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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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