Till we have faces

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.
May 20, 2022

For some passengers, the word came midflight. In Florida, U.S. District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle had blocked enforcement of the Biden administration’s prolonged mask mandate for airlines and public transportation. Judge Mizelle handed down her ruling on Monday, and the masks started to come off. At the same time, some masks stayed on, and that’s also part of the story.

The federal mask mandate had been put in place early in the Biden administration. The political left and many public health authorities had been calling for the mandate, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ordered the wearing of masks on most forms of public transportation, effective Jan. 29, 2021—just days after President Joe Biden took the oath of office.

Then, as now, the mandated wearing of masks as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic was highly controversial. For one thing, the leading authorities put forward by the government, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, had, early in the pandemic, dismissed masks as absolutely unhelpful. Later, he claimed to have lied to the public, since masks were limited and he wanted medical personnel to have them. Public health officials also claimed that developing knowledge of how COVID spreads indicated that mask-wearing would be helpful, or even necessary, in preventing the transmission of the disease.

The mandates came in a torrent. Cities, school systems, businesses, and states came up with their own mandates. The Biden transportation mandate covered all contexts and forms of transportation that received federal funding or involved federal administration.

Quickly, the wearing or non-wearing of masks became a political statement. At the same time, the scientific evidence was often misrepresented. The best consensus is that the proper wearing of advanced masks such as N95 respirators in settings of close human contact could make a difference. No one questions whether the wearing of such masks is advisable, to say the least, in an operating room.

But the evidence also makes clear that wearing normal cloth masks, and wearing any mask improperly, has very little effect on the transmission of COVID. It is undeniable that knowledge of viral transmission changed (more than once) in the course of efforts to limit the spread of COVID. But it also became more and more clear that a divide over government responses to COVID was shaping up along the familiar red state–blue state and conservative-liberal political lines.

Eventually, it became clear that the differential between high-regulation states and low-regulation states was not remarkable when it came to COVID spread and hospitalization rates. Did social distancing and mask regulations make a big difference? According to The New York Times, “The answer is surprisingly unclear.” Given the source, that was quite an admission.

It also became increasingly clear that millions of Americans were growing more and more resistant to mask mandates. The Biden administration’s extensions of the mandate, most recently through May 3, infuriated conservatives, among others.

But the fact that the mandate was extended only to May 3 caused apoplexy for those on the left: Does the administration not realize that the world would be a safer place if everyone wore masks everywhere, all the time, even after the COVID pandemic no longer offers urgency?

Judge Mizelle’s ruling was solid and clear. She found that the Biden administration rule exceeded the authority of the CDC. She cited a Supreme Court ruling from last year in which the court addressed another question related to COVID and explained the issue clearly. The court declared that “our system does not permit agencies to act unlawfully even in pursuit of desirable ends.” Her ruling was sweeping, but the bottom line is that the CDC violated federal rule-making policies and had no adequate legal justification for its mandate.

The Biden administration responded on Monday by acknowledging Judge Mizelle’s ruling and advising that the White House was considering whether to appeal the judgment. By Tuesday, the administration was signaling a likely appeal, but also providing itself with an exit ramp. In truth, the judge’s ruling offers the Biden administration a way out of a political trap. Seen in this light, the White House can tell the political left and public health authorities that it did its best while letting the policy die at other hands. But, then again, this White House may be so ideological-driven that the exit ramp will be ignored.

To me, the saddest comments on this issue have come from young people, including many teenagers, who report anxiety about the idea of not wearing a mask. The mask, inherently depersonalizing, had offered a way to hide. The idea of not wearing a mask seems threatening and vulnerable.

But God made us to show our faces, for He made our faces. As the Apostle Paul tells us, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12).

We need to see each other, face-to-face, until we see His glory, face-to-face.

This article originally appeared at WORLD Opinions on April 20, 2022.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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