You will know by now that masks are no longer required in most situations, including in church. But people are still intending to wear a mask in church. Why would anyone want to do that? Benjamin Shuhyta* has prepared this Q&A to help you work through the issues and come to your own decision:
Do I have to wear a mask in church?
No, they are no longer required by law, whether you’re vaccinated or not.
Am I free to take my mask off, even to sing?
Yes, you are free to take your mask off.
Am I free to wear a mask anyway?
Yes, you are free to wear a mask. Masks are not required, but they are not prohibited either.
What’s the benefit of a mask?
A mask has been shown to be effective in suppressing the spread of airborne viruses like COVID-19, by acting as a physical barrier between a person’s lungs and the air around them. https://newsroom.unsw.edu.au/news/health/video-shows-just-how-easily-covid-19-could-spread-when-people-sing-together
Who would want to wear a mask when it’s not legally required?
Put simply, we are still in a pandemic. Some people don’t want to catch COVID-19, because it will affect their health, the health of their young children, or the health of vulnerable family members who need more protection. Others might wear a mask because they don’t want to risk being asymptomatic carriers, spreading it to others unknowingly. They want to participate in community life, but they want to do it in a safe way, going beyond the law. This could be compared to drivers who put their headlights on in the day, even though it’s not required by law.
Isn’t wearing a mask a violation of my freedom?
Australians have great freedoms that we should be proud of. But we’re already comfortable with restricting our freedoms when circumstances require it. There’s no legal requirement, for example, to wear shoes: I’m free not to do so. But do I turn up to church without shoes just to show my freedom? No. Freedom means being free to choose. If freedom meant being forced to do something, then it would not be freedom at all.
What does the Bible say?
First, Jesus says we are to love our neighbour (Mark 12:31). Loving our neighbour might sometimes mean foregoing certain freedoms for the sake of another: for example, when we give up our free time in order to help a neighbour. Further, in 1 Corinthians 8:9, Paul discusses freedom versus love, when dealing with one group of people who wanted the freedom to eat certain food, and others who were offended by the practice. He finds that people are free to eat what they want, but that sometimes it would be loving to go without. He comes up with this helpful direction: “Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak.”
Is there a wrong reason for wearing a mask in church?
Actually, yes. There is at least one reason that’s clearly wrong: if you have COVID, or if you have flu symptoms, this is the wrong reason to attend church in a mask. Rather, please avoid church, and any gathering. A mask might suppress the spread of COVID-19, but if you have symptoms, isolation is the more loving option. There is also a legal requirement for people with flu-like symptoms to isolate, and to get a COVID-test. Coming to church, even in a mask, would not only be inconsiderate, it would expose your fellow churchgoers to risk of infection, and it would also be illegal, and unloving.
Is there a wrong reason for removing my mask in church?
This is the key question. I can’t decide for you, but is your reason for removing your mask solely about individual freedom? Is your reason for removing your mask about better communication? About being able to smile and encourage someone? Is smiling the best way you can show love, or is it even more loving to control the spread of COVID-19? How can you best love your neighbour in this situation? It might, in some cases, mean you give up a small amount of freedom for the benefit of our most vulnerable.
*Benjamin Shuhyta is an Elder of the Presbyterian Church. A former broadcast journalist, Benjamin currently serves as Pastoral Assistant at Port Macquarie Presbyterian Church, which he attends with his wife and two children.