COVID-19 and masks: schism or disagreement

New Warhorn Media post by Tim Bayly:

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Excellent. Thank you.

Question, given the local context would you say that a Christian warning other Christians about the present risks and growth of COVID-19, is the same as heaping condemnation on our brothers?

I have been sounding the alarm for some time, long before my home state became the number 1 in the world for daily deaths per capita. We’ve had friends hospitalized and admit they didn’t head the warnings. I’ve even had work contacts die before scheduled meetings. But over and over again, so many within the church just dismiss those things outright and just say they don’t even believe the numbers. But clearly they are believing someone’s analysis and discernment.

The rejection of all evidence seem stiff necked and rebellious. Thoughts.

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I honestly don’t understand why mask-wearing has become such a big deal, either as submission to a ruling by the civil magistrate or as a courtesy to others who fear disease, however well-founded or not. For me, it comes down to two questions. The first is whether COVID-19 is a judgement from God on America and the church therein. I think the answer must be yes, and if so, I would think repentance and humility are called for. The second question is whether the civil magistrate is specifically persecuting Christians and trying to suppress churches, or whether the magistrate simply has little understanding or appreciation of worship in general. Here I think all the evidence points to the latter rather than the former, and if so, I would think Christians should first try to humbly work within the system to petition the magistrate and appeal to the courts to obtain the desired remedies. Yes, some initial court decisions went against churches, but they aren’t the final word, and as the situation continues to develop a more favorable outcome may result. If we believe high-handed defiance and a claim to follow God rather than man should not be the first response when a wife disagrees with her husband or a church member disagrees with the officers, we need to lead by example when it comes to church officers and the civil magistrate.

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Thanks for saying this. It must be said more often. It’s not informing those who are using this as an opportunity to demonstrate their righteousness before men.

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I’m baffled by this also, Joel. Masks seem to me to be a pretty reasonable precaution in the midst of what we are facing. I’m open to arguments that they are unhelpful–the micron measurements and such–but I’m mystified by the arguments that masks are harmful. It seems unlikely to me in the extreme that they are harmful, and circumstantial evidence from other countries in Asia and Europe seems to indicate that they are quite useful.

The same can be said from the other side about such eminently reasonable steps as shutting down flights from China and later Europe.

Nothing about our response as a country to Covid has given me much encouragement about our long-term future as a country. It is sad to see Christians not submitting to such simple public health directives, and contributing to the ongoing divisions in our country. Americans are truly a stiff-necked and rebellious people, and we will reap a judgment from God for this. (I include myself in this, by the way. I strongly empathize with the attitude of, “You can’t tell me what to do!” It is critical that we obey all of God’s instructions and not just the ones we find convenient or palatable at the moment.)

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My sister in San Diego tells me that many churches there simply ignore the governor’s order against singing, and the governor doesn’t try to enforce it.

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A lot of what governors are commanding is simply political theatre, not meant seriously—as we saw in Michigan, where the governor’s husband was surprised when he couldn’t rent a vacation cottage. There is a hard question about what it means to submit to the authorities when so often the authorities don’t seem to expect anyone to actually do the foolish things they tell us.

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Here is a serious question. What if singing in worship, even with masks, does substantially increase the risk of transmission of COVID-19? Do we still sing in worship? One of our members told our Session that he was willing and wanting to accept the risks of fully participating in all of the elements of worship as regularly practiced, but the civil magistrate is not so concerned with our own members getting sick but with our members getting infected from participating in worship and then transmitting the disease to others outside of our church. This seems to be a non-negligible threat considering that some mildly infected people can widely spread the disease.

I understand that there are a lot of unknowns about COVID transmission and that people are regularly doing things outside of church that are just as risky as singing, so my question is more one of principle than one of practice. But I note that a lot of Christians seem to be focused on self and their desire to worship as they want without much thought for the impact on others. So is there any point at which we would not engage in some worship practice out of concern for transmission of disease beyond the walls of the church? Is the current situation one like Dan. 6:6-10 or one like Amos 5:21-23?

Here in Australia, (in our Church) we are moving back to gathered meetings, but there will be no singing, but there will be what has been termed “lyric videos” and we can mouth or hum.

Actually makes me want to stay at home, because we’ve been singing there, but I understand the reasoning.

No singing, like masks, are reasonable accommodations that allow people to go about their lives, just with some inconveniences attached. We were not meant to live at home for weeks on end bingeing Netflix and amusing ourselves to death.

Beyond the cruelty of denying people human contact, the devastating economic costs of lockdowns mean they should be used very sparingly, only when there is no other option. As John Ioaniddis has said, lockdowns are the “nuclear option.”

CNBC reports that according to the group Apartment List, one third of Americans missed their housing payments for July.

For the sake of consistency, we who have complained about undue virus panic ought not turn around and stoke economic panic, yet there are worrying signs out there. We are in uncharted territory, so the recovery could be swift, but on the other hand, maybe not. It’s reason enough to demand a very high standard of proof for drastic measures while being willing to tolerate less drastic inconveniences.

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My own take is singing is irrepressible in the Christian for good reason. We sing as the songbird sings, in praise of our Maker and Redeemer. But I would defer to my session if they decided otherwise after a good argument. I would not resign as a matter of conscience. Love,

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This is what John Knox and the Lords of the Congregation led the people to do time and again under the reign of the queen regent, who was openly partial to Roman Catholicism’s errors. When she forbade public protestant preaching, Knox preached house to house in private meetings and appealed on behalf of the Congregation to the queen regent in person and in letters such as this one from 1558, appealing again over matters she had ignored and even scoffed at two years before.

