Does Leviticus 13:45-46 Advise Wearing Masks to Stop the Spread of Disease?

As of this writing, the COVID pandemic continues and variants threaten to render our vaccines ineffective. Discussions on whether or not to reinstate stricter lockdowns and mandates have reemerged. Leviticus 13:45-46 has trended online because a cursory reading of this verse seems to suggest that people should cover their faces when they have a disease.

“The leprous person who has the disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean.’ He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease. He is unclean. He shall live alone. His dwelling shall be outside the camp.”

Leviticus 13:45-46, ESV

Naturally, people want to know whether this verse suggests wearing masks to stop the spread of disease and whether quarantines are justified. I still believe that the responsible use of masks, quarantines, and vaccines is warranted during this pandemic. These measures are compatible with biblical ethics. However, I do not believe that God commands mask-wearing and quarantining per Leviticus 13 to stop the spread of disease.

Confusing a passage’s application with its interpretation is a common mistake that readers can commit. We have to resist the urge to jump to an application without first knowing the author’s intent and how the original recipients understood it.

Many things about life are perennial throughout time and cultures. However, we can’t assume that ancient people always understood things the way we do today. Nor can we always assume that they did things for the same reasons that we do now.

Germ theory states that microorganisms such as bacteria and viruses cause disease, and it is well accepted by scientists. Most people accept this theory and are familiar with ways to prevent diseases. However, we must realize that ancient people likely did not understand germ theory. Ancient people had no awareness of microorganisms.

Leviticus 13:45-46 is about keeping death from life. The notes in the ESV Reformation Study Bible explain:

13:1–14:57 These chapters contain God’s laws concerning unclean skin diseases referred to as “leprous disease” (13:2, 8). Modern physicians recognize here the symptoms of various modern complaints, but we should remember that the biblical classification is based primarily on spiritual rather than hygienic or medical considerations. The key principle in identifying a skin disease as “unclean” was whether the skin seemed to be rotting away, suggesting the spiritual principle of death. Patchy complaints amounted to uncleanness (vv. 9, 10), but a complaint affecting the whole body did not (vv. 12, 13). Stable conditions were clean, but deteriorating ones were unclean (vv. 5–8, 18–37). Similar principles applied to the diagnosis of uncleanness in clothing: progressive mildews were unclean (vv. 47–52), but stable ones were clean (vv. 53–58). The close association of uncleanness with death is shown in 13:45. The person afflicted with a serious skin disease behaved as a mourner (21:10). He was excluded from the camp, not to protect the health of Israel, but because God was in the camp and uncleanness (death) had to be separated from the presence of God (life).

ESV Reformation Study Bible

Not all skin conditions were considered ceremonially unclean, as shown in chapter 13. However, leprosy was associated with death. In his commentary on Leviticus 13:45-46, Martin Noth explains that lepers made themselves unrecognizable by covering their mouths and looked like they were morning for the dead (p. 106). They called out “unclean” as a warning to others, who presumably came by to deliver food and drink, and isolated themselves until the disease ended.

Some of the laws in Leviticus coincidentally align with modern practices for healthy living and good hygiene. However, that is neither the book’s intent nor the passage’s. The rotting skin of leprosy is death. Death was brought about by sin, which came from Adam and Eve’s disobedience towards God (Genesis 3). Sin literally means to “miss the mark,” and that mark is God’s standard for righteousness. Sin is evil, and anything evil is contrary to God’s established order for the universe. Therefore, death caused by leprosy is evil and it cannot be in God’s presence.

Leviticus describes how God’s people were to approach Him before Jesus died on the cross for the world’s sin. It foreshadows what took place on the first Easter (Romans 3:25). Jesus fulfilled the ceremonial law, so we do not uphold it today. Nevertheless, the principles found in Leviticus 13 and the Old Testament ceremony are still applicable.

We should also note that Jesus, who is God the Son, approached lepers to heal them because He has made clean what was once unclean (Mark 1:40-45). We might not necessarily experience skin diseases like leprosy today. Still, we remain spiritually dead to the things of God until He breathes life back into our souls. Unable to approach God or else face His wrath in our sinful state, He poured out His wrath on Jesus as our substitute. We now have the privilege to be in God’s presence, receive the Holy Spirit, and be transformed into His likeness. Jesus Christ died for our sins so that all who die in Him shall be resurrected to life in the end.

