The Steering Committee of the KwaZulu-Natal Christian Council (KZNCC) COVID-19 CHURCHES RESPONSE has carefully considered the proposal to re-open schools in KZN this month. We are aware that the opening of schools will be done in carefully worked out phases, which will give appropriate attention to the protection and safety of all teaching, office and support staff, and especially the children.
With the parents, we express our serious concern over the measures put in place to evaluate and monitor the control of risk to all engaged in the school environment. We are particularly concerned about the delay in supplying Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) such as masks and hand sanitizers to schools. We are also concerned that most of the schools in rural areas do not even have running water to use for washing hands as required by the COVID-19 safety protocols.
It is not good news that some schools did not receive PPE material because they do not have safe storage. It will be tragic and unacceptable to lose lives in our education sector because of this factor. As Churches, where necessary, we are open to negotiate the use of local Church premises for safe storage of PPE and other materials.
We support the notion that those schools that are self-sufficient or have received all PPE and will be able to implement social distancing and thereby meet all safety COVID-19 regulations, be allowed to re-open.
We are conscious that since some children and teachers have to use kombis to get to school, this could be an avenue for COVID-19 transmission. So, we plead with kombi operators to comply with all the COVID-19 safety protocols. At the same time we ask commuters to report to the police kombi or public transport operators who do not comply with the COVID-19 guidelines.
We are informed that there are schools which do not have enough teachers because of COVID-19, or because the teachers have diabetes or other health conditions which put them at risk, and so are scared to report to schools where there are no PPEs. We urge the Department to deploy interim teachers so that the affected children receive the necessary urgent attention.
In cases where there is an infection in a family, we urge the family not to send the children to school for the recommended quarantine period.
Since we know that in some cases those who have tested positive have been blamed for catching the virus or even victimised for having it, we appeal to all who can to help us educate each other to adhere religiously to each and every rule and regulation that has been put in place to control the spread of COVID-19.
Lastly, we place the welfare of parents, teachers and children in the safe hands of Jesus whose wish was that the Little Children be allowed to come to him, but not before their time, or because of our negligence.
We will continue to offer pastoral care and counselling upon request, and we pray for Christ’s grace to be sufficient for the Department of Education and for all schools, and may God continue to support and bless the work of educators in support of the education system and the learners. May you be assured of our thoughts and prayers for you.
Yours in Christ
+Wilfrid Cardinal Napier OFM Bishop Nkosinathi Myaka
KZN Church Leaders’ Group Chairperson KZNCC Chairperson
Response to KZNCC Pastoral letter
25th January 2021
Until we acknowledge the power that brought everything that we see into existence and engage theological issues in the light of the doer of the works of God – the Holy Spirit, our Theology remains dry and ineffective and will never cause changes in the world. To think that catastrophes and calamities in this world are always by God, is to deny that God by His grace in Jesus Christ has consummated the salvation of humankind, and that His grace prevails over and against circumstances threatening the human race in the world. Christians should not overlook the fact that the adversary, the devil, is roaring like a lion seeking whom to devour. Whether we want to believe or not , the spirit of antichrist is here, the scriptures say so, deceiving and destroying human life in every way possible even by way of COVID-19, and this spirit of antichrist works in the children of disobedience namely, those who in unbelief objects to and oppose the gospel of Jesus Christ. What is called the “new normal’ is a branded operation of the perpetrators of wickedness propagating evil intentions amongst the nations of the world. It requires the intervention of the Holy Spirit to read the signs of times according to prophetic texts in the scriptures and appropriate the message therein to this pandemic period.
We are in Phase 2 of the pandemic. The report by the South African Team of Scientists gave the awareness of the existence of a Variant which is more dangerous and faster than the former corona virus. It is capable of hiding to escape the diagnosis. This renders the possibility of a vaccine that was made on the basis of the nature of the first virus inaccurate, unsafe and ineffective in as far as its measure to prevent infection is concerned because of the virus/variant’s potential of re-infecting after 90 days of receiving treatment. More so, there is a decline in the infection rate now. The team pointed out their intention to continue research concerning the variant. From America, President Joe Biden has indicated that ‘the worst is still to come’. This statement is not positive to give hope that the vaccine is the answer in an attempt to restore the world’s good standard of health. The question is: ‘Is not rolling the vaccine a gamble with the life’s of people of the earth? Even if we choose to overlook the president’s statement, it is a warning. He has said it because he knows what is going on behind the scene. Watch.
In the context of Lockdown wherein churches are closed, a pastoral letter is expected to exhort the faith community to:
- Pray without ceasing in their house as a family.
- Share the word of God as a family and
- Have the Holy Communion as a family.
- Do their own research….in scriptures and in science.
Vaccines have a history of faults and dangers to the human body. They are unreliable. They can harm the body and/prevent the disease. No guarantee whatsoever. Science is the calculation of the human mind, an intellectual exercise and with whatever tools of expertise, based on experimentation and tests. But it still remains fallible because it is the effort of human beings.
Taking into consideration the second paragraph above, it is in the light of faith in Christ, premature at this stage to encourage people to comply with the call for vaccination. For example, who has so far come with the explanation for the decline of infection to show the urgency of vaccines and how indispensable they are now? If we are made to think that God causes calamities and so is the pandemic, is there anything we can do to outdo what he does except like he said: “if people who are called by my name come to me and humble themselves, I will heal their land”?
