Why It’s a Sin Not to Wear a Mask

A Word About Anti-Masking

You could say alot of things about the anti-vaccination, anti-masking, anti-mandate movement that is feeding the surge in the infection, hospitalization and death rates in Florida right now.

It’s anti-science. It’s the flashpoint for the continued attack on the authority of reason, knowledge and science that rejects facts in favor of crazy conspiracy theories and self-aggrandizing political hyperbole.

It’s anti-history. It is repeating the worst lessons we should have learned from the 1918 flu epidemic.

It’s anti-democracy. The Governor of Florida is arguing that for the sake of “parental freedom” he has the authority to overrule the freedom of local school boards to make critical decisions about the health and welfare of their students.

It’s stupid. It’s as stupid as claiming that I have the freedom to ignore public health and safety laws that require me to buckle my seatbelt, stop for a red light, and not to smoke in public or drive when drinking.

But anyone who is not blinded by political near-sightedness can say any of that. What can I say as a follower of Christ?

The Freedom to be Sinful

A basic biblical truth is that we have the freedom to be both stupid and sinful. In fact, the bible says that which is sinful is also stupid because it always ends up badly for both the sinner and those who are affected by my sinful choices.

The deepest truth about sin is that it is always selfish. St. Augustine called sin the “soul turned in on itself.” It’s the radical egotism that leads me to act as if I have no responsibility beyond my own self-absorption. If I claim to be a Christian, it is an outright rejection of Jesus’ command to love my neighbor.

Paul summarized the truth when he wrote to the Galatians:

“You were called to freedom, brothers and sisters, only don’t let this freedom be an opportunity to indulge your selfish impulses, but serve each other through love. All the Law has been fulfilled in a single statement: Love your neighbor as yourself. But if you bite and devour each other, be careful that you don’t get eaten up by each other!” (Galatians 5:13-15)

The Power to Be Free

We affirm the good news in our Baptism liturgy when we “accept the freedom and power God give you to resist evil, injustice and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.”

Paul promised that power when he wrote:

“People whose lives are based on selfishness think about selfish things, but people whose lives are based on the Spirit think about things that are related to the Spirit. The attitude that comes from selfishness leads to death, but the attitude that comes from the Spirit leads to life and peace …

“So then, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation, but it isn’t an obligation to ourselves to live our lives on the basis of selfishness. If you live on the basis of selfishness, you are going to die. But if by the Spirit you put to death the actions of the body, you will live.” (Romans 8:5-13)

OK. I don’t like wearing a mask any more than you do. I miss communicating with a smile. But in the midst of a raging, deadly, highly-contagious pandemic, not wearing a mask is both sinful and stupid. Wearing a mask, getting vaccinated (unless there is a medical exception), and supporting reasonable public health mandates is smart. It’s an act of Christ-like love. It’s also a step toward Spirit-empowered life and peace.

Grace and peace,


Just released! “Finding Your Bearings: How the Words That Guided Jesus through Crisis Can Guide Us” emerged out of the converging crises of 2020 and points to the way Jesus found his bearings in the words and stories he inherited from the Old Testament. I pray it will be helpful as we find our way through the crises of our lives. It’s also available on Amazon.

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31 thoughts on “Why It’s a Sin Not to Wear a Mask

  1. blievingjr@aol.com August 12, 2021 — 1:29 pm

    GREAT JOB TODAY, Jim! | | |


  2. Interesting that you hold up a “My body, my choice” sign for ridicule, yet you refuse to condemn the pro-abortionists, who march with the same battle cry. And, speaking of science, that science is quite clear as to when life begins in the womb. So, which is it? Why do you believe it is justified to choose winners and losers in the “My body, my choice” debate?

    1. Jim as you know, my father was also a United Methodist pastor for 42 years. Interestingly, in all those years he believed that politics didn’t belong in the pulpit. I wasn’t quite sure of his political views until long after he retired. While you are retired from preaching, you still have a pulpit – seemingly a polarizing one. There are so many things you could write about that would be helpful, encouraging, uplifting, and kingdom-building. Yet the few times I have read your writing, it appears that is not the case.

