by Heather Ummel (over the transom)

Masks. Can we have a conversation these days without some aspect of masks being discussed? Where to buy them, how horrible they are, how they help keep you warm in a cold office or schoolroom, why people wear them when they are by themselves, whether they work or not, how your children’s school is handling them… Most of us have accepted this current reality and the part masks play in it, like it or not. But many of you have not. And that is where I am confused.

Somehow Christians, who are to be known by our love, who have the responsibility of demonstrating God’s love to the watching world around us, and typically the most conservatively committed Christians, are the ones known currently for their refusal to submit to the mask mandates. They are the ones who “won’t be snookered.” By the media. By the government. By anyone who suggests masks might be a good idea.

The conversations with these friends just leave me puzzled. But they aren’t open to discussing the matter. They make assumptions in our conversations that I clearly must feel identically. So I’m left wondering on my own why they react so strongly and why they assume anyone who shares a similar worldview must feel the same way. Maybe I’m a coward not to answer my friend’s rant on the phone with some of my questions. I did feel like one when we hung up. In fact, I felt like a liar for having allowed her to assume I feel the same way without correction. But I don’t WANT to spend my conversations arguing about masks.

So here are my questions I would like to ask. Why are masks suddenly the one single line in the sand in our current world beyond which you will not cross? What is it about masks that is so different from the numerous other laws and suggestions and social mores you go along with every day (wearing seatbelts, pants and shoes for service, not smoking in the restaurant, dressing appropriately in the workplace, speaking quietly in the library, following hospital rules for who can visit and at what hours…)

Why are masks “so sad” to some of you? Why do you consider them indoctrination of your children? What kind of indoctrination? What are they being indoctrinated to believe? That masks work? That we want to keep from getting sick? That we want to keep other people from getting sick?

Why are masks worth breaking fellowship over? Why did you pull your children from their Christian school that you have loved because they are being asked to wear masks only in the hallway in order to continue meeting at its location? Why have you stopped helping with your church youth group because they asked you to wear a mask out of respect for the church policy where your husband is on staff? Why are you not allowing your children to go to youth group so they don’t have to submit to the same request? Why are you not attending church? Are these things really worth sacrificing over masks?

You would tell me, I’m guessing, that your children won’t grow up to bend and sway with every dictate that comes down from our illegitimate government. Are they receiving the right message? Are you possibly teaching them instead that individual liberty is more important than following God’s command to, “forsake not the gathering together with the saints?” Are you maybe teaching them that they are above needing the teaching and encouragement of their youth group leaders? Are you by any chance teaching them that you are above the authority of your church’s leaders, that your thoughts are above their thoughts, that your ways are above their ways?

And what are you teaching them to think about what is going on in the world around them? When they maybe hear about or read an article about the suffering from COVID in Florida or Texas, how are you teaching them to respond Christianly? Is it all just a lie? Would they all have died from something else instead? Or is it scorn they deserve rather than pity because they are overweight and diabetic? Or, heaven help us, do they deserve it because lots of them are probably illegals anyway? When they hear about someone’s mom dying of COVID, do you imply that she was old and it was time for her to go?

To be clear, I am a skeptic too. We are Christians, we are called to discernment. But we are also called to submit to authority. We are also called to love others and be known by our love. We are also called to be considerate of our weaker brother. We don’t know the effectiveness of masks. They may be worthless. You obviously believe they are. But what if your mother that is at high risk ends up dying of COVID while you stubbornly insist masks or social distancing don’t make a difference, that the whole thing is a shamdemic, or plandemic or damndemic? Will that be a comfort to you in your grief? Will you feel it was her fault for having other medical conditions? Will you tell yourself she likely would have died within a few years anyhow, so it’s nothing to be sad about? Will your heart believe your brain?

Consider instead: setting aside your personal freedom for the greater good of Christian fellowship; teaching your children that sometimes we do what we don’t agree with for the sake of the weak or elderly or poor among us; loving others with a love that allows you to put a “worthless piece of cloth” on your face; being humble enough to admit you might not be as right as you think you are and humility is one of the beatitudes. Come back to fellowship. Greet the rest of us at church. Thank your pastors and elders for making hard decisions that they are facing much criticism over no matter which call they made. Send your children to youth group. Allow others to feel and think differently than you without making them feel your scorn. And my most modest proposal of all: have a sense of proportion. It’s a worthless piece of cloth after all.

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