December 15, 2021
For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. … For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. – Galatians 5:1, 13
Dear congregation leaders in the Pacifica Synod,
The California Department of Public Health has reinstituted the mask mandate for indoor gatherings. The mandate takes effect today, December 15, and lasts until at least January 15. To read the document, please click here. In Hawai’i, the mask mandate has never been lifted, except in Federal institutions and even there it has recently been reinstated. Since the beginning of the pandemic, I have urged you to follow public health mandates, and I urge you to do so again. I know that in some congregations, this urging will be unwelcome, for we do not wish to be told what to do and want to exercise our free will to decide whether we will wear masks or not. I understand this desire, but ask that we comply with the mandate nonetheless.
When Paul wrote to the church in Galatia, he was concerned that some in the congregation were saying that to be a Christian, you had to follow certain rules or laws. They argued that faith in Christ was not enough for salvation. Paul responds vigorously, arguing that faith is what justifies us, that the Spirit brings us faith and freedom, and Christians are not bound by laws and rules as a prerequisite for the faith. He writes in the first verse of chapter 5, "For freedom, Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery."
But just a few verses later, Paul makes it clear that Christian freedom is not to be confused with the ability to do anything one wants to do. Knowing that the root of sin is selfishness, Paul argues that we are not use our freedom to do everything we want, but to limit our freedom in order to do what is best for others. Just as Christ used his freedom in this earthly life to serve, love, and heal others, so we are to use our freedom to serve, love, and heal our neighbors.
It is for the sake of the health and well-being of our neighbors that we wear masks. It is to protect not only those who might get sick, but also to protect medical professionals—doctors, nurses and EMTs—so that hospitals are not overrun with new COVID cases, and ERs and ICUs are able to care for all who are sick. Even the vaccinated and boosted can still contract COVID, and though the vaccine provides the best protection against the disease, the vaccinated can still transmit the disease. To protect our neighbors, we limit our freedom. One of the ways we do this is by wearing masks.
I know this is not what many wanted to hear, especially so near to Christmas celebrations. But masking, in my opinion, serves as a good way to worship the one who came to bring healing and help to all. God be with you as you celebrate again the good news of the birth of Jesus, as you rejoice that the Word became flesh and lived among us. Let us embody the love of the one who became human for us and use our freedom for the benefit of our neighbors.
Yours in Christ,