It seems that some people reading my recent 4th of July masking article may have misunderstood. Maybe there are other people out there saying that this is the tip of the iceberg, the top of a slippery slope, e.g. if they can tell us to put face masks on, what new tyranny will they think up next?
But that is not what I’m saying at all. It is not what I wrote, and it’s not what I think. I don’t think face mask mandates are a slippery slope. I would say that we are already at the bottom of the slippery slope. We fell down that slope like a golden retriever on roller skates. We fell like Humpty Dumpty and had a great fall. We are at the very bottom, buried beneath six tons of mudslide and the bees are doing their business in the third generation of flowers above us. We’ve been there for a minute.
We’re not the Titanic getting perilously close to the iceberg. We’re not even the Titanic recently breached, taking on torrents of water in arctic temperatures. No, I’d say we’re the Titanic broken in pieces along the bottom of the Atlantic with barnacles all over it. We’re rusted and rotting, covered in seaweed and slime, the familiar haunt of several generations of darting and unsuspecting clown fish. And this latest face mask order is just another large, orange sea anemone blossoming on the starboard hull.
One friend seemed to think I was comparing face masks to something like taxation without representation. But man, that ship sailed decades ago, maybe over a century ago and then it hit an iceberg and sunk and spread its wreckage for a mile or so on the ocean floor. Did I mention the fact that America is like the Titanic on the ocean floor?
Do I think baseless face mask orders are tyranny? Absolutely. Do I think this is the beginning of Statist tyranny and overreach? Do I think we have been sailing merrily along, enjoying the cool, clean air of freedom and liberty and virtue, and now comes the greatest dark threat of ye modern day – the great mask conspiracy? As that one fellow said one time: Hardy har har.
A Short History of Liberty’s Demise
Imagine a corpse in a box six feet under. Imagine it rotting with worms wiggling through the empty eye sockets and rats chewing into the dusty bowels. Imagine the foul stench. Imagine the filth. America is a fat blistering tick on the back of one of the mangiest rats gnawing on the empty rib cage where the heart used to be. And the corpse is Lady Liberty.
Taxation without representation? We crossed that threshold when Congress, duly elected by free Americans overturned presidential vetoes in the late 19th century, running roughshod over the Constitution’s explicit prohibitions of spending Federal monies on pet State projects. Yes, I know that strictly speaking those were our representatives passing that misuse of taxes, and the 16th Amendment would come later. But my point is not a strict parallel as much as it is an example of a place where freedom loving Americans might have really had a slippery slope argument and some enterprising journalist might have raised the specter of icebergs and their tips being far smaller than the rest of their deadly submerged bodies. But that was, as they say, a long, long time ago.
Or what about the 1942 Supreme Court case Wickard v. Filburn where it was decided that it was illegal for a farmer to feed his own wheat – wheat that he grew on his own property – it was illegal for him to feed that wheat to his own farm animals? Why, you ask? Why would a “free” nation like ours make such a wicked ruling? The argument was that since the constitution allows the Federal government to regulate interstate commerce and since the New Deal was regulating supply and demand of wheat via subsidies, our nation’s highest court decided that allowing one farmer to grow his own wheat and feed it to his own cows would mean more supply and less demand on the open market and if hundreds or thousands of farmers did something like that it would completely throw into chaos the tyranny, er, I mean the harmony created by Big Brother, er, I mean, El Presidente Roosevelt. You want a slippery slope? That might have already been over the edge.
But perhaps the easiest atrocity to point to is the bloodbath decision of Roe v. Wade in 1973, claiming to overturn abortion bans in most states. And the greatest atrocity was not the decision itself, although it was evil and atrocious. No, the greatest atrocity was the complicity of the states and the people, particularly in those 30 or so states that had laws on the books protecting their own children. They just rolled over and took it. Looking back, we might say that’s when we should have known that Lady Liberty had slipped into a coma or maybe she’d been dead for a few years or decades before that. The highest court in the land mandates child murder, and the states all shrugged and nodded? The states led by many of the same men who fought in World War 2 just laid down and pretended there was nothing to be done?
Now, some 65 million dead babies later, we are not nearing the edge of some cliff of tyranny. We plunged off that cliff. It’s not that we could become like China. We are a Red China, a Soviet Russia, a Nazi Germany – our chains and rations and bribes are far more cleverly hidden, largely covered over with wealth and free time. There certainly have been valiant attempts at push back before and there have always been strong pockets of old school Christian virtue in places, which certainly has been a corrosion deterrent in small ghettoes of the culture. But make no mistake, we have gulags and gas chambers and child sacrifice. We have abominations and detestable practices. And unless we repent, Sodom and Gomorrah, Tyre and Sidon, even Russia and China could rise up at the judgment and condemn us.
