Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves has likened to something that the Taliban in Afghanistan would issue, the statement by the “The Christian Coalition” about vaccine mandate in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
“In this very challenging and difficult time, the church wishes to be clear about the morality of mandates that require people to be vaccinated or face the termination of their employment and possible loss of accrued benefits,” the “Christian Coalition of St Vincent and the Grenadines said in the statement, a copy of which was obtained by iWitness News on Sunday.
The statement comes as the government has given a wide cross-section of public sector workers until Nov. 19, to get vaccinated against COVID-19 if they are to continue in their job.
The government has said that it has given its employees a choice but the move is widely interpreted as forcing people to make a “jab or job” choice.
The coalition said:
“We are hereby called to reflect on the gravity of the violation involved in coercing a person to do something that he or she believes to be wrong. Thus, we must note that religious and civil authorities have a duty to respect the consciences of persons as a civil right. Each person is bound to follow his or her God-given conscience and should not be forced to act in a manner contrary to it.
“We would like to make it abundantly clear that we do not support mandatory vaccination and urge that our nation exercises love and mercy, and do not add the extra burden of unemployment to those whose God-given conscience restrain them from taking the COVID-19 vaccine.
“As servants of God, we are hereby requesting that the government and private sector (all employers) exercise patience and seek more consultation and collaboration. We are also requesting that each citizen of our great nation considers seriously the gravity of the situation before us and do all within our power and conviction to adhere to the protocols established by the Ministry of Health: wearing of facial masks, physical distancing, hand sanitising and proper hand washing. We are all God’s children. May we unite and trust that OUR FAITH [IN GOD] WILL SEE US THROUGH,” he statement said, echoing the National Anthem.
The government’s move to have frontline workers vaccinated against the novel coronavirus comes as the government had hoped that by this past April, 50,000 doses of vaccine would have been administered.
However, as of Sunday, 48,576 doses, representing 28, 278 first doses, and 20, 298 second doses had been administered.
In his Independence Day address on Oct. 28, Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves said SVG will need, among other things, to vaccinate 90% of its population 12 years and older to get the economy “back to a level of normalcy”.
In an undated and unsigned statement, the Christian Coalition said they “acknowledge and value the contributions vaccines have made globally over the years”.
The entity further said that they “value the efforts of our national leaders in navigating this very turbulent season and we value each citizen of this great nation as we make serious decisions about our health”.
The coalition said that they equally respect and support those who have chosen to be vaccinated against COVID-19 as well as those who have opted not to.
“We are all citizens of St. Vincent and the Grenadines invariably created by God with equal dignity whether vaccinated or not.”
It urged people to continue to follow the protocols established by the Ministry of Health, and mentioned mask wearing, physical distancing, sanitising, frequent and proper hand washing).
The coalition said that one of the challenges posed by the pandemic is “the threatened imposition of COVID-19 vaccination mandates by public and private-sector employers, and governmental authorities.
The coalition said:
“God, as creator of humanity, has embedded in us through our God-informed conscience to discern carefully, right from wrong, as well as, in the pursuit of the common good. A society that fails to respect the rights of conscience ignores a key element in determining the common good for any nation. The foundational instrument of international human rights, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, asserts that: ‘Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.
“We, therefore, urge all to exercise charity one towards another regarding the COVID-19 vaccination mandates. Solid facts are helpful. Name-calling and shaming are not. We strongly believe that in threatening people who have a difference of opinion in taking or not taking the vaccine with loss of livelihood, is un-Christ like and therefore undesirable. Unfortunately, our society is badly divided and wounded.
“We have a duty to be compassionate, merciful, and empathetic towards others. We must never lose sight of the marvellous God-given dignity of every human person. The Church must be a source of love and respect for both those who are in moral distress about the COVID-19 vaccine mandates and those frustrated by resistance to these vaccines.”
However, speaking on WE FM, on Sunday, Gonsalves pointed out that his government has been discussing, since July, laws requiring vaccination for public sector workers.
“We have given a long time to have this discussion and that’s why I am so disappointed in this statement by the coalition of churches and other concerned assemblies on this vaccination programme.”