Abuse, Divorce, and Remarriage

There is an increased awareness of abuse and how women are often the victims. Recent movements like #MeToo and #ChurchToo have tried to raise awareness. It is shocking that some of the accused or their enablers are Christian leaders. These scandals have caused the debate over divorce to erupt once again in churches, especially among conservative evangelical Christians. What are the biblical grounds for divorce? Christians have debated this issue for centuries. Is abuse such grounds?

Sincere Christians who have a high view of both Scripture and marriage disagree on this issue. I humbly, with no dogmatic attitude, share my convictions on this sensitive topic. I hope to demonstrate from Scripture that abuse is a ground for divorce in a particular application of 1 Corinthians 7:15-16.

Different Views on Divorce

We will now briefly examine the historical views of the Church. A brief outline of contemporary views will follow. 

Before the Reformation

Michael Gorman traces the history of Christian perspectives on divorce and remarriage. He says:

In the early church, many voices addressed the subjects of marriage, divorce, and remarriage, but their message, on the whole, was quite unified. Christian marriage, they said, is an indissoluble bond. Divorce, with the implicit right of remarriage, was not an option for Christian couples (though Origen admits some toleration existed), but permanent separation was. Remarriage after separation was considered punishable adultery or bigamy—sometimes more so for women than men. Even remarriage after the death of one’s spouse was viewed by the church fathers and councils with suspicion, as “disguised adultery,” in the words of Athenagoras.

In the case of religiously “mixed” marriages, church councils sometimes took a more lenient view, invoking the so-called Pauline privilege of permissible separation (1 Cor. 7) as legitimate grounds for allowing a convert to divorce a pagan spouse and then marry a Christian. 

“Divorce and Remarriage from Augustine to Zwingli.” Christianity Today. https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2000/augustweb-only/46.0c.html, paragraphs 1-2.

Gorman says that Augustine was the first to consider marriage a sacrament. Augustine’s view became predominant among Western churches. Augustine, in other Gorman says that Augustine was the first to consider marriage a sacrament. Augustine’s view became predominant among Western churches. Augustine, in other words, viewed marriage as a means of receiving God’s grace. He opposed remarriage even after cases of adultery. If marriage is a sacrament, then divorce is akin to rejecting the Lord’s Supper or renouncing one’s baptism. Eastern Christianity, however, was more lenient about divorce and remarriage than in the West. Eastern Christians allowed divorce after adultery and other serious offenses. Remarriage often occurred after a lengthy separation.

During the Reformation

Western Christianity split into Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. The Protestant Reformers reacted against the sacramental view of marriage after finding no scriptural basis for it being a means of receiving God’s grace. Gorman explains the Reformers’ views:

According to the Bible, . . . marriage is certainly holy and is in principle indissoluble, but there are certain acts that break the marriage bond and hence permit divorce and remarriage. The Reformers could not agree, however, on the legitimate grounds—scriptural or otherwise—for divorce.

“Divorce and Remarriage from Augustine to Zwingli” in Christianity Today, https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2000/augustweb-only/46.0c.html, “The Reformers” section, paragraph 1.

Gorman elaborates on each of the major reformers’ views. Martin Luther believed that divorce is an acceptable last resort in cases of infidelity, impotence, refusal of marital relations, and desertion. Luther strongly supported remarriage for the offended party. John Calvin permitted divorce as a last resort due to adultery or desertion. The radical reformers, such as the Anabaptists and Hutterites, agreed that adultery is a legitimate ground for divorce, but they divided over desertion. Ulrich Zwingli and Martin Bucer were the liberals of their day. Roman Catholics banned all divorce and remarriage in their response to the reformers’ views during the Council of Trent, but they permitted separations.

Contemporary Views

Protestants could not find a consensus on the grounds for divorce, so their debate continues into the present day. According to Daniel Akin, there are four major views today: the unlawful marriage view, the betrothal view, the patristic view, and the Protestant-Evangelical view.

The unlawful marriage view permits divorce in cases of incestuous marriages (Lev. 18:6-18). Its advocates believe these are the cases Jesus speaks about in Matthew 5:31- 32; 19:1-12, but they divide over whether remarriage is permissible.

