Grading the Church’s Pandemic Response

Almost a year and a half into the pandemic, I’ve been thinking about how the church has responded to it. And [deeply fatherly voice]: I’m so disappointed.

It didn’t have to be this way, of course. The church started out great, cancelling all church meetings at the front end of when we (in the U.S., anyway) realized this was a serious problem. But since then, it hasn’t done a lot to deal with this unprecedented (in recent memory, anyway) worldwide issue.

There are two main areas that really stoke my fatherly disappointment: vaccines and the return to the status quo.

Vaccination

It’s clear that ultimately, universal (or, short of that, mass) vaccination is our best route to safety here. And again, the church started out decently. Pretty much as soon as they qualified for vaccination, top church leaders (including Pres. Nelson) got vaccinated and posted pictures of themselves being vaccinated to social media. They apparently also issued a news release encouraging people to get vaccinated (though honestly, I—who am Very Online—didn’t see the news release until I was searching to find the social media link).

And that should have been enough. After all, we have no religious objection to vaccination. In fact, providing immunizations is one of the church’s official humanitarian activities. Church leadership could have been forgiven for assuming that members would follow suit.

Until members didn’t. It became clear, though, that a not-insignificant portion of members opposed vaccination. That opposition has now led to Utah County—where somewhere around 80% of the population are members of the church—to see a surge in Covid, including, notably, among unvaccinated teenagers. And, embarrassingly for the church, this surge is fueled partly by Youth Conferences, Girls Camps, and whatever is replacing Boy Scout camps (and, Carri Jenkins notwithstanding, BYU camps. Only 38% of Utah County residents have been vaccinated.

So why are they not following the prophet? I suspect it’s because, photo ops notwithstanding, the church has signaled that it doesn’t see Covid vaccinations as important (or, at least, its statements can easily be read that way).

But why, if it issued a press release and Instagram pictures? Because the church doesn’t communicate its important directives through Facebook and press releases. When the church wants members to do something, it sends a letter, signed by the First Presidency, to be read in sacrament meeting. It says explicitly to members that they need to get vaccinated. Perhaps Pres. Nelson or one of his counselors says it clearly and unequivocally in conference.

But it hasn’t done any of these things. Moreover, it has signaled its lack of seriousness about vaccination in other ways. It has encouraged, but not required, domestic missionaries to get vaccinated. And, counter to an enormous trend, BYU and BYU-Idaho aren’t requiring students, staff, or faculty to be vaccinated for the 2021-2022 school year. (BYU-Hawaii, by contrast, deserves huge plaudits for requiring vaccination, counter to the BYU trend.)

I’ve heard that BYU’s attorneys believe that they’re subject to an idiotic Utah law that prevents state actors from requiring vaccination. On the face of the law, it’s plausible for reasons I explain here—like many state laws, it’s really poorly drafted—but I’m deeply skeptical that a definition of “government entity” that included private universities would stand up if challenged. And, in fact, Westminster College has decided to mandate vaccines. BYU at the very least should require vaccines and, if the state tried to enforce the law, challenge it.[fn1]

A friend argues that maybe the church is hesitant to challenge any vaccine laws for good reason. And he may be right (though I don’t think either of us is entirely convinced). But if that’s the case, at the very least, the church should use its lobbying power in the Utah legislature to try to get the law repealed or fixed.

Now don’t get me wrong—conspiracists notwithstanding, the church doesn’t always get what it wants when it lobbies. But lobbying at least sends to the membership the message that the church takes this seriously. And the church lobbies the Utah legislature about alcohol and cannabis, not, it says, solely because of religious opposition but because of public health concerns. And if it can lobby on public health grounds, there’s no reason it can’t lobby about vaccination.

I’m under no illusions that if the church did signal explicitly that members should get vaccinated that all members would. I’ve said before that members aren’t automatons. Vaccination, for some strange reason, has become a marker of political identity and, as C.S. Lewis notably observed nearly three-quarters of a century ago, it’s easy to shift from prioritizing our religious to our political ideology. Some portion of members would continue to refuse vaccinations. But for those on the margins—not ideologically opposed to vaccination but also not entirely sure—it could prove a determining factor. And the church would demonstrate its prophetic care for its members and for the communities in which they live.

Status Quo

This one’s fuzzier and I’ll be a lot less wordy here. But in my experience—both in Chicago and from hearing from friends and family throughout the country—the church seems to be primarily interested in returning to the status quo ante. Which is a huge missed opportunity. We’ve had a year and a half to figure out how to succor those in need of succor in new ways, to meet truly necessary needs of our people.

A couple examples: I recently saw a high school friend who is now a pastor. Her congregation hasn’t met in person since March 2020. And they’ve taken as a theme, she told me, protecting the vulnerable. Early in the pandemic, that meant the elderly. Today it means kids under 12 who can’t be vaccinated yet. They’ve sacrificed—they miss their in-person community and are looking forward to reenacting it—but they’ve had deep Christian meaning in their sacrifice.

Another friend’s priest has announced that, even after returning fully to in-person Mass, they will continue streaming Mass online. They plan on streaming both to reach those people who, for whatever reason, cannot attend and to allow their congregants to participate in Mass while they’re travelling.

Us? Well, my ward is back to unmasked singing with no distancing but is still streaming sacrament meeting and, until the end of the month, the second hour. A relative’s stake president has announced that even streaming is done.

I understand that we want to put the pandemic behind us. I do too! But if we didn’t learn anything from the last year and a half, if we haven’t figured out how to minister better to our ward members, we’ve wasted an opportunity. And if we treat the pandemic like it’s over, even through the Delta surge and the fact that our children cannot yet get vaccinated, we’ve failed as a people. And that strikes me as true failure.


[fn1] Heck, we could have been using our buildings as pop-up vaccination clinics.

Comments

  1. It’s important to note the safety measures the church took in late 2019/early 2020 in parts of Asia, including relocating missionaries, closing temples, and suspending regular church meetings.

  2. Fair enough, MH. That actually underscores my disappointment: the church started out legitimately strong and then … petered out.

  3. I don’t think that I can go with your very disappointed assessment. The church did wonderful at shutting down, and its official stance is to get vaccinated. I am disappointed in the lack of vaccination mandate for BYU, but that doesn’t go into very disappointed. And since BYU-H has a vaccine mandate that sounds like the leadership is not micromanaging it.
    My mom talks about praying for the temples to be reopened and now they are. From conversations with her, she made it sound like her and her ward attributed that to the vaccines.
    I guess the church doesn’t want to “command in all things” in this case. They’ve gone with “teach the correct principles and let the people govern themselves.”
    We don’t have pastors preaching no masks and no vaccines. The policy at the local building is that of what it was in June when everyone who wanted a vaccine received the vaccine, masks for those who are not vaccinated. Most everyone wears a mask at church.

  4. Anonymous says:

    The Church’s response has been abominable to me. That we didn’t shut down in-person church in the winter, at least in the US, as the entire country was aflame with the virus, absolutely boggles my mind.

    Also, the lack of direction in every way. Masks aren’t required, unless they are required in your state. You can live-stream church if you want, but figure out how to do it yourself. Which meetings to live-stream? Up to you. So if you’ve got, say, an elderly bishop/branch president who doesn’t understand how to use technology or how it works, your unit’s up a creek and the only people able to enjoy church meetings are the ones who are willing to risk covid.

  5. jader3rd, my disappointment is that it’s not clear that its official stance is to get vaccinated. The church hasn’t used its usual channels to say, “Get vaccinated,” and members have noticed. And the “command in all things”? It’s cool that we’ve decided to drop that in the face of a worldwide pandemic. Cool cool cool cool.

  6. Observer says:

    “Heck, we could have been using our buildings as pop-up vaccination clinics.”

