The last few years have blessed us with many reasons to sharpen our thinking. Not only have we learned more, we’ve clarified more of our convictions, and the following is just one example. The ECS Board has drafted this position on the theological basis for maskless education that we plan to adopt into our by-laws at our next meeting. As usual, your feedback is welcome.
Human beings—male and female—are made in the likeness of God (Genesis 1:27). Men/boys and women/girls are divine image-bearers. Adam was the first man to reflect his Creator, and every other generation after Adam and Eve have the same privilege, to live together and work together. Throughout church history Man has been celebrated as imago Dei, “the image of God.”
This recognition of human identity is fundamental to “Our Vision” for why our school exists:
“We aim to educate in the classical model and from the Christian worldview so that, by God’s grace, every student may mature as a faithful bearer of God’s image and a living sacrifice of worship”
“We believe that God purposed for men to bear His image in every relationship and in all their responsibilities….”
Because of our particular worldview, we educate students so that they would be “seeing every subject as the Lord’s and studying in order to be more faithful image-bearers and worshippers of Him.” Our first non-academic requirement for students to graduate from our school is that they be “stout image-bearers.”
That “image of God” means more than having opposable thumbs. On a broad level it means having the capacity for relationships (hence why it was not good for Adam to be alone and why God made Eve as a helper-companion, Genesis 2:18, 20) as well as the capacity for responsibility (so the original mandate to fill the earth and subdue it, Genesis 1:28). One of the inherent implications of these capacities is the faculty of communication and language (which was demonstrated on Adam’s first day when he named all the animals and then gave a name to his wife, Genesis 2:19-20). It was the abuse of the gift of communication that resulted in God confusing mankind’s language when they sought to make a name for themselves rather than work as reflections of the Lord (Genesis 11:4, 7).
As we all know, communication comes not only from our mouths, but from the faces that our mouths are on, as well as from our bodily movements and postures. Facial expressions are crucial non-verbal means of conveying social information between people, including nose-twitches and dropped-jaws and raised-eyebrows. Masks inhibit these normal signals, and increase unnatural messages (see the following paragraph). Masks muffle the clarity of phonics coming from the hard work done by tongue and teeth and throat, and prohibit extra helps the listener gets from looking at the lips. This is the opposite of a positive/supportive learning environment for image-bearers.
Worse than the practical problem is the relational problem of suspicion toward, and fear of, one’s fellow image-bearer. Masks increase anxiety in the group, not acceptance among the group. When the wearer thinks about herself, she thinks of herself as a threat to others, as if her latent germs can’t help but harm another. And if she does feel better about herself for covering up, it’s a false virtue, and false virtues have destroyed more societies than respiratory viruses. Then when we look at our neighbors (or classmates), masking practices teach us to think of our neighbor as a problem. If he’s not wearing a mask: problem. If he is wearing a mask: well at least he knows he’s a problem. Masks teach a false and damaging lesson (as do face shields and social distancing).
Our school’s internal governance requires obedience to God’s Word, especially in the second greatest commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39). But isn’t it unloving to start with assumptions about my neighbor that are so hesitant, if not resentful and scared?
God gave us faces. Face to face communication is a gift. Facetime is a more advanced technology than voice transmission by itself. Our faces are part of our identity, they reflect our hearts (Proverbs 14:13), as God intended it to be.
Of course, soldiers facing chemical warfare should wear gas masks, and masks worn by surgeons in the operating room are appropriately on purpose. So masks may serve a role in specific and limited situations. But we are against the wearing of masks in normal, day to day school settings. This position is strengthened by the scientific studies on the uselessness of masks to stop coronaviruses. But our position is based on the central vision of our school to educate image-bearers, and that requires conduct and communication that is maskless.