There’s some disagreement and controversy about the wearing of masks in public places. Some say that masks help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Others state that it doesn’t help stop the spread at all and may even be dangerous to the wearer. Who is correct? Well, it depends on which sources one reads.
I didn’t wear a mask for several weeks, even when I went into a supermarket, because there weren’t any available. Oh, I searched for them. The drug stores didn’t have them, Amazon didn’t have them, and no one I checked with had them. I did have some folks make a few available when they heard I was looking for them and I thank them for that. So, when I go into a public place where I will be in close contact with people, I wear a mask. I do so for several reasons.
The first is that I truly care about those people over 60 who have co-morbidities. They comprise the most vulnerable people group for whom the coronavirus may be fatal. According to the European Regional Office of the World Health Organization, “ We know that over 95% of these deaths occurred in those older than 60 years. More than 50% of all deaths were people aged 80 years or older. We also know from reports that 8 out of 10 deaths are occurring in individuals with at least one underlying co-morbidity, in particular those with cardiovascular diseases/hypertension and diabetes, but also with a range of other chronic underlying conditions.”
The older the person, the more deadly the disease.
It’s even worse in long-term care facilities. The New York Times reported: “Nursing home populations are at a high risk of being infected by — and dying from — the coronavirus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, is known to be particularly lethal to older adults with underlying health conditions, and can spread more easily through congregate facilities, where many people live in a confined environment and workers move from room to room. While just 11 percent of the country’s cases have occurred in long-term care facilities, deaths related to Covid-19 in these facilities account for more than a third of the country’s pandemic fatalities.”
I am informed that wearing a mask does not prevent me from getting the disease but that it does help in spreading the disease to others if I am infected. I know a good many people who are over 60 and have other health problems. I do not want to be responsible for passing on a virus that might just kill them.
Another reason is optics. I very often wear a clerical collar. Wearing that clothing conveys a meaning … it is symbolic. Hopefully, it conveys that I am available, that I am a Christian pastor/priest, that I am “safe,” or that I am a bearer of “Good News.”
But wearing that clothing during a pandemic without wearing a mask in public places also conveys a message. It says that either I am uninformed (or “ignorant”), or that I have deliberately chosen to dispense with the mask.
Now there are many reasons why I may have dispensed with the mask. Perhaps I do not believe the threat is real. Or it could be that I am making a statement of some sort. I might have a breathing condition that wearing a mask exacerbates. But it might also convey that I don’t care who I infect and that is a bad message from a guy with a clerical collar.
I also realize that people may be frightened by the lack of a mask. There are many people who are extremely fearful about getting sick during this pandemic. I am not one of them. I was exposed to the coronavirus a couple of months ago when I was with a couple for several hours, including the sharing of an evening meal. They both had the virus during that time, although they didn’t know it. I went into the 14-day self-quarantine. Apparently, I emerged okay since I had no symptoms.
However, if one of my parishioners was dying with the coronavirus and asked me to come be with them during their final hours, I would go without hesitation. My wife, who is a retired professor of nursing, understands my position on that. Nurses, doctors, and many others are on the front lines and I believe that clergy should be willing to be there, too.
But there is a biblical reason why I wear a mask. St. Paul, in Romans 14, writes about those who are “weaker.” For the moment, let me assume that people who wear masks are “weaker.” Paul says, “Now accept the one who is weak in faith but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions.” In this case, the issue is eating certain foods. “One man has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only. Let not him who eats regard with contempt him who does not eat. And let not him who does not eat judge him who eats for God has accepted him.”
Read it this way: ““One man has faith that he may not wear a mask in public, but he who is weak wears a mask. Let not him who does not wear a mask regard with contempt him who wears a mask. And let not him who does wear a mask judge him who does not wear one for God has accepted him.” There is also a passage in 1 Corinthians 8 that instructs stronger believers how to regard “weaker” believers.
Truthfully, my choosing to wear a mask is primarily because my not wearing a mask adds to the fears of others. Recently, I visited about ten households in our church that contained “vulnerable” people. With one exception, I did not go into the home but conversed with them while I was outside and several feet away. And I wore a mask. My showing up without one could well have added to their anxiety and that was not something I wanted to do.
On Sunday mornings, I do not wear a mask during the sermon and when I am celebrating Holy Eucharist. I am far more than six feet away. However, a few weeks ago we had a baptism and I wore a mask. Two weeks ago, I served Communion at the altar and I wore a mask. If someone does get sick, I do not want to be the cause.
If someone chooses not to wear a mask, or if they do choose to wear a mask, they are responsible for their own actions. As the Apostle Paul says, it is not up to me to judge. As far as I know, there are no laws, at least in my immediate area, that dictate what we must do regarding masks for consumers. So, at least for the time being, I choose to wear a mask.
[David Epps is the Rector of the Cathedral of Christ the King (www.ctk.life). During the crisis, the church is live streaming at 10:00 a.m. on Sundays at http://www.facebook.com/cctksharpsburg/ He is the bishop of the Diocese of the Mid-South He may contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.]