A South Auckland city councillor says he is getting online abuse from conspiracy-believing churchgoers for supporting the upcoming Covid-19 vaccine rollout.
Efeso Collins revealed today he had received a number of angry messages from disgruntled South Aucklanders on social media attacking him for his pro-vaccine stance.
He said ongoing conversations with people in his South Auckland community who had concerns about Covid had taken a turn for the worse in recent days, with their vitriol now directed in personal barbs attacking his faith and integrity.
"I've received a number of messages today with people saying the church should ex-communicate me and calling me to repent for supporting a vaccine rollout in South Auckland," said the Manukau ward councillor.
"The thinking is the church should shut its door on me, that whole fraud, he doesn't belong here, he's not one of us.
"To be honest I'm really surprised because I've been communicating with people who believe conspiracies since we went into the first lockdown around this time last year.
"All I'm trying to do is provide a platform where they feel like they're being heard but over the last few days it's really taken quite a sour turn."
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He said many messages were from people he had known for a long time, and who were connected to breakaway charismatic Christian factions in the area.
They had previously been sending him Covid conspiracy "evidence" on Viber and Messenger.
He said he was one of a number of community leaders that had been subject to the online abuse.
"There's a number of church leaders who are being attacked like this all the time, too.
"It's just a reflection of frustration people are feeling, that borderline fanaticism among people out there."
He said authorities needed to realise that it wasn't a matter of one errant family who held these views, but a collective that needed to somehow be won over through informed debate.
"My message to these people is I understand their very strong position but I think it's important we have open and robust discussion and that's not going to happen if we start throwing accusations at people.
"That's not how you have a discussion. You don't just stop listening and you don't get angry and walk away. You've got to thrash out these issues. Whilst my example is a sad one, my thoughts are toward the families who are in the house now locked down with someone in their family who is only preaching that kind of message."
Collins said as a member of the South Auckland community he needed to balance all the conversations and this was a particularly difficult one to navigate.
It was about allowing ways for people to vent their frustration but at the same time allow freedom of thought.
"I know that these people will go home to a whānau. Whilst I'd rather just say, 'Oh, I can't be bothered' I know that when we're in lockdown, if they've got young people in the house, those young people are going to be hearing the messages on TV and probably say,
'Yeah, it's not a bad idea just to take precautions'.
"But if you've got Dad in the house preaching this kind of message the cultural nuance is if you're a young person you just shut up and listen - they've got no recourse - so by me providing them a chance to talk through this I'm hoping that at least they don't
take out some of that anger out on the kids at home and force feed them what they want them to believe but give them some room to share their views as well."
Collins said everyone needed to be engaged in a more mature, honest conversation rather than just throwing threats about ex-communication.