    Our Stake Center in Washington hosted several pop up vaccination clinics.

  7. Observer, nice!

  8. James Perry says:

    I feel as if I can speak from both an American and European point of view on this, which are of course only my experiences and observations. I have actually been impressed with how the Church has handled the pandemic. I lived in Utah for all of last year and our bishopric developed meeting rotas to cater for the large unit, streamed all meetings, sanitised the building between meetings, enforced social distancing, and worked hard to keep people safe. The subsequent social media and news releases underscored the emphasis on vaccination, listening to qualified medical persons, and following local regulations and/or laws. There is also an abundance of information produced centrally on how to resume meetings safely.

    On returning to the UK I was made a branch president. Both stake and area guidance exists with the ability to adapt to local issues. We had stake and area technology specialists able to help us get hybrid meetings started and we were required to complete a risk assessment. Each congregation is given the latitude to start or stop meetings according to the needs of their members and areas.

    As a member and leader, I feel as if there has been clear guidance on what to do and how to do it without imposing an inflexible rubric. Personally, the majority of anti-vaxxers I know are not Latter-day Saints. As ever there is a spectrum of experiences here but mine has been positive.

  9. not going back anytime soon says:

    Where I’m disappointed – so disappointed that I will be anonymous so I can be blunt – is in my ward’s failure to reach out to its members in any way during the whole first year of the pandemic. We got one paper-mailed generic letter from the bishop, and weekly generic emails from the RS saying literally nothing beyond “everything is cancelled until further notice,” and a hand-delivered booklet for Mother’s Day, and that is all. No pastoral contact, period. You wouldn’t have even known we had a bishopric. If, like me, you have never heard from ministering brothers or sisters, you were entirely on your own. Nobody checked on you. Nobody said “hang in there, God loves you.” Nobody said nuthin’. Once Zoom Church started, I could tell from announcements that the bishop’s council had continued to meet, whether online or distanced-in person I don’t know. But those of us not on the ward council were absolutely, totally, utterly, completely ignored.

  10. The real problem here is disinformation, and the Church has been abysmal at combatting that. I have heard no official voice telling members to stop listening to disinformation about climate change, the 2020 election results, or the safety and efficacy of vaccines. Perhaps Church leaders are afraid of the Fox News crowd? What’s that scripture we used to quote all the time about the trumpet giving an uncertain sound? Well, I can’t think of a more apt description of the Church’s response to these three crises.

  11. It’s interesting to hear different local experiences. My stake and ward leaders have not handled this situation well. They ignored mask/singing guidance from the area authorities until the area authorities called them out on it, and then they continued to ignore the singing guidance and they failed to enforce the mask guidance. A large percentage of my ward refused to mask up despite clear guidance from the area authorities to mask up or stay home and (eventually) guidance from the stake presidency. My children’s primary and Sunday School teachers told them to remove their masks in class. The EQP and his family wouldn’t wear masks unless the stake presidency was present. This refusal to mask up continued even after members of the ward died from the disease.

    Now? Vaccination rates locally are still low, especially among the non-elderly. My family returned to in-person a couple months ago but if numbers continue to rise we’ll likely stop again. My youngest can’t get vaccinated yet, and it’s not worth the risk.

    I’m jealous of those of you who live in more enlightened and intelligent stakes. Unfortunately, it will take a bit more from top leadership for my stake to see the light.

  12. nobody, really says:

    The response has been far from uniform.

    I live right on the border of an “area”. Leave our ward in one direction, and it’s a different stake, different mission, different area authority. Our stake, early on, shut everything down and started running on-line “devotionals”. The stake presidency got a hard smack-down from the area authority saying “The Brethren have stated that nothing, nothing, is to get in the way of home-based worship and study”. All online meetings were cancelled.

    Just to the north, however, Zoom meetings were in full swing, with stake presidency members regularly giving talks and teaching lessons. Perhaps they didn’t get the memo from “The Brethren” that online church was the highway to apostacy.

    Now, even though we’re locally back into critical risk levels, we were instructed to end all online meetings and hybrid meetings at the beginning of June. No web access allowed. In-person only, with clear instructions for no masking – even for people blessing and passing the sacrament.

  13. Mary Hasler says:

    It is very disappointing that so many church members completely disregard the Prophet and all health experts… We were happy to get Small pox vaccine and eradicate small pox. The same with Polio vaccine… why is this suddenly different… people need to grow up and be responsible 😞

  14. You must be talking about the church in Utah because where I am we just resumed in person services and classes about a month ago. We had our first RS last week. Our city 12+ is 90% vaccinated.

  15. Generally agree. But locally I’d give a worse grade. My stake went back to in-person quickly and really, really pushed in-person activities; mask requirements were not followed in Sunday meetings or activities. What’s crazy is our neighboring stake – whose stake president is a physician – was way, way slower to return to in-person activities and way more careful about those activities. There is no difference in the risk levels between the stake (this is Utah County where we are all neighbors). Total leadership roulette (literally).

    I will give our stake credit that they continued to stream Church and authorized sacrament in homes. I have friends in Utah stakes where by December church was in-person with no streaming option and no sacrament authorized. And I have family members who got Covid at Church from unmasked attendees.

  16. RivertonPaul says:

    President Nelson has said, “We have prayed often for this literal godsend.” Desipte the godsend miracle of the vaccines, too many have hardened their hearts often asserting freedom of choice or free agency. Seems not so different from numerous scriprutal accounts of individuals who similarly to not follow the prophet because they were not compelled.

    1 Nephi 17:41 “And he did straiten them in the wilderness with his rod; for they ahardened their hearts, even as ye have; and the Lord straitened them because of their iniquity. He sent fiery flying bserpents among them; and after they were bitten he prepared a way that they might be chealed; and the labor which they had to perform was to look; and because of the dsimpleness of the way, or the easiness of it, there were many who perished.”

    Alma 33:19- 20 “Behold, he was spoken of by aMoses; yea, and behold a btype was craised up in the wilderness, that whosoever would look upon it might live. And many did look and live. But few understood the meaning of those things, and this because of the hardness of their hearts. But there were many who were so hardened that they would not look, therefore they perished. Now the reason they would not look is because they did not believe that it would aheal them.”

  17. John Mansfield says:

    “Only 38% of Utah County residents have been vaccinated.

    CDC reports that for the nation as a whole, 58.2% of the population 12 or older is fully vaccinated, but only 49.7% of the entire population. CDC links to Utah data showing that for that state 57.4% of its population 12 or older is fully vaccinated, and 46.4% or the state’s entire population. Including the under-12 population in the denominator makes a larger difference in places with a larger portion of their population under 12.

  18. I think the “teaching correct principles and letting us govern ourselves” line doesn’t hold up here. If a BYU student or faculty member is not free to weigh all the evidence and decide to drink coffee, a choice which certainly does not affect anyone else’s choice or impact their health in any way, then we should not have the same leeway with choosing to be vaccinated.

  19. John Mansfield says:

    Utah’s COVID-19 death count puts it as the sixth lowest state at 76 per 100,000 population, less than half the national rate of 184 per 100,000, so whatever they are doing there seems to have worked better than average.

  20. John, which is why I specified Utah *county*. I suspect Salt Lake County has a higher vaccination rate and I suspect Southern Utah has a lower rate. But I don’t have those numbers.

  21. I love and agree fully with your second point: we’ve had a wonderful chance to explore new ways to explore how we express our religion and how we worship. And, I, too, have seen many local leaders rushing to return to “the way things were before” without, perhaps, fully considering or embracing the opportunities COVID has provided us. But I’m not a leader, so I admit to not being privy to any of the decision making. All I can do is observe.

