month they returned to a favoured theme: ‘Follow the money: BC’s private school giveaway benefits wealthy and religious families.’

And so on; they are diligent in exposing our many presumptions. Now though, they are making the case that we have been wrongly overlooked.

Don’t leave churches out!

The BC Humanist Association wants churches to be covered by the vaccination passport.

The BC Humanist Association launched a petition September 13 to “require BC vaccine cards in churches.” They say:

As of September 13, proof of vaccination is required to access certain events, services and businesses in British Columbia. By October 24, you will need to show you have been fully vaccinated.

While Provincial Health Officer (PHO) Dr. Bonnie Henry’s order extends to a wide variety of indoor events with more than 50 people, including parties, conferences, wedding receptions, concerts and sporting events, the order doesn’t include “worship services.”

In other words, you’ll have to show your Vaccine Card to go to a public lecture but not to go to church.

This exemption defies the evidence and common sense. Fundamentalist religious communities are among the least likely to be vaccinated and indoor church services are hotbeds of COVID outbreaks.

Simply put: We must end the church exemption to the BC Vaccine Card.

Putting aside the fact that Christians were never destined to be favoured by the BC Humanist Association, and that almost none our churches qualify as fundamentalist, and that the links in their petition relate to the United States rather than BC . . . etc  . . . we would still do well to take heed of their concerns.

One pastor I spoke with recently told me that a neighbour had just asked him why churches are exempt from the vaccination passport. I’m sure he’s not alone. We are being watched, and not just by BC Humanists. If there is an outbreak, we will likely be lumped together.

Degrees of caution

So, it is good to know that most churches are being cautious as they meet. Last week I quoted Treena Duncan, Executive Minister of the Pacific Mountain Regional Council of the United Church of Canada, who said:

The standards provided by the province are minimum standards, and it is important to acknowledge that we as United Church people can ask for a higher standard in our communities of faith and ministries, in response to our duty of care of our people.

Anglican Bishop John Stephens. Photo: Stéphane Lavoie

Bishop John Stephens of the Anglican Diocese of New Westminster, sent out a pastoral letter September 14: ‘Update on Mask Mandate and Vaccination Passport.’

He recognized that all worship-oriented services are exempt from the mask and vaccine mandates, but laid out 11 “expectations” for Anglican churches. Here are some key ones:

  • I strongly encourage all people who are eligible to receive the vaccine be vaccinated. If you have not been vaccinated you may want to consider worshipping online.
  • Masks are to be worn upon entry to the church and kept on for the entirety of the liturgy, with the exception of when speaking in the liturgy, consuming the bread/Body of Christ, or when consuming food or drink at a reception.
  • Congregational singing is permitted but all in the congregation must be wearing masks.
  • For meetings (Bible Study, Christian Formation events, Parish Council, Youth Group, other committee meetings), all in attendance must be masked.

He also stated:

Worshipping communities are being given much leeway allowing us to continue to gather as a community of faith, but we must accept these exceptions to the protocols with responsibility and gratitude.

Please do continue to care for one another and love your neighbour as yourself. Remember that not everyone is ready to return to in-person worship and there continues to be much reticence about being indoors with others.

Go here for the full pastoral letter.

Other churches are slightly more relaxed, but all I’ve heard about are cautious in their approach. That is only right; we are obliged to care not only for ourselves but also for the broader community.

Who is and who isn’t covered

The September 13 update from the Provincial Health Officer lists the places and events where people over 12 must be vaccinated. They include:

  • Indoor ticketed sporting events with more than 50 people
  • Indoor concerts, theatre, dance and symphony events with more than 50 people
  • Licensed restaurants and cafes and restaurants and cafes that offer table service (indoor and patio dining), including liquor tasting rooms in wineries, breweries or distilleries
  • Pubs, bars and lounges (indoor and patio dining)

You don’t have to show proof of vaccination at places like:

  • Grocery stores, liquor stores and pharmacies
  • Unlicensed restaurants that don’t offer table service
    • For example: fast food, coffee shops, food courts, food trucks and takeout
  • Tasting rooms without seating attached to wineries, breweries or distilleries
  • Local public transportation (BC Transit, TransLink, BC Ferries)
  • Salons, hairdressers and barbers

Go here for the full lists. The province has also produced a document offering ‘Guidance for Holding Low Risk Worship Services.’

Opposition to vaccine mandate

If there is a COVID-19 outbreak in one or more churches, or if we face a serious increase in infections and public demands for tighter restrictions increase, we may see the vaccine mandate extended to churches (or possibly, once again, closures).

It those measures are taken, I expect a wide range of responses. The majority of churches would likely acquiesce, as they have all along. But there could be exceptions. Signs of apprehension are already evident.

Jay Cameron

For example, The B.C. Catholic has posted a couple of stories raising questions about the validity of the vaccine mandate:

Schratz said:

B.C.’s introduction of vaxports, or “vaccine cards” as the government calls them, was a complete reversal of Henry’s position just three months ago when she told media, “there is no way we will recommend inequities be increased by use of things like vaccine passports for services with public access here in British Columbia.”

Henry is asking faith leaders to encourage “only immunized people” to attend services, but has so far has stopped short of mandating it. “Those are decisions that faith leaders, communities, church groups, choirs, make for themselves; they don’t need an order from me to do that.”

We can only hope she’s more reliable in holding to those words than she was on passports and exemptions.

Most Canadians have apparently been in favour of the ominous notion of mandatory vaccinations since the start of the COVID. But in the past year, ethical debates about forced injections have largely been replaced with discussions on how best to carry them out.

To understand what is so objectionable about mandatory vaccinations, one need only consider Catholic teaching on the primacy of individual conscience and forming one’s conscience accordingly.

ARPA Canada, “a grassroots Christian political advocacy organization” with an office in BC, posted a detailed article: ‘Coercive COVID-19 vaccine mandates are bad public policy.’

Wyatt Graham, referring to BC and other provinces which have adopted a vaccine passport, said ” I cannot see vaccine passports in churches as a net positive” in his comment for the Canadian site of The Gospel Coalition.

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