Gonsalves noted that the document was undated and unsigned. “You know who the coalition of Churches and other Concerned Assemblies are? I don’t know who they are.”
He said that the document came to him through the secretary of Pentecostal Assemblies of the West Indies, one Elvin Peters.
“That’s what the covering of the email to my office said.”
He said it was a statement of 10 paragraphs and 750 words “and not one single encouragement inside of this document telling you that you must take the vaccine.
“The most you get is, ‘We are also requesting that each citizen of our great nation considers seriously the gravity of the situation before us and do all within our power and conviction to adhere to the protocols established by the Ministry of Health: wearing of facial masks, physical distancing, hand sanitising and proper hand washing.’”
“It’s either anti-vax or permanently vaccine-hesitant. And then something which is really troubling, I don’t know who — this was clearly written in haste or it was written by a whole set of different people and they didn’t want to offend one or the other because there may be some responsible people and then there may be some who are wholly irresponsible.”
The prime minister noted that the document says, “We, therefore, urge all to exercise charity one towards another regarding the COVID-19 vaccination mandates.”
He countered that his government’s legislation is not a vaccine mandate.
“You have a choice. There is a requirement for a job. But be that as it may, they then go on to say, ‘Solid facts are helpful.’ Oh boy, I wish if they would follow that advice.
“‘Name-calling and shaming are not.’ I would really wish if they would follow that advice because after they say ‘name-calling and shaming are not’, you know what they then did. Hear this sentence:
“‘We strongly believe that threatening people who have a difference of opinion in taking or not taking the vaccine with loss of livelihood, is un-Christ like and therefore undesirable.’”
Gonsalves asked if there was a requirement “that if you don’t take it, you would lose your job.
“That is entirely demagogic. It’s a camouflage really for what is the real purpose, to suggest that persons who hold a position in favour of vaccines and those who say that for particular jobs you must get a choice, they are being called un-Christ like… I take objection to that. Don’t matter who you are, you can’t tell me I’m un-Christ like.
“As Reverend Blake says, tell me in the scripture where you can justify that. This is a kind of irresponsibility which is just frightening.”
The prime minister said he will send the coalition a copy of a 50-page document, “The Atomised Individual, the Social Individual and the COVID vaccine”, which he has published.
“It is published — well it came off the press, so to speak, this week,” he said.
Gonsalves said that that if people suggest that others are un-Christ like it means the person about whom the suggestion is made is ungodly.
He said that the coalition would, therefore, deem the Anglican Archbishop of the West Indies, Howard Gregory to be unchristian and ungodly “because he calls for that”.
He said that the coalition would have a similar description for Methodist cleric Reverend Adolph Davis “because he has come out strongly and saying that he sees nothing wrong, as I understand his public position, certainly nothing wrong with taking the vaccine and nothing wrong with requiring particular jobs during a health emergency to have a requirement that they get a vaccine.
“Having said that, I must say that my friend Stephen Ollivierre, I think he is currently the leader of PAWI, he told me he has taken the vaccine. But I just don’t understand this kind of a — that is the kind of a thing that you get from the Taliban in Afghanistan.”
“I am saying this without anything against these good gentlemen but you have to be careful what you write because if you write something and you don’t think it out carefully, it can come back and haunt you. So I think things like that, they would probably regret because that’s not what those persons are like.
“But in their anti-vax position or permanent vaccine-hesitant position, they use language which is too wide, too broad. It makes them sound intolerant and they are doing the name-calling and shaming which they correctly say you mustn’t do and I agree with that. But they can’t go ahead and do the same thing.”
In the statement, the coalition said that the Church “affirms that the God-informed moral conscience is God speaking to us.
“Each human has in his or her heart a law written by God; to obey it is the very dignity of humankind and according to it, he or she will be judged. Conscience is the most secret core and sanctuary of a human being. The conscience is a delicate instrument that must be respected. In fact, the Bible asserts that “what so ever does not proceed from faith is sin.” [whatever is done with doubt is sinful] (Roman 14:23 [AMP])”