    I don’t agree with your statement that, “It’s clear that ultimately, universal (or, short of that, mass) vaccination is our best route to safety here.” As a practicing and fully vaccinated doctor, this is not clear to me. There are many compelling medical and philosophical reasons for individuals to choose to not be vaccinated. While I believe there is almost universal agreement that ending the pandemic is a good thing, we are still learning new things about the disease daily and reevaluating previous suppositions that may not have been correct. Removing the agency of individuals through compelling their participation in a vaccination program is antithetical to a fundamental tenet of God’s plan for our happiness-the concept of agency.

    However, with agency comes accountability and I do believe that the individual right to refuse vaccination must be balanced against the societal needs of communities around the globe. I further believe that ultimate responsibility for personal health lies with the individual: it is not your responsibility to keep me healthy. It’s mine.

    Alternatives to mandatory vaccination can be measures such as social distancing, mandatory testing, and mandatory masking protocols, with accompanying consequences for failing to comply, like fines.

    This is a difficult time for the world. We are wading into the brackish waters where self-interest and community obligation collide. Just like in real estuaries, balance preserves life. Shifts in balance quickly result in death.

  22. “[fn1] Heck, we could have been using our buildings as pop-up vaccination clinics.”

    Relegated to a footnote, but in some ways I think it’s the most important point here. Mormonism excels at “last-mile” service: bringing a casserole when someone is born or dies, shoveling snow, helping load/unload moving trucks. The lack of mobilization to fight this disease, at least in a coordinated way (I know some wards and stakes are doing their part), says more than any press release or university policy ever could.

  23. D, you can post anti-vax stuff as much as you want and I will continue to delete it. This post will not be a forum for spreading misinformation about vaccination.

    Wetwipes, you’ll forgive me if I disagree with you. I appreciate masking and distancing—they’re excellent short-term solutions. But they’re not sustainable solutions. Vaccination is. And near-universal vaccination is the best way—and probably the only way—to end this. Mandatory vaccination is not antithetical to God’s plane clear, late-20th-century Mormon embrace of anti-communism notwithstanding. More important than misplaced ideas of unfettered agency in the gospel is our responsibility to the weakest among us. And getting vaccinated, in spite of political ideology, is the best thing we can do for our neighbors. As members of the One True Church we need to model that Christian care and concern for our brothers and sisters. And the church needs to make absolutely clear that we have a duty to do so.

  24. Thanks, Sam, for refusing to host dangerous anti-vax falsehoods here. Well deleted!

  25. John Mansfield says:

    Prof. Brunson, you made me curious enough to look up county age distributions and find 2018 estimates provided by the U. of Utah’s Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute. For Salt Lake County 52.8% of the entire population is fully vaccinated and 63.6% of those 12 or older. For Utah County those numbers are 39.2% and 49.3%. Your suspicions are supported. Utah County’s vaccination rate is much lower than the state and national rates.

  26. John, thanks for looking up those numbers!

  27. your food allergy is real says:

    Wetwipes, as another practicing physician I am interested to hear about the “many” compelling medical and philosophical reasons for individuals to choose not to be vaccinated. I can’t think of very many.

  28. Sam, how is what I posted anti-vax? I was making the point that the Church and its leaders/members have had a complicated and sometimes unfortunate history.

  29. Pointing out that BY Jr (and others) had nativist views about medical science, contrary to Mary’s assertion that we were all in on smallpox vaccination, is not an anti-vax viewpoint.

  30. Anonymous says:

    I grade the church response on two levels: Institutional and Local (meaning the wards and stakes). Institutionally I grade the church well, though not perfect. I agree a much stronger push on the need for members to be vaccinated is not only necessary but truly a morale priority. However, the institution I think has done a good job of treating this with sufficient gravity, including the ongoing partial to total closing of the temples, the altering of temple ordinances, the significant humanitarian outreach, the suspension of meetings, the alteration of General Conference to a purely virtual event, the suspension of Choir performances, the promotion of vaccines (though not strong enough promotion.) While agree much more can and should be done, I am okay with what the institution has done

    At the local level however (at least my local level), the grade must be below failing. The ward and stake have failed miserably in even taking this event seriously and even failed even worse in taking the steps to see it end. We have had meetings where stake and ward leadership openly mock those who do take it seriously, brag about not masking and not being vaccinated, and openly defy local and state regulations and openly promote conspiratorial ideas regarding the pandemic. To say this is disheartening is putting the situation mildly, and frankly my family is questioning whether to continue our association with our ward and stake as a result. Sadly, my ward and stake’s attitude towards this is representative of the larger (southern exurban) area they represent.

    I do believe the institution should and must come down in a very direct way to counter the misinformation and bad behavior that is being exhibited by some of the wards and stakes.

  31. So, once again: Brigham Young Jr. thought that smallpox vaccination was “Gentile doctors trying to force Babylon into the people and some of them are willing to disease the blood of our children if they can do so, and they think they are doing God’s service.” Another interesting view from the same period: “One of the most deplorable consequences of people not doing their own thinking is the widespread delusion of vaccination…Humanity groans under a diabolical medical despotism, and may heaven grant that a day of emancipation may soon come when men will seek immunity from disease by improving their diet, and by daily bathing, instead of being misled by a credulous practice like vaccination which has neither science nor common sense to recommend it.” — Deseret News, Jan 18, 1872

  32. I appreciate the author’s point about how many members will not abide by a more prescriptive stance from the church. The backlash that would come from members on social media, and in the press, including the most strident members is the reason I don’t think there has been a stronger stance. It’s more about not alienating the most devoted members and creating bad PR.

  33. I remember looking forward to April 2020 conference as an opportunity for the Church to step forward and provide clear inspired guidance for dealing with the pandemic in such an uncertain time. Instead, it felt like a bit of a missed opportunity with the focus on Joseph Smith. My son had just left for his mission, but did not make it to his assigned country and was instead sent stateside. He was stuck in his apartment with little to do other than study. Any English speaking social media contacts were to be passed to other missionaries. He rarely ran into any contacts speaking his assigned language. He felt forgotten and abandoned with nothing to do and returned home a few months later. My last hope was that these trials would eventually unite us, but instead the divides seem to be growing deeper and uglier.

  34. I live in a blue state and our stake response initially was, I felt, good – streamed meetings for a long time, then rotating Sundays when different parts of the ward attended in person, masked up and sitting every other row, with hand sanitizer set up just outside the chapel doors. But when the state hit the 70%-vaccinated total, our stake immediately dropped masking and all other restrictions. Now we’re back to sitting side by side, unmasked, singing three full hymns per meeting. We even had a pancake breakfast a couple of weeks ago and I’m just not comfortable with any of it. Oh, and our state infection rate is back to pre-vaccination levels. And I’m sure we’re contributing to it.

  35. I’m disappointed that the church didn’t reconsider the need for daily, professional janitorial services for our meetinghouses. Another disappointment is that the church didn’t consider the problems that having 3-4 wards meet in the same building on the same day caused pre-pandemic and still cause today amidst one.

    After in-person meetings resumed, the four wards that met (and continue to meet) in my building couldn’t use the chapel for **months** due to the mold problem that festered there when church meetings shut down. Two of the restrooms were out of order as well and still are. As a result of this, my ward was the only one that met in-person, and we met in the church courtyard with the option for meeting virtually available. The other three wards continued to meet online during this time. Despite the issues with the chapel and the restrooms, the building only gets “cleaned” once a week with products so diluted they might as well be water and vacuum cleaners that were built before Generation X was even alive.

