An Essay on Personal Rights, Loving One Another, and Christian Witness

Note: I had originally posted this essay in a series of Instagram Stories. It wasn’t the most ideal way to read it. Additionally, I think I hadn’t given enough context for why I feel the way I do about this issue, and at least one friend reached out to me privately to make sure I wasn’t grieved by him. Turns out, I’d made some assumptions about what had been communicated and how that communication would have been interpreted. I realize now, after some conversation with that friend, as well as with my pastor, that maybe things weren’t as clear as I thought they were. I’ve also come to realize in a better sense how everyone views every situation through their own lens of experience, knowledge, and set of assumptions. Of course, that’s something I already knew, but it’s easy to forget. I’m grateful for the reminders.

Additional opening comments:

  • Check my “About Me” page on this blog for more about my history, interests and how I view the world, in general.
  • My sister and brother-in-law are permanent guardians for two of the State of Oregon’s most medically fragile children. These kiddos are literally a part of my family, as if they’d been born to my sister. The younger of them has an autoimmune disorder in which his body does not create antibodies. This, he has no natural means to fight infection. The older of the two is now legally an adult, he along with another adult foster person who has lived with them for over 15 years and whom we also consider to be part of our family, means my sister’s home is considered an adult foster care facility. If you’ll remember back to the beginning days of the COVID-19 pandemic really hitting the U.S. the primary hotspots where densely populated international cities and adult care homes. So since before the rest of us were on lockdown, my sisters family (which also includes 5 other kids) have been quarantined at home. These cousins also happen to be my son’s very best friends. We’ve canceled holiday plans, birthday parties, joint family vacations and more in order to show our care for them. So this pandemic has affected my family more than many others in my social circles.
  • I know people personally who have lost previously healthy loved ones to this virus.
  • Finally, at the time of writing and initially posting this essay to my Instagram, those two very vulnerable nephews on mine were in critical condition in the hospital for a variety of reasons. My sister has essentially lived in the PICU with her very sick and potentially on the verge of death kids for a month, and I haven’t bee able to give her a break, or give her a hug, or see my nephews one last time should the worst outcomes happen.

All of that to say: This topic is personal for me.

I’m primarily concerned about our Christian witness and loving one another well, not my personal safety or following the letter of the law. And I’m not at all concerned about “liberty” outside of my liberation from slavery to sin. I’m not saying I don’t care about the rights I hold as a citizen of my country. But I’m more concerned about loving one another and deferring to others in order to maintain the peace (when it’s not a matter of conscience) than I am concerned with expressing my personal choices. I believe the intent of the law is far more important than the letter of the law, and the point of the law is to help us have good boundaries to ensure a civilization can abide together by a shared set of guidelines that help us enjoy peace and unity as we share the abundance and resources of this land (which, in the case of the United States of America, is land we forcefully took from those who were here before us… so marinate on that a little when you feel arrogant about your “rights.” You only have them because the settlers who came to this “land of freedom and opportunity” took away other peoples’ land, resources, and way of life – aka “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” even though our very Declaration of Independence says that those rights are unalienable to “all men” who are “created equal,” and that these Rights are “endowed by their Creator” – meaning we only have those rights because God has blessed us with them, and they are for ALL, so when anyone’s rights are trampled, minimized, or marginalized (the vulnerable, the weak, those who wouldn’t survive “herd immunity”) we are not living by the very tenets of “liberty” and “justice” we demand for ourselves. It’s easy to forget that it’s not just for ourselves. Our Pledge of Allegiance says, “liberty and justice for all,” not just “for those who deserve it,” or “for those who work hard and pull themselves up by their bootstraps,” or “for those who are smart and cunning with their money and business dealings,” or “for those who look like the majority and worship like the majority.”

I’m bringing this up because in the State of Oregon, where I live, we were given new guidelines this past week about how faith communities could gather. While it was wonderful to be in a room with more saints (in our case, up to 100, properly distanced and wearing face coverings), this past Sunday, I was grieved to see many not wearing their face coverings.

