A Christian Response to the Pandemic

A Christian Response to the Pandemic

A friend asked me what my views were about the COVID-19 pandemic, vaccinations and lockdowns, and how Christians might respond in the current crisis. In committing my thoughts to writing, I am very aware that these have been become divisive issues among Christians. So I offer these reflections, not as a last word on the topic, but as a report on where I have come to with how Christians might respond to the question of whether to vaccinate or not to vaccinate, and what our response should be to Government lockdowns, including restrictions on public worship. The first part of this article outlines what I understand to be the medical context we are facing, and the second part explores a Christian response.

In the interest of self-disclosure, I am 63 years old, and have received an initial dose of the AstraZeneca (Vaxzevria) vaccine.


The Context

The Pandemic
  • We are in the midst of a global pandemic which has caused at least 4.7 million deaths.[1]
  • The pandemic has been evolving rapidly and there is much we still do not know about COVID-19, its impact, the effectiveness of treatments for it, or its future trajectory. This calls for humility and care.
  • In Australia, at the time of writing 1,116 people have died from this disease and the mortality rate for diagnosed cases has been about 1.4%.[2]
  • In Australia, 7.7% of those diagnosed in the current Delta outbreak have been admitted to hospital, and a fifth of these are in intensive care units.[3]
  • As with the flu, the risk of serious illness and mortality due to COVID-19 increases with age and severity of co-morbid conditions such as heart and lung disease and obesity.
  • Many people who get COVID-19 have symptoms that last more than a few weeks (long COVID). A study from the Imperial College, London reported that around one third of people still had at least one COVID-19 symptom after twelve weeks.[4] Moreover, the more seriously ill people are with COVID-19, the longer their symptoms are likely to last.
  • Despite what was thought earlier, the virus is spread by aerosols, which can circulate rapidly around a room, hanging in the air for hours and, without ventilation, accumulate as people breathe in the room.  ‘Surgical’ or cloth face masks can limit (but not fully prevent) the spread of aerosols.  KN95 masks are more effective at containing aerosols, but all masks need to be fitted carefully to be effective.


  • Initially, many assumed that infection or vaccination might cause lasting immunity, leading to a population’s so-called ‘herd immunity’. However, it has been found that being previously vaccinated or infected is no guarantee against future infection, and both kinds of immunity (whether gained through infection or vaccination) wane over time.
  • It is being suggested that to maintain immunity, booster vaccine shots will be needed as frequently as every six months.
  • The primary benefit of vaccination is that it significantly reduces the risk of serious illness, hospitalisation and death.[5]
  • A secondary benefit of vaccination is that strengthening a person’s immune system lowers the risk and duration of infectivity and thus the likelihood of infecting others. This benefit is not as significant as the primary benefit – preventing serious illness – but it is still significant.
  • Vaccinations can come with serious complications, but these have been reported to be rare.[6] For example, the first AstraZeneca dose has been found to cause lethal blood clots in about one in a million cases: in Australia by the end of August 2021 there had been nine deaths after 9.6 million doses were administered.[7]  By contrast, if 10% of the Australian population became infected with COVID-19, at a mortality rate of 1.4% we could expect to see around 35,000 deaths.  (This estimate assumes an adequate level of ICU support for the very sick.  If ICU’s became overloaded in COVID ‘surges’, the death rate can be expected to be higher.)


Lockdowns and Government Responses
  • Governments have used lockdowns in attempts to either eradicate COVID-19 or lower the rate of transmission (“flatten the curve”) to reduce the pandemic’s impact.
  • These lockdowns have themselves been damaging for people’s wellbeing and financial security, and they have restricted people’s fundamental rights and freedoms. On the other hand, they have also helped in controlling the pandemic, preventing deaths. In Australia, if we had experienced an infection rate like that in the USA, our death rate would have been in the tens of thousands.
  • Governments have a difficult task balancing the cost of measures to prevent COVID-19 spreading with the cost of an out-of-control pandemic. Certainly mistakes have been made in striking the balance, and some lockdown measures have been unnecessary and caused significant trauma.
  • It must also be acknowledged that medical treatments have been disputed and there is disagreement among medical professionals about how best to treat and prevent COVID-19. This is to be expected.


