the shape of leadership

Five Reasons Christians Should Wear Face Masks

Some sacrifices are worth making

As the number of COVID-19 cases in America continues to grow, so does controversy surrounding the pandemic. And few things have caused more divisions lately than the subject of face masks.

Many have taken to the internet to oppose face coverings by promoting conspiracy theories, political arguments, and false health claims. Judging by my own social media feed, at least some of these individuals are Christians.

This is concerning to me. I was raised by a nurse and a paramedic, and I saw the sacrifices they made to save lives as I was growing up. I know people who have suffered from COVID-19. I have close family members and friends who are at high risk of serious complications from the disease.

Like so many others, my family has had jobs, college educations, time with loved ones, and more disrupted by this pandemic. And my church reopened just days ago. These are stressful and perilous times for us all.

Politics aside, I believe there are five reasons why Christians should be wearing face masks. It’s no panacea, of course. We still need to social distance, wash our hands, and do all the other things we know to do. Certainly, we should be praying fervently and seeking God for divine protection, provision, and healing.

But the lowly face mask is a highly visible way to care for our communities and represent Jesus well.

1. Public Health

Let’s review the facts. COVID-19 is highly contagious, and people can easily spread it to others before they even know they are sick. For reasons experts don’t fully understand, some infected people remain asymptomatic or experience only mild symptoms. Yet they can pass the virus to community members who may develop a life-threatening illness.

The virus spreads through exposure to respiratory droplets from infected people. That’s why disease experts at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are calling on Americans to wear face coverings when in public settings around people they don’t live with, and especially in situations where social distancing may be difficult to maintain.

Cloth face coverings are one of the most powerful weapons we have to slow and stop the spread of the virus — particularly when used universally within a community setting,” CDC director Robert R. Redfield said recently.

Sure, face masks may be uncomfortable and inconvenient. But if they can save lives, doesn’t that make them worth the effort? After all, recognizing the sanctity of life means caring for all human life — the unborn, as well as the middle-aged person with a compromised immune system who attends your church and the senior adult buying groceries at your neighborhood store.

Philippians 2:3-4 says to “value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”

First and foremost, a face mask is for the benefit of those around us. It is one important way we can care for people during this difficult time.

2. Personal Health

Not only will wearing a mask mitigate the risk of making others sick, but it may also offer some protection for you. One piece of evidence the CDC cites is from my hometown of Springfield, Missouri.

In a widely publicized incident, two hairstylists who were unknowingly infected spent at least 15 minutes with 139 different clients over several days. The stylists and the clients were wearing masks during this time. Among the 67 exposed clients who subsequently opted for testing, there were no positive cases.

Despite the growing body of evidence for mask effectiveness, many still refuse to take such a basic precaution. Anecdotally, this reminds me of the Old Testament story of Naaman. When the prophet Elisha told the Syrian leper to wash seven times in the Jordan River to receive healing, Naaman walked away and almost missed out — apparently because of his pride (2 Kings 5:11-12).

Naaman’s servants went after him and said, “My father, if the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more, then, when he tells you, ‘Wash and be cleansed’!” (verse 13).

First and foremost, a face mask is for the benefit of those around us.

My point is, this really isn’t a hard thing for most people to do. Some think wearing a mask is weird or embarrassing. Others may even find it offensive. But what if a simple piece of fabric is one of the things God wants to use to keep us and others healthy? Let’s graciously remind one another to put aside pride and do what’s prudent.

3. Neighborly Love

The Golden Rule certainly applies in this case: “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you” (Matthew 7:12).

No one wants to contract a potentially deadly disease. Even those who remain unconvinced about the usefulness of face masks during a pandemic can agree on that point.

I’ve heard Christians say, “I’m living by faith, not fear. If it’s my time to go, it’s my time to go.”

But there are a couple of problems with that. First, there’s a difference between living in fear and taking basic safety precautions. Few would argue using a seat belt, bicycle helmet, life jacket, or smoke detector indicates a lack of faith.

There are things we can do to promote health and safety, and there are things we have to leave in God’s hands. The apostle Paul, who survived an unexpected encounter with a deadly snake, knew all about trusting God to take care of the things that were beyond his control (Acts 28:3-6). Yet Paul also advised Timothy to do what he could to manage his stomach ailment (1 Timothy 5:23).

Second, as previously mentioned, face masks are mostly for other people. So, perhaps the deeper issue is an unwillingness to put faith into action and think of others first.

James said, “Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” (James 2:15-17).

During this season, wearing a face mask is a small but tangible way to put faith to work and show our neighbors we care.

4. Good Citizenship

Some states and municipalities now require masks in public places. A growing list of businesses are asking patrons to mask up as well. Such mandates have led to protests from people who say these restrictions infringe on their rights.

As Americans, we enjoy many cherished freedoms. And as Christians, we celebrate the liberty we have in Christ. But the Bible also teaches us to submit to governing authorities (Romans 13:1-7; Titus 3:1; 1 Peter 2:13-14).

Further, Paul told the Galatian believers not to use their freedom to live selfishly, but to “serve one another humbly in love” (Galatians 5:13). He went on to say, “For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (verse 14).

So it’s not just human laws that govern us, but also the law of love. After all, our true citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20).

Jesus said, “If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles” (Matthew 5:41). In other words, God didn’t just call us to do the minimum. He called us to live as good citizens of our communities, blessing those around us as we share the good news of Jesus. Masking up is one way to do that — whether there is a government mandate or not.

5. Wisdom

There is a common misconception that faith and science can’t exist peacefully in the same space. Nevertheless, most Christians wouldn’t hesitate to seek medical advice when they are sick or check the forecast to see whether they need an umbrella.

During Jesus’ day, people were making observations about the natural world. Jesus didn’t criticize them for this, though He did condemn their lack of discernment regarding spiritual matters (Luke 12:54-56). (Note that this was written down by Luke, who was both a Christ follower and a physician.)

In fact, Scripture is clear that Solomon’s wisdom — which included great insight into scientific topics — came from God himself (1 Kings 4:29-34).

Can God give today’s doctors and epidemiologists wisdom for our benefit? I believe so. Scripture encourages us to seek wise counsel (Proverbs 11:14, 15:22). During a pandemic, the advice of those with special training in health science certainly deserves consideration.

There are a few exceptions to mask recommendations. For instance, the CDC does not recommend masks for anyone who is under the age of 2, who has trouble breathing, or who can’t remove the mask on their own.

For the rest of us, donning a mask seems like a wise move. It is a small price to pay to keep businesses and churches open, get children and college students back to their classrooms and parents back to work, ease the burden on our doctors and nurses, and save lives.

We serve a God who laid aside His power and privilege for our good (Philippians 2:6-8). May we follow His example in all things.

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