Among the folks who refuse to wear a mask during the COVID-19 pandemic, I have witnessed a number of fellow Christians, people I have respected for their integrity and faith. Few things in my community have grieved or perplexed me as much as this fact.
It’s not that most Christians take this anti-mask view. But among the anti-maskers, oddly enough, many are outspoken Christians who have tied their views on masking to their faith. In addition, Mountaineer reporters have witnessed services at some local churches where many, if not the majority, of those attending were not wearing masks.
I don’t understand the reasoning anti-mask Christians give on Facebook, about how the practice caters to government control or promotes fear-mongering. Surely those concerns are outweighed by the need to protect others. While many people have tried to explain why everyone should be wearing masks to protect others, maybe it’s time to explain why Christians should do so. Because some of the reasons for masking up apply especially to believers.
Full confession: Recently I was caught up in an unsafe situation because my mask was not on my person. I had failed to check before leaving home. Now I carry extra masks, always. I am ashamed of that incident. Masks are not perfect; neither are those who believe in them. But they’re the best we’ve got, for now.
So why is it particularly important for Christians to wear masks?
1. Because we are commanded to love our neighbors. Love is not the warm fuzzy feeling you get from being around somebody who makes you happy. Love is choosing to do what’s best for someone else. In the “love passage” of 1 Corinthians 13 – the one beautiful to read but hard to live – one of the qualities of love is that it “bears all things.” The New International Version translates this as “always protects.”
Some claim there is no proof that masking protects others. They do so while health care workers are pleading with the public to mask up. I bow to the wisdom and experience of those doctors, nurses and support staff. It is too great a risk to do otherwise. Because it comes to this: If I wear a mask, and I’m wrong about it protecting others, the worst consequence will be that I have been uncomfortable. If those who refuse to wear a mask are wrong, the worst consequence could be that they kill someone else.
2. Wearing a mask protects our witness. Christians are called to be representatives of Jesus Christ. We are to love others in a way that encourages them to consider following Jesus.
I am finding it hard to explain to people who aren’t believers why they should consider following Him when they see Christians refusing to mask up. It’s harder to persuade people that God loves them when some of His followers won’t wear a mask for others’ protection.
Is refusing to wear a mask worth turning someone off to Jesus?
3. Because Christians hold life sacred. Leaving the capital punishment debate for another time, Christians agree that life is precious and given by God. Many of us, myself included, passionately believe the sacred nature of human life begins in the womb and so oppose abortion. If we are so passionate about the unborn, shouldn’t we also be passionate about the lives of our elderly and vulnerable? How can we declare we will fight for the child in the womb if we will not wear a mask to protect the elderly citizen in the grocery store?
4. Refusing to mask up can force fellow believers into difficult decisions they shouldn’t have to make. Many churches in Haywood County have resumed in-sanctuary worship. The ability to do so safely is a matter for each church to decide, and I can respect differing decisions about what to do and when to do it. However, some churches are leaving the masking decision up to individuals. The result is a congregation of masked and unmasked attendees.
That would make sense, if masks provided 100% protection to the wearer, but they do not. The mask I wear helps protect me, but just as importantly it helps protect those around me. I wear that mask as an obligation to protect others from germs I might unknowingly carry. In churches that do not insist on masks, vulnerable members have to decide between staying home or putting themselves at risk.
5. We are commanded to pray for and respect government authority as long as it does not violate the higher laws of God. I don’t have to deny my faith, swear unholy allegiance or submit to a microchip in order to wear a mask. There may be some areas where Christians believe government violates God’s law, but wearing a mask during a pandemic is not one of them.
My fellow believers in the anti-mask community, many you have given so much love in the name of Jesus. I know those among you who have cared for the poor, taken in the homeless, shared God’s love with the strangers among us. I know some who give witness to God’s glory in spectacular ways, inspiring us to follow Him more fervently. It grieves me to know I have angered some of you. But I also know how you’d grieve if refusing to mask up cost a life. It has happened here already.
Many of us have been taught that our actions are all the Bible that some people know. So I plead with each unmasked Christian to consider this question: Is your refusal to wear a mask the word from God you want people to remember?