The betrothal view believes that the Bible permits divorce only in the case of fornication while a couple is engaged (Matthew 5:31- 32; 19:1-12). The Bible never permits divorce once the couple marries.

The patristic view is named after the predominant view among the Church Fathers. According to this view, the Bible only permits divorce in the case of adultery (Matt. 5:31- 32; 19:1-12). Remarriage is not permitted.

The Protestant-Evangelical view believes spouses should reconcile and have their marriage restored, but it permits divorce in the cases of adultery (Matt. 5:31- 32; 19:1-12) or abandonment by an unbeliever (1 Corinthians 7:15). Most believe the innocent party may remarry if the failed marriage is deemed irreconcilable. Per 2 Corinthians 5:12, some believe a divorcee may remarry without fault if the divorce occurred before converting to Christianity.

Akin believes the unlawful marriage view and betrothal view have weak arguments because they do not seem to fit the Scriptures’ total context. The patristic view has its strengths, especially since it was the prominent view among those relatively closer to the Apostles’ time. The Protestant-Evangelical view is the most common among conservative evangelicals, but this view is not unanimous. There is disagreement within the Protestant-Evangelical view over whether abuse is a form of separation and whether lust is a form of adultery.

The Controversy

The debate centers around the meaning of Jesus’ statements in Matthew 5:31- 32; 19:3-12 (Mark 10:1-12 and Luke 16:18 are more concise) and Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 7. The controversies usually center around Jesus’ intended usage of the Greek word porneia (“sexual immorality”) in Matthew 5:31- 32; 19:1-12. Is porneia fornication, adultery, or sexual immorality in general? Does porneia include persistent, unrepentant lust such as viewing pornography? Second, what is Paul’s intended usage of the Greek word chorizo (“to separate, abandon, or desert”) in 1 Corinthians 7:15? Is “separation” only a request to leave a marriage, physical abandonment, or does it include other rifts in a relationship such as abuse? The proper interpretations of other passages in the Old Testament on marriage have been debated because it is the background of these passages. 

Becoming One Flesh

Genesis 2:18-25 tells us that a man leaves his family to cleave to his wife, and the two become one flesh. The marriage permeance view teaches that since spouses become one when they are married, their beings are somehow fused together. In other words, it teaches that spouses lose their individuality and can never be separated. 

William Luck, however, observes that cleave in Hebrew (dabag) means to be glued firmly together. Cementing bricks together illustrates the Hebrew meaning. The bricks lose their independence, but they do not lose their individuality. Stress from the elements could cause fractures that loosen the bricks from each other. The fractures must be repaired if the two are to remain united. If one brick is severely damaged, it could be replaced. Likewise, Luck explains, spouses cleave to one another and lose their independence, but they do not lose their individuality. Luck, in conclusion, says: 

I would regard cleave, in the Old Testament, as implying a bonding of two individuals that emphasizes intended, but not ontological, permanency. Implying intention, the term is really closer to the idea of covenant than it is to a bonding of being.

Divorce and remarriage: Recovering the Biblical View, p. 10.

Luck observes that becoming one flesh is the start of a new closely intertwined family relationship:

But their relationship is not for that reason permanent in fact, though their marriage ought to remain intact until death parts them. The marriage relation is not best typified by mere sexuality, by terms of mystery or an ontological union of spirits. It is a bond based upon intention. It is the establishment of a kinship relationship between two people that, in spite of death or divorce, has ongoing ramifications for them and/or their near kin.

Divorce and remarriage: Recovering the Biblical View, p. 22.

The Old Testament Certificate of Divorce

Moses permitted the Israelite men to divorce their wives and remarry with regulations with a certificate of divorce (Deuteronomy 24:1-4). The Bible, therefore, recognizes the reality of broken marriages in a sinful, fallen world. Jesus would later comment in Matthew 19:3-12 that the reason for the certificate is the hardness of hearts (see Genesis 2:18-25). We can infer that the divorce certificate is certainly not part of God’s design. Still, it is a “concession for the protection and welfare of an innocent victim” according to Akin (2012, p. 6). Commenting on the historical context of this passage, Akin says that “a woman’s ‘put away’ status left her in a precarious situation, perhaps leading to either starvation or prostitution” (2012, p. 6). Permission to remarry to protect a woman who was ‘put away’ is perhaps why God conceded to the divorce certificates.