Living with COVID-19
  • I have come to the conclusion that we will all have to learn to live with endemic COVID-19. In the long term it will not be possible to completely control COVID-19 through lockdown measures. The Delta surge has shown us this. In any case, many of the lockdown measures are not sustainable in the longer term.
  • COVID-19 will continue to mutate. This could mean that, as for the seasonal flu, vaccines will need to be continually developed to counter new mutations. This means, for example, that, in order to be effective, ‘vaccine passports’ will have to be kept up-to-date.
  • We cannot simply hunker down and wait this out. It now seems increasingly probable that, unlike the ‘Spanish Flu’ of 1918–1920, COVID-19 will not dissipate after a few years. Rather, it will be added to the list of diseases like cold and flu viruses that human beings have learnt to live with.[8] Moreover the Delta variant has shown us that it can mutate to become more infectious, and more lethal.  It takes centuries for human populations to develop genetic resistance to new diseases – that is not a quick process – so the challenge of COVID-19 being potentially lethal, especially to older people, will most likely be with us for generations to come


How Should We Respond?

What is a Christian ethical response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including to government lockdown rules, quarantining, and calls, or even demands, that people be vaccinated? We need to strike a balance between individual rights and communal responsibilities. Certainly lockdowns and discrimination against the unvaccinated are restrictions on individuals’ fundamental freedoms. However, these freedoms must be balanced against the responsibility that citizens have to each other.

In what follows I repeatedly use the first person, because this reflects my own thought processes which led to my personal decision to be vaccinated.

The Bible on “Love Your Neighbour as Yourself”

The two biblical principles of “love your neighbour as yourself” (Matthew 22:39) and “treat others as you would have them treat you” (Matthew 7:12) sum up my responsibilities as a Christian to others.

These teachings of Jesus have an important background in the legal code of Leviticus. The command to love others “as yourself” was focused particularly on the most vulnerable: foreigners and the poor (Leviticus 19:9-10, 18, 33). There is also the command not to do anything to endanger your neighbour’s life (Leviticus 19:16). The idea that we should be particularly careful in how we conduct ourselves, being mindful of the impact of my actions on vulnerable others, runs through the Mosaic Law. It is seen, for example, in the command not to injure your neighbour (Leviticus 24:19), the command not to leave a pit in the ground uncovered, lest a neighbour’s ox or donkey fall into it (Exodus 21:33), and the command to return even your enemy’s ox or donkey if you find it wandering off (Exodus 23:4).

The risk of dying from COVID-19 is low (less than 2% if I become infected), so why shouldn’t I be permitted to just take that risk, if I want to? Life involves taking many different kinds of risks: why can’t I be free to make that choice for myself?

There are people who cannot be vaccinated: for example, those undergoing some forms of chemotherapy. However, if I choose not to be vaccinated, there are ethical implications to be considered about how this decision can impact other people:

