Opinion: Christians, we need to stop living in denial and treat COVID-19 seriously

OPINION: On Wednesday, the Health Minister did his best to explain why - when other sub-clusters had tapered off - another six coronavirus cases had emerged out of the Mt Roskill Evangelical Fellowship Church.

"It's been a challenging cluster to work with," Chris Hipkins admitted.

"There are certainly some within the cluster that perhaps don't accept or haven't previously accepted the science involved here."

His comments came as it emerged police were called in to break up a prayer meeting last month that breached the alert level 3 lockdown restrictions.

As a Christian journalist who has been covering New Zealand's COVID-19 health crisis, I was disappointed to hear that the denial of science by a church community was behind Auckland's growing case numbers.

But I was also far from surprised.

Since the day New Zealand reported its first case, church-goers have distrusted official information, voiced skepticism at expert advice, and complained of persecution by the Government.

For months, I've watched on in frustration and deep embarrassment as the country's most notorious and provocative Christian voices raged at limits on mass gatherings and others deliberately and arrogantly flouted the rules.

I was contacted a fortnight ago by a Christchurch man whose former church had posted on Facebook urging members to invite "ALL your friends and family" to a meeting, then gloated about violating the rules when more than 100 people turned up.

Later, presumably in explanation, the church wrote: "You will not get covid from God."

Opinion: Christians, we need to stop living in denial and treat COVID-19 seriously
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National MP Simon O'Connor and Destiny Church pastor Brian Tamaki were among the chorus of Christians protesting the Government's limits on mass gatherings, some characterising it as an attack on faith groups.

The recent eruption of cases out of the Mt Roskill Fellowship Church - and the subsequent impact it may have on whether we shift down an alert level next week - should prove why that's simply untrue, and why those measures were justified.

It's not just the gathering limits, either. I've also watched through my hands as fellow Christians have taken to social media to propagate conspiracy theories about the pandemic being planned or a hoax, or the Government having corrupt intentions with its lockdown.

Conspiracies are obviously not specific to Christians, or religious groups in general. But the rejection of the science surrounding COVID-19 does seem to be more prevalent in the church than it is elsewhere.

I often feel a pang of self-consciousness when I tell people I'm Christian, because I worry about the image it conjures up in their mind, and their assumptions about what it is I believe.

This has only been exacerbated by the words and actions of some Christians during this pandemic.

I think it's best not to apportion blame to particular individuals or church groups for the culture of distrust and skepticism. The AM Show host Duncan Garner on Thursday morning described the members of Mt Roskill church as good, law-abiding people - I don't dispute that.

Nor do I think it's fair to blame the church as a whole. I'm eager to point out that while I know a lot of Christians, I don't know anyone that attends a church that has flouted the rules.

Most churches have actually shown commendable adaptability to meet the Government's requirements, embracing social media and new technologies and splitting into smaller groups so meetings can still go ahead.

This is no simple task, given gathering together is a central pillar of the Christian faith.

This adherence to the Government's protocols may surprise some people, given there's been extensive media coverage of Christians doing the opposite. I'd just remind you there's very little news value in a story about people who follow the rules.

But I feel for Dr Ashley Bloomfield - a man of faith himself - who has repeatedly had to tell many of his fellow believers not to get sucked into conspiracies, to take the pandemic seriously, to trust only official information.

Fellow Christians, I implore you: listen to his advice.

Scripture tells us to love our neighbours. There is no greater showing of love during this pandemic than doing everything we can to protect our neighbour from infection.

Matt Burrows is a digital producer.