Malachi 2:13-16

Malachi 2:13-16 is often cited as another passage that universally prohibits divorce. “God hates divorce,” the passage is often paraphrased. Still, it is not certain if that paraphrase is a faithful translation of the passage in question. It is unclear what the direct object is in Hebrew, so there are different possible translations. Does Malachi say that God hates divorce, as many translations have rendered it? Is the object of God’s hatred a man who divorces his wife (e.g., Contemporary English Bible)? Then again, is Malachi referring to a man who hates his wife by divorcing her (e.g., New International Version)?

Regardless of which translation is correct, we can infer that God looks unfavorably upon divorce in general, but should this passage be understood as a prohibition against all divorces? The historical context of the passage may indicate not. Malachi is a contemporary of Ezra. God may be responding to the unwarranted divorce of foreign wives (who worshiped other gods), as recorded in Ezra 10:2-12. Although they should not have married foreign wives per the covenant, it was equally wrong to divorce them. Despite the people’s wrongdoing, a careful examination of the passage from Ezra shows that God did not command them to divorce their wives, nor was it really Ezra’s idea. Malachi’s passage should not be applied as a universal prohibition on all divorces but a prohibition on divorces that are not allowed by the concessions provided in God’s law.

Hosea

The story of Hosea is often used to teach that divorce is never possible. In this narrative, God tells the prophet Hosea to marry an unfaithful wife and be faithful to her. Indeed, that is true. However, Hosea’s marriage is not typical because it is supposed to illustrate Israel’s unfaithfulness to the covenant God made with them (Hosea 1:2). Using Hosea’s marriage as an example for all marriages is not appropriate. The misuse of this passage is an example of taking an illustration meant for one situation and applying it to something entirely different: That is a dangerous approach to biblical interpretation. Hosea does not illustrate a healthy, restored relationship between spouses: It illustrates the strained relationship between God and Israel.

Jesus’ Teaching

With the Old Testament background examined, what are we to make of Jesus’ teachings on divorce in the New Testament? Jesus says in Matthew 5:31-32 (and in 19:3-12), “I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for a matter of sexual immorality, causes her to commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery” (Lexham English Bible). 

Like the previously examined passages, we need to understand the audience of Jesus’ teachings. Jesus addresses Jews, God’s people, in these passages. The audience should be aware of God’s law. God’s people should not divorce except for sexual immorality. With sexual morality being the exception mentioned by Jesus, innocent believers are free to divorce and remarry in that case. Divorcing or remarrying for any other reason is not permitted. 

Paul’s Teaching

Paul addresses Christians in 1 Corinthians, many of them former pagans, who still lived in a pagan society. It was common for one spouse to come to faith in Christ while the other remained pagan. Considering this, we should consider the context of the recipients in this passage.

Paul affirms all that Jesus teaches (see Romans 7:1-3 and 1 Corinthians 7:10-11, 39). However, we see it is also permissible to remarry “only in the Lord” after a spouse’s death. Also, Paul affirms that both believing spouses should never divorce. Even if a separated, believing couple cannot be reconciled, this does not give either the freedom to divorce or remarry. The one who remarries another is guilty of adultery.

Paul introduces additional teachings in 1 Corinthians 7:12-16 that pertain to mixed-faith marriages, where one spouse is a believing Christian, but the other is not. He says there is no reason for Christians to divorce or leave their unbelieving spouse if there is peaceful consent to live with one another (7:12-14). However, there is a justification for divorce if an unbelieving spouse desires one, and there is an irreconcilable division between them that disrupts the household’s peace (7:15). Paul says that the innocent Christian “is not bound” (or literally not enslaved) to this situation. Hans Conzelmann comments, “the Christian is not subjected to any constraint because of the pagan’s behavior” (1975, p. 123). “Not enslaved” means the innocent party is free from the marriage’s obligations. David Garland (2003) summarizes Paul’s intentions in 1 Corinthians 7:15. He says:

Paul’s primary goal in this passage is to argue against a Christian dissolving his or her marriage to an unbelieving spouse for spurious reasons. He disallows remarriage in the case of Christian’s divorcing Christians in 7:11 and argues against changing one’s status in 7:17-24. But in 7:17-24, he also allows for an exception in the case of the slave obtaining freedom. In the same way, the one who has been divorced would be permitted to move from being married to being set free by divorce to being married again.

