What to Know About the Mask Mandate (And Everything Else)2
Kevin Vanhoozer counsels: “Pastors cannot know everything about everything, but they should be able to know one big thing about everything: whether or not it fosters life in Christ.”
This word of challenge and encouragement applies not only to pastors but to every Christian. This word is all the more necessary in times of political and social turmoil, especially when individuals are called on to arrive at conclusions in areas that fall outside their fields of expertise and experience – and all the more when consensus has eluded even the experts in the field.
Our belief that humans are made in the image of God includes our recognition that every person is finite, including in the capacity for knowledge. We image God, but we are not God. This means that we cannot know everything there is to know about one thing, much less about everything.
Minnesota Governor Tim Walz mandated the use of masks indoors today, providing no exemption for religious institutions. Of course, there are multiple issues at stake here: 1) the extent of gubernatorial power, 2) the effectiveness of masks, 3) the strategy for dealing with the virus, 4) societal belief about flourishing, inter alia. I certainly have opinions on all of these issues; I’m sure you do as well.
I don’t think that posting an article (especially without comment) on social media is really helpful. Nor are statements of outrage decrying those who agree with the Governor’s decision as sheeple and socialists on the one hand, or statements of encouragement for the decision that simultaneously label any who would disagree as ignorant or unloving.
An attractive alternative would be long-form posts/articles and conversations (in person or over technology) that talk about each of the issues in particular instead of lumping them together. For instance, someone might be opposed to the mandate, not because they think masks are a foolish implementation, but because they don’t believe that a mandate for the entire state is appropriate or because they believe the decision should be made through the legislature rather than by executive order. On the other hand, someone might agree with the mandate, not because they are toeing a party line, but because they believe that the use of masks will enable the continued reopening of the economy and the opening of schools this fall.
All in all, the complexity of the issues involve longer, ongoing conversations. Even then, I don’t think that every person needs to hold a strong position on all of the issues, particularly because in the current moment we can only respond to decisions that are outside of our control. We do not get to shape the decisions. In this case, we simply either comply or exercise civil disobedience with the threat of a fine and misdemeanor.
As we continue to stand in the position of responding to executive orders, we do not believe that we are called as a church to act in civil disobedience on the issue of wearing masks. As we have concluded before, if the demands of the Governor (or other civil authority) make it impossible to fulfill our duties as Christians or wrongfully discriminate against Christians, there may be a call to act in civil disobedience as an act of allegiance to our higher authority, King Jesus. The issue of wearing a mask simply does not fall into this category. Our ability to obey King Jesus is no more hindered than is our ability to eat at a restaurant. And for that, we can be thankful.
We can’t know everything there is to know about any of the issues that are involved in this decision. We can make progress. We can grow in knowledge. And we can even be reasonably sure about issues that are beyond our fields of study or expertise. But what we must know is how to navigate the situations before us in a way that will foster life in Christ and love for one another. For that knowledge, we turn to Scripture, prayer, and careful conversation with one another as we seek to submit to the Holy Spirit, obey the commands of Christ, and fulfill the responsibilities set out in our church covenant.