Masks: Wrong or Right? Bad Question.

I’m blessed with diverse Christian friends who have landed on different sides of current issues, and never have those issues had more potential to divide than in 2020. Relationship and Christian love should allow us to weather many differences, be flexible in our thinking, empathize, give up our rights for one another, and maintain respect. Clearly, we are being tested!

This year, I’ve observed my friends make decisions and draw conclusions primarily from two main ethical perspectives:
1) The rightness of the thing in question
2) The degree to which personal freedom and autonomy are protected

I’m from America, most of my friends are Americans, and this is (no surprise) a very American decision-making grid. That doesn’t mean it’s wrong – it isn’t. But might it be culture-bound or incomplete in some ways? Do we have blind spots? Yes, possibly.

First, we tend to think in sharp right/wrong terms. Is the mask right or wrong? Is the vaccine right or wrong? How we think, especially as American Christians, can back us into a set of binary questions that allow for only one right answer. But what if my conclusion (what I think is right, backed up by my favorite Bible verses) is different from yours? How could we maintain fellowship? How could we stay in relationship in the same church? It’s easy to elevate the “rightness” of a particular decision over other potential factors we haven’t considered. But not every issue is a right/wrong issue, is it? Some decisions are not explicitly covered in the Scripture, nor do they carry the same on-their-face moral or immoral weight as do other decisions (such as the clear command for a husband to be sexually faithful to his wife). So if we stop elevating one, clear “right” decision as the ultimate ethical trump card in these gray areas, what other ethical considerations should come to bear?

Next up is our valued way of life – independent, autonomous, and free. A close relative of the right/wrong ethical grid, autonomy elevates personal decision making. It believes that I am the best person to determine what is right for me. For generations, right/wrong and autonomy have dominated American Christian thought and biblical hermeneutics as well. Sin leads to death. There’s a heaven and a hell. Make the right choice and to go to heaven. Have a personal relationship with Jesus. Salvation is forgiveness of sin and making an individual “right” in God’s sight. Right/wrong and personal autonomous choice went together like apple pie and a Baptist potluck. (America and American Christianity largely agreed in worldview and ethics. But America is changing, and the church is acutely feeling the dissonance and distance in the relationship. This is a topic for another day.)

So what happens if one Christian concludes masks are morally wrong and being told to wear one infringes on my autonomy? (I’ve watched many people conclude that masks are wrong precisely because they infringe on autonomy and thus have taken on a symbol as a “freedom muzzle.”) This person is likely to feel very strongly about their position. It “holds up” to their ethical grid and they can extrapolate all the personal responsibility Scriptures for theological justification. When other Christians disagree with them, they are likely to hear that disagreement as an appeal to compromise conviction and ethics – and their Christian worldview. It’s no wonder the little face cloth and all it represents can seem like a big enough reason to part fellowship and change churches! This all makes sense if the two-pronged ethical grid above is complete. I’d argue that it isn’t.

What are we missing? Are there more ethical and biblical considerations to help round out our American Christian lens? Here’s where we can learn from Scriptures that challenge some of our American way of thinking and from the global church (especially the persecuted global church).

1) How are my decisions affecting the corporate body of Christ? Am I elevating my personal choice in a way that damages the unity and reputation of God’s people? Personal choice is a part of the decision making paradigm, but group identity – especially as the people of God – is much stronger in the global church. It’s not just me, it’s we.
2) Are my conclusions drawing me towards relationship with God’s people or separating me from community? The global church treasures fellowship and being together in ways we Americans don’t quite get. They see it as vital to their spiritual existence (and it is). They have a long history of overcoming near-insurmountable obstacles to stay in fellowship and proximity to one another. It might surprise us how many meet at night, under threat of arrest or death, in secret, traveling long distances, losing sleep – all because they see the church fellowship as sacred and vital. We must be careful that our personal decisions are not cutting us off from the family of God. When we chose to follow Christ, we chose not to be a law unto ourselves. We have a head (Christ) and a family (church) now. So in one sense, we already gave up some of the rugged, American individuality that feels so right to us.
3) Does taking this stand on this issue help me make disciples? When Jesus left, his last words were not “Be right and autonomous;” they were, “Make disciples.” Does my stance (and the tone of my stance) increase the chance I have of forming disciplemaking relationships, or does it unnecessarily alienate me from people?
4) Am I evangelizing my position more than my Savior? Ouch.
5) Do I embrace a theology of loss? Paul told the Corinthian church to let themselves be wronged and defrauded instead of suing each other to prove who was “right” (see 1 Cor. 6). Elsewhere, the church is told to honor and prefer others above themselves. Does my position preclude me from laying down my rights for others?
6) Do my theological positions allow me to follow Jesus dynamically in the gray areas of life? Often, we choose to see things as unnecessarily black or white so that we can choose what’s right and control the outcome. But following Jesus isn’t like that. It’s dynamic. He speaks to us and leads us, even when the world feels like a fog. Maybe we need to allow this real-time relationship with Jesus to grow out of the murk.
7) Would others say I have a sweet spirit about me, even when I disagree? Make no mistake, the Spirit of God is about growing His fruit in your life. Making the “right” choice about the mask or vaccine is secondary to developing the sweetness of love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23). God’s grace in you can overflow to give grace to others with whom you disagree. In fact, the beauty of that very dynamic is a compelling Christian witness (John 13:35).
8) Am I gracious towards those who see the world differently? There’s been enough moral high-roading among the mask wearers and the mask abstainers. We each have a conscience and each must give account to God. Can you love those who don’t wear a mask? Can you love those who do? Can you appreciate that one family may hold a conviction yours doesn’t? Oftentimes in the global church, people from very diverse political, social, and ethnic groups are thrown together simply because they are the only believers in that place. They don’t have 15 churches to choose from. Somehow, the love of Jesus allows them to transcend these divides and still be family.
9) Am I being motivated out of fear or anger or rebellion? Check in with the Lord about this. We often don’t know our own heart motivations, so ask the One who sees the heart to tell you. Many have expressed that the mask is a “slippery slope” and if they give in to wearing it they will be saying “yes” to whatever repressive mandate comes next. If that is true, how can a Christian who is a slave in another repressive country follow Jesus? By considering himself a “slave” of Christ. No man owns him. Christ does. So I say to you: the State doesn’t own you and never will. You belong to Christ. Do not make what might be an unnecessarily rigid stance here out of fear of being owned by the government. Sure, we can be watchful, decisive, and bold, but still we must be motivated by love (see 1 Corinthians 16:13-14).

Sisters and brothers, let us treasure Christ above all. He will lead us in these murky times. Yes, we may draw different conclusions on some issues, but I’m confident we can do so in a way that cooperates with the Spirit, builds the church, keeps us in fellowship and accountability, treasures self-sacrifice, and furthers our witness. We can choose our own personal boundaries while graciously allowing for differences. We must.

PS, I am not qualified to give medical advice and this article is not to be construed as medical advice.

2 thoughts on “Masks: Wrong or Right? Bad Question.

  1. Thank you for this! The harmful comments and snide remarks have been so disheartening to see from fellow believers, no matter what side of the issue they fall on. With all the unrest in the world, it’s a relief to know God is still on His throne.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s