Guest Column: Safeguarding One’s Neighbors

Article written by JC Defrense

Closeup of a typewritter and paper with the message "WEAR.YOUR.FACE.MASK protect yourself and others" typed on the paper.
Image by Bernie Emmons is licensed under CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

I find it really interesting that the majority of anti-mask and anti-vaccination activists are Republican who are vocally Christian. You’d think given the early years of Christianity when much of the Roman world was consumed in plague, it was Christians who cared for the sick and dying such that their caring and sacrifice made many converts that such a tradition would be maintained today. Instead we see many behaving in an uncaring and frankly un-Christian manner flouting mask requirements and worse beating those seeking to care for their fellows by reminding everyone to wear masks in their places of business.

Martin Luther had a lot to say about how Christians should behave in the midst of a pandemic, as the Black Death, bubonic plague, swept through Wittenberg and much of Europe. Luther was asked one of his followers Reverend Doctor Johann Hess, pastor in the city of Breslau, about proper behavior for a Christian in response to the deadly plague. Luther wrote a multi-page pamphlet — “Whether One May Flee From A Deadly Plague” — in response.

Regarding the responsibility of public officials in time of such a crisis Luther wrote: Accordingly, all those in public office such as mayors, judges, and the like are under obligation to remain. This, too, is God’s word, which institutes secular authority and commands that town and country be ruled, protected, and preserved…

Luther’s view of the individual’s responsibility toward others was also quite clear, he wrote: It is not forbidden but rather commanded that by the sweat of our brow we should seek our daily food, clothing, and all we need and avoid destruction and disaster whenever we can, as long as we do so without detracting from our love and duty toward our neighbor. How much more appropriate it is therefore to seek to preserve life and avoid death if this can be done without harm to our neighbor. Anyone who does not do that for his neighbor, but forsakes him and leaves him to his misfortune, becomes a murderer in the sight of God.

Luther pulled no punches on the topic of “Disregarding Everything Which Might Counteract the Plague and Death” writing: They are much too rash and reckless, tempting God and disregarding everything which might counteract death and the plague. They disdain the use of medicines; they do not avoid places and persons infected by the plague, but lightheartedly make sport of it and wish to prove how independent they are. They say that it is God’s punishment; if he wants to protect them he can do so with-out medicines or our carefulness. This is not trusting God but tempting him. God has created medicines and provided us with intelligence to guard and take good care of the body so that we can live in good health.

If one makes no use of intelligence or medicine when he could do so without detriment to his neighbor, such a person injures his body and must beware lest he become a suicide in God’s eyes.

Luther took a dim view of anyone who couldn’t be bothered to act in the best interest of the community likening not taking protective measures to safeguard one’s neighbors to letting a neighbor’s house burn without attempting to put out the fire. He considered it murder. I imagine he’d take the same dim view of today’s right-wingers who spread their anti-mask and anti-vaccine vitriol while simultaneously spreading COVID-19 and from time to time dying of it.

JC Dufresne is a local Democrat.

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