    Admittedly, I got a little **too** used to my ward being the only one meeting in the building while the mold issue in the chapel was being dealt with. I liked that I didn’t have to spend time searching for a parking space and that I didn’t have to fight to get through the church doors and to sacrament meeting on time because of all the people dawdling in the entrance and foyer long after their own meetings had ended. I wish the church would adjust the meeting schedule where the wards rotate who meets in-person on Sunday (i.e., Ward 1 meets in-person on the first Sunday, Ward 2 meets in-person on the second Sunday, the wards rotate who meets in-person on the fifth Sunday, etc.) and then kept a comprehensive calendar of activities throughout the week/month/year with a reservation system in place to ensure the building doesn’t get overcrowded.

    Now with four wards meeting on top of each other, the lack of crowd control, the building not being cleaned properly or as frequently as it should be, the Delta variant being more transmissible, no mask mandate, people eschewing vaccines, and the propensity for people to bring their sick selves and sick children to church (I’ve seen people bring feverish children and one who even had the chicken pox to church)… one has to wonder how safe we truly are at our church meetings.

  36. JC, there are many, many excellent reasons for the Church to reconsider its need for professional janitorial services, but COVID is not one of them. The wiping of the pulpits between speakers, extra cleaning between wards, etc. is now clearly just hygiene theater, and does very little to limit transmission. The virus is almost exclusively transmitted by aerosols or respiratory droplets, which is why masks (and VACCINATION!!!) are so effective.

  37. Julianne says:

    New additions to the Handbook now allow forming activities committees, and remind us that it is okay for YSA and SA wards to have Monday Night FHE activities in the ward buildings. It appears that the writers for the Handbook are anticipation more “normalcy” in regards to in-person meetings, rather than less.

  38. anitacwells says:

    I too feel like we failed the “love one another” test in Utah (and as a church) this past year. While some institutional measures were taken, our local ward was MIA (like that commenter above, except I’m jealous they got some emails and a Mother’s Day handout–I felt like the community I’d pledged so much time and emotional and spiritual effort into for decades vanished overnight, and has suddenly resumed with no safety measures or acknowledgement of what we’ve lived through). And I think it has been really rough on thousands of missionaries and their families, being reassigned, spending months isolated in hotel rooms, and new calls should’ve ceased for a year. Which begs the question of prophetic and inspired leadership guidance in some of these decisions…

  39. I have heard numerous anecdotes of members of the church leaving or going inactive, outraged that President Nelson or other leaders have bought into the Covid “hoax”. I have no idea how large or vocal this contingent is, how how high up the hierarchy this mindset goes, but I wonder whether the church is worried about losing too many of them by pushing vaccines and masking more aggressively.

    Of course, in my mind, we should be doing the right thing and letting the consequences follow. But I’m not naive enough to believe that’s what always happens.

  40. In any event, I am deeply disappointed in the poor response from my co-religionists and neighbors. This is a colossal failure (pride, selfishness, and ignorance) in Zion, no matter how you slice it.

  41. @D:

    I disagree with your statement, “There are many, many excellent reasons for the Church to reconsider its need for professional janitorial services, but COVID is not one of them.”

    Not having in-person church, closing temples, sending home missionaries – basically, the entire world shutting down – was the perfect time to re-evaluate the need for daily, professional janitorial services and to establish a new protocol regarding this particular situation and other ones relating to how the church is run institutionally and locally. It was desperately needed pre-COVID and still is today regardless of COVID.

    No one is saying our church buildings need to be cleaned 24/7 with surfaces constantly being wiped down, but more frequent cleanings with better materials would go a long way in general.

  42. Billy Possum says:

    Sad, I’m sorry to hear about your son. For some reason, I had never really intently imagined serving a mission during covid until I read your comment. It can’t have been much better than prison. I’m sorry. I hope he can get some help, perhaps including therapy, to heal from that experience.

    Sam, you don’t mention the Church’s missionary approach to covid as a negative. But surely it was one of the worst parts, no?

  43. Marc Bohn says:

    I’m not saying the Church couldn’t have done more, but you definitely haven’t given the Church enough credit for its efforts. He’s just a sampling of developments you didn’t mention, some of them pretty significant:

    Masks a sign of ‘Christlike love’ during pandemic, apostle says (Dec. 7): https://www.deseret.com/faith/2020/12/7/22158497/mormon-lds-church-masks-covid-19-coronavirus-christlike-love-pandemic-apostle-renlund

    LDS Church kicks in $20M toward global COVID vaccination push (Feb. 26): https://www.sltrib.com/religion/2021/02/26/lds-church-kicks-m-toward/

    A ton of positive messaging on vaccination, including among many others:
    – Coloring page in the Friend related to vaccinations for children (“I can be brave”): https://photos.app.goo.gl/DCgrEQKmoFb1BM6Q7
    – Numerous Church videos promoting Covid vaccine efforts, for example:
    Vaccines Reach Those with Highest Risk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3srLJUkhLs8
    COVID-19 Vaccines Administered in Belize: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KMdbPx7qVKE

    And a new section on vaccinations added to the Church’s General Handbook in March that states as follows: “38.7.13 – Vaccinations: Vaccinations administered by competent medical professionals protect health and preserve life. Members of the Church are encouraged to safeguard themselves, their children, and their communities through vaccination. Ultimately, individuals are responsible to make their own decisions about vaccination. If members have concerns, they should counsel with competent medical professionals and also seek the guidance of the Holy Ghost. Prospective missionaries who have not been vaccinated will likely be limited to assignments in their home country.” (https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/manual/general-handbook/38-church-policies-and-guidelines?lang=eng)

  44. snowydog says:

    “Russell was a prophet,
    A heart surgeon by trade.

    Asked us to be vaccinated,
    But not all obeyed.

    Now we’re in a state where Delta runs amuck,
    Ironic how in Utah, no one gives a … fetch?”

    *Chorus.*

  45. Billy Possum, the missionary approach may well be a negative. But I’m only vaguely aware of it—I know the church didn’t require vaccination for domestic missionaries and I know it reassigned some foreign missionaries to the US. But my ward doesn’t have any missionaries out and my one relative on a mission is a nephew from my wife’s side. So I don’t really have a sense of what the approach was.

  46. I had a son serving stateside during the pandemic. His companion right after things shutdown in March 2020 had a really rough time. Most of this companion’s friends had gone foreign and were sent home, so this missionary got never-ending letters and pictures from his friends who were hanging out with girlfriends and family and jet skiing and hiking and generally having a good time while the stateside missionaries had to quarantine and figure out how to contact people online.

    It was a very hard experience in many ways, but I think the church was able to gather a lot of information about how to go about missionary work in better ways than knocking doors (although many mission presidents still have to be convinced that being on a phone can be more productive than knocking on doors). I think the cute videos won’t be a thing very often, but from what my son was told, missionaries are teaching and baptizing far more people than pre-pandemic. Online contact allows you to reach the people who are out there looking for something. And, it’s easier to keep more people involved in the life of a convert – either staying in contact with people a missionary taught even after they go home, or friends who live far away can be in the zoom lesson with their old friends who are finally ready to officially hear about the church

  47. I do wonder how many prospective missionaries are choosing to get a vaccine in the hopes they’ll be able to serve a foreign mission (since that’s often considered the “better” mission). So, even though you don’t have to get a vaccine to go on a mission, I think the policy that you can only serve within your own country will persuade some to get a vaccine.

  48. Jes, numbers of reported convert baptisms are down overall. Maybe your son’s mission is different.

  49. Geoff - Aus says:

    In the scriptures there are many accounts of prophets advising political leaders. And even political/military leaders asking for advice from the prophet.

    The church seems to have some influence with The governor of Utah.

    Utah has 2479 deaths (8 more last night) and 1050 new cases.