Speaking of eschatology, the book of revelation was written by John in detention in he Island of Patmos long ago in the tens AD and we are now in the thousands AD. With all possibility, this period is the future of the message of the book of revelation. If some parts of the message from Revelation is used in paragraph 02 of the Pastoral letter to give hope during this period of the pandemic, how does it become a theological misunderstanding to appropriate Rev 13 to this era since Biblically the spirit of antichrist is here? The antichrist may not be here in person, but manifestations of his spirit are evident to see. It is a lying spirit that instills fear in the hearts of many people through the evil works of perpetrators of wickedness such as Covid 19. You think God is behind Covid 19, with the closure of churches? No, that’s a lie. A wicked man/men is/are behind this pandemic. To think of other people’s findings that reveal truths that expose the dynamics that go with Covid 19 as conspiracies, is also to believe in a lie from the spirit of antichrist. Let our theology contextually draw out meaning from texts and not put meaning into texts to suit what we want to convey to our readers. Every book in the Bible has a message central to it and should not be distorted. A sound doctrine will grace people to make right choices for themselves without a dictator who instills fear in their hearts to force them to accomplish his goal. Human beings have the divine/ God given right to choose, including the right to choose vaccine or No vaccine.
My edition of part of the Pastoral letter.
I have chosen to edit paragraphs 02, 03 and 04 only.
The last sentence: ‘We thank God…’ renders a reading that can create a sense/feeling of guilt with a question: ‘what have we done to deserve this?’ for God’s grace not to protect us like others. I think it is sufficient to give them condolences and so delete that last statement.
I have rephrased the whole paragraph:
Plagues were unleashed as a sign of God’s power when he liberated the children of Israel from the Egyptian bondage. In the book of Matthew 24 there are prophetic signs concerning the end time/last days which can be seen in our days. The book of Daniel and Revelation contain sayings that point to the end time and these sayings help us locate our time within the eschatological world view. The Bible also points out clearly that the spirit of antichrist is here, working in the children of disobedience. Notable enough is the massive persecution of the church in the East, running alongside the pandemic. We may not have entered the great tribulation yet, but as Christians we should have the awareness that this time, being the church era, we are advancing the end time.
Have rephrased the whole paragraph:
The book of Revelation was written more than a thousand years ago. We have definitely begun to live in the future of what its message points to. To question the relevance of the message in revelation 13 is to deny the importance of value God has attached to mankind that he revealed to us the things to come through John. The number 666, the beast from the sea, the beast from the earth, the false prophet are important characters in Revelation 13 and should be seriously taken into consideration because of the role they play regarding the end time. Our perception of Covid 19 pandemic should therefore be in the light of the prophetic scriptures – the eschatological view.
From: KwaZulu-Natal Christian Council (KZNCC), the KZN Church Leaders Group (KZNCLG) and the Ecumenical Movement in the province of KwaZulu-Natal (KZN)
To: The Faith Communities and the People of KZN
This pastoral letter is written to you to bring hope in the midst of concerns about the surge of the Corona Virus Disease of 2019 (COVID-19). Other viruses have come and gone. This one has come and will definitely go. The concerns of both the scientific and other communities must be taken seriously. The problem of the virus and the manufacturing of the vaccine must be attended to meticulously, accurately and with total care and compassion. Our condolences goes to those who have lost their loved ones. We thank God for the mercy and protection for all of us who have found grace in Him (sic).
Why does God Allow Coronavirus and other Catastrophes?
The doctrine of the ‘fall of man’ (sic) teaches humanity that we are now living in a broken world. Since the ‘fall’, thistles and thorns have broken into the world. Meaning that death has entered creation and humanity was bound to experience physical death. Death, diseases and calamities have become one of the ways humanity would leave this world. Coronavirus is one of those means.
Coronavirus (COVID-19) is not the first to surge in the world. We had the Antonine virus (165 AD); the Justinian Plaque (541 AD); the Small pox (735 AD); Black Death (1347) to quote a few and most recently, HIV and AIDS and COVID-19 (2019 AD). This gives us reason to believe the Lord saying: “Do not be afraid – I the Lord have overcome the world”. “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).
Though we may not know yet, the purpose of unleashing COVID-19 we learn from the Scriptures that plagues were unleashed to liberate the children of Israel from the Egyptian bondage; the incidents in the book of Revelation were meant to bring the nations and people of that future time to come to Christ and reject the Anti-Christ. At the moment the time of the church, our present time is the era of grace in the presence of the Holy Spirit. We are not in the times of the great tribulation as yet.
Meaning to refer to Rev. 13: 1 – 18 and apply it to our time is an eschatological misunderstanding .The number 666, the name of the beast from the Sea – the Anti-Christ, referred to by the beast from the Earth – the false prophet – the number of the human being – the AntiChrist has nothing to do with the sort after vaccine for COVID-19. God’s leashing of calamities is meant to teach people obedience, is to oppose pride, to abolish idolatry, to teach gratitude, to defend holiness, to show the power of God and salvation of humanity. The calamities are to teach us to pray to the living God, to love God and one another to bring forth peace with justice.
Concerns Raised by Moral Theology and Concerned Communities
Especially the proponents of pro-life groups – opposed to abortion – would not accept any vaccine manufactured from aborted foetuses as has been the case in the 1970’s. Another concern was raised on the possibilities of side effects; concern is raised on the evil forces who want to exercise social control of humanity by subjecting humans to technological control and by so doing exercise power over them by a computerised system. As it is murmured in some scientific communities as well, a concern is raised on the rush of the production of the COVID-19 vaccine which has not followed the previous normal and procedural protocols of manufacturing a vaccine. There is hesitancy on the quality and purity on the present vaccines which are being produced.