What Do the Faithful Do?
So the question becomes: what do the faithful do in this moment? On the one hand, let me grant that it can seem like libertarian bluster to suddenly say, I won’t wear your stupid mask. This is the spirit of you-can’t-tell-me-what-to-do and autonomy and I say, to Hell with that. Let me also grant that there is plenty of libertarian bluster to go around in our land and many even in the Reformed churches do not know what spirit they are of. But by God’s grace, I trust that is not my spirit or the spirit of my church.
My elders drafted and approved the following principles back in April for helping to guide us in making church decisions through the quarantine days:
The elders of Christ Church affirm the following. Be it resolved
• That no earthly government at any level or in any sphere (federal, state, local, familial, or ecclesiastical) has the authority to forbid all corporate worship of the triune creator God across the board;
• That God has given the keys of the kingdom to the church and therefore decisions to meet or not meet for worship properly and ordinarily belong to the elders of the church;
• That God has granted civil magistrates true authority concerning things around the gathered worship of the saints (circa sacra). This true authority of magistrates around worship includes the protection of life in real emergencies (e.g. fire, active shooter, quarantine of the sick in time of plague) which may temporarily interrupt corporate worship;
• That when submitting to the requests of a magistrate not to meet, the elders of the church do not relinquish their jurisdiction or responsibility in sacris but rather both church and civil authorities retain their respective jurisdictions under God and the relevant laws of the land;
• That there are times when the elders’ authority in sacris and the magistrate’s authority circa sacra will genuinely overlap, and in such times of tension, all parties are responsible to resolve the tension according to the law of Christ;
• That any earthly authority is capable of abusing their legitimate authority to such an extent that other governments may approve or direct their people to disregard that abused authority;
• That unless a magistrate’s order is explicitly addressed by Scripture directly, if Christ Church determines to meet for worship against the request or requirement of a civil magistrate, no elder’s conscience will be bound by the decision of the majority, and the majority will uphold the right of the minority opinion to his conviction without prejudice.”
Related, but also helpful was a recent statement from Evangel Presbytery, which I commend in its entirety to you, but particularly this part:
“As a general law of neutral applicability, a quarantine at times interferes incidentally with the worship of God. This incidental interference in itself does not necessarily exceed the civil sphere’s authority as long as it is understood to be temporary and localized, lasting no longer and extending no farther than the conditions that gave rise to it.
Yet, through a protracted, extensive, and comprehensive quarantine whose sway over the lives of the people is nearly absolute, the civil sphere does exceed its authority. When a sphere exceeds its authority and acts ultra vires, its acts are void. Even for acts that are void from the beginning or become void over time, familial and ecclesiastical spheres must approach the proper response thereto through prayer, wisdom, humility, and honor, if not exact obedience, to the civil sphere.”
Also related, would be a recent conversation we had about the face mask laws on CrossPolitic with fellow elder and President of New St. Andrews College, Dr. Ben Merkle, who reminded us that there is fundamental difference between revolution and reformation. We heartily affirm the latter and robustly denounce the former. And yet, sometimes, if you only take the snapshot, you could get the impression that it’s a distinction without a difference. You could take a snapshot of the French Revolution and the American War for Independence, and the snapshot could honestly look rather similar. Both included violence and dead bodies, for example. But they were conflicts so ideologically different that they really don’t deserve to even be mentioned in the same breath as anything alike. The War for Independence was thoroughly reformational, while the French Revolution was thoroughly revolutionary. And the fundamental difference is that the energy that drove the American war was a thoroughly constructive energy full of love for law and history and Christian culture, while the French Revolution was driven by pure rage and lust for blood and vengeance and chaos (ironically, all in the name of the high goddess Reason).
Against Lawlessness & Rebellion
Now let me pull these two strains of thought together for you. We are a rotting, broken mass of a shipwreck at the bottom of the Atlantic, we are an engorged parasite on the back of a corpse scavenger, and I detest revolution and love reformation. I’m not a libertarian. I’m a classically conservative, Westminsterian “general equity of the law” theonomist, in the tradition of Edmund Burke and Russell Kirk. I believe in law and order, and I heartily affirm our duty to honor and submit to civil magistrates.