Knox repeatedly put his very life on the line in opposing his rulers’ restrictions on protestant worship. But he did this from a position of obedience and submission. Yet over time he did not fall silent, settling into “there’s no point in resisting anymore, we tried that and failed”; on the contrary, over time as the rulers’ opposition to right doctrine and practice became clearer he argued all the more vehemently, and increasingly, for the authorities to do right. Obeying God rather than man was necessary at times too.

Coming back around to the quote then, I look at Knox, a man of valor who never backed down from the truth and yet had an attitude of submission in everything (including even when forbidden from holding public worship services!) while petitioning the authority; and then I look at those who quickly jump to disobedience, and I say these quick disobeyers’ actions are vastly different from those of Knox. Opposites, even.

Next someone may say, well it was necessary to submit there in Scotland because the ruler had more sweeping powers given him, but not here because of our constitution? But look at the queen regent’s shaky foundation as not really the Queen (I don’t believe there was ever a coronation where she was formally accepted as ruler by the people; she was from France; she was a woman…)—her legitimacy as a ruler, especially when she made unpopular or wrong decisions, could have been rejected on a number of grounds if that’s what someone was looking for. Clear duty to submit then, but it’s all a fog now? Sorry, I don’t see it.

So I’m agreeing with you @Joel.

(My main sources are Knox’s 5-volume History of the Reformation of Religion in the Realm of Scotland and the Calendar of the State Papers relating to Scotland from those years; the letter to the queen regent comes to us from that Calendar.)

Love,

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I think I mostly agree with you. However, in our system, the magistrate is under the law as are the people (even during an epidemic). If a governor gives an order that a Christian believes to be contrary to the law of the land does he not have the right to challenge it? Is a Christian violating Romans 13 when he refuses to submit to what he considers an unlawful (unconstitutional) order?

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Hi Michael,

I don’t know if you were replying to me, but I would say that given the broad emergency powers governors have it’s hard to make a case that what they do is against the law of the land. The recourse you have by law varies, but in Indiana the legislature can put a stop to a governor-declared state of emergency. So you can pressure your legislators if you think the governor is going too far.

If the Christian believes that the state of emergency itself was wrongfully declared though, I would caution, to whom has the authority been given to declare that state of emergency, the governor or the individual? Does it take a majority of individuals not believing that the governor’s declaration of a state of emergency to be rightfully done for it to be vetoed? A supermajority? Or is each individual who doesn’t believe a state of emergency truly exists free to proceed as if the governor has not declared a state of emergency, and only the individuals who believe a state of emergency truly exists bound to submit to the governor’s emergency powers under state law? Sounds like anarchy to me, or every man doing what is right in his own eyes.

I’m not sure if that was the direction you were heading.

Love,

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Yes, that’s what I am wondering about. I’m not concerned about masks per se. My point is that our U.S. system gives us the right to challenge a law that we believe is unconstitutional.

For example, here in New York we were at one time limited to 10 person gatherings for worship. Given that some church buildings have a seating capacity of more than 1000, I believed that law to be ridiculous and thought that churches were right to defy it. If it went to court, I believed that the law would ultimately be struck down.

I personally don’t mind wearing a mask. However, given that the use of cloth masks to prevent the transmission of COVID is not backed up by scientific evidence and is really little more than a hunch, I think the legality of the mandate to be questionable and would not fault a person for challenging it.

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If there is an actual intent to challenge the law through the legal system setup for that purpose, then of course there is no problem with that. It’s another thing entirely to encourage people to simply ignore the law.

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Right, but isn’t one of the ways that we challenge an unconstitutional law by defying it?

Also, sometimes governments don’t enforce laws because they don’t want them challenged in court because they don’t believe they will hold up.

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Yes. That is sometimes the only way to get standing to challenge a law.

There are a few places where we’ve seen laws challenged. Mostly a lot of complaining and defying with no actual intent to challenge legally, or even bother to lookup the laws.

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Yeah I agree. I can’t believe the people who so are actually looking at primary source documents on the dangers and limitations of masks, the actual data from the CDC and The WHO on the (lack of) serious danger from this novel coronavirus (survival rate of 99.96… lack of danger to children…)… the seriousness of underlying conditions (usually arising from lifestyle choices-- such as insulin resistance, COPD, obesity & diabetes)… the research done over the past 15 years on what works to curb pandemics and what doesn/t) (hint: masks, extra hand washing & extra cleaning DONT work)… the research, again done since the 80s at least, on the effects and limitations of masks of various types… Can’t believe all those people who actually read that stuff for themselves and then live accordingly. I mean most people call that wisdom & discernment… not stiff-necked rebellion, but tomatOH tomAHto, right? rolls eyes to back of head

Yes, I’m seriously offended and annoyed by your statement.

ETA re- typo: I was confusing the total who have died from Covid in the US (estimated at 138K) in proportion to the total population of the US: 331,002,651… that’s a .04% death rate overall (ie 99.96% of Americans have not died of Covid)… but that is not actually the number I meant to cite, which is 99.75% survival of those who have been infected. I explain that number in my answer.

Masks are a medical treatment/intervention. As such they belong firmly in the sphere of the family/individual to decide. NOT the church… and certainly NOT the state. (Does the church or the state dictate diet & exercise? Does it dictate bedtimes for your kids? Does it dictate medications used or not used? Does it dictate what type of discipline or incentives you use? NO. Same should be true of masks. It’s no one’s business but your family’s what you decide to do for your own family’s health.)

We are called to do everything in love, to be good stewards of what we have been given (including our bodies, which have been bought with a price & as such are not our own)… but how that works out can look very different person to person & family to family and that is up. to. the. family. not. the. state. And not the church either.