Since the beginning of the pandemic, wearing a mask has been the number one preventative measure in slowing the spread of COVID. Unfortunately, the topic became highly politicized and tensions arose across the nation between those who were committed to protecting themselves and others by wearing a mask, and those who chose to ignore the dangers. Families, communities, and even churches have been bitterly divided over the topic.
As recent CDC guidelines have relaxed, more and more Americans have welcomed the ability to take off their masks when it is safe to do so. Here on the University campus where I work, mask restrictions have been relaxed for those who are fully vaccinated. The first day that the new policy went into place I took a stroll across campus. It was relaxing to do so without my usual mask. It’s been interesting to me however, to discover the self-reluctancy I and others feel about not wearing a mask in a store, restaurant, or gas station. Even though the science says that it is safe to do so as a fully vaccinated person, it is still going to take some time to ease off the practice of always having one on.
I have found it ironic, however, that the more we were advised to wear a mask, the more “unmasked” we became as a nation. The tensions and pressures of this past year told us a lot about ourselves and the things we believe. What has been “unmasked,” or “revealed,” about who we are is indeed frightening. Countless times I have heard people say when seeing a troubling incident, “We are better than this. This is not who we are.” The reality is that “This is indeed who we are.” We were just hoping that we were better. Here is a list of some of the things our unmasking has revealed.
We learned that we are not a Christian nation. For generations we have labored under the delusion that America is a Christian nation… founded on Christian principles and founded by Christian leaders. And yet, much of the past year has unmasked how un-Christian we really are. The Christian faith calls each of us to a high standard. We are to live in love, respect, and compassion. We should care about our neighbors. We should seek the welfare of others. We should model the love of Christ. And yet the past year has seen Christians act in a number of profoundly un-Christian ways. We have screamed obscenities at each other on social media. We have chosen a fierce independence that says, “No one can tell me what to do,” rather than regard the needs and consider the fears of others. We have cared more about protecting our rights than we have in protecting the rights of us all. When we were in a position to model Christian citizenship, compassionate care, and peaceable dialogue, we failed the test. Many put politics above discipleship. Many believed that it was okay to sacrifice the “good of the nation” in the pursuit of individual rights. Surely, we have done irreparable damage to the Christian influence in our nation. My fear is that we are Christian in name only. True “Christ-centered” people should respond differently than many have responded. Millions are leaving the church and it is easy to understand why.
We also learned that racism is alive and well. When George Floyd was murdered in Minneapolis, people demonstrated all across the nation and even across the world. The ugly head of hatred was revealed once again. The frustration and anger were understandable. People of color have continued to face unfair challenges, violent treatment, and any number of social inequities. To deny that systemic racism doesn’t exist in our nation is a whitewash of reality. In the summer of 2020, in the midst of the frustration and heat of that moment, I tweeted out a message indicating that every pastor in every pulpit should take on the issue of racism. I even suggested, “Saying black lives matter does not mean that all other lives don’t. It is a hope that black lives will matter as much as all other lives.” A pastor in Georgia, whom I had once mentored in ministry, attacked me publicly on Facebook. He said that if I was advocating that someone preach any Gospel other than the Gospel of Christ that I must be a heretic. A few days later he posted this message on his Facebook page: “African-Americans in this nation should be grateful for slavery. If it was not for slavery, most blacks would still be in Africa and would not enjoy the privileges and status that they now enjoy in America.” I wonder if a person of color ever chose to join his congregation, if they would count that person as 3/5 of a member.
We also learned that we are as sheep led to the slaughter. What has been troubling to me is the fact that so many well-educated individuals can be so easily led astray. It is remarkable how quickly minds can be overtaken and thoughts diluted. Certain media outlets and certain political leaders have been masterful at offering disinformation and distorted realities. Many leaders bought into the notion that if you tell a lie loud and long enough, eventually it will become the accepted truth. The “Big Lie” is only a part of the truth decay that has occurred in our nation. Rather than follow science, we have listened to misguided opinion. Rather than think for ourselves, we have allowed others to tell us how to think. Rather than seek balanced reporting, we have “pulled the knobs off of our channel selector” and allowed ourselves to drink in whatever our favorite propaganda machine told us to believe. People have blindly played “follow the leader” while certain leaders were leading them down a road of deceit, greed, and lawlessness. Much of the violence that is currently being perpetuated against Asian-Americans is a direct result of one leader referring to COVID as the China virus. And even now, as the clear and miraculous answer to the pandemic comes into focus with the development of very effective vaccines, some have bought into the deception that vaccines are unneeded and potentially harmful.
Finally, we also learned that right-to-life “concerns” end at birth. There is a vast number of people in America who supported the previous administration because of promises made to fill the Supreme Court with conservative judges who would hopefully overturn Roe vs. Wade. Many continue to view eliminating abortion as the single most important battle to be fought in our country. And yet, those who call themselves “Pro-life” continue to support the death penalty, the reduction of Medicare benefits, the elimination of unemployment support, the lack of support for public schools, affordable housing and medical care, as well as other programs which could benefit the poor and marginalized members of our society. We care for the unborn, but not for the children and adults those unborn babies grow up to become.
Yes, we have been unmasked, revealed, and exposed. Where do we go from here? The answers are not easy nor quickly offered. My suggestion is that it starts with each of us. We must envision a better nation, comprised of better people. People who will care about others. People who will seek the welfare of all citizens. People who will love abundantly, forgive lavishly, and hope longingly. People who will love their neighbors with the same intensity with which they love themselves. If we dream of being a Christian nation, then it must start with our resolve to be Christian in thought, attitude, and action.
Jon R Roebuck