  • As an unvaccinated person I will be several times more likely to get seriously ill or die. This will cause hurt to my dependents, friends and family.
  • Willingly risking my life unnecessarily would show a disregard for God’s call upon my life, including my duty – which all Christians share – to use the gifts God has given me to love and serve others.
  • If I am not vaccinated and get infected, I could be more likely to be sicker for longer and more likely to transmit the virus to others, causing them harm.
  • I do not want to contribute to higher rates of COVID-19 hospitalisation by being unvaccinated, because of their multiple negative impacts on others:
    • The impact upon medics and paramedics.
      A COVID-19 surge can cause physical and mental damage to overworked medical professionals, including paramedics, GPs, nurses and hospital doctors. Medical professionals are at higher risk of infection: in the UK, around a thousand NHS workers have died from COVID-19 infections, which, it is assumed, were acquired in the course of caring for the sick while other Brits were at home keeping safe during lockdowns.
    • The impact upon others who have COVID-19, and those connected with them.
      In the face of a COVID-19 surge, authorities need to make contingency plans for when the intensive care wards are overloaded: people whose likelihood of recovery is lower, or whose life expectancy would otherwise be shorter (e.g. because they are older) will have to be palliated (i.e. prepared for death) instead of receiving care designed to save their lives. This is because there will be insufficient staff and facilities to care for the volume of COVID-19 cases in a surge. I would not want, by being unvaccinated, to be one of a surge of cases that causes the deaths of others through lack of available ICU beds.
    • The impact upon others with other medical needs, and those connected with them.
      During a COVID-19 surge, the needs of other patients can take second place. For example, elective surgeries may be cancelled and ambulance services impaired. Consider the situation of someone having a heart attack: an ambulance is summoned, but the person dies because the paramedic teams were already out dealing with COVID-19 emergencies.
    • The public expense.
      There is also the expense to the public of providing care to people hospitalised due to COVID-19. Should I willingly take the risk of incurring a very significant public expense when that can be avoided by getting vaccinated?


Responsibilities as Well as Rights

Western cultures tend to be individualist and focused more on an individual’s rights than on our responsibilities to others. Personal identity is thought to be based in an individual’s choices. However, while the infringements upon individual rights caused by lockdowns and vaccination status discrimination should not be dismissed, they must be weighed against the responsibility individuals have to care for others and not cause them harm. My decision not to be vaccinated is a decision that has the potential to cause others harm, as explained above. It is not just my personal, individual decision, and it is not just my life that is at stake.

The Bible does offer Christians a basis for conscientious objection to unjust laws. There is the example of Daniel, who refused to worship idols. On the other hand, the duty of conscientious objection must be weighed against the clear commands in Scripture to respect and honour the authorities (1 Peter 2:13, 17; Matthew 22:21) because “the authorities that exist have been established by God” (Romans 13:1). Believers should seek the wellbeing of the community in which they live (Jeremiah 29:7). These commands, which guide how we related to the state, also need to be considered in the light of the injunctions in Scripture to love one’s neighbours and not cause them harm.

It is undoubtedly true that Christians in our nation are facing growing pressure to conform to ethical principles that are in conflict with biblical faith. There will be times when it will be right to disobey a law that violates human rights, a duty of care to others, or a Christian’s duty to worship and obey God. We must ready ourselves to act when such times come. However, it would be tragic if, in a battle for individual human rights, Australian Christians neglected our baseline duty of care for our neighbours and our duty to cooperate with the authorities in seeking to promote the common good.

Support the Authorities

It is a matter of serious concern that Western nations, including our own, are becoming increasingly divided and fragmented. Trust is in decline, and people feel increasingly alienated. In this context, there has been a whole host of commentators airing conspiracy theories, sometimes using inflammatory rhetoric, to incite Christians to actively reject government measures to manage the COVID-19 crisis.

There are issues on which there must be room for dispute and disagreement, and the application of ‘cancel culture’ to discussions and opinions about the pandemic is a real risk to us all, which should not be discounted. Nevertheless, my attempt to develop a reasonable and biblically well-founded response to the current crisis leads me to seek to support the authorities’ efforts to care for and protect the people of Australia, including to care for the medical professionals who are finding themselves on the front line of this pandemic.

When the state proposes measures that Christians find impinge on their consciences, a first step should be the Daniel 1 response of a reasoned appeal for a fair hearing, not a combative call for civil disobedience. This means that, for example, the introduction of vaccination passports ought not to be rejected out of hand. Moreover, if some people are prevented from attending public events like football matches or church services because they have chosen not to be vaccinated, in the case of churches this need not be seen as a form of religious discrimination or persecution. If religious meetings are treated no differently from other gatherings, such a measure is not intended to target believers on the basis of their faith. The first response of Christians, in addition to expressing whatever views they may have about this to the authorities, should be to work with these measures, and to creatively seek other ways to care for and reach unvaccinated people with the gospel. (In offering these comments I do not mean to imply that Christians should unthinkingly comply with every government edict, but that our first response should be to work with the authorities, not against them.  So, although I have significant concerns about the specifics of vaccination passports proposals and expect that they will prove unworkable in the longer term, my first response is not to reject them out of hand. )



On the basis of the considerations laid out above, as a Christian, I have chosen to be vaccinated, and to cooperate with the authorities’ efforts to control the spread of the virus. I would urge other Australian Christians to do the same, subject to the medical advice they receive from their GPs or medical specialists.

