Church leaders face tough challenge


THE flood of information and misinformation on the Coronavirus (Covid-19) seems like a dense jungle in which one can easily get lost and miss truth that could be the difference between life and death.
Church leaders have a terribly important role in times of crises such as the current pandemic.
And that is not made any easier by the seemingly conflicting information from the scientific world and so much other information besides.
In the eyes and minds of their flocks, men and women of the church are a lot more trustworthy leaders than are politicians or civil servants.
Their word counts and holds sway in the lives of their congregations.
In the current period of crisis, the church leaders, mainly from the mainline churches which form the PNG Council of Churches, had declared their stance in support of the Government’s pandemic control restrictions and vaccination drive.
Naturally, their followers would follow their example and also adhere to control measures and be vaccinated to save themselves and their family members.
However, it is not that simple as there has been a lot of resistance to the call by the Government to get vaccinated, even and especially by some professed Christians.
This resistance or vaccination hesitancy is a real concern to not only the Government but also the church leaders themselves whose duty it is to tell their flocks to obey both the civil authorities and hold onto their faith in God.
The concern about vaccination hesitancy was brought up yet again at a workshop involving church leaders from the Papuan region who met at Saroa village in Rigo last Wednesday.

Realising this power and influence of the churches in the country which is predominantly Christian, the Government and its development partners have chosen to work with church leaders to promote vaccination to prevent further spread of the Covid-19 in the country.
From interactions during the first such meeting, it was evident that despite what the church leaders had declared individually or collectively as the PNG Council of Churches, some of their members were still hesitant or suspicious about the Covid-19 vaccines.
Such hesitancy can be blamed on a flood of information crisscrossing on social media especially.
Much of this information is conspiracy theories and misinformation in nature while some of it is a little more credible and helpful.
The believers’ hesitancy can also be alluded to their strong faith in God who is able to protect from pestilence and the unseen enemy according to scripture.
In such a situation, the role of the church leader can be quite challenging when trying to shift through the flood of information, to separate truth from error, untruth and deception.
While the Christian churches generally agreed to support the Government’s move to vaccinate all eligible citizens church leaders also stressed that individual choice remains paramount and must be respected.
There is also concern among church leaders church leaders while it was biblical for Christians to obey civil authority, the church also needed to take and active, if not aggressive stand of faith during the crisis.
And as leaders they should not discourage their followers and stop their worship services altogether.
This is an unprecedented time in the history of the Christian church in PNG.
It is a testing time for church leaders to weigh the theological question of faith against science.
While some have tried to disprove or discredit faith through science or vice versa, that should not be the case here.
PNG church leaders are united in the stance that faith and science (medicine) can and must work together, not contrary to one another. Convincing their members to go for vaccination has not been easy though.