As the pandemic has drawn on (and on…and on…and on…), an interesting debate has emerged about the role of face masks – their effectiveness and their necessity.
I will be the first to admit: I hate wearing face masks. I don’t like that it makes it more difficult to breathe, they are not comfortable, and my glasses are continually fogging up while I wear a mask.
But I also understand what the science tells us:
- Masks reduce the spread of the virus
- Masks protect the person wearing it a little bit, but protects those around them a lot
- Masks reduce the risk of the virus. A recent study showed that if 80% of a closed population were to wear a mask, COVID-19 infection rates would statistically drop to approximately one-twelfth the number of infections.
But the debate about masks is no longer about science. Instead it has taken a weird turn and is now about politics, freedom, and liberty. I’m guessing that you’ve probably seen the same videos I’ve seen, where someone is being confronted about not wearing a mask and they push back, proclaiming that it’s a free country, and that they don’t have to wear a mask if they don’t want to.
And they are right. We have freedom. And people can choose to not wear a mask.
But I don’t think that’s the final answer.
Please allow me to jump into my “history major/political science minor” mode for just a moment: The preamble to the United States Constitution says: “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, ensure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
The intent of this document is to frame the rights that we are all guaranteed. Words are important, and it might be helpful for us to unpack these words just a little bit.
The Constitution exists, the preamble says, to establish justice, tranquility and to provide for common defense, general welfare and liberty for ourselves and our posterity, meaning our descendants.
Look again at these constitutional goals:
- common defense
- general welfare
- liberty for us and our descendants
The framers of the constitution were interested in establishing defense, for the sake of defending the other. They wanted to ensure not an individual’s welfare, but general welfare…the welfare of all. And they wanted to establish liberty that survived us and stretched to generations to come.
These are not the arguments that I hear from people who are angry about masks.
When people are arguing on TV or online against masks, they are arguing for “my rights…for my freedom…and for my liberty.” I will be the first to admit that I am neither a lawyer nor a constitutional scholar, but as I read the constitution, it seems like these people have missed the point. The US constitution is less about the individual…and is more about “the people”…the community…us, together.
The “my rights” argument is all about this idea of rugged, American individualism. But here’s the problem with that: in the life of our nation, rugged American individualism is a relatively new concept. Remember World War II? Remember the generation that sacrificed? They lived on food rations because of food going to the soldiers; they were not allowed to buy tires because the rubber was needed for jeeps; they bought war bonds. In a moment of crisis, they sacrificed.
Now, please indulge me as I jump back into “pastor mode” for a moment. Because this broader understanding of the Constitutional guarantees begins to sound kind of familiar. Jesus teaches us: It is not about me. It is about us.
“When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
– Matthew 22:34-40
Love God and love your neighbor. Period. When Jesus was asked about the greatest law, and the most imperative idea in the faith, Jesus could not narrow it down to just one. There were two: Love God with all your heart, and love your neighbor as yourself.
Neither one of these ideas is about the self. Neither one of these ideas are about my rights, or my liberty or my freedom.
The life to which Jesus calls us us always about the other. It is about our relationship with God, and our relationship with each other.
I’ll admit it: I too am tired of wearing a mask. It’s a pain. But wearing a mask is what shows the greatest love to God, and to the people around us. It is general defense in that it protects and preserves those around us. And it is for the common welfare…the common good. It is what shows love to God and the neighbor. And it preserves (not denies) liberty (and life) for ourselves and the generations to come. This is not a political issue. Not at all. And it is not a partisan position. Far from it. It is a faithful position.
I’m going to go out on a limb here, but not too far, I think: Jesus would be wearing a mask today. I think we should too.
God’s peace, friends!