1 Corinthians, p. 296.

Garland cautions, though, that the “answer to the question of divorce and remarriage need not be settled from this text alone. Other texts and other factors must weigh in,” including principles that Paul discusses in chapter seven (2003, p. 296). The factors that may encourage remarriage might include continuing sexual urges that could lead to lust and fornication, not having the gift of celibacy, a life of destitution, etc.

Is Abuse Grounds for Divorce?

My conclusion is much like that of the Westminster divines as they wrote the Westminster Confession of Faith (24:6). Though they believed adultery is the primary grounds for divorce, they:

also saw that under certain circumstances desertion could be a grounds for divorce, and physical abuse could be the basis of a desertion, the spouse guilty of the abuse being reputed as the deserter even though the other one may have departed. Before such a situation could be the grounds for a divorce, however, a sufficient time would have to expire for the efforts of both church and civil magistrate to seek to achieve a reconciliation . 

Ad Hoc Committee of the Philadelphia Presbytery. (1992). “The Westminster Divines on Divorce for Physical Abuse.” PCA Historical Centerhttps://www.pcahistory.org/pca/digest/studies/2-267.pdf, pages 279-280.

I am convinced that the abused may seek a divorce if the abusive party creates an environment where the abused spouse and children must flee for safety (or would flee if free to do so). However, divorce can only be an option provided that the abuser is either an unbeliever or excommunicated through church discipline for his blasphemous actions. The abuser does not necessarily have to physically depart from the home because he has already torn the one-flesh relationship and broken the marriage convent with his actions. Furthermore, the abuse must be reported to the authorities to bring the abuser to justice as part of his restoration.

Suppose the abuser demonstrates that he is not sincerely repentant by continuing with more abuse and control. In that case, he does not have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and he is an unbeliever. How can we know that he will be saved through the marriage (1 Corinthians 7:16)? He is not willing to live peacefully and clearly does not understand Christian marriage. The couple is not married in that case. Otherwise, separation is the only option for two believers unless adultery is involved. If two believing Christians divorce each other, they deny that the Holy Spirit indwelling them can restore their broken relationship.

Not long ago, as of this writing, Wayne Grudem changed his position on abuse and divorce. A staunch defender of biblical marriage, he took the position for many years that abuse cannot be grounds for divorce. His research in the Greek phrase for “in such cases” might suggest that Paul would have abuse in mind as he wrote 1 Corinthians 7:15. Grudem says in an interview with Morgan Lee:

“I did something that I don’t think anybody else has done before, I did a search of ‘in such cases,’ as it’s used in that phrase, in literature outside the New Testament. I analyzed 52 other examples of that expression and I found it in a number of examples. The phrase ‘in such cases’ referred to more kinds of situations than the original example that was being discussed.” 

“Wayne Grudem Tells Us Why He Changed His Divorce Position.” Christianity Today. https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2019/december-web-only/wayne-grudem-divorce-abuse-complementarianism.html, “Would you mind reading the Scriptures you mentioned and unpacking them a little bit?” section, paragraph 3.

If Grudem is correct, then abuse may be grounds for divorce because of what Paul teaches and not despite it. 

Works Cited

Ad Hoc Committee of the Philadelphia Presbytery. (1992). The westminster divines on divorce for physical abuse. PCA Historical Center. https://www.pcahistory.org/pca/digest/studies/2-267.pdf

Akin, D. (2012). Jesus, the bible, divorce and remarriage. http://www.danielakin.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/Mark-10.1-12-Jesus-The-Bible-Divorce-and-Remarriage-Manuscript-kh.pdf.

Conzelmann, H. (1975). 1 Corinthians: A commentary on the first epistle to the Corinthians. Philadelphia: Fortress Press.

Garland, D. E. (2003). 1 Corinthians. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic. 

Gorman, M. (2000). Divorce and remarriage from augustine to zwingli. Christianity Today. https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2000/augustweb-only/46.0c.html

Lee, M. (2019). Wayne grudem tells us why he changed his divorce position. Christianity Today. https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2019/december-web-only/wayne-grudem-divorce-abuse-complementarianism.html

Luck, W. F. (2009). Divorce and remarriage: Recovering the biblical view. Richardson, TX: Biblical Studies Press. 

