by Dr. Joe Nichols:
In Part 1 of this thesis, I began to lay out an appeal to reason applied to the current debate over whether we should comply with the government and health experts in the matter of wearing protective facemasks. Here, in Part 2, I intend to continue this appeal to reason. Afterward, I will approach the issue from a Biblical perspective.
Lately, it has become popular (again, on social media) to refer to those who obey the prevailing health guidelines as “sheep” or “sheeple.” Again, the suggestion is that the obedient do not think for themselves and that they are being manipulated through their emotions. To be fair, this may well be true of a small few. However, as I have demonstrated in Part 1 of the present thesis, it is not true of all. There is a valid logic that has led many, in the face of what appears to be a rather dangerous viral threat, to look at the available data, weigh the evidence and choose to use protective measures like disinfectants, hand sanitizers and, of course, facemasks. Again, we are not all following blindly. And once again, there is a great irony in the rhetorical use of words like “sheeple.” The irony is that those who use “sheeple” in their rhetoric are manipulating their audiences in much the same way as they accuse those who present themselves as authorities and experts of manipulating the masses. Few people who value personal autonomy want to be associated with sheep, and so the suggestion that one is behaving as a sheep is bound to evoke a strong emotional response. Writers who use this kind of rhetoric know this and use it to get followers to join their causes quickly, based on their stirred-up emotions, without careful thought or research on the actual issues at hand. In other words, they use “sheeple” rhetoric to get people to comply without thinking carefully. Let me put it another way: someone is trying to get us to follow them blindly by evoking our fear of blindly following someone else. Again, it is manipulation, the kind which preys on our fears. In virtually every case when I have seen this kind of rhetoric used on social media, one of my friends has copied or re-posted someone else’s words. Who is shepherding whom, and who is blindly following?
Now, if you are willing to indulge me a little further, I would like to address this issue from a different angle, an angle which I believe is more determinative for Christians? Let us agree that the recent appeal to un-mask comes from the perspective of rugged, American, individualism. Westerners in general, and Americans in particular, value personal autonomy; we simply do not like to be told how to run our lives. But is this emphasis on personal autonomy consistent with the values expressed and modeled by Jesus and the Apostles? Apparently, I am not the only one asking this question in the present context. In fact, someone recently posted on Facebook the question: “Would Jesus wear a mask?”
I contend that this emphasis on personal autonomy is not necessarily consistent with Biblical Christian values. At least, it should never be held above Biblical values nor used as a significant basis for the interpretation thereof. Consider what the Bible tells us about how we are to relate to civil authorities. Jesus himself, when pressed on the issue of paying taxes to Rome, had this to say: “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (Matthew 22:21) While this applies most directly to the payment of taxes, a solid argument can be made that “the things that are Caesar’s” can extend to other areas where Caesar claimed authority. Paying taxes was merely a representative token of overall submission to the presiding authorities and their mandates. Consider, as well, what Paul wrote in Romans 13:1-7. (For the sake of brevity, I have only included verses 1, 2 and 7.)
1 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. … 7 Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed. (Romans 13:1-2, 7)
It should give us great pause to think that resisting the government, particularly when the government does not require us to sin, is tantamount to resisting God himself. Could that be what we are doing now by refusing to do something as small as wearing a facemask? Paul may very well have had in mind Jesus’s words from Matthew 22:21, when he penned Romans 13:7. Even Peter gives similar injunctions in one of his letters.
13 Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, 14 or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. 15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. 16 Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. 17 Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor. (1 Peter 2:13-17)
A key phrase here in 1 Peter 2:13-17 is “for the Lord’s sake.” The interests of God are advanced when we humbly and joyfully obey the mandates of the governing authorities. What is more, our doing so, “put[s] to silence the ignorance of foolish people.” Just who are these foolish people, and what is the nature of their ignorance? In the context this must refer to those, likely outside of the body of Christ, who expect Christians to be disobedient. It may also refer to those who themselves are civilly disobedient. At any rate, it is a testimony to those around us that we live for the Lord, when we also submit to the authorities that govern the societies in which we live.
So, would Jesus wear a mask? I suspect that He would. It is not that He would necessarily need one; certainly, the Great Physician could heal himself. However, I suspect that Jesus would have modeled compliance with a government mandate such as this, just as He modeled compliance with the payment of taxes. He certainly taught others to respect worldly authorities. And, while He often challenged the authority and doctrines of religious sects like the Pharisees and Sadducees, I can currently recall no instance where He overtly disobeyed the rules of Roman government. Given the circumstances which prevail at present, coupled with the guidelines and mandates of various governing bodies and advisory boards, I believe that Jesus and the Apostles would be compliant and would want us to do so as well.
If you make the decision to defy the guidelines (and in some cases orders) of government officials and certain healthcare professionals, and you choose based on your own careful research and consideration to not wear a mask in public, then I can respect your prerogative to make that choice. Bear in mind, however, that your decision may or may not bring consequences upon yourself or your loved ones, and you may very well be in violation of God’s will.
For my part, while I do not implicitly trust everything that the news media (from either side of the political spectrum) presents as truth, while I value my freedom and do not wish to live in fear, the best empirical data of which I am aware (along with my own deduction) leads me to believe that wearing a mask just might reduce the chances of getting sick or making someone else sick. I will admit that I find these masks to be very uncomfortable, and, up to this point, I have not been as diligent to wear them as I should have been. Even still, it seems like a small inconvenience to bear if it might actually prevent pain for myself or someone else. It is important to me, as a follower of Christ and respecter of the image of God in all people, that I do not cause or contribute to someone else’s pain. And now that it is mandated in several places by governing authorities, I will joyfully bear this discomfort for the sake of Christ. I invite the reader to consider my arguments carefully. And unless a physical condition prevents you from being able to wear the mask, I invite you to join me in honoring Christ in this matter.
Dr. Joe Nichols (PhD – Biblical Studies – New Testament, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary) currently serves as the Pastor of Christ the Lord Community Church in Salina, Kansas. He also serves as an adjunct professor of Christian Apologetics at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Missouri.. In his spare time, he enjoys reading, hunting, fishing and motorcycle riding.