“Do Not Be Afraid”

What would Jesus do in the current crisis? One thing I am sure he would say to us is, “Take courage! I am here. Do not be afraid.” (Matthew 14:27)

It has been much on my mind that Christians should not give in to the damaging culture of fear that has been stirred up by the pandemic. Our identity is not one of fear. Paul writes, “For God did not give us a spirit of fear, but a spirit of power, love and self-control” (2 Timothy 1:7); and again, “For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children, heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we also share in his glory” (Romans 8:15–17). Our true spiritual identity is in Christ, which provides the foundation of our confidence. This gives us hope and joy, and protects us from surrendering to fear.

Christians can take to heart the way of the cross, given to us in precious words by Jesus, which define the shape of the Christian life as one of self-denial and self-sacrifice: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34). These words mark the Christian’s life as one defined by hope, resilience, love for others, and a willingness to follow Jesus without regard for self, giving no ground to fear.

Mark Durie is the founding director of the Institute for Spiritual Awareness, a Fellow at the Middle East Forum, and a Senior Research Fellow of the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at the Melbourne School of Theology.

To support Mark’s writing and teaching work with the Institute for Spiritual Awareness, visit https://markdurie.com/give/

[1] https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/#countries

[2] https://www.health.gov.au/news/health-alerts/novel-coronavirus-2019-ncov-health-alert/coronavirus-covid-19-case-numbers-and-statistics

[3] https://www.health.gov.au/news/health-alerts/novel-coronavirus-2019-ncov-health-alert/coronavirus-covid-19-case-numbers-and-statistics, https://www.health.gov.au/resources/current-covid-19-cases-in-hospitals-and-intensive-care-units-icus

[4] https://spiral.imperial.ac.uk/handle/10044/1/89844

[5] Much has been made of the fact that recent reports in Israel showed that 60% of hospitalisations were of people who had been previously vaccinated with the Pfizer vaccine. However, this misleading statistical effect reflects the fact that most Israelis have been vaccinated, and the highest vaccination rates have been among the most vulnerable. In fact, unvaccinated people are disproportionately represented in Israel’s hospitals. Consider the comparative rates for age cohorts: for Israeli adults under 50, the rate of hospitalisation is twelve times higher for the unvaccinated, and for people over 50, the rate for the unvaccinated is almost seven times higher. In Israel, vaccination has proved effective in preventing serious illness. Source: https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2021/08/31/covid-israel-hospitalization-rates-simpsons-paradox/

[6] This is of course a sweeping generalisation. To date there have been twenty three authorized COVID-19 vaccines, including Pfizer, Vaxzevria, Sinopharm, Sputnik, and Moderna,  each with its own characteristics.  I note also that social media reports dispute the claim that vaccine side effects are rare.

[7] https://www.tga.gov.au/periodic/covid-19-vaccine-weekly-safety-report-02-09-2021

[8] https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-08-26/virologist-eddie-holmes-covid-scenarios/100399974

  • Anne Willett
    Posted at 19:06h, 16 September Reply

    Thanks Mark for this measured comment on this whole issue. It’s much needed at this time. I have been involved in a number of discussions of ;late with other Christians and have been shocked that a good number have been caught up in fake news and strenuous efforts to persuade others not to take the vaccine……more emotional responses rather than rational and considered. We are spoilt by choice in the Western world and have the luxury of choosing NOT to take the vaccine when so many of our brethren in Africa/Asia etc would give their eye teeth for the opportunity to have it. Yes, timely and helpful, particularly your emphasis on caring for others and being mindful of them.. I shall be passing it on to a number..

