Nobody cared who I was until I put on the mask.
America is a nation founded upon certain inalienable rights, and such rights are held sacred by its citizens. Over the few hundred years this young nation has been established, there have been disagreements (and sometimes wars) over what these rights are, how they should be protected, and to whom they should be given. Though some other factors often play into the political game our leaders play, rights are often looked at as a base standard by which any decision or law made by our government must abide. If any of these decisions or laws infringe on certain rights deemed innate, the masses will surely cry out against them.
It is no secret that certain freedoms granted by these rights often facilitate the spread of the gospel. As Christians, we are able to speak freely of Jesus. We are allowed to pray in public and hold services of worship, instruction, and fellowship without the threat of persecution. We are able to, in most circumstances, tell someone about Christ’s death and resurrection without threat of imprisonment.
Recently, with the spread of COVID-19 across the globe, certain precautions have been mandated in order to protect individuals who would suffer greatly if they contracted the virus. One particular mandate in particular, that is the wearing of masks, has sparked much debate. Some claim that mandatory mask-wearing infringes on certain inalienable rights. Though I personally disagree with the anti-mask movement, I am not here to debate the health benefits of mask-wearing. Rather, I am much more interested in how wearing a mask or lack thereof impacts our ability to share the gospel.
Let us take a moment to traverse a few thousands years into the past. The apostle Paul penned a letter to the church in Corinth in order to correct some of the issues with which the church was struggling. Throughout the epistle, Paul addresses certain rights that a Christian has in their freedom in Christ. For example, he explains that since idols are “nothing at all in the world” (8:4), Christians are free to eat food sacrificed to idols. In regards to receiving funds from the church for continuing the work of Christ, Paul claims that he and Barnabas, his missionary companion, have every right to expect financial support from the Corinthians (9:4-6). These rights are fair and are justified through a biblical lens.
However, Paul then claims that he will refuse certain rights if it means his ministry will be more effective. He warns the Corinthian church to, “be careful... that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak” (8:9) Though Paul has the right to eat food sacrificed to idols, he explains “if what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall” (v. 13). In regards to expecting money from the church, Paul writes, “If others share this rightful claim on you, do we not even more? Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ” (9:12). The apostle finally concludes his point in 9:22b-23, “... I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.”
What bearing does Paul’s teaching on Christian rights have on us today? The simple answer is that, though we have a multitude of rights given to us by God and country, perhaps the church’s focus should be on the spread of the gospel rather than protecting those rights. Make no mistake. I am not arguing that Christians should ignore injustice. We should fight for the good of our fellow citizens. We should, however, also understand that the actions we take and the rights we exercise can build obstacles in our ability to share the gospel. Perhaps wearing a mask falls into this category.
Consider, for a moment, the immunocompromised individual and the fear they may be feeling because of the threat of coronavirus. How does the elderly person feel in the face of a virus that has every likelihood of cutting their life short? Does the person who simply wishes to avoid getting sick not deserve the gospel? What if refusing to wear a mask causes certain people to stay away from church services? If there is a chance that not wearing a mask causes certain people to avoid you, perhaps it is best for the sake of the gospel to wear a mask. Instead of so vehemently fighting for our rights, perhaps we should put all that time, energy, and emotion into spreading the gospel and edifying the church. If you are reading this and do not care that your actions may build barriers to sharing the love of Christ, then I would call into question the state of your heart; however, if you do care about both the lost and your bother or sister in Christ, perhaps you may consider forsaking certain rights.
Ultimately, our stake is not in our inalienable rights. Our priorities should always consider the kingdom of God and reflect that self-sacrificial love which Christ showed us on the cross. This means that we should sometimes forsake certain rights and securities for the betterment of those around us, whether we are prioritizing their comfort, safety, or health over ours. I can almost guarantee you that Paul would wear a mask in the synagogues and public places in order to more effectively preach God’s word. I pray that church strives always to further the kingdom of God to the best of our abilities.