Unmasking Faith – Grace Landrum

I read this great editorial by Pope Francis that was published by the New York Times a couple months ago. It was titled “A Crisis Reveals What Is in Our Hearts” and was about the COVID-19 pandemic. The piece was fittingly published the morning after a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down restrictions of religious gathering sizes in New York. Pope Francis wrote about responses to restrictions put in place by governments in order to quell outbreaks around the world. He said, “[G]roups protested, refusing to keep their distance, marching against travel restrictions – as if measures that governments must impose for the good of their people constitute some kind of political assault on autonomy or personal freedom! Looking to the common good is much more than the sum of what is good for individuals. It means having a regard for all citizens and seeking to respond effectively to the needs of the least fortunate.” I am not a Catholic, but I find his words to be a perfect response to this moment.

I thought of the Pope’s statements again as I watched a church service from a computer screen and saw dozens of unmasked churchgoers in the pews. I found myself struggling to listen to anything the pastor said, instead fixating on those choosing not to wear a mask. Many Christian churches have refused to take this pandemic seriously, specifically my family’s church. I know that not all Christian churches are as reckless as my own, but I am fairly certain that my experience is not novel or singular. This issue is personal for me as it is for many others around the world. My father is an infectious disease specialist at a local hospital. I have watched him over the course of this pandemic work extraordinarily long hours, constantly field phone calls and text messages from coworkers and family alike, and treat hundreds of COVID patients. He has watched as so many people – from the young and healthy to elderly and frail patients – lost their lives to COVID.

It seems a failure of my church, and maybe more broadly of Christians in America, that so many who say they are Christians choose not to wear a mask. Have these Christians refusing to wear a mask any concern for humanity? What of the common good and Jesus’ command to love others? I believe that Pope Francis presents us with a genuinely Christian (and human) call to action: “The pandemic has reminded us that no one is saved alone. What ties us to one another is what we commonly call solidarity. Solidarity is more than acts of generosity, important as they are; it is the call to embrace the reality that we are bound by bonds of reciprocity. On this solid foundation we can build a better, different, human future.” This call to action is a comfort when my own religious community has chosen to reject our reality.

My own experience has left a rather sour taste in my mouth when it comes to Christianity and religious community. What has your religious experience been like during the pandemic? Have those in your faith community taken COVID-19 seriously, or have they disregarded rules and medical advice? I hope that your own experience has been one of solidarity in the pursuit of a common good.

6 thoughts on “Unmasking Faith – Grace Landrum”

  1. Grace —

    Great blog post!
    I love how you took a passage from an article and expounded upon it and delineated the connection that it has to you.
    Thanks so much for sharing,

  2. Grace,
    You bring up a great point. The disregard for others and the refusal to wear masks is also something I have seen among the Christian community as well. I was recently affected by Covid because my stepdad refused to listen to my mom and I when we told him to not go to church and watch preachers online instead. He decided to go regardless and the entire church caught covid basically at the same time so we know for sure it was there he caught it. Anyway, the pastor of that churh actually died of it and others were hospitalized last month and given that my mom is considered vulnerable population (she didn’t catch covid after all though) it was very scary. It makes me very angry to think that my mom could have been seriously affected or dead because my stepdad was so selfish. To be honest, to this day I am still not over it and I also don’t see a day in the near future where I can feel okay with him after he unnecessarily put me and my mom at such a risk. I had sacrificed my entire 2020, avoiding even my closest friends because covid is unpredictable and I did not want to suffer unknown long-term effects or have my mom’s life jeopardized but I had to deal with covid anyway because of someone selfish in my household who did not even isolate when symptoms started showing.
    Unlike my stepdad, my mom has been responsible and conscious of others so she has been watching preachers on tv on Sundays. I remember there was a day where I heard the preacher saying that masks didn’t work and that “they” just wanted to weaken our inmune system by forcing us to use them….. I told my mom to turn off the tv because I really could not believe a person of such influence could be spreading such dangerous false information. The way the church has been handling this pandemic has disappointed me greatly and revealed to me how selfish these institutions can be. It has made me question a lot of things.

    1. Laura,
      Thank you so much for sharing about your experience. I hope your family has recovered from COVID, and I am glad to hear that your mom did not end up getting sick. I also have had extended family members who have gotten sick from religious service attendance and it is so frustrating to see the way the church has responded to the pandemic. I really relate to the frustrations you share and have also been shocked by the selfishness of Christian institutions.

  3. Hello Grace,

    Loved the article you shared and your thoughts on it. For me, I have practiced my faith on my own versus with a community so a lot has not changed for me. In a way, I have come together with my Muslim friends and started a book club virtually to talk about readings on faith. The pandemic has brought me personally a lot of time to devote, understand and further create a dialogue about faith.

  4. Hello, Grace – thanks for this insightful post! Basically everything you wrote about is something I’ve been intently considering lately. I know a couple of important Eastern Orthodox Church figures have unfortunately passed from Covid, and then mourners continued to attend funerals maskless… however, I’ve also seen other members and congregations of my faith behave responsibly and safely in the name of God! It truly is so frustrating to watch people warp the message of your religion to excuse harmful and irresponsible behavior, especially when you believe that the true core of your religion would be to protect others and make sacrifices to do so.

  5. Grace,
    I really appreciated reading about your personal connection. My religious experience has been actually taking a back seat for a while. After I started high school, I didn’t go to Gurdwara much besides mornings and then leaving early to get my homework done. Making Sunday’s schedule revolve around trips to the Gurdwara diminished as we got older and by the time we got to college, we rarely went on Sundays. When COVID hit, our temple shut down but it was not long too after it was open again and people were attending temple like the pandemic wasn’t a real issue. I think there are some people who do take it seriously, but there are far more people who do it half-heartedly. They wear masks but not over their noses, or they don’t maintain social distance. And the purpose for going to Gurdwara for people is not always a religious one–rather there’s a social need that people feel like they need to fulfill, but they use religion as an excuse. I think I’m grazing over the details, but the big picture is that the community’s religousity is supposedly legit if people are making the trip to Gurdwara. But, the Gurdwara is just a place and according to our philosophy, we can be in the presence of God anywhere as long as we make that time to remember Waheguru. Well done with your post!

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