Dear Gov. Gianforte:
We are a group of pastors, priests, rabbis, chaplains, elders and faith leaders across the state of Montana who are hopeful about our future as you start in this new job. However, we are also weary and worn, as we have been walking with hundreds of individuals and families through the impacts of COVID-19, either directly or with family members or friends.
For many of us this is the worst combination of isolation, anxiety, despair and grief that we've seen in our lives. We are hopeful that the vaccine will turn things around, but all indications suggest that the next two to three months will be difficult and dangerous for many Montanans.
We empathize with the calls to lift the mask mandate based on the values of personal freedom and responsibility. Perhaps this would be OK if the people taking risks only risk their own health. However, multiple studies and health professionals across our country are clear that not wearing a mask or wearing one incorrectly creates risk for others, and this has contributed greatly to our crisis. It would be great if we could expect that people would act responsibly without external regulations, but we know that thousands of our fellow citizens will not wear masks unless mandated to do so.
As people of faith, our greatest values are to love God and love our neighbors. Today, loving our neighbor means protecting those who are vulnerable from contracting this virus. Even healthy adults are vulnerable. The vulnerable are our parents, spouses, children, extended families and neighbors. We know that wearing masks will save many of the lives of our neighbors in need. The cost is merely a temporary inconvenience that all of us should embrace as a way to protect our neighbors, as well as ourselves.
Please consider keeping the mask mandate in place as long as needed for the sake of our neighbors in need. We look forward to working with you in the months and years to come.
This opinion is signed by: Reverend John Lund, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), Missoula; Reverend Jessica Crist, ELCA Bishop, retired, Great Falls; Jasmine Krotkov, Religious Society of Friends-Quakers, Great Falls; Rabbi Laurie Franklin, Congregation Har Shalom, Missoula; Rt Reverend Marty Stebbins, Bishop, Episcopal Diocese of Montana; Reverend Dr. Laurie Jungling, Bishop, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Montana; Rev. Dr. Marc Ian Stewart, Conference Minister, Montana-North Wyoming Conference, United Church of Christ; Father Rob Spaliatsos, Greek Orthodox, Missoula; Gordon Whirry, Roman Catholic, Great Falls; Dharmacarya Greg Grallo, Open Way Sangha, Missoula; Rev. John Daniels, pastor, First United Methodist Church, Missoula; and Ven. Dorcie Kafka Dvarishkis, Archdeacon, Episcopal Diocese of Montana.