There is a concern about the possible nationalisation of the vaccines. Seemingly rich nations will hoard the vaccines for themselves at the detriment of the poor nations. Another concern is raised on the capitalisation or commercialisation of the vaccines. That is the vaccines will be so expensive that the poor nations may not afford. And that the vaccines are meant to make exponential profits from the poorer nations of the world. And that the acceleration of the production of the vaccines compromise the harmlessness of the product. Religiously speaking, there is a concern that the vaccine may produce future generations which are religiously immune. Meaning that the nations will be so contaminated and have no consciousness of religious thought since their DNA’s will be tempered with.
One more concern is that of misinformation and disinformation. Both the misrepresentation of facts from quasi scientific commentators and theological misapplication of scriptures is exacerbating the problem. Baseless conspiracy theories are not helpful.
Other possible steps to be considered concerning the vaccine/s:
“We should thankfully acknowledge the input of the medical fraternity, the carers, those standing in the front line, the president, the government and other institutions.
We would need a chapter by the medical fraternity or department of health of explaining exactly not only what the virus causes but also what the vaccine does and the different types of vaccines available at present:
We should broadcast that central message of OT and NT Scripture “Do not be afraid!” of the situation as God is Lord of life, health, sickness and death.
This message should also penetrate the many fears that have been generated in view of possible vaccinations, that they are saving devices of God and not destructive forces of His adversary.
We should distinguish between solid, health-providing information and fake news, especially within our different churches and faith-based communities, and in our prophetic ministry warn against minimising or disregarding the threat
We want to stress that we as a faith-based community wish to collaborate and work together with the government, health dept., medical fraternity and all relevant institutions, NGO’s etc”.
Conclusion: Is God central in this surge of coronavirus? Yes. God is incharge: He (sic) says: “I am the Lord, and there is no other, besides me there is no God; I equip you, though you do not know me, that people may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is none besides me; I am the Lord, and there is no other. I form light and create darkness; I make well-being and create calamity; I am the Lord, who does all these things” (Isaiah 45:5-7 – 10; 31: 2; 47: 11; Amos 3: 6)).
All concerns are legitimate. Concerns from the scientific, communal and religious communities are genuine and must be engaged with respectfully and openly. All baseless misinformation and disinformation must be rejected. The deliberate falsehood theories must be identified as such. Fake.
We can make a contribution towards the annihilation of COVID-19 by mutual cooperation and reciprocal sharing of what works better for the progress we need to exterminate COVID-among us.
Collated: Dr. Mogashudi Lucas Ngoetjana. Deputy CEO: KZNCC
- Rev. George Scriba
- Rev. Sonto Thusi
- Rev Hugh Wetmore
SACC Ecumenical Theological Task Team – February 8, 2021
The novel Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) has plunged the global community into an extraordinary crisis; turning the world upside down. Life for humanity has grounded to a sudden halt as the Coronavirus takes total control. Humanity has been brought to its knees by the microscopic virus. The personal, social and economic impact of COVID-19 is incalculable, unlike anything experienced by the world in nearly a century. Christians and other people of faith have prayed and continue to pray ceaselessly for God’s intervention. The scientific community has worked around the clock and God is answering our prayers. Thankfully, a vaccine has been developed within a year of the outbreak of the pandemic, which is no mean feat in the history of vaccines. As South Africans we have wondered if no shortcuts were taken to occasion this. Different trusted South African scientists have severally assured us: “The research was done faster with large numbers of people ensuring safety and efficacy measurements were not compromised”; and “The trials were totally ethically and scientifically sound and the licensing completely thorough. The speed of development is really a reflection of the level of scientific advancement we are now at rather than it was in any way recklessly rushed through.” The rollout of the vaccines is already underway and we have a long road yet ahead of us.
Ecumenical Theological Task Team
However, the development of the vaccine has brought a lot of uncertainty, anxiety, confusion and fear among South Africans. Concerns are circulating all over social media, instilling fear and panic in the minds of many. While many are warmly embracing the vaccine, still many are resisting this advance in medical science, and at times.
It is against this background of the apparent resistance to the vaccine and concerns raised by Christians and South Africans in general, that the leaders of the South African Council of Churches (SACC), set up the Ecumenical Theological Task Team comprising theologians from a broad spectrum of the Christian churches affiliated to SACC: Anglican, African Independent churches, Catholic, Charismatic, Evangelical, Lutheran, Methodist, Pentecostal, and Reformed traditions. They met on Wednesday 3 February 2021, to discuss and come up with a united churches’ response to the COVID-19 vaccine. Chaired by Prof. Simangaliso Kumalo of the University of KwaZulu-Natal, the Task Team included:
Dr. Vicentia Kgabe, Anglican; Dr Louise Kretcshmar, Baptist: Fr. Sbu Statu, Catholic:
Bishop Ezekiel Mathole, Grace Bible Church; Bishop Thami Ngcana and Bishop Nat Phomana, Council of African Independent Churches: Dr Elijah Mhlanga, Assemblies of God; Rev. Pumla Nzimande, Methodist; Dr Daniel Andrew, Apostolic Faith Mission; Dr Moses Hobe, Full Gospel Church; Rev. Lungile Mpetsheni, Uniting Presbyterian Church; Dr Sandile Ngiba, Evangelical Lutheran; Prof. R. Tshaka, Uniting Reformed Church.