    Imagine if Utah had a total of 5 deaths, and 5 new cases. The media asks the Governor how he did that, and he says I followed the prophets advice. He contacted me feb 2020 and advised we close our borders to any place with raging virus. I talked to Idaho and we agree to a virus free bubble. They have 3 deaths. Anyone wanting to come into our state goes into hotel quarintine where they are isolated for 14 days are tested twice. If they test positive they go to hospital. If they test negative each time they go on their way after 14 days.

    This is what the prophet advised.

    What might that do for missionary work?

  50. Another random thought is we should really be pushing the *authority/credibility* concept. I see lots of people “who are only kept from the truth because they know not where to find it” (or they watch too much cable TV or listen to too much talk radio). Having a renowned physician as church president be very explicit and persistent about how we need to approach this pandemic would be a lighthouse in the storm.

  51. Turning over the pandemic response to local control was a real problem and created an opportunity for abuse of power or “unrighteous dominion,” especially by leaders who agree with/listen to the right-wing Covid denial/downplay, anti-mask, and anti-vax messages. I have siblings who live in Florida, Wyoming, Utah, and California–and I live in Indiana. Several of us have had anti-vax/anti-mask local leaders who have not wanted to hold zoom meetings and who have insisted on people attending in person (even before the vaccine was available) despite the lack of masking. My sister lives in Florida, and right now–with outrageous Covid numbers, hospitalizations, and deaths in their area–they are expected to attend in person even though last week her family was the only one wearing masks. Moreover, the bishop has repeatedly reminded members that regular attendance at church is required to keep a temple recommend. In my own ward, I told the bishop about my youngest son’s congenital heart defect as to why we would not be attending church in person, especially given that ward leaders and the heads of the primary and young women have been vocal anti-vaxxers so I know they aren’t vaccinated. Instead of saying a single word of concern about my son (who cannot yet be vaccinated because he is too young), he told me that using the term “anti-vaxxer” was a pejorative slur that made them sound like uneducated science deniers rather than people who have researched and recognize the known risks of the vaccine. Ugh. This past Sunday a woman whose husband died of Covid a couple weeks ago got up in testimony meeting and through nearly uncontrollable sobs brokenly said that she knew God was trying to teach her a lesson and that he had a reason for everything. I didn’t say anything to her because my heart absolutely breaks for her–but seriously, maybe the lesson is to get the dang vaccine already! I wish the Church would make a strong and official statement about the vaccine AND emphasize that virtual gathering/attendance counts as attendance for temple recommends and activity–we all go to general conference virtually, after all. I wish the Church would also make a statement prioritizing keeping people safe and caring about each and every sheep and lamb, including those who cannot yet be vaccinated or who do not feel it is safe to attend yet.

  52. Marc Bohn says:

    One more cite to add to my list above, Russell M. Nelson’s own social media post, which netted over 150,000 likes:

    “With approval from our physician, my wife, Wendy, and I were vaccinated today against COVID-19. We are very grateful. This was the first week either of us was eligible to receive the vaccine. We are thankful for the countless doctors, scientists, researchers, manufacturers, government leaders, and others who have performed the grueling work required to make this vaccine available. We have prayed often for this literal godsend.

    “As a former surgeon and medical researcher, I know something of the effort needed to accomplish such a remarkable feat. Producing a safe, effective vaccine in less than a year is nothing short of miraculous. I was a young surgeon when, in 1953, Dr. Jonas Salk announced that he had developed a vaccine against the cruel and crippling disease of polio. I then watched the dramatic impact that vaccine had on eradicating polio as most people around the world were vaccinated.”

    “For generations, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has donated considerable resources to making vaccinations available for people in developing countries. Vaccinations have helped to eliminate diseases such as diphtheria and smallpox. My professional and ecclesiastical experiences convince me that vaccinations administered by competent medical professionals protect health and preserve life.

    “Receiving the vaccine today was part of our personal efforts to be good global citizens in helping to eliminate COVID-19 from the world.”

    (https://www.facebook.com/russell.m.nelson/posts/3650727088328034)

  53. anitacwells says:

    @Marc Bohn: those have been wonderful top-down efforts, but haven’t translated well into the lived experience. Local implementation has left lots to be desired, as many comments and experiences show

  54. Christian Harrison says:

    For me, the Church’s lackluster response to the global pandemic that has now killed more than TWO HUNDRED MILLION is most easily seen when one compares that response to how it responded to PROP 8.

    Imagine what would have been the outcome had the Church put the same energy into fighting a raging preventable disease as it did into fighting loving couples from getting married.

  55. Andrew Rail says:

    “When the church wants members to do something, it sends a letter, signed by the First Presidency, to be read in sacrament meeting. It says explicitly to members that they need to get vaccinated.”

    You mean like rewriting the Handbook of Instructions to stress the importance of vaccinations?

    Or telling members that temple openings are directly tied to how well the virus is under control in the region, thus directly tying temple worship to health precautions?

    It appears you are looking at this from the wrong direction.

    The First Presidency announced long before COVID that they would stop writing in the Ensign (now Liahona) because there were newer and faster ways of getting the news out. A number of policies and announcements have been made through social media, including the massive change in temple attendance for youth.

    Unfortunately the author is so focused on what he feels is how things should be run he is missing what is actually happening.

  56. HokieKate says:

    Marc Bohn- thanks for those links. I really like the Friend image.

    I think there have been some good responses from the top. I’m glad for the PR shots of Nelson’s vaccine, though I’m honestly surprised so many LDS (and Americans in general) have not been vaccinated. I would have liked to see more efforts from the leadership, like more General Conference focus.

    My Mississippi ward did shut down for Dec/Jan. We didn’t resume 2nd hour until April. Primary was still seated by family with a parent, not by classes with teachers. Masks weren’t made optional for fully vaccinated until about June. Kids still wore masks with pretty good adherence. Masks for all returned early July. Three weeks ago our ward cancelled 2nd hour due the spread; last week I heard 2nd hour is cancelled stake wide. Our bishop is taking things seriously.

  57. I’m giving the church’s treatment of single women a giant F. If they cared about us, they would have allowed the sacrament to be blessed remotely, by phone, zoom, etc. Instead we were denied the sacrament for weeks or months at a time while men and married women could take it.

  58. While I applaud all the things the church has done to encourage people to get vaccinated, that they’ve skipped the three ways that they send out The. Most. Important. Messages. Leaves me wondering. Why didn’t they send a letter to be read in Sacrament, send a direct email to all members with email, address it straight forwardly in a conference (that then becomes sacrament and Sunday talks).

  59. Andrew, it’s possible that they’ve shifted to social media to announce changes. (I’m skeptical, but let’s go with that.) The changes you mention, however, weren’t directives to members; they were policy changes.

    Moreover, emphasizing vaccinations in the Handbook is next to worthless because (a) most people don’t pay close attention to changes in the Handbook (the Very Online people being a prime exception) and (b) emphasizing the importance of vaccination is very different from saying “You need to get the Covid vaccine.”

    So no, the author is not missing what is actually happening.

    HokieKate, I’m thrilled that your Mississippi ward is taking things seriously. That absolutely should be a model for the church at large; sadly, it’s not.

  60. @anon, absolutely right about that. I thought it was absurd that they basically just said “so sorry we can’t do anything about this so just meditate on the prayers.” Umm, absolutely they could have done something. Like let women bless it themselves (it’s a prayer! Not a priesthood ordinance!) or do remotely. Total lack of empathy and creativity.

    I would say add that we weren’t allowed to do zoom activities or meetings for months and months because I think they thought it would be short term and we’re worried people wouldn’t come back live after experiencing zoom. That never made sense to me.

  61. For those with “ears to hear,” the Church’s stance on vaccines and COVID-19 in general has been unambiguous. Thanks to Marc Bohn for documenting that “this thing was not done in a corner.”