      In these polarizing times, you might prayerfully consider whether you calling others toward Christ or turning them away by calling them stupid for not thinking or believing like you. I am not sure that is something Jesus would do. And I totally agree with Dave Kesler!

    2. My view is that the problem with applying the “My body, My choice” perspective to Covid is that the consequences of not being vaccinated fall on others as well as you. I agree that abortion (outside medical qualification) is a detestable consequence when applied to cure sexual misconduct but the consequence is to the unborn and its mother and father. While that is sufficient in the eyes of God, the sin occurred with the uncaring and selfish sex act that produced the unwanted fetus. Perhaps those parallels with refusing vaccination are worthy of further reflection.

  3. Jim,

    Thank you for this timely, thoughtful and much-needed commentary on Christian freedom.

    Grace and peace, Tom


  4. Very well articulated, Jim! Thank you.

  5. Like a breath of fresh air. Thanks!

  6. Jim, Very well done. I wish I had said that.

  7. Jim,

    Thank you again for the right words at the right time. The rights and liberties this country provides and was built on doesn’t afford us the option to not protect the vulnerable or the young. I really don’t understand all the pushback and outrage on wearing a mask or being asked to wear a mask. And after your life time of service, I think it’s okay to say it’s stupid to not wear a mask 🙂

    – Julian Lane

      1. Jim, someone told me recently that you once said, and I paraphrase, that the Bible doesn’t specifically address abortion as a sin. Interestingly, I have never seen mask-wearing mentioned as a sin either. And I’m with Tim. For many years, your words have been largely political, and therefore polarizing. At times, I could have mistaken your words for a CNN story. You still have so much to offer from a theological perspective, that would hopefully unite us, rather than further divide us.

      2. Well, like most liberals you follow only the science that suits your own thoughts. There is just as much science that says the type of mask that is available to the great majority of the population are NOT effective. The only effective mask is an N-95. Good luck finding one of those.
        I am also amused by your willingness to pull out the SIN word for something like this when you support other behavior which the Scripture clearing defines as sin. You seem fairly wishy-washy to me!

  8. Excellent work as usual, Jim.
    Thank you.

  9. Thank you for this post. I wholeheartedly agree. It covers many aspects of this problem and the one that concerns me most is the fact that the parents’ who are anti mask do not seem to be worried about their own children. Also, I can only presume that our Governor is more concerned about votes than he is our children. Another aspect that people haven’t thought about is the affect the unvaccinated getting Covid is having on hospital admissions. Those of us who are needing surgery that is elective have it postponed due to a lack of beds and have to stay in pain not knowing, week to week when we will be called in. Wear a mask and prevent the spread of the infection. It’ easy!

  10. Well said, Jim. Thanks. >

  11. Mary Webb Walker August 12, 2021 — 11:10 pm

    Jim, I applaud your post. And I do not believe anything to do with Covid including vaccinations or masking should be political. It’s a health crisis! I now have 26 people on my prayer list who are fully vaccinated and have Covid. I lost a brother because he couldn’t get an ICU bed because they were full of Covid patients. I lost a mother-in-law because we could not visit for 15 months in England, where she was not allowed to leave her room and died of failure to thrive and loneliness. This is not about personal freedom. It’s about the greater good. The kids going into ICU now are breaking my heart. What happened to coming together as a community, as a nation, to make sure that we all had a chance to survive this pandemic? If people talked with the mother I know who was vaccinated, worked in an office requiring masks, but then was exposed from clients coming in when the mask rule was lifted, got Covid with no symptoms, gave it to her 7-year-old daughter with no pre-existing conditions and is in ICU fighting for her life for the past two months… I just don’t know how people can live with themselves if there is a chance they might harm someone else.

    1. Mary, I feel for you. My mother died in England in December. I could not travel for her funeral. Worse still, my sister could not even attend and she was told that she couldn’t even have a funeral for her for 4 months unless she was taken to another county and she still couldn’t travel to that county. There has been no real closure for any of us even though we have done our own little services by Zoom. I keep a picture of her and place a flower by it every so often. Covid has caused many problems, and heartaches and this mask thing is, unfortunately, such an added problem.

