Welby vaccine masks love your neighbour
Civil Liberties

You can’t be compelled to love your neighbour

The Archbishop of Canterbury was interviewed on Times Radio by John Pienaar, who asked: “Is it the moral thing to do, Archbishop, getting your vaccination?”

“Yes,” the Archbishop replied, succinctly.

“Tell me why,” said John Pienaar, seeking spiritual enlightenment.

“Because it’s about loving your neighbour,” the Archbishop replied. “Second commandment: love God; love your neighbour. And Jesus said in these two commandments you fulfil all the law and the prophets. Or to quote someone not quite so authoritative but pretty authoritative, the Queen. When she was asked, she said, ‘It’s not about me, it’s about our community life.’ So get vaccinated. I’ve had both vaccinations and a booster,” he croaked and spluttered (not Covid: he caught a cold from his granddaughter).

The Archbishop is right, of course. The vaccine not only protects you, it protects others. It doesn’t stop you getting Covid, and it doesn’t stop you transmitting it, but it does mitigate the worst of the symptoms, and so is manifestly saving lives. Rather like the wearing of masks, if they can catch flecks of spittle and impede virus transmission, then the wearing of them becomes both a practicality and a courtesy. It’s about whether you love your neighbour enough to show him (or her) that you care about their health – even if you consider masks to be completely useless. There is virtue indeed in virtue-signally that you love your neighbour. If vaccines, boosters and masks have become the vernacular of public health, it really isn’t helpful for Christians to make them into stumbling blocks.

However, when the state edges toward mandatory vaccines, enforced masks and Covid immunity passports, it becomes more about bludgeoning your neighbour than loving him. Archbishop Justin exhorts people to get vaccinated with the words of Jesus (purposeful double entendre): you sacrifice your own doubts, personal convenience and qualms to express respect and amity to your neighbour, who may then be drawn toward your light and reason. But love cannot be compelled. When Durham Cathedral makes attendance at public worship contingent on the possession of a vaccine passport with an appeal to love of neighbour, it is neither loving nor neighbourly. Let the goats distinguish themselves from the sheep: by their masks ye shall know them. But don’t ostracise and alienate those who demur at vaccines or masks: love them, welcome them, and talk to them, not least because they are also your neighbour.

You may favour the bludgeoning of people to conform, but when it comes to Covid and its variants it really now ought to be more for the personal conscience than the state’s coercion. We have moved on (just about) from sunbathers being arrested in parks, dog-walkers being pursued by drones, and sons prohibited from visiting their dying fathers in hospital, but the government’s tendency toward control hasn’t gone away entirely. As Human Rights barrister Adam Wagner observed: “One of the worst legacies of Covid will be parliament accepting important laws being passed by emergency secondary legislation, published hours before a debate, with no proper scrutiny.”

What kind of society are we creating where masks are enforced, medical procedures mandated, passports demanded, surveillance expanded, and freedoms summarily suspended – all without parliamentary debate, let alone a vote?

And we’re only on Omicron.

How many more years of this lie ahead?

Will Omega be the end?

Will you still love your neighbour if they find it all a bit much, and ultimately resort to civil disobedience in the defence of freedom? Or would you stand in the doorway of your church and declare: “I tell you the truth, unless you love your neighbour, you shall not enter”?