When Love and Hate Collide

An Opinionated Reflection on Redeemer's Handling of the COVID-19 Pandemic

Redeemer has finally been able to begin a normal academic semester after two and a half long years of COVID-19 shutdowns and restrictions. Rules and announcements about masks, class reductions, social distancing, and vaccines have been blissfully absent.  


We as students can move freely, visit friends’ dorms, go to the gym, sit wherever we like in class, and eat in the dining hall. We can see each other’s faces and smiles. We can be part of a packed crowd to support the Royals teams and we can gather to worship and sing. 


At Redeemer we can collectively experience university as advertised: building community, participating in student life, and growing together. But as we do, we must remain aware of the significance of these fundamental aspects that now seem to be considered a luxury.


Other post-secondary institutions have maintained vaccination restrictions (The Canadian Press 2022). Some have even doubled down, adding a booster requirement (Fox 2022; Spearchief-Morris 2022; Western University 2022). Further, our government has kept many mandates in place. Divisive rhetoric has persisted.


As we bask in our re-emergence to the social and democratic life of the “free world,” we should remember the long journey it has been and how we got here. However, we should not dwell on the past, continually seek reparations, or be unable to move on, forgive, or show grace where necessary. Instead we must reflect—from hopefully a better place—on our experience through this time and consider and understand Redeemer’s place in this situation.  


Due to its values, Redeemer was in a precarious situation from the beginning of the pandemic. Its founding Biblical principles reflect two sides of a coin. Christians are taught to love everyone, aid the persecuted or marginalized, not discriminate or conform to the ways of the fallen world, and to keep God sovereign over earthly leaders. 


There are many notable Bible stories showing these teachings, like Jesus going to rescue the lost sheep or communing with the outcasts of society. How about when Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused to bow to King Nebuchadnezzar’s statue? How about when Daniel prayed to God despite a decree from King Darius that prayer could only be to him? Do you remember when Hebrew midwives didn’t kill baby boys after the edict that they must do so? Even the popular Mark 22:39 verse is relevant: “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (KJV).


Christians are also taught to look out for and care for others, especially the less fortunate or sickly, to be selfless and serve, and to respect and obey government since God has commissioned earthly leaders. This is evident in calls to give our cloak to another, Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians, and then in Romans 13:1: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no other authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God” (ESV). Redeemer not only risked an outcry from a significant portion of its population depending on which direction it took, but it risked undermining or appearing hypocritical about its values.


So, when I say we should reflect on and appreciate Redeemer’s response, it’s not that I think everything was handled perfectly, that I agree with every policy, or believe most were necessary. I say this because throughout a complex and volatile situation, Redeemer spread a unifying message of love, compassion, tolerance—and generally—an open mind, while making decisions that actually reflected such values, and provided people of all convictions a sense of respect and dignity. 


Take, for example, this excerpt from Redeemer’s COVID-19 Management Committee (CMC) announcement (internal communication, February 17, 2022): “Let’s continue, above all, to care for one another as the context around us changes rapidly… We pray that the Redeemer community will continue to practice showing love, respect, and support for one another, regardless of our varying opinions and perspectives.” Such words were consistent rhetoric. Aware of tensions and frustration, Redeemer spread a message of unity and understanding, seeking to calm the fire, or at least not fan the flames, something that cannot be said about most institutions, public figures, or politicians. 


In terms of how policies were implemented, I can say with some certainty that there are others like me who believe they were needless. Some people are even more adamant. Others believed policies were acceptable. Some think more should have been done. 


Regardless of where you stand, it would be quite radical and ignorant to claim Redeemer itself did any of the following: push an agenda of discrimination, allow an unsafe campus, or silence discourse and discussion. Even when it came to the most divisive and overarching vaccination factor, Redeemer kept its message consistent and clear. 


We have received a considerable amount of communication about the vaccine policy—from students, faculty, staff, parents and donors—and understand the concerns about safety on one hand and government overreach on the other,” now-President David Zietsma wrote (internal communication, September 2, 2021). “The CMC has approved an interim vaccine policy. This policy is designed to show love and care for the whole Redeemer community.”


Redeemer’s actions reflected its message. All students could live on campus, partake in in-person learning, and participate in extracurriculars, except for some sport competitions, which was out of Redeemer’s jurisdiction. 


The weekly testing policy that was implemented, though a hassle, unnecessary, and frankly only in place to centre out a minute segment of the population, was enacted on the most minimal level Redeemer could legally manage, done discreetly, and performed without shame or guilt. 


I’m not justifying what happened. I believe ninety percent of the drastic measures enforced by the government that trickled down to businesses, schools, and even places of worship—either by coercion, force, or choice—were unnecessary, divisive, and did nothing except breed hate and contempt between people. This includes the policies Redeemer had to go along with. 


But I do not believe those in charge took anything lightly. I believe they weighed each decision, each order from an overzealous and demanding government, and implemented them in a way that would appease it, while keeping the worst of such policies at bay. 


Redeemer was able to accomplish things no other school—at least that I’m aware of—was able to. It offered in-person classes for nearly all the pandemic. It was safe. Residences were open. All students had equal opportunity to take part in as normal an education and campus life as possible. 


Some may say it’s because Redeemer is small. This helped, specifically with the size of classes and the style of living spaces. Some may say it’s because everyone thinks the same. As someone often on the outs, I assure you, this is not true. Students must be given some credit. Admittedly, there are general beliefs that bind us. Fundamental values that may have helped limit some of the nastier elements, even if disagreement was still prevalent. 


But Redeemer would not be the school it is now without the decisions and values of its administration. It would not have made it through intact, at least not as the institution it proudly proclaims to be. Our administration worked hard to not only stay open and provide the best possible education, but it kept us in some sort of community that allowed Redeemer to remain the respectful, loving, and supportive school it was founded as. As a result, Redeemer can continue to proudly proclaim and advertise its biblical and Christian values. 


With the state of the world, it is clear the pandemic will not be the only obstacle that Redeemer will face. Other ideologies, secular influences, and ungodly and destructive beliefs will conflict with Redeemer’s values and attempt to reshape it. Some may come sooner than we think. But after seeing how COVID-19 was handled, I believe now more than ever, Redeemer is well equipped—and up for the challenge. 


Fox, Chris. “U of T Students Living in Residence Will Have to Be Triple Vaccinated against COVID-19.” CTV News. Last modified July 29, 2022. https://toronto.ctvnews.ca/u-of-t-students-living-in-residence-will-have-to-be-triple-vaccinated-against-covid-19-1.6007363
Spearchief-Morris, Joy. “Universities Take Diverging Paths on COVID-19 Mask, Vaccine Mandates.” The Globe and Mail. Last modified September 6, 2022. https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/article-western-university-covid-measures/
The Canadian Press. “Seneca College Announces It Will Drop COVID-19 Vaccine Mandate in 2023.” CBC. Last modified October 18, 2022. https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/seneca-college-vaccine-mandate-ending-1.6620120
Western University. 2022. “Policy 3.1.1: COVID-19 Vaccination Policy.” In Manual of Administrative Policies and Procedures, 1-4. https://www.uwo.ca/univsec/pdf/policies_procedures/section3/mapp311_covid19.pdf