“The church has never been closed,” says ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton. We have found different ways to gather, to study the Bible, to pray, to worship, and to serve our neighbors. As we continue the long haul of responding to the novel corona virus, we have heard voices about personal freedom regarding movement and activities. For Lutherans, we do not see the issue as faith versus freedom.
Rather, being careful of others health is a way to be faithful to Christ’s command to serve our neighbors.
In 1527, Europe faced the black plague. Then, as now, not all who were infected got sick. Martin Luther’s pastoral response advised people to practice social distancing, to pay attention to science and medicine, and not to put others at risk in case you are infected. In fact, Luther had very harsh words against those who risked infecting others.
Lutherans have long considered the sciences to be a gift from God, and we see no conflict between science and faith. Today, the best of science is telling us that wearing masks reduces the spread of coronavirus. Both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) now recommend cloth masks for the general public. UC San Francisco epidemiologist George Rutherford, MD said, “The legitimate concern that the limited supply of surgical masks and N95 respirators should be saved for health care workers should not have prevented more nuanced messaging about the benefits of masking.” Infectious disease specialist Peter Chin-Hong, MD said, “There’s a lot of asymptomatic infection, so everybody has to wear a mask.” For the general public, the best mask is one you can wear comfortably and consistently. Chin-Hong offers the
“Three W’s to ward off CO-VID19:”
Wear a mask.
Wash your hands
Watch your distance.
“But of the three, the most important thing is wearing a mask,” Chin-Hong said. “Compared to wearing a mask…. there’s little evidence that contaminated surfaces are a major source of transmission, whereas there is a lot of evidence of transmission through inhaled droplets,” said Chin-Hong. [i]
In Romans 12, Paul writes, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” And “If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” Following the W’s of warding of Co-vid 19, especially mask wearing, is a sacrifice, but it is a sacrifice that worships the Author, Redeemer and Sanctifier of life.
We can’t attend worship together. Yet, how we respond to the pandemic is an act of worshiping God.
Paul writes that we are to overcome evil with good. He says “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink.” People of God, we can overcome this virus with good. Consider “If your neighbor’s health is at risk, wear a mask.” How much easier is this to do for our neighbors than doing all those good things for our enemies!
This is not a matter of faith in God versus fear or faith versus freedom. Being careful of others is the way to be faithful. When one considers the significant reduction in the risk of spreading Co-vid 19 to others, wearing a mask is clearly the “Christian, neighborly and life-giving” thing to do.
[i] Quotes are from June 26, 2020 “Still Confused About Masks? Here’s the Science Behind How Face Masks Prevent Coronavirus” By Nina Bai.