Are Mask Warrants a Form of Christian Persecution? That’s the argument made by a man from California after his two teenage boys were sent home for violating their high school mask policy.
“The Bible says we are made in the image of God and Satan tries to cover it up. A mask is a sign of oppression, ”Gary Nelson told NBC News. And then it’s worse. He claimed Muslims and Jews would have been housed but school administrators “feel safe” persecuting Christians.
When conservative Christians begin to enforce nudity, then they might claim not to cover up what God has created.
These claims are ridiculous. Nothing in the Bible says you can’t wear masks. And you don’t see anti-masking Christians objecting to wearing clothes, hats, or sunglasses. When these conservative Christians start enforcing nudity, then they might pretend not to cover up what God has created.
The Nelson family are not alone in making this absurd claim. A Catholic school in Lansing, Mich. Sued the state for its mask mandate and claimed that “because God created us in His image, we mask that image.” Last year, a Republican lawmaker in Ohio refused to wear a mask, arguing in a Facebook post that the United States was founded on “Judeo-Christian principles” which include “we are all created in the world. ‘image and likeness of God’.
The first part of his argument is a dangerous but common form of Christian nationalism; the second is a fundamental principle of the Jewish and Christian religions. Where he enters a territory worthy of cringe is when he maintains that “this image is seen the most by our face.” It just isn’t part of the Biblical story of Genesis, and it was fabricated from the ground up to serve as an anti-masking program.
It is important to note here an essential distinction between political convictions and religious convictions. No major religious group in the United States is telling people not to get vaccinated or not to wear masks. The National Association of Evangelicals and Pope Francis have both expressed support for the vaccination efforts. Even Christian scientists – perhaps the religious group most doctrinally opposed to modern medical treatment – have encouraged members to “cooperate with measures deemed necessary by public health officials.” Orthodox Jewish and Muslim leaders, as well as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, have also expressed support for the vaccines.
So why are we seeing new reports of religious communities (mostly conservative) opposing public health initiatives? Liberty University, an evangelical Christian school in Virginia, for example, is under a temporary campus-wide Covid-19 quarantine due to a spike in cases. School survey tighten capacity restrictions and distancing and masking requirements for the fall, and it doesn’t require immunizations, unlike many other colleges trying to revert to in-person teaching.
Liberty University’s reluctance to adopt Covid-19 protocols, however, has little to do with the Bible – and everything to do with politics. Evangelical Christians report some of the highest rates of vaccine reluctance of any major religious group. And this is closely tied to their allegiance to former President Donald Trump and the GOP.
Sister Deirdre Byrne, who spoke in her nun’s garb at the Republican National Convention last year, is now spreading lies about Covid-19 vaccines. At an anti-vaccination conference, she said vaccines are “evil” and claimed that the fight against them is a “battle between Our Lord and the devil”. It certainly sounds like a religious argument. But Byrne is not following church leaders on this issue – she is following the machine of conservative outrage.
I have followed the debate around religion and public health closely since the start of the pandemic. And I haven’t seen a single reasonable religious argument against masking, vaccinations, or other public health orders. Instead, we have seen a constant stream of fringe arguments that distort religious doctrines in the service of conspiratorial political thought. Far from needing religious exemptions from Covid-19 measures, the world’s religions have a common obligation to do everything in their power to save lives during this pandemic. Fortunately, this has also been the resounding message from most religious leaders, with the exception of a few outliers.
Besides political leanings, the other big factor driving conservative Christianity’s anti-mask and anti-vaccination movements is a shared persecution complex. Conservative Christians continue to claim persecution in the United States, even when 7 in 10 Americans are Christians. The playbook looks familiar, whether the specific issue is the design of Starbucks vacation mugs, the anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people, or the insurance plans covering contraception. There is a narrative of Christian persecution that has grown so powerful that it is now a central theme in the political strategy of the religious right (again, the emphasis is on the political).
So no, obviously the Bible doesn’t say that protecting your nose from a virus is a sin. But the cultural narrative that makes this argument appealing to a minority is no laughing matter. Instead of trying to use religion to avoid a scientific, common sense solution to a deadly pandemic, I hope religious Americans (and non-religious Americans) can instead focus on how we can protect ourselves. each other and save lives. Because the Bible has a lot to say about it.