  • Ed Yandek
    Posted at 23:02h, 16 September Reply

    Thanks for a very thoughtful perspective, Mark. I particularly was struck by the admonishment to respect government officials. Too many today immediately wish to disregard officials and experts and prefer instead to look for reasons, usually from those out to mislead, why those institutions should be marginalized out of hand.

  • Lori Eubanks
    Posted at 00:24h, 17 September Reply

    Putting experimental drugs in my body impinges on my conscience. I am disappointed to read here that you are using scripture to encourage people to do so.; and on the Day of Atonement no less.

    I still respect you Mr. Durie but I completely disagree.

  • Mark Durie
    Posted at 12:55h, 17 September Reply

    A comment from a reader: “I am fully vaccinated – essentially because I am aware I could be vulnerable to serious illness if I caught covid-19. However, I will flatly refuse to participate in the vaccine passport, which I regard as nothing less than a fast ride to a divided society where a minority (some cooky, some cautious) will be vilified and forced into hardship on the margins of society as we move towards that dystopian nightmare of authoritarian statism and a surveillance society. Are we really going to turn people away from the church on account of their vaccination status? What other details might eventually go on our personalised QR codes? What else might the state seek to coerce us to do? What other groups might the state choose to target? I won’t have any part of it — and if that means I can’t shop locally or sit down in a cafe, then so be it! I regard the idea of vaccine passports as totally shocking . . . and I fear it will not end well!’

    Mark says: I fully respect such a decision, which reflects a deep concern about the threat of a dystopian state. My expectation is that the COVID passports will prove unworkable. We shall see.

  • Michele Duggan
    Posted at 14:00h, 20 September Reply

    A thoughtful article Mark, very well balanced. I think it will certainly help those who may feeling ambivalent or insufficiently informed, acknowledging the need for humility and compassion as this disease continues to morph and evolve.

  • Katherine Fishley
    Posted at 16:43h, 23 September Reply

    Thanks for a thoughtful article. . We both got the vaccine but our church has been concerned about the vaccine passports. We were wondering how to obey the law without making people feel ostracised.

  • Peter Corney
    Posted at 08:30h, 24 September Reply

    Hi MArk,
    A very helpful and balanced commentry on the issue. I hope it gates a wide reading. Regards, Peter Corney

  • Peter Corney
    Posted at 08:40h, 24 September Reply

    Hi Mark,
    Your comments on the vacination issues are very helpful and balanced.

  • Dave
    Posted at 07:38h, 25 September Reply

    Dear Mark,

    Thank you for your considered and reflective take on a Christian’s response to the Pandemic.

    Firstly, I am wondering why you wouldn’t take the angle of ‘there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free…vaccinated or unvaccinated…for we are all one in Christ Jesus’ when it comes to this matter? Surely, in such a polarising time, our collective witness as united Christians known for our love for each other is actually of greater significance than our vaccination status?

    Secondly, I am wondering what you think of mandated vaccinations? If it is for freedom’s sake that Christ has set us free, then wouldn’t a Christian response permit freedom and conscience on this matter? So, if a Christian leader, such as yourself, was to urge Christians publicly to something it ought to be firstly towards freedom and unity, and then secondly to a presentation of the best possible argument from both sides.

    Thirdly, all of your conclusions about what Christians ought to do are predicated on a particular (majority/dominant/institutionalised) reading of the scientific data. What if credible peer-reviewed data showed that this reading was inconclusive at best or wrong at worst? And is it not possible that our health institutions are connected with other economic and political interests such that the dominant narrative is not true? If there were are enough demonstrable anomalies in ‘the science’ would not a position of scepticism, freedom and making it a matter of conscience be more warranted for Christians?

    I would genuinely love to open up a considered dialogue on these questions. I am with you that in believing that lives and liberties are on the line, and believe that Christians could play a major role in showing the world how we can foster a radical unity and love our neighbour built on our primary allegiance to Christ. I would love to hear any angles that I may not be seeing/hearing from your point of view!