    So why hasn’t the Church done more to draw attention to this stance? I suspect it’s because forcibly and repeatedly contradicting Fox News/Trump/etc. would create a faith crisis for hundreds of thousands of members. It’s easy to say that they should leave then, but they do a lot of good in the Church and I believe the vast majority are better people because of their membership.

    Is the Church risking lives to save souls by not doing more to encourage vaccination? Maybe. It depends on how many of these people are actually persuadable. But I think it’s a fair description. Whether it’s worth it or not is definitely going to depend on your point of view.

  62. rickpowers says:

    To me, the stage was set: April, 2020. The Prophet, Seer, Revelator, and Chief Medical Officer
    had promised 6 months earlier that we were to have a Semi-Annual Conference to end all Semi-Annual Conferences and the time had finally arrived. I was very excited. After all, we were in the early stages of a world-wide epidemic and the scriptures show us that nobody knows plagues like a prophet. This was their bread-and-butter in the Old Testament and is a prominent feature of all eschatological predictions. We were about to get the divine counsel needed by the world to protect us in these latter days, given by someone who was being perceived as a cutting-edge revelator. This was going to be unprecedented.

    And then…

  63. Kevin Barney says:

    Our local initial response was outstanding. Really top notch. I can pinpoint when it started to degrade earlier this year based on communications from the Area level. It was obvious they were very concerned about people getting too used to not attending physically, so they took measure to encourage physical attendance and to cut back on safety protocols.

  64. Thanks for all of the objective, candid commentary. FWIW, my experience in four different wards on the Wasatch Front (we moved, rented while renovating, settled in new home, and have visited our daughter’s YSA ward) is regrettably consistent with the worst anecdotes above so I will not multiply words. I will add, however, that I have been repeatedly shocked (because I know there has been guidance from Area Authorities, etc.) by inconsistent, strangely variable approaches in each unit.

    On a tangentially related note, I see a common “through line” in the Church’s response to COVID-19, the Church’s response to the masking and vaccination debates, the Church’s response to Jan. 6, the Church’s response to the pre- and post-2020 election, the Church’s response to the current political divide in the U.S., etc. That commonality is, I fear, the Church’s regrettable desire to have it both ways. Nearly every public statement is a vague (susceptible to multiple interpretations), grossly understated, and seemingly deliberately calculated to appease all and offend none. I have found this very frustrating because it is anathema to the truth by which prophets should lead.

  65. MikeInWeHo says:

    In March of 2020 I remember thinking that Utah was really going to nail its pandemic response, because of the church’s unique ability to rally the membership to action. Wow, I could not have been more wrong.

    I agree with Gawlfer’s observation: They seem to be trying to play everything both ways, and I think that is driven by a fear of schism from the right. Imagine the chaos if the church had taken a strong stand on masks and required vaccinations, and Donald Trump subsequently denounced the leadership. Imagine if they denounced the events of January 6. What a mess.

  66. your food allergy is real says:

    I would modify Gawlfer’s astute observation somewhat to say that there seems to be more deference and appeasement toward those on the right in all those issues than to those on the left. It is not symmetric, they are far more willing to offend the left.

  67. @MikeInWeHo:

    The chances of Utah nailing its pandemic response went down the drain after the fiasco at the Salt Lake City Airport last March. It was downright embarrassing, irresponsible, selfish, and unfortunately, a grim indicator of how Utah was – and still is – about COVID, all because entitled people didn’t want to go without a photo op.

    The fact that these families went against protocol set out by the church and the airport to get what they wanted, global pandemic be damned, set the tone going forward.

  68. Aussie Mormon says:

    It WOULD be interesting to see what kind of overlap there is between those that ignored the “wait in the car” instruction and those that are against vaccination.

  69. Saddened in Utah says:

    BYU has finally started to be concerned about the fall. It is requiring everyone who will be on-campus this fall to report their vaccination status. They’re planning to use this information to determine if masks or other measures will be required. At least one college is holding a town hall to discuss ways to prevent the spread of COVID.

    As far as stakes/wards go, I think turning over so much control to local leaders was/is a problem. Many members (including leaders) have put their political beliefs before their religious ones. I live in Utah and have heard that many people have said that the Utah Area Presidency had gone rogue when they were pushing masks. I have been amazed at how quickly things have fallen apart at the local level. We have not done well at governing ourselves.

    Fortunately, since I go to a Chinese ward in Utah, we are still wearing masks at church. Our entire bishopric wears them on the stand. Our Primary President reports that 80% of the kids in Primary are wearing masks. At least a third of more of our ward is still watching online. As soon as the CDC changed its mask guidelines, our stake presidency announced that everyone should wear masks again. (A member of the stake presidency is a medical researcher. ) I’m grateful to be in this unit.

  70. This issue has go so far as to severely threaten the unity of my wife’s family. Her father is diabetic and at risk. Her uncle has recently died of COVID, yet we keep hearing from the most orthodox members that it is their free agency and the spirit is telling them not to vaccinate. For example, the word of wisdom is intended to keep us healthy, and is evidently important enough where breaking it will keep us out of the temple. I have a hard time accepting the idea that a cup of coffee is going to pose a greater risk to my health and the health of others than not vaccinating during a pandemic. Honestly the free agency argument feels more like the church being concerned about appearing political or offending the membership.

  71. Nate Daniels says:

    Sam, I commend you for blocking the anti-vaxxers on here. That’s exactly what we need at this point. There is no longer room for debate about whether or not the vaccines are effective. This question has already been tried and tested and has proven to be effective and safe.

  72. My stake sent out a letter in early March encouraging members to.get involved in the state mass vaccination efforts. When I took my son to get vaccinated, there were lots of sister missionaries volunteering at the site. I almost cried at the sight of them, after seeing so much resistance from Latter-day Saints online. But locally that was it. Now each week in church we pretend like nothing is happening. Everyone sings and acts like nothing is wrong. My son and I are regularly the only people wearing masks. I stopped attending last week because I do not feel safe. I have no idea how many people are vaccinated- the rates for this zip code are extremely poor so given the high percentage of members here I assume they are reflective of the congregation. The spread in my town is off the charts. In praise of local leadership, they continue to broadcast sacrament meeting.

  73. Seems like I saw somewhere that something like 70% of blacks are unvaccinated, and some substantial portion of Hispanics are also unvaccinated. That doesn’t sound like Republicans (I know this is not the point of this post, but there’s been some mentionhere of how conservatives are opposed to the vaccine) (BTW, I’m conservative and got the vaccine as soon as I could).

  74. Mike, there are reasons why people of color might be more hesitant than white people to get vaccinated. That said, the numbers you’re using are out of date; the vaccination rate of Black Americans has risen.

    Interestingly (and sadly), I just saw a PRRI survey that would have been helpful for this post. According to their survey, 19% of Americans are vaccine refusers; of religious affiliations, we’re second behind white Evangelicals (24%). This is not somewhere where we want to be number 2. (In good news, the number Mormon vaccine accepters has shot up while vaccine hesitants has dropped precipitously.)

  75. Maple Mom says:

    I wonder if the church’s reluctance to push vaccines any harder has a legal basis. Should a member get vaccinated after prophetic urging and then experience a rare-but-dangerous side effect, it is not impossible that they would sue the church.

    I am also appalled that BYU and BYU-I aren’t mandating vaccinations. In fact, BYU-I is going to re-evaluate mask wearing two weeks into the fall semester. (Do they think covid is going to disappear by the end of September?) If they’re not mandating masks, I would prefer that the church universities inform students that eliminating masks and reintroducing other activities is linked to vaccine rates i.e. if you want to get rid of masks, 80% of students must be vaccinated.