COVID-19 and the Mask Debate

The year 2020 has been tumultuous so far. Political discourse in America this year has been no exception. The threats posed by the COVID-19 virus have caused debate over the government’s role in responding to deadly pandemics. The controversy centers around some governments issuing “lockdowns” and “mandates” to control the spread of the virus. The latest controversy concerns mandates that require citizens to wear masks in public. Proponents of their use argue that the spread of the virus will slow down if all non-disabled people wear masks in public because masks reduce the number of virus particles that infected people exhale and lower what others inhale. We need to examine the purpose of government and the seriousness of COVID-19 to decide if these mandates are warranted.

The Nature of Government

What is the purpose of the American government? The Declaration of Independence says:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

https://www.archives.gov/founding-docs/declaration-transcript

With the founder’s beliefs about government considered, I argue that the purpose of the American government is to secure the life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness of its citizens.

The Severity of COVID-19

The scientific consensus on how to prevent this disease from spreading has shifted since scientists first identified it. Considering that the virus is new, researchers do not know much about it. Opinions on how the virus behaves and how to protect ourselves from it may change as research continues. As of this writing, the CDC has added the wearing of a mask to its prevention guidelines (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/prevention.html).

COVID-19 is severe and likely deadlier than the flu. Lisa Lockerd Maragakis of Johns Hopkins Medicine explains:

COVID-19: There have been approximately 516,726 deaths reported worldwide. In the U.S, 128,062 people have died of COVID-19, as of July 2, 2020.

Flu: The World Health Organization estimates that 290,000 to 650,000 people die of flu-related causes every year worldwide.

In the U.S., from Oct. 1, 2019 – Apr. 4, 2020, the CDC estimates that 24,000 to 62,000 people died from the flu. (The CDC does not know the exact number because the flu is not a reportable disease in most parts of the U.S.) 

The COVID-19 situation is changing rapidly. Since this disease is caused by a new virus, people do not have immunity to it, and a vaccine may be many months away. Doctors and scientists are working to estimate the mortality rate of COVID-19, but at present, it is thought to be substantially higher than that of most strains of the flu.

https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/coronavirus/coronavirus-disease-2019-vs-the-flu

My Opinion on the Mask Mandates

If the government intends to protect the life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness of its citizens from the threat posed by COVID-19, then mask mandates are warranted. Preventing severe infectious diseases like this coronavirus from spreading is a legitimate function of the government. The government is authorized to protect the lives of citizens.

Of course, the government should not have absolute power. The approach to protecting citizens’ lives should not violate their liberty or pursuit of happiness either. Calls for tracking people, if used unethically, would be an overreach of power for sure. I also fear that some levels of our government may have overstepped their boundaries. Some states and localities have arbitrarily decided what businesses are considered essential, and I do not think they should set that precedent. Complete, total lockdowns have been devastating for the economy, and issuing “stimulus checks” is not sustainable in the long term. Some authorities were reportedly inconsistent during the racial rights protests in 2020, overlooking protesters who were not wearing masks while enforcing the mandate upon others. Some churches and other places of worship understandably felt threatened when some levels of government tried to prevent them from gathering, even restricting those who wanted to gather or worship responsibly.

However, simply asking people to wear a protective mask and be mindful about keeping a distance to slow the spread of this disease and protect the vulnerable is not a violation of one’s liberty or civil rights. Liberty does not mean that people have the absolute right to do whatever they want. Liberty is the freedom to do what is right when an oppressive government is wrong, but the government may not necessarily be wrong in this case. Masks oppress nobody in the context of deadly diseases. Though it may not be comfortable or one’s preference, masks do not hinder anyone’s pursuit of happiness.

It would be better if people better understood the nature of how diseases spread and had a better concern about how their actions affect others. I suppose it is wishful thinking, but we would not need governments telling us how to act if people did what is right to begin with.

Civility and Respect for Government Authority

Readers may disagree with my position, and that is fine. The lack of civility in these matters concerns me the most. I’m puzzled as to why the debate is politically charged. The debate should center around the scientific soundness of whether it is necessary to wear masks in public. Instead, we have public fights and shootings between apparent strangers over masks.

Citizens who believe that their government has overstepped its boundaries have a right to vote their representatives out of office. They have no right, however, to vilify them and those who comply without a basis. Likewise, those who comply have no right to take matters into their own hands by enforcing the government’s mandates.