    Peace and hope…

    • Mark Durie
      Posted at 09:28h, 06 October Reply

      Dear Dave, it’s not that helpful for you to be telling me what I should be thinking and saying. With regard to your questions: 1. I’m not in favour of mandated passports, and don’t think they will last long. My main objection is that making vaccination compulsory is going to actually give a worse compliance outcome, inciting fear and suspicion, particularly after a track record of mis-managed and even cruel lockdowns. It’s bad public policy. This is especially since the people most likely to suffer from not being vaccinated will be the unvaccinated themselves. Also the virus is becoming endemic and I don’t believe the passports are going to work long term. It is one thing to limit people’s freedoms temporarily, but quite another to make it permanent. At the same time, I do have some concerns about not creating incentives for vaccination and believe there are some professions, such as intensive care staff and airline hosts, who should be required to be vaccinated, for their own safety and the safety of others. My main concern with not mandating vaccinations is that health workers will bear the brunt of the wave of resulting infections. But I do think the ethical issues are complex, and not black-and-white. 2. I agree that the interpretation of the scientific data is disputed. I also agree that health institutions have conflicted interests and cannot automatically be trusted. 3. Absolutely nothing in what I wrote suggests that these matters shouldn’t be a matter for Christians’ individual consciences. I have an opinion and have expressed it and acted upon it. I would expect other Christians to do the same.

  • Rod Schneider
    Posted at 08:41h, 25 September Reply

    Australian Covid data…

    Average life expectancy: 82.8.

    Average age of Covid deaths: 85.

    Case fatality rate: 1.6%.

    Case fatality rate for under 50yrs: 4 in 12,000 cases (0.034%).

    66% of deaths have ocurred in aged care.

    Survival rate for over 90yrs is still >60%.

    Outside aged care (incl. over 50s), survival rate is over 99%.

    87% of Covid deaths have other conditions listed on the death certificate.

    73% of Covid deaths have other chronic conditions on the death certificate.

    Current ICU admission rate: 0.8% of cases.

    Nationally, Covid cases account for 1.33% of Australia’s hospital bed capacity, 12.66% of ICU baseline capacity, and 4.5% of ICU surge capacity.

    In NSW only, Covid cases account for about 25% of ICU baseline capacity and about 14% of ICU surge capacity.

    Case fatality rate of current ‘Delta’ wave: 0.44%.

    86% of Australians aged over 50 have received their first vaccine dose. 93% of those aged over 70.

    There is nothing unusual about this data, among developed countries.

    If Australians understood this, things would be different.

    (Quoted from Martyn Isles page)

  • David Smith
    Posted at 10:54h, 01 October Reply

    Well done Mark an incredibly helpful and biblical approach to this lmportant topic. Lockdowns are important, but so many see to be unnecessary, I need new specs, shoes,clothes,haircut,not just for my pleasure but to maintain a sound economy,especially small businesses,,including small cafes where I can enjoy fellowship and enjoy extra hot capucchinos! Blessings in the Lord Jesus, David Smith..

    • Mark Durie
      Posted at 09:29h, 06 October Reply

      Thanks David!

  • Dave
    Posted at 11:10h, 06 October Reply

    Apologies, Mark. I did not intend to come across as telling you what to think or say. Upon rereading it, I can see that’s how it read – I truly apologise for that. That is the last thing I would want to do! As you’ve encouraged other Christians to articulate their position and act on it, I think I’ll have a go at writing one, too. Thanks!

  • Mark Durie
    Posted at 13:59h, 06 October Reply

    Thanks Dave – no worries.

  • Ed
    Posted at 00:05h, 07 October Reply

    Lori, I respect your personal opinion, but as a scientist and engineer with experience in this area I can tell you quite honestly you have no idea as to the vast amount of experimental substances you ingest and the actual known harm. Compared to these chemicals, any risk from any new vaccine needs is nil.

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