  76. Maple Mom, while it would certainly be possible for someone to file a lawsuit, that lawsuit would have zero chance of surviving in court for a couple reasons. The first is general tort law—it wouldn’t be possible to draw a causal line between the church telling someone to get vaccinated and the (attenuated and unlikely) fact of that person suffering injury. But more tellingly, US policy is that a person who is injured by a vaccine doesn’t get to sue even the vaccine manufacturer or the medical provider. Rather, there’s a no-fault vaccine recovery fund.

    And it is pretty appalling that BYU and -I aren’t mandating vaccines.

  77. Anonymous says:

    While I’ve appreciated the pro-vaccine messaging from the general leadership, I’ve been very disappointed in how local stakes and wards responded. As a parent of kids under 12, I now know that my area cares more about appeasing those who do not want to mask than creating an environment in which it is safe for my kids and vulnerable members to attend church. I was also struck by how little parents, Primary leaders and members of the stake with actual scientific / medical expertise were involved in the decision making.

    I’m not planning to leave, but it has clarified that my ward will not support me and my family in hard times (and remote schooling my kids for a year in isolation with no support was definitely a hard time) and that my viewpoint matters less than those who are more eager to drop masking. I do feel that I was abandoned as a parent and that kids were deprioritized, despite the constant lip service given to the importance of families. It’s liberating to feel empowered to make decisions based on what I think is right rather than what local leaders say, but also a little heartbreaking, especially when I consider how my kids have not had access to Primary in 1.5 years.

    I wonder a lot about how it will impact ward dynamics in years to come that my ward is so divided on these issues. I recently cancelled a temple recommend interview because I felt so uncomfortable having to approach leaders who I worry will think I’m unfaithful or unreasonable because I don’t think it’s currently safe to attend a ward that doesn’t require masks with unvaccinated kids.

  78. Sam, if you’re going to throw out Utah COVID numbers as evidence of something, shouldn’t you also note that Utah has one of the lowest death rates due to COVID in the country?

  79. And I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. If you’re taking extraordinary measures to protect younger kids, you’re not following the science. COVID is no more dangerous to kids than the many other diseases that have been floating around since time immemorial. It will be awesome once kids can get the vaccine, and I think they should get it. But accurately assessing the risk is necessary, including identifying those who aren’t at serious risk.

  80. Geoff - Aus says:

    Agree with rick powers. April 2020 there were 5000 deaths in USA. the prophet didn’t tell us how to avoid any more deaths, he announced a fast day, and waved a hanky. 633,000 death now.
    Not a very effective prophet. Credibility 0.
    The Lord could have told him if he had asked, but he didn’t know how? Or perhaps was concerned that recieving revelation would kill him. It exhausted a 14 year old joseph Smith.
    Either way he has the title, but not the ability.. is there anyone who does that he could hand over to who could fearlessly declare the will of the Lord? Which is what we need.

  81. Delta has changed that calculus significantly.

  82. Anonymous says:

    DSC, Quite a few people told me that I was being unreasonable and not following the science when I voiced the opinion that there should be a mask mandate in our ward to protect kids under 12 and vulnerable populations. Virtually every scientific organization, however, agrees that kids and those interacting with them should be masked indoors. While there was a narrative at the beginning of the pandemic that kids weren’t impacted, we now know that this is not true, that the new variants are more likely to impact kids and that vaccinated adults can transmit delta. Plus, there’s a real risk of a worse variant developing as COVID runs through unvaccinated children.

    Moreover — and this is where I really wish local leaders had listened to parents in the ward rather than dismissed their concerns — our kids cannot attend things like camps or school if they have symptoms of ANY illness. This means that my child contracting a cold in church results in the loss of our childcare and their learning for a couple of weeks and costs me several hundred dollars in lost tuition. I believe that the impact of our actions on the community as a whole and the externalities people who don’t mask are imposing on other families need to be considered.

  83. Anonymous,

    There is no empirical evidence that current variants are any more harmful to children. Hospitalization rates for children have remained constant. Explorers recommend masking because they are experts on virology and have only one goal in mind. But experts should never dictate policy; they should inform the public about the risks and let policymakers make the decisions. Right now we have “experts” dictating landlord/tenant disputes. That’s not how policy ought to be made (nor is it lawful, but that’s another matter).

    I understand the concern about summer camps, daycare, etc. But it doesn’t make sense to ask everyone else to disrupt their lives and routines in order to avoid disrupting your life and routines. If you’re concerned, you can take precautions such as having your kids wear N95 masks or just not having them participate in certain activities. No one should judge you for making those decisions, but neither should you be judging everyone else for making different decisions.

  84. Dsc “ Hospitalization rates for children have remained constant.” Could you please share your sources for this?

  85. Dsc, so it says the jury is still out, but given all the warning signs, shouldn’t we exercise caution? Most of our sickness in our household comes from what the kids bring home from school. Where we live, a cough means quarantine and tests. Some may consider them overbearing, but we support and follow the measures nonetheless.

    Unfortunately piecemeal, individualistic precautionary measures are ineffective in a pandemic. It takes cooperation, thoughtfulness, humility and policymaking free from political or social pressures to work and save lives.

  86. Dsc, I didn’t mention death rates because I’m not talking about Covid deaths: I’m talking about the church showing leadership and communicating to members that they need to get vaccinated through the channels it uses to communicate things it deems important. It’s hard to miss that if you read the post, so I’m not really clear what you’re trying to say here. Your suggestion that it’s NBD for kids, though, suggests that you haven’t updated your priors since a year and a half ago when we thought that magically Covid didn’t apply to kids. While we don’t understand everything–notably, we don’t know the long-term effects kids or others will face if they get Covid–what we know suggests to me that we have a moral and religious duty to protect those around us from illness, including by getting vaccinated. And the church should use the weight of its authority to tell members to get the shot.

  87. Sam,

    If you’re not talking about deaths, why are you talking about a surge cases? It sure seems like you care about results from a public health perspective, but if that’s the case, you’re picking and choosing your data to make a point. That’s fine, but acknowledge what you’re doing.

    I have absolutely stayed up to date on the effect of COVID on kids. Unlike any other age group, kids saw a below-average death rate for the whole of 2020. Kids remain far more likely to die or be seriously injured in an accident than by contracting COVID, and yet we’re not taking extraordinary measures to prevent those injuries and deaths. I’m not denying that COVID can’t harm kids, but we have to recognize the relative risk, which is still very low for children. Kids not being able to see each others’ faces may be psychologically harmful. If we’re going to make decisions based on speculative long-term results, shouldn’t that factor in.

    Yes, we have a moral and religious obligation to protect people, but that’s not the only obligation we have. We also have an obligation to foment meaningful social situations, allow people to make and respect people’s personal decisions, etc.

  88. Sam,

    I also think that you seriously discount the effect of the Handbook on how messaging filters down to wards. Many a dispute at the ward level is resolved by pointing to the Handbook. Your dismissive attitude to commenters bringing that up tells me that you’re more interested in criticizing the Church’s shortcomings as you perceive them than giving an honest assessment of the situation. You should have brought up the Handbook in your original post. Did you not know about it? And if so, maybe you’re not really in a position to lecture Church leaders on what they are and aren’t doing.

  89. dsc, while I appreciate your insinuating that I’m somehow less than faithful, I’m not interested in having that discussion. I’ll leave it with this: you’re misreading the post. That’s your right but I’m not interested in the conversation you seem to want to be having. I will say, though, that you overread the specificity and power of changes in language to the handbook. Like I said earlier in the comments, that may be a way that the church communicates important things to members in the future, but it has not been in the past. And , based on the percentage of vaccine refusers in the church, it’s clearly insufficient at this particular moment.