It’s frankly not that difficult to wear a face covering (and frankly, not even when you’re singing or speaking). It’s not ideal, but it can be done. It’s no less uncomfortable than the clothing we wear to achieve a certain look when we go out in public. We’re only unhappy about masks because we’re not the ones telling ourselves we have to wear them. That is 100% a selfish motivation for not doing something. And believe me, I know about selfish motivation. When people ask me what motivates me, the honest answer (that I never give) is: selfish comfort, anger at someone encroaching on my personal comfort, and spite for those who I don’t like or who I perceive to be “the problem” with the world.

This is a personal reflection on the above admission, but I believe it applies to all of us. And is pointedly applicable to wearing face coverings during a pandemic. Our concerns about our personal (or “religious”) freedoms feels more like prideful rebellion against authority rather than righteous civil disobedience over actual injustice. To me, the attitudes seem like the situation Paul addressed in 1 Corinthians 11:17-34,

But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat. For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not.

For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.

So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another— if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home—so that when you come together it will not be for judgment. About the other things I will give directions when I come.

The point of gathering as a church for corporate worship isn’t about the expression of, or insistence upon individual freedoms, but for mutual edification through fellowship, the reading and preaching of the Word, prayer, and singing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs to one another and to God.

We are supposed to live our lives in a manner worth of the gospel of Christ. What is that gospel? The good news of the Kingdom of God, and the means by which we can enter that Kingdom. Specifically, that God created the heavens and earth and everything in them, and that man was created in His likeness for a perfect loving relationship with the Triune God (Father, Son, and Spirit) and to display that love with one another and in stewarding the earth. Essentially, that all would live together in perfect harmony in Paradise. However, sin entered the world when being deceived by Satan disguised as a snake, Eve ate of the forbidden fruit and then gave some to her husband who willingly broke the one rule in all of the world: don’t eat the fruit from this one tree. Ever since then, the world has been under a curse involving difficulty, pain and death for all of creation. But God loved us and even as He pronounced the curse of our brokenness, he also set in place a redemptive plan that a savior would come to crush the head of the serpent and restore all things to their perfect state. That Savior came when Jesus was born. Although tempted in every way so he could relate to our struggles, he lived a sinless life making him the perfect, spotless Lamb to atone for our sins that separate us from God. Jesus was crucified on a cross of wood, buried in a tomb, and on the third day, he rose again. After a short time, he ascended to Heaven where is preparing a place for those who believe in his Name, are saved, and endure to the end. Jesus is coming again to complete the work he started. Satan and sin will be defeated forever, and we will live in God’s glorious light in our eternal home.

Paul wrote, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” Romans 8:18 ESV

Friends, the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ and our future glory matter so much more than the fleeting life we’re living now. And that is why when it comes to staying home, physical distancing, temporarily changing my social activities, and wearing a face covering during the current COVID-19 pandemic, I view laying down my “rights” is an intentional act of love for my neighbor (both inside and outside of the Church), and as an ambassador of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Sure, it’s inconvenient. Sure, I feel like I’m suffering a little (and I know some people are undoubtedly suffering a lot).

I’ve seen some people whom I deeply love and respect share memes and make statements that lead me to believe they think I’m somehow being duped, that I need to “wake up,” that I need to fight for my liberty and the liberty of others, and that to do otherwise is unloving and unlovingly perpetuating lies. I don’t see it that way, and in fact, I believe the burden of proof is on those who won’t comply with the guidelines and mandates to justify their actions. I have not heard a valid justification from anyone. And I’ve only heard dissenting views from white evangelicals living above the median income. The saddest part to me is these are the same people calling Mainstream Media “fake news” who are subsequently posting quotes taken out of context or falsely attributed to notable historical figures. I look them up when I see them because it matters to me to understand the context and the source of the statement. That’s not to say truth cannot be found in worldviews outside of my own, but it’s certainly helpful to understand the worldview of the speaker or writer if we hope to fully understand their intended meaning.

I do not believe that limiting the size, frequency, and mode of my social gatherings or dining is an infringement upon my rights. I do not believe that I am being religiously persecuted because guidelines have been put in place regarding size and modality of faith gatherings (which are more generous than the restrictions on any non-faith-based gatherings). I am not participating in lazy and mindless acquiescence, passivity, or ignorant surrender of my “liberties” at the hands of some nefarious tyrant or “liberal” agenda. I am in good-faith, sound mind, and clear conscience following my understanding of these Scriptures:

“We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.” For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” – Romans 15:1-7 ESV

“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.

Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” – Romans 13:1-10 ESV

“Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.” – 1 Peter 2:13-17 ESV

“Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.” – Titus 3:1-2 ESV

“Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”” – Matthew 22:17-21 ESV

When I read those passages, I simply cannot understand why anyone thinks it’s OK to hate and disparage anyone (like our governor, for example), to consider oneself above the law or “rule” of the land. I understand that some people believe certain federal, state, and local government authorities are acting outside of the law. Do we get to not pay our taxes just because we don’t like the way the tax dollars are being spent? Do we get to speed, not wear our seatbelt, and drive under the influence of drugs and alcohol simply because we might believe everyone should be responsible only for one’s individual self? No, we have rules about taxes, and we have rules about driving. Societies thrive on mutually agreed upon rules (laws that most of us don’t have a say in making). I don’t care if we think we know better, or that those who are making policies are doing so on potentially bad information, or if a governors rule in unjust ways. I don’t get to sidestep the law just because I don’t agree with it. I don’t get to sidestep “mandates” just because I don’t agree with them.

I will make this caveat:

(If the government was discriminating against religious organizations by making limiting faith gatherings while not limiting other gatherings, that would be different. But in fact, in the State of Oregon, faith gatherings are the largest gatherings currently allowed under the COVID-19 mandates. If the government was asking us to directly disobey Scripture or to act immorally against our code of ethics, that would be a different scenario. Being required to wear a “face covering” or to limit the size, or the way in which we gather for worship in order to help prevent the spread of a new, highly contagious virus, is NOT immoral, unbiblical, nor discriminatory, especially as the government is not prohibiting us from worshiping God together – in limited gathering sizes or virtually).

Do you have to agree that there is a virus? No. Do you have to agree that it is contagious? No. Do you have to agree that physical distancing and face coverings are an effective way, or the most effective way to slow the spread of the disease? No. You don’t have to agree with any of those things. Are you a citizen (or resident) of your country, state, county and city? Yes. Do you need to abide by the rules of the leaders of where you live? Yes. Did you have to obey your parents even when you didn’t agree with their rules? Yes. Do you have to obey your boss even if you think they aren’t making the best decision? Yes. Sure, you can break the rules (which is immoral, unless the rules themselves are immoral), or you can leave. That could be a choice. And some of my friends have left. They’ve gone to other churches that have chosen not to follow government guidance about “how” to meet during this time. Some have moved to other states where they prefer the government more. Good for them. I hope the grass is truly greener. If you’re not happy working at McDonalds, go apply at Burger King instead.  You’ll likely be able to trade a low paying job for a similar low paying job.

But here’s one final thing I hope you’ll consider:

You may have the privilege of “at will” employment, and you might be able to easily get another job. You might have the privilege of driving to another church across town or living out in the countryside rather than in a densely populated urban setting. You may have the ability to pick up and move to another county or state. You might be able to afford some other option besides public standardized education. But A LOT of people cannot. In fact, MOST people living in the U.S. are poor. Minority groups are at an even greater disadvantage. It’s not wrong to have privileges. Enjoy them. But use them for good, not just selfish enjoyment or personal gain. Use your privilege to advocate for those who have less.

Please, I’m asking you to wear a mask as a way to love those around you. This isn’t about you. It’s not about your rights. It’s not about whether you agree with Mainstream Media or progressive politicians. It’s not about public health experts versus private health practitioners’ opinions. We live in a society. And as Vince Lombardi said, “Individual commitment to a group effort — that is what makes a teamwork, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.” You can be an individual and still work for the common good of those around you. It’s why you agree to pay your HOA to live in the neighborhood you desire, or pay your taxes even when you don’t appreciate how officials spend tax dollars. It’s how your team wins, healthy families function, and it’s how a society fights a pandemic.

We’re in this together. Let’s be kind to each other and assume the best of each other. Nowhere in Scripture does it instruct us to love “God and Country.” Nowhere does it tell us to defend our rights. On the contrary, we’re told to put on humility. We’re told to die to ourselves and follow Jesus. We’re instructed to love God and Neighbor. A neighbor is someone near you, not the entire population of a country. A neighbor might even be someone you don’t like. Maybe even an enemy. We are not to curse them. We are to bless them. We are to love one another. May your joy be full.

If you read all of this, thank you for taking the time to hear my heart and my thoughts on this matter.

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