COVID-19 vaccine and “mark of the beast”
Some sections of the Christian community have strongly argued that the vaccine is not from God but is part of the “new world order” governed by the devil and has 666, the “mark of the beast” (Rev. 13:16). Many fear that by taking the vaccine, they will be forced to take “the mark of the beast.”
This association of the vaccine with the beast is based on a wrong and literal interpretation of the book of Revelation and ignores its historical context. Biblical scholars agree that Revelation was written to the seven churches in the first century to address the issue of the Roman imperial cult.
It was thus, situational, personal, and contextual. It was most probably written during the reigns of Emperor Nero and Domitian, the most notorious of the Roman emperors, who were deified and demanded to be worshipped even while they were still alive. Scholars associate “the mark of the beast” particularly with Nero. This is because when transliterated into Greek, the sum of the letters of his name results in the number 666. Thus, the use of the number 666 was coded (hidden) reference to Nero used by a persecuted Church. Emperor Nero’s demand that he be worshipped is also tied to the worship of the beast’s image (Rev. 13:15; 20:4).
The emperor’s image and his claim to be worshipped were also on coins, the medium of exchange, without which one could not participate in the local economy. To buy or sell anything meant participating in pagan worship. By participating in the local economy, one automatically could be said to take “the mark of the beast” at the expense of faith in Christ Jesus. To take “the mark of the beast” therefore meant loyalty and worship, which requires full awareness of what one was doing.
The taking of the vaccine does not demand any Christian to forsake Jesus, as was the case during Nero’s reign. It does not demand complete devotion to anything. Far from causing fear and anxiety among Christians, Revelation actually has a positive message that we should focus on Jesus who is the sole object of worship and embrace the vaccine as a gift for his people during a period of intense suffering, as was the case during the persecution of the early Church by Emperor Nero.
“5G and its implications on COVID-19”
There have been widespread social media expressions of concern on the suspected link between the 5G technology and the spread of the Coronavirus which led to unfortunate incidents in which community members in Umlazi, KwaMashu, and Ntuzuma in KwaZulu-Natal set fire to 5G towers in January 2021, claiming that they were responsible for the spread of COVID-19 through radio waves.
Research from reputable organisations such as the International Commission on Non-Ionising Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) has shown that there is no evidence whatsoever that 5G technology spreads COVID-19. There are many countries in Africa without 5G technology, yet the virus is wreaking havoc there too. Viruses cannot travel on radio waves or mobile networks. If anything, let us warmly embrace 5G as it will deliver faster connections and connectivity in our internet age, including advancing in research on future viruses.
“Coronavirus was made in a lab”
It has been claimed that the Coronavirus is not an accidental pandemic like other historical pandemics but was engineered in a laboratory by companies so that they could profiteer through vaccines.
This has further been given credence by the speed with which the vaccine was developed and approved for use. There is indeed some concern that big pharmaceutical companies in cahoots with some governments will use the pandemic for massive profits and self-enrichment. There has, however, been no credible evidence that the virus was engineered in a lab. Pandemics caused by viruses have emerged throughout human history, and in the last two decades we have seen the SARS and MERS Coronavirus outbreaks. So, we should not be surprised by the arrival of the COVID-19 virus. On the massive profits, we call on companies and governments to ensure that the vaccine is equitably accessed and for no profit or at low profit. We call on these to share the know-how so that most countries can help to scale up the production of these vaccines and together attain population immunity.
“Vaccine and population control”
Another common misconception is that the COVID-19 vaccine is a ploy by the rich industrialized nations or by a cartel of the richest people in the world under the leadership of Bill Gates, or machinations of the empire to reduce the global population through the elimination of the black race. This theory is baseless. In fact, vaccines are not new. Vaccines have been a reality for all of us from birth.
When our children were born, we gladly accepted the vaccines prescribed by hospitals and health clinics without any questions. In fact, most of us still have the marks of the vaccine on our arms. Most of us could have died of diseases such as measles and polio in infancy had it not been for the vaccines we received. In our day, people in malaria prone countries are vaccinated against the Plasmodium parasite that causes malaria. The same with yellow fever; to travel to Kenya or Tanzania one needs a yellow fever vaccination certificate.
COVID-19 is a pandemic like any other and the COVID-19 vaccine is a vaccine like any other. Furthermore, COVID-19 does not discriminate. As the numbers tell, currently, there are over two million people who have lost their lives worldwide and a quarter of these is from the global south and 93 219 from Africa; of which, regrettably, some 45 000 are South African. Every part of the world has their share of the pain, let us continue to show global solidarity through mutual support and care for one another as Christ would want us to.
Vaccine and DNA
Another popular circulating mistruth is that the COVID-19 mRNA vaccines will alter one’s DNA. It is argued that because the vaccine is genetic material injected into the body, it could somehow mix in with our own genetic material and change it. However, mRNA is not the same as DNA, and it cannot combine with our DNA to change our genetic code. It is also relatively fragile and will only be inside a cell for about 72 hours, before being degraded. mRNA is naturally made by the body; it encodes instructions for our bodies’ cells to make protein. Any mRNA vaccine has the same purpose, to teach and train our bodies to make an immune response toward a particular pathogen. If the pathogen gets into the body, the immune system can attack it.
