Well I’ve done it again. Or at least I suppose that’s what some of my detractors imagine. I wrote something outrageous on the interwebs. Except, well, I hardly think it was outrageous. It was quite tame, actually, though I do hope it was a bit droll.
What I wrote was this: “America, this really is the moment to pull out your inner Tom Sawyer. Think of all these mask mandates as the worst substitute teachers you’ve ever had (although most of the teachers have been pretty awful for a while). Lose your masks, drop your masks, wear them on your arms, your legs, your neck, twirl them on your arms, shoot them across the store. Make fun, poke fun, have fun, don’t read the signs, forget to read the signs, and then forget again. But whatever you do, don’t take it seriously and don’t just comply. Remember what Jesus did with all the Pharisees’ silly rules: he ran right over them like an eight year old boy on a bike full of beans.”
Now the first thing to address is the puzzled looks on some of your faces regarding the bike full of beans. How exactly is a bike full of beans, and didn’t I mean the eight year old boy was full of beans? You might assume that we have a classic example of a dangling modifier. And maybe it was. Or maybe it wasn’t. I mean, have you examined closely the bike of an eight year old recently? Sometimes those things are vibrating even before the boy has mounted them, especially when there are pieces of cardboard affixed to the spokes.
But be that as it may, the second thing that occurred to me as some of the responses came rolling in was that I’m not sure America remembers Tom Sawyer as well as I had hoped. I mean some of the replies seemed to assume that Tom Sawyer was a real monster of a kid, but anyone who’s read the books knows he was good natured and friendly, if a bit free spirited, forgetful, and certainly not, how shall we say it, institution friendly. But in case you’re a bit behind or fuzzy on the details, you could do a lot worse with the last weeks of your summer than to grab a copy of the Adventures of Tom S by Mr. Twain. If you really want to know what I think of the whole biz, you might grab this worldview edition from the fine folks down at Canon Press. They wrangled a worldview guide for the book out of me, including an essay exploring some of the themes in the aforementioned quote regarding masks and boys on bikes and beans.
Now to the Substance of Thing
I fully understand that some folks may have walked right into the middle of this completely innocently and find themselves baffled for lack of context. I understand. This is the internet, and these things happen. At the same time, I and my friends have actually been going on about all of this for some time. What I wrote here should be taken in the same spirit and as fully consistent with what I have written previously here, here, and here. In other words, file this under being “cheerfully difficult” regarding the mask mandates, and mild, good natured forms of Reformational civil disobedience. But to be completely clear, I have no qualms with people who work in medical facilities or professions or have medical conditions or doctors’ recommendations or are otherwise immune compromised or elderly or have freely chosen to wear face masks for reasons completely of their own. I consider this a Romans 14 matter: let every man be convinced in his own mind. Our Senior Minister Douglas Wilson has emphasized this in particular to our congregation, underlining the fact that people are free to attend our worship services with or without face masks, no questions asked, no judging, period. Full stop.
I do continue to question the effectiveness of face masks in general, especially random pieces of fabric, given the fact that much of the medical establishment recommended against the widespread use of them by the public until May before dramatically reversing course. There have also been a growing number of reputable studies questioning even the effectiveness of medical masks and respirators for prevention of the spread of viruses, some even suggesting that there could be increased risk for spreading airborne viruses with face coverings. [Note: many articles do not distinguish between the effectiveness of masks for viruses and bacteria — important difference!] But I do not insist that I am correct, only that dissenting medical opinions (what was apparently mainstream opinion five minutes ago) be given reasonable consideration. And given the number of dissenting opinions, I urge freedom of conscience to both sides of the debate, over against government mandates or other coercive measures. In other words, my Tom Sawyer advice is actually in favor of and fully consistent with those who want the freedom to wear masks. It is not any kind of protest against any kind of free choice. It is only a protest against people putting a gun to my head. Underline that two times.
What About Being Tom Sawyer in Private Businesses?
I have also written previously that while I would encourage otherwise healthy folks not to don the mask and to do what they can to cheerfully resist the orders, I do believe that private businesses have the right to establish their own rules for service and so that most certainly may include face coverings. I’ve previously written that my own practice has been and continues to be doing everything I can to love my neighbors in these businesses towards resistance to these mandates, but if push came to shove (not literally!) and my antics were not appreciated and they would not serve me without a mask, and I needed their goods or services, I would happily comply. It’s their store, and I would respect that. And I urge all Christians to recognize that principle and not be jerks. Don’t tear down their signs, or do anything that could reasonably be taken for you joining the mob. Why? I’m glad you asked…
The thing that I have been pressing throughout this Hunger Games 2020™ is the necessity of Christians not to miss the bigger play that is occurring. It is a sin to be a jerk to a private business owner. It is also a sin to disobey your parents, your elders, or civil magistrate without biblical justification. But it is also a sin to be an idiot citizen. It is a sin to be a fool. And you need to see that this current wave of mask mandates has nothing whatever to do with securing the rights of private business owners. It is actually the exact opposite. While I appreciate the logic being raised by many – if we want bakers and florists and photographers to have the right to refuse their services for homo weddings, then we should be super compliant right now about masks, since that’s what we believe. Yes, and I really do appreciate that sentiment, except for the fact that it presumes that you’re reasoning with reasonable people who are using logic and basic reasoning skills. But the first law of dealing with mobs is that you can’t reason with them. It’s the same point that one fellow made about teaching pigs to whistle. It wastes your time and it annoys the pig.
