Insights from the dashboard: COVID-19 and tension
What kind of tension does COVID-19 create in churches?
The EARS dashboard is a collection of summaries from European media articles on religion and society. Between the 1st of January 2021 and the 31th of October 2021, 3,456 summaries were published on the dashboard. 107 of those, or 3% of the total number of summaries, contained both the search terms COVID-19 and tension at the same time. The three most referenced countries in these summaries were the United Kingdom, Ireland, and Greece.
As the graph shows, the occurrence of the keyword tension is steady throughout the year. On the contrary, the use of the keyword COVID-19 reaches its peak in April and then declines until October.
Reading the articles that contain the keywords COVID-19 and tension, there are two main themes that involve religious organisations and their leaders: religious leaders being either in support of or against vaccination and unclear restrictions in regards to religious services.
Vaccination according to different churches
The Metropolitan Hilarion of the Russian Orthodox Church would like vaccination against COVID-19 to be mandatory for priests. However, the Russian Orthodox Church sees vaccination as something that should be freely chosen. Similarly, Bishop Savva of the Russian Orthodox Church encouraged authorities to have a dialogue with those people that refuse mandatory vaccination. When it comes to the Cypriote Orthodox Church, the Synod decided to support vaccination against COVID-19.  For this reason, Archbishop Chrysostom announced consequences, such as salary cuts, for those priests opposing vaccines. 
Even though the Catholic Church encourages vaccination, a number of Catholic priests in Italy have criticised the use of vaccines. In some cases, they have questioned how dangerous the coronavirus could really be. In Greece, one Orthodox priest wished to ban both vaccinated people and face masks from his services. Similarly, a metropolitan of the Greek Orthodox Church preached against vaccination and denied the existence of the coronavirus.
Other times, believers have strongly criticised the clergy supporting vaccination. When Bishop Laajasalo of the Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Finland wrote a text supporting vaccination, 200 people left the Church in a day.  Similarly, when Orthodox priest Doren Galen expressed an interest in getting the vaccine, he received insults and attacks online. In other words, it seems that COVID-19 creates tension within religious organisations, dividing those that recommend vaccination and those who refuse it.
Vaccine certificates and religious freedom
In several countries, the idea of introducing vaccine passes for services has led to protests. In the United Kingdom, both Anglican and Catholic church leaders found the introduction of vaccine certificates to be unethical.  In relation to services, religious leaders explained that they would not exclude anyone from their churches, regardless of health certificates.  In Sweden, the Christian Council of Sweden and the Swedish Agency for Support to Faith Communities have also criticised the idea of making vaccine certificates a requirement for participating in services. Both associations found that using vaccine certificates in religious celebration would undermine religious freedom. In the Netherlands, many places of worship do not check vaccine certificates, wishing to remain open to all.
COVID-19 and tension in different churches
The articles on the dashboard show that COVID-19 has led to tension within different churches across Europe. On the one hand, there can be tensions between those religious leaders that encourage people to get vaccinated and those believers that are against vaccines. On the other hand, sometimes tensions can arise within the same religious denomination when some of its leaders are positive about the benefits of vaccines and others are not. Finally, several churches have reacted to the use of vaccine passes, seeing them as unethical for different reasons. As COVID-19 rages on, churches will have to find a way to deal with both the internal and the external tension caused by the pandemic.
The EARS dashboard allows you to gain insight into a large number of topics, including COVID-19 and tension. It is a free tool that enables you to make similar connections as described above, and to find out about new relationships between interesting subjects across Europe. Please visit the dashboard to learn more.