As you know, Gov Walz has implemented a Minnesota mask-wearing mandate for all public settings, and churches are expected to comply with this. So, I want to take just a moment to respond to this. First, I recognize that among our Trinity family and friends there is a range of responses to the Governor’s mandate. Some don’t see it as a problem and in fact it makes sense to them that we would do this in an attempt to mitigate the spread of the virus. Others are greatly frustrated with the mandate and would argue that hard data doesn’t firmly support the effectiveness of masks and that this mandate is a violation of their personal freedom. So how are we going to navigate through this as a church family?
The way the mandate is set up is that failure to comply can result in penalties to the individual as well as to the institutions that do not enforce the mandate. Non-compliant individuals can receive a petty misdemeanor and a fine up to $100 but businesses or institutions and their leaders can be subject to criminal charges of up to a misdemeanor, $1000 fine, and not more than 90 days in jail as well as civil fines up to $25,000. Note here that full compliance to Gov Walz’s order includes enforcement of mask-wearing by institutions. In other words, for us to just say, you know what Gov Walz has ordered, but we will leave it up to each person to live according to their conscience, would be defiance of the order.
Having said that, penalties are not the primary issue, principle is. This puts our church leadership team in a very difficult position.
1) We value each person’s perspective and their freedom to make decisions based on their conscience before God—that’s why we didn’t require masks initially.
2) You have heard me repeatedly preach from the 1 Peter 2 and Romans 13, that we should do everything we can to honor and obey governing authority and only disobey when it would require us to personally sin against God or violate the Scriptures.
3) Our leadership team does not believe that it is the church’s role or responsibility to be the enforcement police for a government order, nor are we comfortable turning someone away from worship for simply not wearing a mask.
As our team has wrested with this, none of us are excited about the mask mandate; however, it seems to us that on this particular issue there is more biblical support for compliance than there is for defiance. Wearing a mask or not wearing a mask itself is not a moral issue, but obeying governing authorities outside of requiring us to disobey God is a moral issue. Thus, biblical support for compliance includes obedience to governing authorities (Rom. 13, 1 Peter 2). Other support that could be cited would be Phil. 2:3-5 (the principle there being putting the needs and interests ahead of our own; 1 Cor. 9 (the believer’s right to suspend some of his rights for the sake of gospel witness to others); 1 Cor. 8 and Rom. 14 (not being a stumbling block to others ) and of course loving our neighbor (Gal. 5:14), however you may apply that. These are the kinds of principles that would need to be outweighed by a biblical principle to not comply with the governor’s order.
So I want to make an appeal to you. I want to ask you as a church and as individuals to help us fulfill the spirit of Governor Walz’s request to include masks for our worship services. Actually this is a tremendous way that you can serve our leadership team, by not putting us in the position of having to choose between either being the enforcement police for a government mandate or possibly subjecting our church and its leaders to high dollar fines and more. So we are asking you wear a mask when we gather for public worship.
Some of you may say, “Fine, then I just won’t come to church until I can come without a mask.” You are free to make that choice, but please let me urge you to consider, that if your only reason to not come to church is because you are unwilling to wear a mask, can you conscientiously choose to put a higher value on public worship, the gathering of the church, the communion of the saints, and our corporate in-person encouragement of one another, than on your preference to not wear a mask or even the sense of offense that it has been infringed upon you? When I put on a mask for our worship service (when I’m not preaching but just a part of the congregation), it will require me to take a step of humility to do it with the right heart. And a step of humility will only help us and never harm us.
So my appeal to you is this. If mask-wearing for a time helps us reach our goal of getting the body back together, let’s do it. Can we unite together in worship and not let masks be the matter that divide us? Let’s demonstrate to the world that we can honor our governing authority (even if we don’t agree with a decision) and that masks will not silence the church from publicly declaring the worth of our great God and Savior.
As I sat in my car outside the grocery store on Friday, I thought to myself, “I don’t feel I need to wear a mask for myself, I don’t think I would endanger anyone else by not wearing a mask, I don’t have to wear a mask (the mandate doesn’t start until tomorrow). So why should I put on a mask? What benefit might it serve? It would be a step of humility to do something out of deference to others and their conscience. And if it will push against the grain of my independence for the sake of humility, it will be worth the awkward. So I put on my mask and went in.
Let me say one final thing. If you strongly disagree with what I’ve said, or the conclusion the elders have come to, we would prefer that you talk with us about it rather than letting your frustration smolder. It’s highly likely that in such conversations, we can all gain more wisdom.
Church, we love you. We care about you. And we pray that even through this, Jesus will make us more like Himself. May your joy be unquenchable!