“Vaccines are made from aborted foetus”
Ethical concerns have also been raised, and understandably so, on the production of the COVID-19 vaccine. Many from the pro-life campaign are concerned that the vaccines may have been made from cell lines of aborted foetuses. There is a history of the use of foetal cell lines in the research and development of vaccines for diseases such as hepatitis A, rubella, chicken pox, ebola, shingles, rabies, and the early polio vaccines. As part of that history, some vaccines are said to be present-day derivations of the original scientific research process that developed protein sourced from a foetus. Although there is no evidence that current vaccines are directly made out of foetal tissue, the connection to cell lines related to foetal tissue in the originating of the technology can pose an ethical question. But in the unavailability of alternative measures to save lives in the current public health crisis, the use of the vaccine is morally justifiable to protect people from the killer disease.
Are vaccines safe?
Many people have also raised concerns about the safety of COVID-19 vaccines. The safety of the people receiving the vaccine has been a top priority of the vaccine manufacturers. ALL vaccines go through clinical trials to test their safety and effectiveness. There is also rigorous monitoring to see if there are any side effects and will be withdrawn if the side effects are serious. Even if these vaccines were produced very quickly, no steps were skipped on the way. They have already been given to millions of people of all races around the world.
However, some side effects such as fever, nausea, vomiting, muscle aches, fatigue and headaches have been reported. Most side effects happen within the first three days after vaccination and last only one to two days. Besides, all vaccines claim a certain percentage average efficacy. It cannot be lower than 50% effective. Available vaccines have been ranging from about 65% to 95% effective. That means there would be cases that fall outside of the declared efficacy threshold for that vaccine. So far, even with the stated limits of efficacy, the benefits of the vaccine outweigh the side-effects, and are well worth the effort to save lives.
We recognise and appreciate the openness with which South Africans and our congregants have expressed their concerns and even objections to the COVID-19 vaccine. It is healthy for the Church to have a dialogue on such matters. People’s voices must not be silenced but must be heard.
Humanity as co-creators with God
We have been praying for God’s intervention to end the pandemic and for life to return to normal. God moved and inspired our scientists to develop effective vaccines. That way, our scientists are co-creators with God. Christians should view the vaccines as part of the answer to our prayers. The swift effort that has gone into developing effective vaccines is something of a miracle. Christians should see the Spirit of God at work not just in the Church setting but in every sphere of life. Any appropriate medical discovery that can heal the land should be discerned as a present from God. The vaccine is not the saviour but God is. There is therefore, no legitimate Christian reason for refusing to take the vaccine. Let us rather continue praying for God to give our experts, whom God has called, to bring healing and end suffering, to continue to give the experts all that is needed to save lives. As Apostle Paul writes (1 Corinthians 3:9), “For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building”; that the words of Prophet Jeremiah might come true for our time: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope”. (Jeremiah 29:11)
Sanctity of human life
We have lost too many lives due to the pandemic. Also, we have lost much that makes for livelihoods. Every life is important; and livelihoods help sustain life with dignity. Let us preach and act holistically for the sanctity of human life. COVID undermines not only human life through the lonely death that it visits on individuals and their families; it also occasions havoc on the dignity of the human person as households are plunged into the extremities of poverty and want.
The saving of life requires also the commitment to help create the environment for living in the compassion of God that is manifest in Jesus. He felt compassion for the people, “Because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36). The same Christ instructs us, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:36). This compassion of Christ impels us to champion life-giving vaccines against COVID-19.
Vaccination: a show of love for our neighbour
Getting vaccinated against the Coronavirus ought to be understood as an act of charity towards other members of our community. Jesus said: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35). Thus, being vaccinated should be considered an act of love of our neighbour; for it ensures that we shall not be the cause of the infection and suffering of your loved ones. Thus, it is part of our moral responsibility for the common good. Protecting the health of the community takes precedence over individual ideologies. The guiding principle should be the Jesus cause “that they may have life”; saying, “I will take the vaccine not only for what I hope will be the good of my own health, but for others as well.”
The vaccine: a justice issue
As the churches, we will ensure that we advocate for every South African who wants a vaccine to get it, especially poor people, and those who live on the margins of society. We will raise our prophetic voice in ensuring that the process of the distribution of the vaccine is not fraught with corruption as was the case with the procurement of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), and that all who are found to have committed acts of corruption are dealt with accordingly.
In this context we call for a spirit of global solidarity in access to these vaccines and sharing the knowhow and with preferential options for the global south, which remains poor. In these circumstances we wish to make the moral point that we believe that for the COVID-19 vaccine there should be cause to bypass some of the standard commercial considerations in pricing, and the standard 20-year patent protection period.
A three to five-year protection should be adequate under these special circumstances, especially because, given the worldwide concentrated demand of the vaccine occasioned by the pandemic. This is a justice issue. For this reason we join in the lament that the rich nations of the world are hoarding for themselves inordinate volumes of vaccine supplies, in some cases in multiples of their populations. This is an injustice that the world should not tolerate.
An urgent challenge is to counter misinformation. Information is key. Knowledge and wisdom are key biblical ideals, as Proverbs 15:14 instructs: “The discerning heart seeks knowledge, but the mouth of a fool feeds on folly.”
Without accurate and authentic information, people are misled by many discredited and fake tales from outlandish sources.