It really is hard to keep your eye on all of the balls, but the same people who are insisting on mask mandates and that churches be closed or heavily restricted under threat of misdemeanors, fines, and in some places even prison time because the coronavirus might kill millions are the exact same people applauding the riots in Portland and Seattle and mass protests in other cities all over the country. Thousands can gather “peacefully” we are assured over and over again in deeply religious tones and magically there is no concern for coronavirus. Meanwhile and completely mysteriously (no one knows how), statues are toppled, explosives and fires erupt, stores are looted, houses burned down, and bystanders are violently assaulted.
Connect These Dots
Keep your eye on both of these things: the same people insisting that law abiding citizens walk around in straight lines with their shirts tucked in are insisting that thugs and vigilantes and vandals be given a free pass. This is exactly what has gone down in Seattle, where the City Council passed an ordinance forbidding the police from using non-violent means of dispersing crowds that have become violent (e.g. pepper spray). As a result, the Chief of Police wrote a letter to local business owners and residents warning them that she would be unable to guarantee the protection of their property or the safety of their persons.
Connect these dots. The same people who want to insist that businesses police their own establishments, chasing their customers around, demanding that they cover their faces are the same people demanding that the mobs be given free rein to express themselves in burning and looting businesses, destruction of private property, and assaulting random citizens. And the police may not stop them. So ask yourself, at this point, how do I love my neighbor? Many of your neighbors had their businesses shut down for weeks, many are hanging on for dear life financially, and now comes the mask mandates and no doubt many are going along for fear that if they are not in compliance they will be fined or closed down, potentially shuttering businesses for good. And so, Christians should be mindful of that pressure and potential. At the same time, the rioters in Portland and Seattle would like nothing more than to see copycat riots spring up in cities across our land. And those rioters are counting on compliant city councils who will defend their “right” to set businesses on fire.
So follow me closely here: the mask mandates – while no doubt championed by some true believers – are driven by the same mobs. I said this before, but it bears saying again, apart from the scenarios outlined above, the masks are the uniform of the mob. The reason I refuse to go quietly into that good night is because I’m not a revolutionary. I refuse to join the mob. The mask mandates are the precursor to the mob mandates. Therefore, my Tom Sawyer advice about having fun and being generally uncooperative is for the sake of my neighbors, for the sake of these businesses and livelihoods. I’ve been watching this game film for a minute, and I’ve seen this play go down a few times. Same song, fifteenth verse. First comes the masks, then comes the thugs. Sorry, but I love my neighbor too much to go along with verse sixteen.
Two Last Thoughts
First, as I mentioned in the Facebook post, I think this is what Jesus would do were He here. He ran roughshod over the supercilious rules of the Pharisees, intentionally ignoring them, transgressing them, and mocking them. And recall that the Pharisees had Roman swords to back up their officious superstitions when they wanted. While civil magistrates were not always directly involved, they were always looming in the shadows. The Pharisees could threaten fines and misdemeanors too. I mean, that’s how they got Jesus the death penalty. And all He did was pluck heads of grain on the Sabbath, forgot to wash his hands before dinner, healed on the Sabbath, called the Pharisees names, made fun of their funny uniforms, and told stories making fun of their hypocrisies all day long. I guess He also turned over the tables in the temple, and raised Lazarus from the dead. But most of our modern Christian leaders would say that Jesus did not have a very good testimony, and did not love his neighbors very well. I mean, was it really necessary to provoke them so much? Did Jesus do enough listening?
In other words, and this is the last point, Jesus was a Tom Sawyer to the cranky, stuffy bureaucracy of the world. C.S. Lewis famously pictured the devil as an officious bureaucrat, a bitchy bean counter. The devil is the Accuser and the Father of Lies: he’s an exacting, huffy accountant who always brings charges and complaints. But Jesus played hooky from his parents when He was twelve, and no doubt all our modern seminary professors would have a word or two of correction for Him. But He had to be about His Father’s business. And so must we.
I know that many people just want everything to go back to normal. Many hope that if we just go along and flatten this new curve or spike or whatever it is, then we can go back to the way things were. And people like me, counseling difficulty, seem like the troublemakers. But remember, we didn’t start this. We were worshiping God on the Lord’s Day. We were loving our families, running our businesses, paying extra tuition for our kids to go to classical Christian schools, reading Tom Sawyer in the evenings at the dinner table. The trouble comes from sin, rebellion, bloodguilt, shame, fear, and rage.
We must not be hoping or praying that everything goes back to normal. Too many babies have died. Too many lives and families destroyed. We must be praying that God will do whatever it takes to bring us to our knees. But no amount of political or social maneuvering will do that. You can’t get this poison out by turning over a new leaf. Civility will not save America. The only thing that will heal this land is the most uncivil thing that ever happened in the history of the world. The only good man who ever lived, the only righteous man who ever lived was stripped naked and beaten and mocked and spat on for this land. A crown of thorns was smashed into his skull for the skulls of infants crushed by orders of their own mothers. His hands and feet were pierced, and He hung for hours bleeding out, suffocating for our secret sins, broken vows, and treacherous lies. He who knew no sin became sin for us so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. What the law could not do, God did by condemning sin in the flesh of Christ so that there might be no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus.
We have gotten lost in a deep dark cave through our own willful insolence and rebellion, but Jesus, the far Greater Tom Sawyer, came for us. He went down into that darkness for us, and only He knows the way out.