Yesterday, March 2, was Texas Independence Day. Our governor seized the opportunity to announce that the statewide mask mandate would be rescinded, allowing for businesses to operate at full capacity. With flags still at half-staff after the United States surpassed 500,000 deaths from the pandemic last week, with only 6.5% of the nearly 29,000,000 people in the state of Texas fully vaccinated as of March 1, and with hospital bed occupancy related to COVID-19 in Brazos County at 85% and ICU beds at 98%, it is arguably quite premature to be lifting a mandate on wearing face masks in public spaces, and even more dangerous to suggest that it is one’s proud right to not live under the supposed burden of placing a piece of fabric over their mouth and nose in order to protect their neighbor and themselves from contracting a highly contagious, potentially life-threatening virus. Still, in the spirit of a day celebrating Texas’ freedom and liberty, the governor justified his decision saying that “people and businesses don’t need the state telling them how to operate.”
Some reactions to the announcement also expounded on the spirit of Texas Independence Day, touting freedom from having to wear a mask. With the public narrative mingling these notions of freedom, we Texans who “pledge allegiance to thee, Texas, one state under God” would do well to differentiate between freedom from Mexico (in the case of Texas Independence Day) and freedom in God, freedom in Christ. The former boasts individual liberty from alleged external threats, while the former celebrates the freedom we have from unsustainable self-righteousness, from the myth of scarcity, and from seeing friends, neighbors, and strangers as intimidators to our wellbeing.
Freedom in God is about deliverance from bondage—be it the bondage of domestic abuse, addiction, cyclical poverty, internalized and externalized oppression of every sort, or literal slavery—into the Promised Land of communal salvation where neighbor looks out for neighbor, citizens extend hospitality to foreigners, and everyone maintains the good of all by prioritizing care for the most vulnerable among them. The psalmist celebrates this type of independent living that delivers her into a way of life that bonds her to God and community by writing, “I will walk about in freedom, for I have sought out your precepts” (Psalm 119:45). Those divine precepts are not about individual liberty, but about communal responsibility, accountability, and trust that people of God call a “covenant” in which true freedom is found.
According to the apostle Paul, freedom in Christ is about salvation from the Law being the determinant of one’s acceptability and worth. By the freely given gift of faith extended for all time through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we—the whole world that God so loves—are granted independence from what Paul calls “the patterns of this world” (Romans 12:2) that contradict God’s will of defending the dignity and wellbeing of others as much as one’s own, of putting a spotlight on the marginalized and the oppressed to get the complete picture of what is required in establishing a common good, and, again, of putting the needs of the most vulnerable in society at the forefront of our decision-making. Paul writes in Galatians 5:13-15: “You were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only don’t let this freedom be an opportunity to indulge your selfish impulses, but serve each other through love. All the Law has been fulfilled in a single statement: Love your neighbor as yourself. But if you bite and devour each other, be careful that you don’t get eaten up by each other!”
Independence from self-absorbed wants delivers us into freedom toward one another’s essential needs. So, on this day after Texas Independence Day, this fourth generation Texan encourages you celebrate your timeless independence from self-devouring pride by continuing to wear your mask in public spaces as a faithful act of loving your neighbor as yourself. Maybe we don’t need the state telling us how to operate—that’s a matter of political opinion—but we all need love telling us how we will live with and toward one another.