We need to get as much information as possible from those who are knowledgeable, and we also need to encourage our congregants to seek as much information on vaccines and the pandemic as they can from experts. That requires us to learn to trust that South African scientists are as good as any in the world; and not be misguided by every quasi-scientific post on the internet. We must popularise also the use of the SACC’s dedicated COVID-19 website – https://www.churchinaction.org.za that gives advice and guidance to church and society in various South African languages, based on researched and verified information on matters COVID-19, including the latest on the vaccine. Let us be the voice of reason that gives hope in a hopeless situation.
Walking the talk
Church leaders have an important role to play in communication about the vaccine and getting people to be vaccinated. Having Church leaders publicly support the vaccine is very important. When Church leaders get vaccinated in public, they make a difference in the fight against COVID-19. That way they can help restore trust in vaccines among their congregants and the broader society. Not so long ago, some church leaders were tested publicly for HIV-AIDS, to dispel the stigma. We can do this again.
Leaders of SACC member churches will offer to take the vaccine in public to demonstrate confidence in the COVID-19 vaccination, for vaccines are a vital part of the solution to the pandemic. There are two known and interconnected ways to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus. One is the non-pharmaceutical measures of wearing masks, social distancing, hand hygiene, ventilation and sitting outside to socialise.
The second and more long-lasting measure is the vaccination of enough people to affect a reduction of infection through population immunity. Therefore, Church leaders, should encourage their congregants and their loved ones to take the vaccine and dispel misinformation. With the trust earned, we can tip the balance between trust and distrust, confidence and fear.
As Christians, we believe in freedom of choice. We should not force the vaccine down the throats of our congregations. Their membership of and standing in the Church should not be affected by the decision that they take on the vaccine.
Cooperation with the Government
The Church should cooperate with the Government in its attempts to vaccinate our people and save lives. We should give the health authorities all the support that they need. We should open our Church buildings to be vaccination centres when called upon to do so.
The development of the COVID-19 vaccine should be viewed as a major milestone in the fight against the Coronavirus pandemic. The vaccine represents the best hope to save lives in the midst of the pandemic. It will help protect people who get infected with the virus from becoming sick. As more people are vaccinated, population-wide immunity develops, families and communities will be able to gradually return to a more normal routine, thus saving lives and livelihoods. Science is clear at this point that our very best hope is getting as many people as possible vaccinated.
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The South African Council of Churches (SACC) is an ecumenical association of affiliated Christian Churches, and blocks of churches such as The Evangelical Alliance, the International Federation of Christian Churches, and the Council of African Independent Churches, with a mandate to lead common Christian action that works for moral witness in South Africa. SACC does not exist for the propagation and the advancement of its doctrinal position, but is the place where our diverse interpretations of our faith come together in action for social justice. It therefore seeks to achieve a visible, just socio-economic and ecological impact, enabled through engaged churches-in-community for a reconciled South Africa and our sub-continent.
KZNCC ecumenical response to covid-19
- The Covid-19 pandemic is a world-wide disaster and therefore has to be fought on a world-wide, global scale.
- The Covid-19 pandemic has probably only started in South Africa and more disaster frameworks will have to be implemented immediately:
- Seeing and listening to the news from other countries we need to be ready for all eventualities and worst-case scenarios:
- As someone quipped sarcastically: at least no one is again contemplating to flee or emigrate from our country, the trouble seems to be similar around the whole world
The Medical Challenge:
What we would wish and pray for from a purely human point of view of medical expectations:
- That the medical world fraternity discovers a working vaccine against the Covid-19 virus;
- That other medication (as against Ebola and SARS) can quickly be adapted as a possible cure and made widely available;
- That the antibodies of those who have survived the Covid-19 could be developed into a vaccine or medication to assist those who are ill;
- That those who survived Covid-19 could assist with the care of those who are ill;
- That the government quickly erects new hospitals: e.g. negotiating with SAA to use some of their (now) empty hangars for make-shift hospitals;
- That retired/ retrenched or private doctors and nurses and available helpers be trained to man these hospitals;
- That a large number of respirators or ventilators be imported from exporting countries; OR
That if this is not possible, car manufacturing and assembly plants may quickly change to produce such medical machinery;
- That a large number of protective clothing and masks be imported; OR
That if this is not possible, textile workers and similar manufacturers produce millions of face masks for protection of medical staff and the general public;
- That sanitizers, water and soap can become available for the general public
Summary of other Challenges
The complete lock-down is to implement a break so that the virus can not spread rapidly through society, but make the curve of contamination more gradual and therefore more manageable.
Instead of “social distancing” we should rather speak of “physical distancing”, as the vast communication by technological means is not “social distancing” but rather “social interaction and communication”.
Many citizens are able to survive in the lock-down status in their own homes, old-age homes and institutions.
Others do not have or see this possibility, because they live on the streets, in squatter camps, shacks and squalid housing facilities.
The outbreak of fear, frustration and violence can therefore be expected.
Policing and the firm maintenance of law and order by the defence force might be inevitable.
The same might occur due to the deteriorating economic situation as small and medium businesses have to close down and even big businesses are in dire straits.
Financial assistance by the government and will hardly be able to be enough to break the cycle of poverty, of need, for a longer period of time.
B. Our general possibilities
- Government might have implemented the lock-down in time to hinder the virus from spreading too fast;
- As the global interaction of different countries (e.g. through world-wide travel) is one of the causes for the rapid spread of the virus, so global interaction of information, of progress in medical research to combat the virus, in giving good (and not false) advice, of common decision throughout the world can be a chance for overcoming the pandemic. It is a sign of our committed fight against it that even otherwise opposing political parties can work together and pull the yoke of this danger together.
