politics

Wearing Masks, Loving Neighbors & the Mark of the Beast

I wrote the following in late June, but didn’t post it. I was struggling with depression and didn’t have the emotional reserves to deal with pushback. This was before a state wide mask mandate went into effect, and months before Trump’s Rose Garden super-spreader event. This was before Trump was totally open about his war against science, and before he was publicly calling Dr. Fauci and other experts “idiots.” This was months before governors and mayors were receiving death threats for advocating masks. My main concern was to address Christians on the unChristlike and biblically tone deaf attitude many pastors and churches were taking in the mask and “opening back up” debate. So, here’s my two cents from mid summer, because things have only gotten worse. -JB

I’m deeply concerned about the politicization of the mask-wearing question, and disappointed at some of the attitudes animating some churches, pastors and Christians around this issue.

The very heart of the Christian faith is loving one’s neighbor and putting other’s well-being and other’s personal preferences above our own. Regardless of one’s personal opinions on the mask issue, the spread of the virus, the pace of “re-opening” or whatever, Christians are called to hold such convictions in a Christlike way. This includes loving one’s “political enemies” by sacrificing their own convictions and preferences regarding masks and social distancing in order to accommodate those who may have a different comfort level or risk-factors regarding Covid-19.

A piece by Anthea Butler covering a Trump rally in a Phoenix megachurch weighed in on the matter after thousands of young people went maskless in a large crowd:

It seems like it is time to ask an important question: Is the recalcitrance of Christians — and, predominantly evangelical Christians — to wearing masks and limiting their churchgoing killing their neighbors? Or, alternatively: Why is it such a big deal for churches and the faithful to wear masks, or worship online at home?

The answer to these questions lies in understanding something that’s become implicit about some faith traditions in America: For many, their religious activities are not just about their faith, it is also about their politics. And since a simple face covering has become the focus of the new political culture war — going without a mask is standing for freedom, according to those who don’t want to wear one because they are following the president — it’s not surprising then that churches, especially conservative ones, are hotbeds for unmasked worship, limited social distancing and, thus, the spread of the coronavirus.

It is, after all, important to love one’s neighbor — but in America, individual freedom is often more prized than biblical admonitions.

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Young people listen to President Donald Trump as he delivers an “Address to Young Americans” at the Dream City Church in Phoenix, on June 23, 2020. Carlos Barria / Reuters

You may take issue with some of her rhetoric and question the recommendations of public health officials, but it’s her point about putting political values such as “individual freedom” above biblical admonitions that I really want us to take to heart. Let me add a few more Scriptures that should guide Christians on this issue.

“Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and mutual edification” (Rom. 14:19). In a public conversation where every statement is weaponized and used to further divide people in a political and cultural war, Christians must make every effort to avoid getting caught up in partisan battles that divide the church and spoil our faith witness.

If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Rom. 12:8). Will wearing or not wearing a mask in a particular situation create more friction or contribute to peace? Are your interactions on Facebook these days helping you live at peace with everyone — including those you disagree with? Or will deleting your account make peaceful relations more likely?

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count OTHERS more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of OTHERS” (Phil 2:3-4). Insert your political opponents for OTHERS above, and you start to see the high calling on Christians and how far we are falling short of representing Him in today’s divided world.

“By this everyone will know you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35). This includes loving those on the other side of the political spectrum and demonstrating that love by taking certain precautions to protect the most vulnerable and respect those who may have different convictions about Covid-19 guidelines. (Isn’t the “herd immunity” approach a kind of survival of the fittest and the exact opposite of prioritizing the survival of the weakest or whom Jesus called “the least of these” (Matt 25)?)

We are finishing up a teaching series on the Book of Revelation. Many are familiar with the warnings of bearing the “mark of the beast” on the forehead (Rev. 13:17), and associate this beastly mark with some kind of End of the World conspiracy theory. I think the hallmarks and attitudes of the unholy city and corrupt culture symbolized by Babylon the Harlot in Revelation is alive and active across the world today, including America.

The marks of the beast should be expanded to include deceitful rhetoric, prideful arrogance, divisiveness and conflict, political corruption, economic exploitation, corporate greed, religious cover-ups, and on and on. The main message of the Apocalypse is for Christians to “come out of her” and don’t become marked by the beast’s divisive characteristics and unholy attitudes.

Instead, the Christian’s call is to be marked with Christ’s name on our foreheads (22:4). We are to bear the marks of Jesus, or the “Fruit of the Spirit,” in our interactions with others. “The Fruit of the Spirit is: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Gal. 5:22-23). (By the way, it’s not a political statement but a fact proven daily that the current president embodies the exact opposite of these 9 character traits and is slowly rubbing off on his most loyal supporters. Jesus says, “You will know a tree by its fruit.”)

A closing challenge: I’m less concerned with Christians having the Mark of the Beast on their forehead, and more concerned with displaying the Beast’s attitude and character on their Facebook.

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