Before I start, let me state very clearly that I support the use of face masks to slow the spread of COVID-19 and that I was wearing a mask in public places before it was mandated by state government or county government. I have never opposed the use of face masks as a public health measure.
With that said, it is clear that face masks have become much more than a tool for pandemic mitigation. They have become a symbol for some people to proclaim their own righteousness and condemn those who disagree with the policy as “sinners” or worse. Take a look at some of the social media posts about masking and some of the videos of how people react to those not wearing masks.
My social media feed is filled with people condemning others for not wearing masks, despite the fact that most people are complying with mask mandates. Even in areas where there is no mandate, people are masking up: PR Newswire reports that 82% of people in Georgia reported wearing a mask in public, despite the fact that the state did not have a mask mandate. So is the problem that people are not wearing masks, or is this a way for people to proclaim themselves more righteous than their neighbors?
There is a significant spiritual danger here. Our hope is in the righteousness of Jesus Christ, not whether or not we put a piece of cloth over our faces. Our approach to face masks should be one of love for our neighbor and respectful submission to reasonable orders from the civil magistrate to restrain a pandemic and save lives. See Matthew 22:36-40, 1 Peter 2:13-17 and Romans 13 for Biblical principles on this.
It is critical to recognize that the improper use of a thing does not invalidate the proper use of that thing. Throughout all of human history, people have turned good things into idols. But it is nonetheless important for churches to warn against this idolatry and for individual Christians to be aware of this idolatry. We must guard our hearts against pride and self-righteousness as we work through a global pandemic.