C. Our Christian Response
- The biggest challenge is that of fear. Fear can have a protective function (that we either flee from or stand firm and fight a situation). At present it is being used world-wide to promote the strict adherence to the law or laws that are implemented by most of the different governments and leaders of the world. The protective function of the law is to save lives, but also to educate people who cannot see the direct effect of a virus and cannot understand its possibility of spreading throughout a country’s population.
- Fear and the law can at present unite the different factions in society to a combined and unified response to the danger within our midst. Coravid-19 is not only a concern of the Chinese or Italian, it is not a matter of only the ANC or the DA or the EFF, it is not only a temptation of the faith for Christians or Muslims or Jews alone. The disaster spans the rainbow nation in our country of races, creeds, of gender, of rich and poor, in that sense it is an “equaliser” (as someone quoted).
- However fear and the law can also be destructive in letting us give up, become desperate and despondent, depressed, without hope, wishing for an end and therefore contemplating death. As no one knows how the corona pandemic will play itself out it leads to much uncertainty, depression and destruction of hope, faith and love.
- In this time of trials, temptations, of troubles and even utter distress, the call “Do not be afraid – do not fear” is one of hope, of standing up again, of inspiration and vision. It is a frequent call in Scripture by God, Jesus, angels, prophets and apostles, witnesses and messengers. Someone counted its occurrence in the (KJV?) Bible as 365 times, once per day during the year. And Karl Barth is said to have maintained it to be the gospel in its shortest form.
- Most Christians and other Religious leaders are generally giving their support to the government for its attempt to break the increasing spread of the virus among their communicants by cancelling church services and other church activities for the coming month or a certain period which will be determined by the spread or containment of the virus.
- Churches as other faiths are determined not to defy the regulations and orders given by the government as it needs a combined effort of all to stand firm against this pandemic.
- This decision makes it so difficult for believers of all faiths, because they all stress that God has created the world and everything in it and so is in charge of the world (and therefore also of the virus). Some would however prefer to see the expansion of this deadly virus as the work of the devil/ Satan which has to be opposed with signs of steadfast faith by those who may be called “onward Christian soldiers”.
- Most religious communities emphasize signs of greeting, of heartfelt acceptance, of welcoming the stranger, of a spiritual and pastoral community which extends empathy to all. Its spiritual message of unconditional acceptance is not only spoken, taught and preached but also shown through signs of love, by shaking hands and hugs, blessing those who are being married, the confirmed, the laying on of hands on the sick. It belongs to our Christian culture to participate in funerals and other rites of life including not only the closest family, but the community at large, also with physical and not only spiritual signs.
- The president’s call for restriction is especially difficult in that one of the greatest festivals of Christians (and Jews) falls into this period of absolute restraint, Easter. Here we celebrate the victorious resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, overcoming the destructive powers on earth. And in contrast, our participation in this restraint, of cancelled church services, can be viewed as that of fearful Christians, hiding behind closed walls, afraid to sing their songs of praise and jubilation, but rather remaining in the sombre lamentation experience of Good Friday.
- It is Christian to care about our neighbours and therefore we must, as Christians, lead by example, take up our cross and avoid contact with others. So we might have to sacrifice some of our greatest gifts, eg of letting our light shine in the darkness of the world, by finding new ways of doing that, not only by trying to save the lives of other Christians but for the whole of humanity. Christian churches and congregations will discover ways and means of celebrating their faith, hope and love without compromising the safety of others.
- It is a time to contemplate our role on South African life, of praying and supporting all those who have to carry the burden of public responsibility, be that in governing our country, in keeping up law and order, in maintaining safety for travellers on roads, air and sea, for doctors, medical staff and carers, who have to bear the extra load of caring and put themselves at risk of infection in such a fear-driven environment with empathy and health consideration.
- In the forefront of Christian prayer and support should be the families, single parents and communities that are called to look after children and learners at home, those who are now home-employed and also those who have to remain in the public domain to safeguard the general running of life in our country in this time of trials and temptations.
- Although we can worship together even if we are not in the immediate contact with each other, many forms of communication exist and make combined worship possible even if new ways of doing this have to be discovered. Let us not panic but thank God for what we have. Thankful people who do not stress, are generally healthier than those who worry and fear excessively.
- In consultation among themselves and other churches, Christians and congregations may discover new ways of praising God, of celebrating together and preparing liturgies and written sermons for services held in the houses like the early Christians. This might be a time to discover anew the priesthood of all believers. People can then share some thoughts on the sermon at home, something they usually cannot do on Sunday.
- It might be a good time to practise Lent – letting go of certain so well-known and traditional rites (e.g. for Easter) and meditate on Christ’s way of suffering for us and having quality time with close people. The experience of Easter in the darkness of death and fear, of the hope and faith in a new life might be better remembered than what we always experienced at Easter in the past.
- On the internet, on facebook, whatsapp and other media encouraging words, Bible verses, paradigms, psalms, hymns, music and even encouraging humour and jokes have been spread in a motion of defiance against the fears of our times
D Call by the As KwaZulu Natal Christian Council and the ecumenical movement;
– We encourage our people not to be afraid but rather to take necessary precautions as outlined by the Department of Health.
