My CultureChange e-newsletter “Mandatory Masks, “Shelter at Home,” and (Anti-) Social Distancing: A Christian worldview analysis and a brief theology of the state” raised several valid questions. One of them is whether wearing a mask during COVID-19 as a Christian fulfills our obligation to love our brothers and sisters. We should not insist on our rights, so goes the argument, even if we are correct, but surrender our rights for the sake of fellow believers.
As a rule we as Christians should be willing to engage in any charitable act. The question is how is charity best expressed in particular historical situations?
The implicit Christian demand for mask-wearing in the present climate on the basis of charity would seem to fall into what Paul refers to as sentiment of a weaker brother (Rom. 14). In other words, it is: “I’ll show my love to you by wearing a mask.” Or, “Please show you love me by wearing a mask.” Those who make abstemious requirements not outlined in the Bible and whose consciences are wounded by other Christians who violate those non-biblical requirements are what Paul would designate weaker Christians.
Note carefully that I am making no pronouncement on the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of masks, nor arguing whether church leaders should or should not obey all political directives, a topic I addressed in the article linked above. Here I am solely addressing the issue of the expression of Christian charity as it relates to masks.
I infer Paul’s meaning that in individual cases, one should forego his God-granted liberty (e.g., wear a mask to avoid offending an individual person). But allowing the weaker brothers and sisters to re-orient the entire church because of their scruples is something Paul makes very clear should not happen (v. 1). The issue pressed by the weaker Christian must not be permitted to divide the church, nor may church leaders demand the church adjust its entire practice down to the level of weaker Christians.
Practically this means that if I’m invited to the home of a fellow Christian who urges me to wear a mask during my visit, I must do this. But that same Christian cannot demand his entire congregation to capitulate to his personal scruples, nor may church leaders demand this burden on his behalf.
And then, of course, there is the reverse scenario: those who believe that compulsory mask-wearing is a capitulation to statism. Should we show them charity by not wearing a mask, if it means making us more vulnerable?
Each should be fully persuaded in his own mind (v. 5).