What is a Reformed perspective on how we should approach wearing a face mask (including public health requirements for masks in schools), as well as whether or not someone should choose to receive the COVID-19 vaccine?
There’s no single Reformed perspective on these COVID-19 questions, which have become quite polarizing. There are, however, some important guiding Reformed principles that could lead us to more convergence.
Deeply embedded in Reformed thinking is the importance of the common good. We see this in the way John Calvin begins his interpretation of the sixth commandment (“You shall not kill”). Calvin proclaims that God has bound all humanity together in unity such that each person ought to be concerned with the “safety of all.” The positive concern for the well-being of all is the reason for the negative command against killing. And that positive concern is the deeper meaning and force of the commandment: we as individuals are called to contribute to the well-being of the broader community, including our shared cultural and economic life together.
How does this bear on masks and vaccines? I’ll be the first to say that wearing a mask isn’t particularly fun, especially in school. But unless someone has a specific health condition that makes mask-wearing actually hazardous, it is a minimal price to pay to contribute to the well-being of all and to the possibility of a vibrant cultural and economic life together, including education.
Similar reasoning supports the choice to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. It gives the individual significantly elevated protection against the disease. But just as important is the way in which vaccination contributes to public health—the common good. It protects others and contributes to the safety of all.
Jesus summarized the core of the biblical law as the obligation to love God and to love our neighbors (including our enemy). In the midst of a pandemic that has killed millions of people worldwide and could continue to mutate the longer opportunity it has to spread, wearing a mask and receiving a vaccine are concrete ways to show love for our neighbors.
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