Christians in St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) have been receiving conflicting information from our religious leaders on whether we should follow the protocols issued by the Ministry of Health which are designed to interrupt the spread of the lethal SARS-CoV-2 virus within the broader Vincentian population. Some of our churches strongly endorse wearing masks in church, maintaining social distance, sanitising and getting vaccinated as soon as possible. For these leaders these measures do not represent a rejection of their faith that we are here but for the Grace of God. Rather, they reaffirm the full bountifulness of the Divine in our lives, namely, that in times of crisis we have been endowed with the capacity to use our God given intellect to confront and overcome the perils which spring before us.
Hence, to embrace the truths of medical science is not a rejection of God. Instead, we are benefiting in the full display of his might.
Other churches disagree. Some have offered the view that to follow the protocols laid out by the Ministry of Health is to bow to demonic forces. Others have declared that the pandemic and the Covid19 vaccines represent the opening act of the Apocalypse, that the end of time is nigh, and the vaccines are nothing less than the ‘mark of the beast’ as foretold in the Book of Revelations.
These competing visions of faith point to a phenomenon that predates the pandemic and will most certainly outlast the pandemic: although the vast majority of Vincentians agree on the centrality of faith in our lives, we do not necessarily agree on the substance of that faith and how it should inform our lives. Faith can be positive, life affirming, and rational in its prostrations to the Divine. Several Church leaders have attested to our capacity to construct a relationship with God where love prevails over fear. But faith can also be destructive, deadly, and completely irrational. Millions of lives have been lost due to conflicts generated by religious differences.
The question then that lies before us is this: in the midst of competing religious advice, how do we choose? Do we imperil our lives and those of our children because we believe this is a test of our faith? Or do we anchor our faith on the belief that a benevolent God will extend his grace to us without inviting physical harm to his flock? We have no doubt that the onslaught of calamities that have befallen St Vincent and the Grenadines have left our people more vulnerable and susceptible to apocalyptic appeals. But we also know that the vast majority of Vincentians are generally not persuaded to follow paths which are self-evidently destructive to their well-being.
There is indeed religious guidance that cuts through the morass of conflicting advice on how the faithful should respond to the Covid19 protocols and it comes from Jesus himself. According to the Gospel of Mark, the Pharisees challenged Jesus on the lawfulness of his disciples picking grain on the Sabbath and Jesus responded, “the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” Human sacrifice has indeed been practised by previous civilisations. None of these civilisations exist today. But clearly, this is not what Jesus is asking of his followers. There is no conflict between holding fast to one’s faith while following the protocols of the Ministry of Health.