  12. Thanks Jim

  13. First, Jim didn’t say it was stupid, he said it was a sin. Second, if our freedoms and liberties obviously don’t protect the young and vulnerable, or abortion would not be legal, nor promoted by the left. Where is the outrage here? Why hasn’t Jim EVER blogged about abortion being a sin? Lack of consistency results in a lack of credibility. And a lifetime of service doesn’t make that okay.

  14. carolyn newsome August 13, 2021 — 9:29 pm

    Let’s keep our focus on the pandemic and leave abortion for another day. I hate masks as I am hearing impaired and masks muffle sound and create real problems for me. But I wear one anyway. I’m 80 and know Covid could end my life so I stay home. We make choices, hopefully for the greater good.

  15. This is a great post. It makes me proud to be Methodist. I, too, think anti-vaxxers and anti-maskers are selfish. We need to speak out when the behavior of others endangers the vulnerable, the young; the elderly; and the ill.
    What you said is not political (and I would call you out on that)….it is about good health.

  16. Thank you for this wise message, Jim. I hate masks, too, but because it protects the people around me in case I have a breakthrough case, I gladly wear it for the very reason you stated: it’s a way to love those around me. God bless you!

  17. The average citizen in this country had nothing whatsoever to do with turning the pandemic into a political issue. Neither did Jim Harnish in this writing. Jim, thank you for making an effort to communicate how Jesus would want us to respond. We are called to work together for the common good. My older brother was an ordained UM minister who became an Air Force chaplain. Sadly, he died of the coronavirus that appeared in 1988 in California when he was 47 with no pre-existing health issues. This past year, I lost a sister and her husband and their son to covid19. Their daughter, my niece, who is an only child, lost both parents and her stepbrother. Imagine the grief we feel. My niece was a hospice nurse, but these were her parents. Her stepbrother was 48 with no pre-existing medical issues either. He is one of 5 people in the 45-50 age group that I know personally who died of Covid, 3 females and 2 males. All of my family members have had the vaccine, and though I am 72 years old with decent health, I would never be able to live with myself if I somehow carried a virus of any kind to my 89 year old mother in law or my spouse or my neighbors or friends. I am the designated errand runner for groceries right now. For me, wearing a mask is a simple gesture, and I do not have to wear it all day like doctors and nurses do. I think of it sometimes as a way to show solidarity and a way to honor my sister’s memory, too. Please understand that I am not upset by those who have questions or comments; it comes with the territory. I think I understand what Jim is trying to do and say, too. Keep on keeping on, Jim, as my pastor often said.
    Grace and peace to all of you reading these words. I pray for all of us, Anne

  18. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on how wearing a mask and getting vaccinated show Christ like love for others. I can easily picture Jesus being the first one in his area to wear a mask and the first one in line to get vaccinated against covid. He would do it as an an example and would expect his followers to do the same.

