“The most important commandment is this: ‘Listen, O Israel! The LORD our God is the one and only LORD. And you must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.” (Mark 12:29-31, NLT)
There is no question that in order to follow Jesus we must love our neighbors.
This has been a common sentiment the last 18 months as we have endured the COVID pandemic.
I understand the thought. Part of loving people is not harming them. That means more than not physically hurting them. It means if we can do something to keep people safe we should do it.
Before I go any further I want to point out that I am not a scientist. The last science class I took was a community college biology class 30 years ago. My point is not to make a scientific case, but help us think through how we love people.
With that in mind, is this thought about masking wearing and being vaccinated the best way to love our neighbor?
In my mind this argument depends on assuming that wearing masks and being vaccinated are the only ways to keep people safe. Therefore, if we don’t want to harm to someone then that requires us to mask up and get vaccinated.
The reality is that there are other things we can do to help keep people safe. We can wash our hands, we can cover our coughs and sneezes, and can stay home when we are sick. Those are all things that help keep people safe.
The key here is about motivations. You are acting in love, even if you decide not to mask up or be vaccinated, when you consistently and intentionally practice other ways to keep people safe.
If the reason you are refusing to mask up and to be vaccinated is because you are going to “protect your rights,” and you don’t do other things to keep people safe, then you are not loving your neighbor.
As Christians, our primary task is to love people. That means that our greatest concern isn’t about our personal liberties, but the well-being of others. So, if our primary reason for not wearing masks and not being vaccinated is about our rights AND we don’t do other things to protect the health of others, we are failing to keep the most important commandment.
It all comes down to motivation.
This is also important piece of the puzzle.
Again, it is legitimate to think that these actions we are being asked to make, and in some cases that are being mandated, have little benefit. That doesn’t mean we can disregard the health concerns of other people. That is why it is essential, as we seek to love people, that we are consistent in doing alternative things to protect the health of people.
Another reason why I think this line of reasoning should be pushed back on is because we can use it as a reason to do other things. We can say that we want socialism because it promotes “loving our neighbor.”
I would argue that a free market economy that promotes the free exchange of goods, services, and ideas is the best way to love your neighbor.
While the stated goals of a more socialist economy appear to be loving, in the long run it could lead to more hardship and harm, which would be unloving.
This is why we shouldn’t pull out the “love your neighbor” card when we are talking about policy. Something seem to be loving in the short term might have longer negative effects. So people who are opposed to government mandates for masks and vaccinations are opposed to them because of unintended consequences that will show up later, including greater governmental interference in our private lives.
It is important that followers of Jesus take the command to love our neighbors seriously. As you think through how to love people we also need to consider our motivations and the consequences for our actions.