Stephanie Gatlin.jpeg

Stephanie Gatlin is a resident of Bakersfield.

I have been a born-again Christian for 17 years. I grew up in local churches, and I have some fond memories attending church as a child. As a mom, I want the same for my children. Before the pandemic, it was the highlight of my child’s week to go to children’s church at the local church we attended. I felt safe at my home church, and as a Christian, I know the importance of going to church and worshipping with my fellow believers.

When the pandemic started, like many others, my family stopped going to church and started viewing services online. I miss the time spent in worship and feel that the time set aside for church is a time away from distractions for me to focus on my walk with the Lord.

My question is: When will I be able to feel safe attending church again?

I recently spoke to a member of my church from before the pandemic, and I asked her how it was there. She happily exclaimed, “No one wears masks. But who cares?” I have friends from other churches, and I know their stance on mask-wearing.

I understand that religion and science have never been friends; therefore, let me make a case for why churches should begin to encourage mask-wearing that does not rely on the many valid scientific arguments about the benefits of masks.

Paul writes in Romans 14:13: “Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.”

As Christians, whether we believe that mask-wearing works, or whether we feel wearing masks aligns with our personal opinions, is not the point. In fact, it is irrelevant.

By not wearing masks and even allowing an anti-mask culture in our churches, the church has put a stumbling block in my way of attending. I feel unsafe bringing my family inside a building where hundreds of people are together unmasked. I would not be very well-protected against the virus by being the only person wearing a mask in a crowd of hundreds of people. I also believe I would be greatly risking my baby’s health by bringing her inside a building with hundreds of unmasked people, especially since she cannot wear a mask yet or be vaccinated.

Consider this: Would the Lord want me to feel safe as I attend church with my family? Or would He want you to stand by your personal beliefs about this virus and your politics?

Until churches openly and adamantly encourage masks to be worn, I won’t be attending. I believe in and wholly value God’s protection, but I don’t believe it is right to test Him.

I value the experience of church, and I appreciate the sense of community that a group of believers can bring. But masks and my family’s safety are a primary concern for me.

Consider this, as well: I am a born-again believer in Christ. How many non-believers who feel the same as me are also feeling excluded?

If your church is encouraging mask-wearing, please let me know. I would love to learn more about your community. My email is stephaniegatlins@gmail.com.

Stephanie Gatlin is a resident of Bakersfield.