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Masks help stop the spread, but they hinder the Church

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If I’ve asked just a dozen people, I must have asked 100. What’s the worst part about this pandemic? If you could change just one thing about this miserable year-old plague, what would it be? The overwhelming winner is: the masks!

In this marvelous high-tech age, where we call on a little device no bigger than a box of crayons to do just about anything we ask, are we really reduced to balancing a scrap of fabric across the lower half of our faces in the hope of staving off what we’re told is the most threatening health evil of our lifetime?

We can do better.

Let me be emphatically clear. I do not believe, and I am not suggesting here, that the masks now covering 90 percent of all Americans’ faces are the result of some vast conspiracy designed to show how subservient we are. My sense is more that some top experts in medicine, science, academia, and politics—when confronted with a genuinely baffling threat to public health—stumbled across one tool that offered potential help. And that one tool also just happened to carry with it some symbolism that should serve as a warning to many people.

The Church has already taken an incredible hit in terms of lost opportunity.

Practicing Christians should pay attention. Intentional or otherwise, the wholesale masking of a population has produced a profoundly negative effect on at least three behaviors central to Biblical living: Christians should gather often and committedly. Christians should share the sacraments when they gather. And Christians should sing when they gather!

I am astonished that a number of WORLD readers are reporting to me that it has now been a year—and more—since the churches of which they are members have welcomed them to these practices. It hardly ­matters whether some evil force intended all this for ill. God ordained these practices—and intended them for our nourishment in all kinds of ways. When we begin paying more attention to the demands of civil authorities than we do to God’s gentle commands, why should we expect happy results?

There’s also the practical side of things. Kindergarten teachers everywhere, for example, report how hard it is to build interpersonal relationships with no more than half a face to share with a 5-year-old in his or her first year of school.

On the other hand, tending the needs of the elderly may be even more challenging. I heard last week from one of my college roommates, now retired in an assisted living center where he also serves as a chaplain to his fellow residents. “The regular Bible study in ‘Personal Care’ has been canceled,” he wrote, “due to COVID. And attendance in the public services is limited to a pianist and the person handling the TV in-house broadcast. COVID has seriously affected pastoral ministries in ‘Skilled Care’ and ‘Memory Support.’ A visit requires gowning, gloving, masking, and shielding. It is most difficult for the person I visit to recognize me. And trying to hear me clearly behind masks and shield is a struggle for them. For me, with glasses fogged, reading Scripture is greatly hampered.”

Imagine, if you will, what your response might have been if you’d been told the preceding paragraph came from a Muslim nation, where it was commonplace for a regulatory government to make life difficult for Christians. In such a case, I think many of us would scurry to our prayer closets to seek relief for our beleaguered brothers and sisters.

I remind you that I’ve seen no evidence that the “mask movement” has sinister motives and roots. Good, smart, and qualified people are endorsers of the effectiveness of masks to help slow down this dreadful plague. And yes, millions of people around the world regularly wear masks not to protect themselves but unselfishly to protect others in their homes, schools, workplaces, churches, and other settings. And yes, I personally wear a mask nearly all the time I’m supposed to.

But this mask issue’s not a petty matter of fretting and worrying about some possible future consequence. The Church has already taken an incredible hit in terms of lost opportunity to offer ministry and personal care. Those masks have covered up much more than people’s faces.

Joel Belz

Joel is WORLD’s founder. He contributes regular commentary for WORLD Magazine and WORLD Radio. Joel has served as editor, publisher, and CEO over three decades at WORLD and is the author of Consider These Things. Joel resides with his wife, Carol, near Asheville, N.C.


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I am very, very grateful for our church asking its members to come masked and to fellowship outside and not in a crowded foyer.  That's allowed us to come and visit with brothers and sisters in Christ whom we would otherwise only see in pixel form. 

Covering the face is a practical thing in some desert societies, and where I grew up in South Asia wearing masks when getting around in dense, polluted cities was not uncommon.  I feel like the advent of masking has been a bit of a culture shock for the US that became politicized and debated to a degree far beyond its worth.  I don't exactly like it, but I recognize the benefit.  As long as we can still fellowship with each other, aren't there other things that are more important to contend?

Steve Shive

Joel you are so right! The Church "of the living God the pillar and  the ground of the truth" has lost its bearings. We have abandoned our compass, our focus and our mandate. This didn't start with COVID19. But this virus has served to shine the light on the lines of division between the Church of Jesus Christ and the world. Not to forget the division in the church itself! And we have failed. This is a clarion call, is it not? We must do something about it.

I did read this morning about pastor James Coates in Alberta, Canada who is in jail defying the authorities who require him, and his church, to submit to a 15% limitation on attendees at services. I'm sure he is doing this at great personal expense and inconvenience if not harm. One could debate all sorts of issues from this but my point is that here is a pastor who is willing to stand up for the Church of the risen Christ. According to what I read, "He said when governments fail to follow God’s plan, churches have a duty to challenge and push them back onto the proper path. 'We must call government to its God-ordained duty,' Coates told the congregation."

Regarding masks, my take is that they are the #1 issue for many because masks are a very visible public and ubiquitous symbol of  extreme governmental overreach. Despite what many might think that mask mandates are a reasonable option proposed by reasoned and wise academics they all too often come across as hapless, politicized hacks who are subject to unclear whims and political currents, not science. So there are good  reasons to dispute their  claims. Nevertheless masks might be seen as the lightning rod of social discourse as are vaccinations now. I don't want to belabor this since both sides have received more than their due consideration already.

We need to step back and rethink personally and as the Body of Christ what should our priorities be and how then should we live.

Laura W

Disagree with the government requiring masks if you like, but please do consider wearing one willingly for the sake of your brothers and sisters in Christ who will not be able to fellowship with you in good conscience otherwise. For me, this has been the hardest part of the pandemic--having to say no to so many chances to spend time with people because the others are not interested in wearing masks or any sort of distancing.

Brendan Bossard

The funny thing about masks is people have made them a much bigger factor than they need to be. I sing all the time at church with a mask on. My son attends school with a mask on in class, and off in open air. He looks cute in it! The eyes are the window to the soul. How do we tell a fake smile? Look at the eyes!

Sometimes I wonder whether God is telling us that he is tired of hearing empty words of "praise." I believe that God will allow us to remove our masks after we start worshiping him in spirit and truth.


Good thoughts. If makes worked like they purpose then I have a couple questions: 1) Why the big spike when the majority off people are wearing then, 2) Why so many of the people I know that are avid mask wearers have gotten the illness?

I wear a face shield in public and believe it's better because it keeps my hands off my face. I think it's through the hands that the virus is being spread just like all the other viruses we have had in the past.