  19. Lora Lea Edwards August 14, 2021 — 2:42 am

    Jim, you have put into words what I have been wrestling with as well as the tragic stories of those who have been attacked by this invisible enemy. Does anyone want to get COVID? Haven’t heard of anybody yet. I bet even the 74,000 people at the Garth Brooks concert in KC don’t want to get it but the vaccination station in the parking lot only vaccinated 35 people. Nobody thinks that the rest were already vaccinated. Did they want to get COVID by not being careful? Brooks told people to self quarantine after show. Yeah. Right. He is rethinking his tour though. Then there is former President Obama celebrating his 60th birthday for 3 days at Martha’s Vineyard and 63 guests got COVID. No masks required. Was there a requirement that everyone be fully vaccinated in order to attend? Did they have to show their vaccination cards? It would have been smart if he had required masks and wore one himself. How many were parents of kids under 12? Did they worry that they were taking a chance on getting a breakthrough infection and pass it to their unvaccinated little ones who are getting sick at higher rates as the opportunistic coronavirus looks for more hosts to destroy? But oh, the fabulous food and fun they would have missed if they stayed home or worn masks.
    We are rueing the day we accepted the notion that science is less reliable than political positions. This is collective sin as well as individual sin. It is choice that doesn’t consider loving others the same as ourselves even loving those in the whole world. I live in Iowa where our governor was ranked last in leading the state in containing the viral enemy and protecting the public from a disease worse than polio and easier to spread. I homeschooled my kindergarten grandson to be safer and not roll dice. The people I know that refuse to be vaccinated so far are nice people and think it logical to ignore doctors and public health specialists in favor of an easily refuted claim that it is really about freedom and the Constitution. A state legislator told someone I know that even though his brother died of COVID, he really died of something else and cause of death was fiction on his death certificate. And he has been given task of making laws. He believes it is all a conspiracy. Some are even hearing that from clergy.
    Our planet is in peril because we didn’t want to believe the science when it first came out in a report about 30 years ago which has been proven right and we have little time to stop the damage we have caused. That is sin. It is not political. Individual and collective sin. The Bible says we are to be good stewards of the universe really–that is Creation. How dare we good people in industrialized countries put our planet and everyone on it in peril because we don’t want to give up the conveniences and products that use fossil fuels. We have dragged our feet in putting pressure on corporations to reduce fossil fuels which those who wrote the report now say that individual carbon footprint reduction is not enough. It never has been. Who among us has not been a sinner on this and wanted to pretend there is no such thing as global warming when too much sacrifice was asked of us? Are you and I ready to stop the collective selfishness and not just clean up our own backyards and think we have done our part?
    Because several of you have tried to equate public response to a pandemic to the religious opinions of when life begins and science hasn’t made that decision, I decided to say something that seldom gets said on the issue. We have politicized the heartbreaking experiences women suffer trying to decide to end or not end a pregnancy. I know as I have chosen ending a pregnancy more than once over my reproductive years because I am one of unlucky few that is so sick I couldn’t take care of myself the whole pregnancies was was able to complete. Even my evangelical doctor came into my hospital room and asked me to consider it to end my misery and the risks from that. I didn’t then because he took better care of me. I have witnessed first hand how this whole issue is a quicksand of attitudes about the role of women in God’s creation. It took a Supreme Court Ruling to recognize women who are disabled in pregnancy should get disability. Insurance said the illness was a choice I risked so didn’t qualify for coverage. Of course, it was far more complicated than that for women. I thought about vomiting on Reagan’s shoes if he had the misfortune of meeting me in a hospital and trying to tell me that I must abide by his religious position when life begins. I was a history teacher and there was no way I could teach or even stand up without pain and wanting to vomit.
    Ultimately, this is where I stand. I have been a lifelong Methodist having been born and raised in Methodist parsonages, learning from my dad about the man called John Wesley and his theology of going on to perfection and think and let think. I have been blessed to witness folks in the churches where I have lived who showed me what it looks like to strive for Christin perfection. As you have said, it is what Christ pulled from the Old Testament, to love God and love others equally as I love myself. Nothing helps us grow a heart to love unselfishly like practicing loving others the way God does. It is the healthiest way to live.

    1. Your comment nailed it.

  20. It’s interesting that your moderators don’t post most of the comments that disagree with you or take you to task, Jim. I guess I should have expected you to be part of the “Cancel Culture”!

  21. Laura Hunt Edenfield August 14, 2021 — 12:27 pm

    I hate wearing a mask, but I teach children all day and I want them to stay healthy. It is a small inconvenience I am willing to endure. Thank you. I often post your articles on facebook. They are always excellent.

  22. These self consumed folks who won’t mask up should consider that they are contributing to the suffering and death of those of us who have followed the science. Their contribution to infections lead to more variants. These variants will eventually(soon) blow through our vaccines. It’s just like second-hand smoke. Only worse. Because at least smokers are addicted to nicotine. That’s a weak but real “excuse”. Non-maskers have no excuse whatsoever . None. It is, most definitely, a sin of the highest order to so egregiously disregard the welfare of others.

  23. Great post, Jim. Picking up for UM Insight, including the link to your new book. Thanks!

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