(Photo by Vera Davidova on Unsplash)

What’s included here:

  • Preferences, division, and pursuing others
  • A decision we’ve made that we hope is temporary
  • Why we made it
  • Difficult decisions
  • Other resources

Everything Seems Divisive

I love this quote from an article by Brett McCracken:

“I also hate that the mask has become such a [divisive] symbol, with the masked and the masked-nots assuming the worst about each other: that mask-wearers are fearful, cosmopolitan elites or that mask-avoiders are science-hating MAGA bumpkins who prefer their freedom over Grandma’s life. It’s silly that it’s come to this: [division over] masks. But I’m not surprised. Everything in our world today is [divisive].”

(From The Gospel Coalition. He’s making a point about politicizing issues that I think also applies simply to division, and I have substituted that in brackets.)

The truth of that last statement is shocking. Most every issue of consequence these days becomes divisive.

Our Convictions, Preferences, & Opinions

The reality is that we all have convictions or preferences or opinions. Too often we begin to feel like there are 2 opposite sides of any issue, when in reality some issues, such as the threat and response to coronavirus, are really more of a sliding scale of what each of us feels comfortable with. We would be wise to acknowledge that. We would also be wise to acknowledge that some of our views are based on convictions, but some are based on comfort, and the two are not the same.

If we are not careful and thoughtful, issues like masks or social distance can become subtly divisive, even within the church. And when honest, humble disagreement turns the corner to division, we are straying into disobedience (Titus 3.9-11).

The Interests of Others

The answer to this is to follow the example of Jesus and humbly pursue the interest of others, like Paul says to the church in Philippi:

“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus…” Philippians 2.1-5

Scripture tells us to lower our opinions (Romans 14.1), and even our convictions for a minute, listen with love and genuine desire to understand, and come toward others as much as possible. Above all, including above our own interests, we are told to “pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.” (Romans 14.19)

So as we navigate these subtly, potentially divisive waters, I want to strongly encourage you, no matter where you fall on any sliding scale, to think more of others than yourselves and to defer to the interests of others the way that Jesus did for each one of us.

A Decision We’ve Made That We Hope is Temporary

For now, we have added this statement to our gathering precautions: “In honoring the spirit of Governor Abbott’s Executive Order (Romans 13.1-2), wearing a mask is strongly encouraged.”

We know this will be uncomfortable and annoying and that none of us prefers this to be our reality, so I want to briefly lay out why we’ve arrived at this decision (one that we hope is temporary):

Governing Authorities

Romans 13.1-2 says “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.”

There are times when we should rightly resist governing authorities, particularly when they become oppressive and hinder us from exercising our faith in Jesus. Up to that point, however, Scripture commands us to honor their leadership over us, even when we do not agree with it.

Masks are not “required” for our gatherings by Governor Abbott’s order because of an exception for churches, but they are required for any other public places or gatherings and “strongly encouraged” for us. In keeping with the spirit of his order, we feel it prudent at this time to honor that.

The More Cautious Among Us

There are some among our church family who feel the need to be more cautious in light of the coronavirus threat. Whether we all agree about the threat level is not the issue, especially within the church. The issue for us is that when some among us genuinely feel the need to be more cautious, it is our place as a family to gladly honor them.

“Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.” Romans 14.13

“For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died.” Romans 14.15

“It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble.” Romans 14.21

I think one application of “causing a brother or sister to stumble” in our current situation would be doing things that would hinder someone from joining us because of their strong convictions toward caution, particularly when that person is part of the Remedy family. While we may not agree with them, it is loving to defer to them.

The Risk of a Large Gathering

There is a lot of debate about what experts believe and how stats are measured and reported, and that’s not likely to change quickly. One thing that I think can be seen by most all of us is that the virus is more widespread than it once was. While the virus used to be mostly “out there,” most of us now know someone personally who has had the virus, or at least know someone who does. So it does seem to be coming closer to home.

While the threat level may or may not have increased, based on which reports you believe, there is a higher risk of a localized outbreak (like within the Remedy family) when people gather in larger groups. While we cannot eliminate that, short of everyone locking themselves inside all the time, there are reasonable things we can do to lessen it, even if they are annoying and uncomfortable.

Then why gather at all?

When the virus first showed up on a mass scale, most everything shut down to slow the spread. Honestly, we did not know what we were dealing with, and that was society’s best attempt to respond. Now that we have seen the virus for a while, we can see that it is not going away soon. We should keep asking the Lord to miraculously heal, but while we do, we have to learn how to operate with some level of risk.

While physical health is certainly a high concern, we have seen mental health decline during the pandemic, social issues increase, and as leaders, we have seen spiritual health decline in many people, as well.

All this leads us to conclude that we need to find a way to be the church, to be there physically with and for each other, and to live out our mission in unique and creative ways while we take reasonable precautions to safeguard ourselves and particularly the most vulnerable among us. While we believe Missional Communities are a strength during a time like this, we also believe that there are implications for our worship gathering.

These Decisions Are Not Easy

We have heard form a number of you, and we have people at all places on the sliding scale, including some on both far ends. So as you think about our church family, recognize that there are people who feel very different about these things than you do. These people are brothers and sisters in Christ. In addition to that, it’s hard to know what to believe in the news in a highly polarized and politicized day.

All of that makes these decisions, even about something as seemingly simple as masks, very difficult to navigate. So we ask that you continue to pray, love each other deeply by prioritizing the interests of others, and fix your eyes on Jesus first and most every single day.

I love you, church. And I am asking the Lord to use these things to unite us, strengthen us, and build his Kingdom among us in ways that the world cannot ignore.

Other resources:

If you’ve made it this far, I encourage you to read Brett McCracken’s article on The Gospel Coalition site. Even if you do not agree with it, he acknowledges fairly all the reasons we don’t want to wear masks, and his gospel reasoning is worth the read.

Todd Friel addresses those who HATE being told to wear a mask.

I would also encourage you to read our recent post on 6 practical ways to pursue understanding and 3 prayers for our church.