Freedom in the Time of a Pandemic

Lady Liberty maskedYou, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. (Gal. 5:13, NIV).

You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. (Gal. 5:13, NIV)

Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak. (1 Cor. 8:9, NIV).

Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. (1 Pet. 2:16, ESV)

I find these repeated admonitions from the Apostles Paul and Peter to take on a new and particular relevance here in the United States in the time of the coronavirus pandemic. As is so frequently the case in our nation, the management of public policy for the sake of disease control has become a political issue, and though I generally try to avoid political topics on this blog, it seems inevitable that some readers will take my words in this way … I regret this, but I do not apologize. For I think there’s a spiritual component to the way in which many of the loudest Christians have conducted themselves in this time, and if my critique happens to be misinterpreted as partisan politics, well, so be it.

I refer, of course, to the questions of how disease control measures, whether the wearing of masks/”face covers,” or the restriction of public gatherings, or even whether to get a haircut, have been seized upon by an element of the American populace as unconscionable infringements on our freedom. Wear a cloth mask today, wind up in a socialist gulag tomorrow, seems to be the logic.

Without addressing the secular, legal, and even Constitutional questions that legitimately can be debated around the issue, my concern here is the stridency with which Christians (many of them friends of mine) agitate for their liberty with — it seems to me — little to no regard for its impact on the health or the lives of their neighbors. Those who most loudly proclaim that public health restrictions are infringements upon their “God-given” rights ignore, it seems to me, the clear command of God through the Apostles, as well as the life modeled by Jesus himself, to give up one’s rights for the benefit of, and in service to, others. And don’t be fooled: the life one risks by flouting these guidelines is not merely (or even mostly) one’s own. Each of these guidelines is intended, not so much for self-protection, but for the protection of others from each one of us. An epidemic is not about one individual getting sick … it’s about that individual causing others — perhaps many others — to sicken or even to die.

We as believers need to reconnect with the imperative to be graceful models of service and sacrifice for the good of others, and recognize the strident assertion of our own rights for the self-centered, anti-Christ attitude that it is. And here I find myself in the startling position of being fully in accord with an article over at The Gospel Coalition … a group with whom I rarely resonate: Brett McCracken, in an article entitled 4 Reasons to Wear a Mask, Even if You Hate It writes:

For Christians, though, it’s important to rise above the political partisanship and think through what our faith would call us to with regard to wearing or not wearing masks. What if our view on masks were shaped more by our Christian identity than our American political identity? As much as I dislike wearing masks, sympathize with some skepticism about them, and cringe at attempts to shame people into wearing them, my Christian faith leads me to wear one when I’m in indoor public places. When I look at Scripture I don’t see a mandate about masks, of course, but I see an invitation…

McCracken goes on to point out that love of neighbor, respect for authority, honoring the weak, and using freedom for the sake of the gospel, are all reasons Christians should choose the infringement of this freedom, this inconvenience, as the Godly, Christ-like thing to do.

He’s absolutely right. Regardless of political party, regardless of comfort, or pride, or any other self-directed preference, this is a place where the people of Jesus should be known for their gracious surrender to the health, safety, and protection of our neighbor. Oh, and along the way, we might just save our own lives, and those of our families, as well.

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