Now comes the Russian collusion hoax and sham impeachment of President Trump, then comes coronavirus careening in from China, bringing shut down orders, mass quarantines of the healthy, tales of bubonic plague catastrophe, followed by mass protests quickly turning into a violent frenzy of rioting, killing, burning, and looting – cheered on by many of the same influential leaders driving the COVID responses, now followed by many universal, useless mask mandates, while many hospitals remain as barren and empty as the moon. Now what?
Let it be utterly clear: I do not object to civil leaders actually protecting the public from dangerous diseases. I do believe our health codes have been grotesquely obese for many decades, but there is a principle of true biblical justice hidden under that wreckage somewhere. In a true bubonic plague, quarantining the sick and clearly infectious areas is a legitimate use of civil authority. This is why, despite our doubts and suspicions about the true nature of the “crisis” and our disagreements with a universal quarantine and identification of pastoral ministry and churches and Christian worship as “non-essential,” I and my church happily submitted to the shut down orders in the beginning. We did not hold in-person worship services for three weeks, and we resorted to drive-in services for another three weeks following.
But in the months that have followed it has become clear that this is manifestly not a health crisis on a magnitude that merits the universal mandates and shut down orders. We recently jumped from 7 to 14 cases in my county and zero deaths, with maybe one or two hospitalizations. And this is what my mayor and city council called a “spike” in new cases, instigating a universal mask emergency order. Heh. What is this? What is this really? The mask mandate is the requirement for God-fearing, law abiding citizens to join the revolution. It is a mandate that Christians wear the uniform of the mob. That is what I refuse to do and what I urge all thoughtful conservative Christians to do. Why? Because I’m not a revolutionary. I hate all lawlessness and rebellion. I hate the fact that by these decrees, everyone has effectively been turned into a lawbreaker. No one, not even the most ardent supporters of these mandates, keeps the mandate perfectly. Always six feet apart? Never speaking to someone who doesn’t live in your own household without a face covering? Never?
It’s no accident that apart from true medical masks used in medical situations (which turns out has even been questioned by numerous studies), but the iconic use of face masks has been by criminals and bandits. The mob driving this political stunt is run by criminals and bandits. The same revolutionaries that hate the difference between men and women, who love the confusion of sodomy, the violence of abortion, and have weaponized racial difference in recent months to foment more chaos, would love nothing more than to add one more confusion to the pile of confusions. This is what revolution does. It tears down. It destroys. And it does this by confusing everything. It calls good evil and evil good. It calls sweet bitter and bitter it calls sweet. Up is down, down is up. Right is wrong, wrong is right. Hate is love, and love is hate. Who are the good guys and who are the bad guys now? Here, let’s have everyone wear masks – and we don’t care what kind. Just cover your face.
God hates confusion. God hates revolution and rebellion. And so do I, and therefore I hate the face mask mandates, and I urge the church to refuse to join that parade. In other words, I urge being cheerfully difficult (not violent or pugnacious), as an act of reformational resistance. And I urge this reformational resistance by grace through faith. What good does it do for a bunch of us to object to the last sea anemone taking up residence on our sunken wreck of a nation? What does it matter? Well, if you’re thinking in purely political terms, it’s a really foolish stand. Who cares about a piece of fabric. But if you’re willing to step back and look at it from a broader biblical stance, I think something else comes into focus. The issue is not looks or comfort. The issue is the image of God and the worship of the living God face to face.
I’m not trying to keep us from the slippery slope. We fell off the slope over a century ago. This is an Ezekiel moment, and we’re preaching in a graveyard. I’m trying to plead with God to raise the dead. This face mask thing is like some poor guy’s clavicle sticking up through the ground. The only thing that will raise this corpse is the gospel of Jesus Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit. Paul made the seating arrangements at the potluck in Antioch a gospel issue, when we all know that seating arrangements need not be a gospel issue. Some could have accused Paul of just being overly sensitive or contentious. But Paul saw the play that was being run, and refused to play along and confronted Peter to his face. No doubt, as in Antioch, many have very innocently been carried along by good hearted, well meaning Christian leaders. I do not counsel rebellion against otherwise good and godly men who read this situation differently than I do or have determined to run a different play while being committed to the very same enemies. But I do say that we must not go along with the rebellious spirit of this age. And the rebellious spirit of the age loves to hid under the guise of prudence and submission and healthcare.