– We encourage Church leaders to be specific in guiding their congregations to prevent Corona Virus infections as outlined by the Department of Health.
– We encourage our congregations in all the church rituals and pastoral activities to be hygienic in ways to stop the spread the Corona Virus.
– We discourage any form of stigma that may arise out of the Corona Virus pandemic.
The grace of God is abundant to take us through this pandemic.
We encourage all churches to pray for all the affected and the infected.
Isaiah 41:10 “… Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand…”
Remember in John 16:33 Jesus says: “I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but one of power, love, and sound judgment (self-discipline) – 2 Timothy 1:7. As Christians, we are called to be wise and spread good precautionary practises.
- Anthology of Thoughts of Encouragement
The art of small steps (A prayer by Antoine de Saint Exupery ) (written in the Plural)
We do not ask for miracles and visions, Lord, but strength for every day. Teach us the art of small steps: Make us sensitive for the right use of our time.
Grant us sensitivity to find out what has to come first, what second. Let us realize that dreams do not profit, neither about the past nor the future.
Help us to do the next thing as well as possible and to realize the present hour to be the most important one.
Keep us from the naïve belief that everything ought to go smoothly in life.
Give us the sober judgement that difficulties, failures, defeats, setbacks are an obvious part of life, by which we grow and mature.
Remind us that the heart often goes on strike against reason. Send us someone at the right moment who has the courage to tell us the truth in love.
We know that a lot of problems cannot be solved quickly. Give us patience.
Grant us the necessary imagination to deliver a parcel of kindness at the right place, with or without words.
Keep us from the fear we could miss life. Don’t give us what we want but what we need.
Teach us the art of small steps. Amen.
Supporting our government in Prayer:
We should support all those in leadership, as they ask us to do. On 16 September 2019 at Grace Bible Church President Ramaphosa sang: “If you believe and I believe and we together pray the Holy Spirit must come down And Africa will be saved”. He closed his announcements with the “Thuma Mina” “Send me Lord” and the country’s national anthem: “Nkosi sikelel I’Afrika”.
The Serenity Prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr (1892–1971).
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
courage to change the things I can and wisdom to know the difference.
Prayers to help medical staff
Besides pastoral and faith support for the general public, we may include also prayers for staff and patients, including prayers and support which they might use for the dying.
For that we are proposing to go along the 7 Words of Jesus on the cross:
- Forgiveness and freedom from the past: “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing”:
- Salvation and God’s unconditional acceptance against all expectations: “Today you will be with me in Paradise”;
- The invaluable support of family and friends: “See, your mother! See your son!”
- Being nearest to the Saviour, when we experience God’s silence and distance:”My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
- Supporting small signs of physical or spiritual assistance:”I am thirsty”;
- Letting the Saviour complete what is left behind as broken, shattered (life, work, relationship):”It is accomplished”;
- Handing over our lives into God’s hands: “Father into your hands I commit my life”.
We may not have a strong faith in God but we might have a feeble, insecure faith in a strong God – that is enough!
During the plague in the time of the middle ages
Luther’s Letter on “Whether one may flee from the deadly plague or from dying” of 1527/8 may be helpful also in understanding the situation of fear and anxiety we are living in in our present time.
Maybe very fitting is the advice Luther gave: “Use medicine; take potions which can help you; fumigate house, yard, and street; shun persons and places wherever your neighbour does not need your presence or has recovered, and act like a man who wants to help put out the burning city. What else is the epidemic but a fire which instead of consuming wood and straw devours life and body? You ought to think this way: “Very well, by God’s decree the enemy has sent us poison and deadly offal. Therefore I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine, and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance infect and pollute others, and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me and I have done what he has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others.” (I remembered that we used the whole Luther booklet in the time of HIV-AIDS pandemic at the LTI and the then School of Religion and Theology, and how our students used it to “deal” with our situation of fear and anxiety. I summarised the booklet and the responses of the students in an article in the Journal of Theology in SA (No. 126, 2006).
Although the pandemics of the Plague – HIV/AIDS – Coravid-19 are all different, yet some basic advice Luther gave can be transported into our situation.
I do wish you God’s assistance and support:
that the seed of hope may grow in the light of God’s promise,
that the seed of faith may break through hardened soil day by day to bring its harvest,
and that the seed of love may be implanted into the people of this country and the world so that its fruit will grow and be plentiful for everyone.
Georg Scriba 31.3.2020
My country has been bereaved, for nearly three decades to the present day, by multiple armed conflicts with their countless victims of massacres, summary executions, rapes, looting, etc. And despite the incredible magnitude of this disaster, there is a heavy, deafening silence…
Fortunately, voices are rising more and more to break this silence around these war crimes, these crimes against humanity, this possible genocide… as I said in Oslo, in my nobel peace prize acceptance speech, “a report is rotting in the drawer of an office in New York. It was drafted following a professional and rigorous investigation into war crimes and human rights violations in Congo. This investigation explicitly names victims, places, dates but evades the perpetrators. This Mapping Project Report, prepared by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, describes no less than 617 war crimes and crimes against humanity and possibly even crimes of genocide. What is the world waiting for it to be taken into account? »Liminaire – Mémorial virtuel de la RD Congo
Arising from the Kairos DRC webinar launch, MCSA Presiding Bishop Purity Malinga wrote to the African Methodist Council and alerted them about DRC issues.
Toward a reimagined healed and transformed Africa.