The founder of Hillsong Church has said that coronavirus vaccines are a “personal decision”, after a congregant who had refused a vaccine died of complications related to Covid-19.
Brian Houston, Hillsong senior global pastor, tweeted about the death Stephen Harmon, a California-based congregant of the church and graduate of Hillsong College. Mr Houston said that the passing of his “beloved friend” was “heartbreaking”.
Prior to his death, Mr Harmon, 34, had made a series of social media posts saying that he would not receive the vaccine. He had been hospitalised multiple times for complications from a Covid-19 infection from 30 June, CNN reported.
After his death, Mr Houston said on Instagram: “Stephen was just a young man in his early 30’s. He was one of the most generous people I know and he had so much in front of him.
“He would always turn up to our grandkids soccer games and we will be missed by so many. RIP.”
He added: “Stephen’s thoughts on vaccines were his own. They do not represent the views and thoughts of Hillsong Church. Many of our pastors, staff and congregation are fully vaccinated and more will be when vaccines become available to them in their countries”.
Expanding on his comments, Mr Houston told CNN: “Any loss of life is a moment to mourn and offer support to those who are suffering and so our heartfelt prayers are with his family and those who loved him”.
“On any medical issue, we strongly encourage those in our church to follow the guidance of their doctors.”
He reiterated that many Hillsong staff, leaders and congregants, had received a Covid vaccine, although he did not say whether he had received a vaccine himself.
“We recognise this is a personal decision for each individual to make with the counsel of medical professionals,” he added.
Hillsong is an international megachurch that claims 150,000 members across 23 countries. It was founded in Australia in 1983 by Mr Houston and his wife, Bobbie.
Mr Harmon attended the Hillsong chapter in Los Angeles, California.
Before he said that he had tested positive for Covid-19, Mr Harmon tweeted a parody of Jay-Z’s “99 problems”. He said: If you’re having email problems, I feel bad for you, son. I got 99 problems but a vax ain’t one.”
Even after he had fallen ill with the virus, Mr Harmon refused the Covid vaccine and posted jokes about coronavirus vaccination online. On social media he claimed that he wasn’t “anti-vax” but was “pro information” instead.
On 8 July, he tweeted from his hospital bed: “Biden’s door to door vaccine ‘surveyor’s really should be called JaCovid Witnesses. #keepmoving dork”.
The same day Mr Harmon wrote in an Instagram post: “I’m not against it (the vaccine), I’m just not in a rush to get it. Ironically, as I continue to lay here … in my covid ward isolation room fighting off the virus and pneumonia.”
On 21 July, Mr Harmon tweeted that he was about to be intubated, and asked his followers to pray for him, the Daily Beast reported.
In his last tweet, he said: “Don’t know when I’ll wake up, please pray.”
The Harmon family did not respond when CNN sought a comment.
Mr Harmon’s social media accounts were made private after his death was announced on Friday.
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