Masks, Freedom, and How to Be Unified
by Luke Yagelski
I’ve been thinking lately about the different issues facing our country, and about the controversy surrounding masks in particular. There’s so many opinions out there. And, especially in the Church, it has been tricky trying to determine what the right course of action to take is as a pastor and shepherd when so many within the Church hold different views on this issue, not to mention the many others.
I read an opinion piece recently that said that pastors and individuals need to be dogmatic about their stance. We need to avoid ambiguity, it said, and draw a firm line, upholding love! But, then, it seemed, he went on to explain why his stance on the issues at hand were the right ones and the ones everyone should be doing. The message that came across was, “Those who disagree with me are on the wrong side.”
However, as I’ve listened to people, I’ve found something very interesting. I’ve found that those who feel they should wear masks and follow all the guidelines have really good reasons as to why they feel this is the right thing to do. I’ve also found that those who resist the idea of forced mask mandates also have good reasons for why they do what they do.
Our world today seeks to polarize each of us from those who disagree with us. In our time of scroll-and-click-social-media-soundbyte-hooliganism, we are constantly fed the lie that the “other” are idiots. This is true in the sphere of politics, discussions about race, and definitely in this controversy surrounding masks.
But as I’ve thought about how the Church can find common ground when so many WITHIN the church, many of whom are Christ-loving, people loving individuals, yet disagree on the right way to approach the issues at hand, I’ve narrowed down some principles that I believe may be of benefit to us, and I’d like to share them with you.
#1. Realize that the other side has a legitimate point of view. C.S. Lewis once said, “For what you see and hear depends a good deal on where you are standing...” I think this is a good reminder for us. For example, those who have loved ones with pre-existing conditions may lean much more heavily on the mask side. Conversely, those who immigrated here from communistically governed countries and who fear the same government overreach occurring here in America may lean heavily towards the anti-mask side. And there are all sorts of legitimate viewpoints in-between that see one side or the other as more honest, more loving, more moral. Is someone who disagrees with us an idiot simply because they don’t see it the way we do? Of course not. And, if we will take the time to listen to each other, we will find that someone can be a wonderful, sincere, loving, good person and have the complete opposite view on this mask issue as we do.
#2. Surrender the need to convert others to your side.
Once you realize that others can disagree with you on this issue and still have a legitimate viewpoint, then you can take the next step and be ok with not agreeing. I think one of the problems the world and the Church is running into is we are trying to convince those who disagree with us on the mask issue to convert to our side. However, since most everyone thinking about this issue has legitimate concerns that can’t simply be dismissed with a Twitter post, we find ourselves devolving into trying to persuade others with “facts”, to which they quickly respond with “facts”, and which usually goes nowhere. Perhaps two intelligent people can have differing viewpoints, and that’s ok! Neither one is stupid, neither one is callous, neither one deserves to be black-listed. Perhaps this plethora of thought and input is part of what makes a great society, and perhaps it is something we should embrace.
#3. Let’s do that which seems most loving to us, and respect the decisions of others.
Once we have legitimized other viewpoints, and become content to see it differently, we are free to prayerfully pursue what love looks like in our context, and respect others who have prayerfully done the same and reached different conclusions. Unlike the writer I mentioned above, I think perhaps pastors are doing a disservice to their congregation by picking one side of this issue and preaching it as the Gospel truth. I suggest rather that pastors especially ought to be recognizing that the differing views in their church families stem from legitimate thoughts and concerns, and we ought to do our best to foster a culture of mutual love and respect even if we disagree.
It is challenging, of course, to adopt these principles. Our world wants to make this mask issue and other issues become polarized topics – one side is totally wrong and one side it totally right. However, if we listen to each other, I think we will find that the concerns of those on either side are not altogether invalid, and we may be able to find common ground. If we cannot agree on the particulars, let us agree to respect the intelligence and concerns of others, and to give them the right to make their own decisions without vilifying them.