Mask wearing has become a divisive issue in many congregations. There are congregants who strongly believe that having to wear a mask interferes with their (constitutional) freedom, and others deem wearing a mask as a way of protecting others and showing respect.
The issue is especially difficult for pastors and church leaders who want to have worship services, but have active members on both sides of this issue. Plus, reaching new people comes into play. Someone may visit a local church and believe that wearing a mask is akin to the mark of the beast. Others may consider mask wearing as a sign of respect to other people and a way for a congregation to say that they’re concerned about the health of everybody.
I will tip my hand on this to say that I believe it’s wise to wear a mask in our current environment. My main downside is that I wear glasses, which do fog up with the mask on. And I admit that I can have a rebellious streak: if the government insists that you must do something, part of me wants to do the opposite.
Yet I have been irked as those who say, “if you want to wear a mask, please do so, but I choose not to.”
Based on the best evidence, the mask wearer gets little protection from the mask, but the greater protection is for those around him/her.
An illustration from a few decades fits. I remember getting my windshield broken from a piece of gravel that came off of a dump truck. It wasn’t long after that, the state of Virginia, where I resided, had legislation in it’s state house to pass a law requiring dump trucks to cover their loads. Dump truck companies fought against this. For them, it was inconvenient to have to cover their loads, and it added an expense of equipment for these companies. They probably argued that it violated their freedom to have to cover their gravel. I disagreed, because their gravel could easily come off and crack and break windshields. Their freedom should end where my freedom begins.
Some pastors have put this under a Romans 14 heading. Some believed in keeping particular days religiously and others didn’t. Some believers believed you had the right to eat anything and others believed in following an Old Testament Hebrew diet.
I would say the principle of loving other believers fits, but otherwise I don’t see an application. I follow mostly a vegetarian diet: most days I don’t eat meat. But for me I see it as a health issue: eating fruits, vegetables and whole grains is healthier than fatty and processed meat. But I don’t care if another person I’m dining with has burgers and fries and cherry pies.
Yet, if I happen to be near a person without a mask, I have a higher chance of catching Covid 19 from them if they have it. It affects me, and it affects my wife, whom I love.
Another objection to wearing masks that’s expressed by some is that we shouldn’t live in fear. I agree. But does that eliminate being reasonable cautious. The Mosaic Law had an instruction for builders to put a parapet “around your roof” to protect people who may fall (Deut. 22:8). Now suppose one of the Israelites had said, “I’m not going to put up a parapet. We shouldn’t be afraid.” Such a statement is against what God had said.
Now a relatively small number of people die from Covid 19, particularly those who are younger and in good health. But getting Covid doesn’t mean you either die or get 100% better. A certain percentage of people have long Covid symptoms such as brain fog, not being as sharp mentally as they previously had been. Others have lung disease. There are formerly healthy people who worked out and jogged long distances, who now are unable to walk around the block.
I wore a seat belt before it was the law. I was taught to do so in driver’s education back in the 1970s. Was I exercising fear? Or was a simply being prudent? The thought that stuck with me–it was during classroom training–was the instructor saying that if you hit a curve too fast, the seat belt would help keep you behind the steering wheel. (That was when most cars had a bench seat in front.)
I know I’ve spent a lot of time arguing my position. But what’s a pastor to do?
Some churches require reservations for services, and lay out seating with chairs or by blocking pews so that families can sit together with a proper distance from other parties.
Masks could be required for entering and leaving your facility, but with a proper distance, masks could be removed for worship.
Some congregations have separate seating for those who wear masks vs. those who don’t. If you feel you shouldn’t wear a mask, you are seated on one side of the worship area. If you want to only be around people who wear masks, you sit on the other side.
To pastors and church leaders, realize you’re not alone. You may feel very torn by this. Many if not most pastors are having to deal with strong opinions on both sides. I hope that my thoughts and suggestions are helpful to you as you navigate your congregation during this most difficult time.
Ashton C. Smith
You may reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org
I’m available for consultation.