By Paul Laurence Dunbar

We wear the mask that grins and lies, It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,– This debt we pay to human guile; With torn and bleeding hearts we smile, And mouth with myriad subtleties.

Why should the world be overwise,
In counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, let them only see us, while
We wear the mask.

We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries
To thee from tortured souls arise.
We sing, but oh the clay is vile
Beneath our feet, and long the mile;
But let the world dream otherwise,
We wear the mask!

Paul Laurence Dunbar was America’s first nationally acclaimed African American poet. He penned these words in 1895.  Dunbar wrote of the mask of human guile, a covering of false bravado and deception worn to hide one’s true feelings. Today, there is a much more palpable debate taking place over masks.  

David French, an attorney and national journalist with whom I had the pleasure of working for a brief time, recently said we are in the midst of a cultural war today over government-imposed mask mandates.  The controversy, being debated between generally conservatives and progressives, centers around deeply engrained values of personal freedom versus the power of government to impose “for the greater good” requirements based on scientific claims that such mandates will curb the spread of a pestilence we know commonly as Covid-19.

What is the proper Christian response in the midst of this controversy?  What instruction may we find in scripture to guide us?  To borrow from the title of one of the late Francis Schaeffer’s books, how shall we then live?

Scott Sauls, senior pastor at Christ Presbyterian recently spoke on Paul’s teaching in Romans 14 as a contextual framework for the mask debate. Paul addresses a similar dispute within the church at Rome over whether it was proper to eat certain foods that had been sacrificed to idols.  He admonishes followers of Christ not to judge those who are exercising their freedom to partake of such foods.  With the same breath he also urges those who boast in their freedom not to assert it for freedom’s sake, but to avoid exercising them when they may be a stumbling block for the weaker brother. 

Today there are contradictory reports surrounding the effectiveness of masks. The overwhelming consensus is that such devices provide a barrier to infection, particularly among those who are most weak and susceptible to infection. More than 30 states have imposed mandated face coverings. Repeat offenders who violate these mandates can face increased fines and, in some cases, even incarceration. In Tennessee, Governor Lee has authorized local governing authorities in 89 counties to issue Covid-19 mask requirements. 

Our office has received numerous calls for legal advice from some residents in outlying counties regarding the enforceability of such mandates. Some argue that such a requirement infringes upon their constitutional freedom.  Others contend there is countervailing medical evidence that wearing a mask in hot, humid weather poses a severe health risk.

Like the lawyer Paul, I am able to appreciate both sides of this debate. I will candidly admit that I often succumb to frustration strapping on a mask in this summer heat, but if I am true to my Christian convictions I must realize that I wear it in service to others – the weak and vulnerable in our community, and in recognition of Christ’s teaching that “whatsoever you have done for the least of these, you have done for me.”

Larry L. Crain, Crain Law Group, PLLC –

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