We are amid some extraordinary days. We rolled into 2020 with high hopes and dreams. For me, I was looking forward to Memorial Day Holiday and NASCAR in Charlotte. I was also looking forward to seeing one of my favorite bands, the Doobie Brothers, on their 50th-anniversary tour. I love gathering with my CMA chapter and with the bodies of two different churches. But now, many of those things are gone, and others have been drastically altered. The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged the world, and especially Christians, in ways we have not seen for over a century. We have resorted to unnatural behaviors of distancing and protecting ourselves from others. It is natural to gather in groups. I would say that it is one of the things that makes us more human. Isolation is contrary to how we were designed as humans. However, during a time of the pandemic, we need to put the comfort of gathering aside for a greater good. For this essay, I am going to look at how we have been asked to behave is stunningly pro-life. Then I will look at the issue of whether to wear a mask or not and how we should treat others who make a different choice. I am not going to take a position one way or another on wearing a mask. However, our attitudes and our motivations are what matters most when making a decision.
Now, let me state up front that I am not a medical doctor, scientist, or an expert in viral pathology. I’m just a dude who loves Jesus and studies the Word of God. I know that many people, through the monumental amount of information provided through media sources (of which I believe only a small percentage is accurate), lead people to think they are now experts. But I would never ask a plumber to fix my electrical problem, and I would never ask an electrician to perform gall bladder surgery. There are those who have studied viruses for their entire professional careers. These are the experts. And like most experts, when they encounter something new, they try to hypothesize on how best to approach this new thing – in our case, a new virus. COVID-19 was unexpected by everybody. We looked to the experts on how to deal with it. Some things they got right (most in my opinion) and some they got wrong.
What is clear, however, is that the goals of their recommendations were to preserve and protect life. As the pandemic unfolded, we saw it was the most vulnerable in our society was most affected. The elderly and the immunocompromised had the highest rates of hospitalization and mortality. Young and healthy people did not have the same effects from the virus. With that understanding, the experts, CDC, and others recommended we take precautions of “social distancing” (although I much rather prefer the term “physical distancing”) and wearing protective gear (gloves, masks, washing hands, using hand sanitizer). The reason for this was twofold. First to slow down the virus so that the hospitals could catch up. The second was to protect the most vulnerable people in our midst. Think about that for a minute. The Enemy would much rather have us say, “well, they are sick and old anyway, so they should be sacrificed for the greater good of our society and economy.” That thinking is from the pit of Hell and not unlike the same arguments made for abortion and euthanasia.
Protecting the most vulnerable people is tremendously pro-life. We are saying to these people, we value you, you have worth and dignity, and we will put aside our comfort for your protection. All of us are exhausted by the measures we have taken to protect those who are most susceptible to the virus. But if we are Christ-followers are truly pro-life, then we should be the first in line to embrace these protections.
However, since these measures have come under a withering barrage of political embedding, it is hard to take or not take these measures without a level of judgment from those who disagree. As followers of Jesus, if we decide not to wear a mask, are we being bold in our faith? Maybe. If we choose to wear a mask to protect others and make them feel safer, are we following the model of Jesus to put others first and ourselves last? Absolutely. This whole controversy draws me to Romans 14, where Paul talks about those (Gentiles) who had no problem eating meat offered to idols. There were those (Jews) who believed that it was sinful behavior to do such. Here Paul addresses the Gentiles:
Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables.The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them.Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand. Romans 14:1-4 NIV
If you are bold enough not to wear a mask, know that this decision might make those who do wear a mask feel inferior. Some might say, as I read from a Facebook friend recently, “I have my rights! I can do as I please! I can decide not to wear a mask, and no one can tell me what to do!” so on and so forth. There are two times that I can think of where people in the Bible were concerned with their individual rights. Job was overly concerned that, although he had lived a righteous life, God had allowed calamity to fall upon him. Job questioned the fairness of it all. God, however, gave Job a thorough rebuke as Job was questioning the essential character of God. Paul claimed the rights of a Roman citizen. That claim to his rights led to his beheading. There may be other examples, but I dare say that if there are, they do not turn out any better.
Paul also asks that the Roman Gentile Christians surrender their rights:
So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God. Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister. I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean.If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy someone for whom Christ died Romans 14:12-15 (CSB Emphasis mine)
Paul is clear – if you are engaging in a behavior that causes a fellow believer (or even nonbeliever) to stumble, then you are not acting in love.
In conclusion, I ask that we all do what is right. If you are wearing a mask, do not be ashamed. You are responsible for your best understanding of your circumstances. You are showing care for those who are most vulnerable. However, you are not to pass judgment on those who do not wear a mask. That is on their consciences, and they may have reasons you do not know. If you do not decide to wear a mask, then you as well should not pass judgment on those who do. Check your motivations. Are you foregoing a mask because you think it is your right? Are you doing it because you are concerned about your comfort? If so, then you may want to rethink your reasons by reading the full context of Romans 14 and seeking the Lord for guidance.
I am not going to take a position one way or another to wearing a mask. What I am stating is that whatever decision you make, make sure you are making that decision in love and that your attitude is one of care for other people.