Biblical Application

Application 1: Respect for Government Authorities

Despite how we might feel about government policies, we should show respect and submit to them as long as they do not ask us to violate God’s moral law. Even if some of us do not agree that wearing a mask is necessary during this outbreak, we can show respect for those who ask us to by wearing one. God is sovereign, and the current administration, despite all its faults and strengths, has been chosen by Him to lead us. 

Complying with and showing respect for government leaders is not the same as worshiping the state. Early Christians rightly did not recognize their emperor as a god, which often led to persecution by the Roman government. However, early Christians did not deny that the emperor was Caesar. They still showed respect for their pagan government leaders. Here are some quotes from Paul’s letters:

Remind them to be subject to the rulers and to the authorities, to obey, to be prepared for every good work.

Titus 3:11 (LEB)

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except by God, and those that exist are put in place by God.

Romans 13:1 (LEB)

Subject yourselves to every human authority for the sake of the Lord, whether to a king as having supreme authority, or to governors as those sent out by him for the punishment of those who do evil and the praise of those who do good.

1 Peter 2:13-14 (LEB)

Application 2: Respect for Life

Pro-life Christians often make abortion their favorite hobbyhorse. Indeed, the testimony of Scripture says that life begins at conception. Christians should argue in favor of policies that preserve and protect the lives of the unborn. Being pro-life, however, should not end at birth. Some people without COVID symptoms may transmit the virus to others without realizing it. Wearing masks is a pro-life act. It helps protect others from a deadly disease, especially people who are vulnerable to dying from it.

Racism: An Affront to the Image of God

Racial tensions have increased recently in the United States after George Floyd’s fatal arrest in Minneapolis, MN. Floyd, a black African-American, was accused of using a counterfeit bill at a convenience store. The police were called, and accusations of racism have been brought against them. The controversy centers around how white officer Derek Chauvin fatally restrained Floyd by kneeling on his neck for over eight minutes.

The Minneapolis Incident

Floyd may have been guilty of the accusation. Still, the nation and even the world criticized the policemen for the way they handled the situation. They restrained Floyd with handcuffs, and some people believe that the amount of force used against him was excessive. The fact that a white officer appears to be at fault has caused another eruption in racial tensions in a country with a history of racism and enslaving African-Americans. Protests throughout the United States and the world took place in response to the incident in Minneapolis.

A Brief History of Racism and Slavery in the United States

Slavery is not a principle upon which the founders established the United States. However, the United States permitted slavery and considered slaves as only three-fifths of a person for determining representation in Congress in its early history is hypocritical. Northern states began to favor abolishing the practice in the days leading up to the American Civil War. The nation fought over the nature of states’ rights, but slavery was the social wedge issue. Southern states argued it was their right to determine for themselves whether or not they would be a “free state” or “slave state.”

After the northern states won the war, the thirteenth amendment to the Constitution officially abolished slavery. Still, it did not stop state or local governments from creating “separate but equal” laws to segregate whites and blacks. These segregation laws were in effect well into the twentieth century. 

The United States has come a long way since its founding in regards to its treatment of minorities. Not long ago, it elected Barack Obama as its first black president for two consecutive terms. Just a few generations ago, civil rights protections for all races were recognized. However, pockets of racism still exist in areas of American life. Some blacks may have their suspicions of whites when incidents like what took place in Minneapolis occur.

Biblical Application

A jury has not yet determined the verdict on the officers’ behavior as of this writing. The news, however, provokes many thoughts. What makes racism morally wrong? Is it the enactment of certain laws that make it wrong? Does a consensus of opinions make it wrong? Does it get determined by whoever wins a war? What objective moral standard is there?

Moral absolutes come from God, our Creator. The Bible gives us the answer to why racism is morally wrong. Genesis 1:27 tells us that God created people in His image (that is to say, in His likeness). The image of God establishes the basis of everyone’s equality. Everyone is a part of His creation. Everyone deserves the same respect and treatment because of it. Just as God’s essence is in the three persons of the Trinity, the likeness of God is in all persons of humanity. Racism and slavery are blasphemous because they depict the Trinity behaving in such ways.

Racism is not just a societal problem. It is a sin problem in the hearts of corrupt and depraved individuals in need of redemption. May God forgive us all when we have failed. May He mend our relationships as the nation moves forward.