  90. Sam,

    I’m not insinuating that you’re less than faithful. I’m insinuating that you have a penchant to criticize and ignore contrary points. That has nothing to do with your faithfulness. But it does undercut your argument. You seem to be completely unwilling to accept that others might make a different risk assessment than you. That’s the fundamental error in your argument. It’s not your faithfulness, which I have absolutely no reason to doubt.

  91. Thanks dsc. To drill down to my point: if the church believes the Covid vaccination is important, it needs to say so explicitly through channels it uses to communicate important ideas. You point to changes in the Handbook. I don’t find that compelling for a large handful of reasons, including (as I’ve said) that that’s not how the church communicates when it wants members to do something and because the language there is vague enough to allow members to interpret it wrt the Covid vaccine however they want. When the church feels something is important, it uses Conference and letters to be read over the pulpit.

    And the fact that (according to PRRI (which, btw, I would have used rather than the Utah County vaccination rate if I’d been aware of it when I wrote the post) 19% of church members are vaccine refusers—a percentage that has ticked up in the last couple months—suggests that the message hasn’t been internalized by about one in five members.

    Are members going to ultimately make their own risk assessments? Of course. But the church has not problem telling members every four years that they need to vote, has not problem telling members not to wear two-piece bathing suits, has no problem telling them not to drink or smoke. Similarly, members will ultimately make their own risk assessments. But in the meantime, the church has told them (us) what we should do.

  92. I’m not particularly impressed with how the church started. It seemed like it was a response to the Utah governor that caused church meetings to shut down across the world, rather than some divine guidance from on high. For Europe, this was already far too late. It seems fair to me to expect more from a Prophet… particularly one that knows a thing or two about health.

    Regarding vaccination, I had more positive vibes in general. It seems like I share a church with so many “crazy” people who are anti-vaxxers and that any announcement from the Prophet would alienate a large part of their flock. But they, the church, announced it anyway, much to the annoyance of many. They at least were able to say it wasn’t a commandment, but rather guidance. I appreciated Elder Renlund’s words on masks also, but as you say, many of these messages were through lesser known back channels.

    Oh well.

    Regarding missed opportunities, yep, I think you’re onto something there. But this isn’t the first time. It’s so frustrating actually, so many missed opportunities. Maybe it’s me, but as time progresses, I feel more and more out of touch.

  93. Sam,

    I get and respect that, from your perspective, the Church could be doing more to promote vaccination. My issue is with making vaccination a pure moral question, which I think oversimplifies the issue. There may be some very good reasons the Church is not doing the things you would like the Church to do, but I won’t speculate about what those reasons are. As for individual members of the Church, I think many are making a cost-benefit analysis, and I’m not in a position to say categorically that people who make a different decision than I made (to get vaccinated) are making an irrational or immoral choice. For example, you point to the vaccination rates for Utah as a whole and Utah County as evidence of the attitude of members of the Church (I’ll set aside the PRRI study because there’s a sample size problem). It may be that Church membership explains the low vaccination rate, but it’s also possible–likely even–that it has more to do with the average age than religious affiliation. The younger you are, the less the risk of serious complications of COVID. It seems perfectly rational for people who are at a low risk for serious complications from COVID to take a wait-and-see approach to the vaccine. I disagree with that calculation, but I can’t say it’s irrational. And because of that, I can’t say it’s immoral either.

  94. miss5u5an says:

    Thankfully, President Nelson values agency.

  95. miss5u5an, thankfully taking away agency isn’t being discussed here!

  96. Wouldn’t it be interesting if the word of wisdom were treated like vaccination: It’s the right thing to do and it’s healthy for you and others but it’s not mandatory, and use your own wisdom, judgment and conscience. Or conversely, a TR recommend question, have you fulfilled your obligation to yourself and your fellow man by being vaccinated?

  97. The Church’s response to Covid 19 reflects its position: between a rock and a hard place. We are a religion that teaches truth above all else, O Say What is True! tis the last and the first…

    Here we are where a greater portion of the members believe and repeat the rampant baseless rumors, for example, that the vaccine will cause every thing bad, make you stupid(!), infertility, microchipped. This portion has swallowed the politicization of so many things, like mask wearing, and vaccination among lots of other, important things. I think the Church leadership must be aware of it but cannot offend these people who are temple presidents, bishops, and stake leaders. So they tiptoe around the issue so as not to arouse the political passions which would reveal themselves (to this sizable faction) as Biden and Democrat lovers. This is the result: being half effective.

  98. Nate Daniels says:

    Dsc, you’re making bad faith arguments trying to justify the rationality of the vaccine hesitant. No, waiting to get the vaccine is simply not rational, period. It is immoral as well. We know COVID is a massive threat, it will overwhelm the healthcare systems, and that it will mutate. We also know that available vaccines are incredibly effective at preventing Covid and stemming its spread. What you’re calling “different risk calculations” is nothing more than dangerous paranoia about the vaccines that needs to be stopped. You’re making the argument for fake freedom, that true freedom is allowing people to be free from all pressures to be vaccinated. Uh no. True freedom is through the vaccine and using whatever mechanisms we have at our disposal to pressure people into vaccination. The disingenuousness in your arguments is simply astounding.

  99. Chadwick says:

    I guess how the Church gets graded is largely a matter of perspective and personal experience.

    I personally give them an F. I was so furious that the Church would not accommodate the single sisters I minister to during the pandemic. I begged and pleaded to bless the sacrament over the phone or in their backyard but was told no. They don’t need it. Well, if they didn’t need it, then neither did we. So my family did without the sacrament for six months until these wonderful, faithful women were re-included in the ordinance.

    I think the initial get missionaries back to their home country push was great. But then we kept issuing new callings all during the pandemic. These poor kids get called out of country only to spend their entire mission reassigned English speaking in Topeka Kansas. And nobody in my community would welcome strangers ringing their doorbell in a pandemic for whatever reason. These kids deserved better mission experience than they are getting. We can do better than this.

    The OP didn’t cover any of this and focused only on home-based church, which I was a big fan.

  100. All-

    There is so much to be said.

    First, to DSC and others who have written that “COVID is no more dangerous to kids,” hospitalization rates for children have remained constant, etc., that is utter BS!!! In Florida, Georgia, and other states experiencing the Delta variant surge, more children are now hospitalized than have been since the start of the pandemic, the Delta variant is anecdotally reported by doctors to be more severe for all who contract it, including children, and children younger than 12 are (by definition) at much greater risk relatively speaking than they have ever been because they presently cannot be vaccinated–they don’t have any choice and too many adults around them will not protect them. If anti-vaxxers want to “do the cost benefit” and risk serious illness or death for themselves, so be it (many would call that Darwinism at its finest). But innocent children who cannot be vaccinated should absolutely not be put at risk.

    How, you might ask, are those children being put at risk. Allow me to illustrate. Yesterday our ward hosted a double missionary farewell. The entire chapel was full (shoulder-to-shoulder) all the way to the back of the cultural hall–and those who could not squeeze into a bench (not for lack of trying) were directed as overflow to the relief society room. In that congregation, which included many dozens of people from all over who knows where, there were many more dozens of children younger than 12, including a young girl fighting cancer (her family was the majority of the few who were masked). To make matters worse, 5 rows in front of my familywe had “Super Spreader Sam” who was literally coughing/hacking 2-3 time every few minutes for the entire meeting, including before and during his benediction. And, on top of that, all of the young men (who are statistically less likely than the adult population to have been partially or fully vaccinated) were called maskless (with a single exception–the brother of the young girl I just referred to) to the stand to sing Ye Elders of Israel. In short, nearly everything that could have been done poorly vis-a-vis public health and pandemic management was done poorly, including passing and partaking of the sacrament as if it was 2018. Any assertion that the Utah body of the Church does not have an anti-mask, anti-vax, right wing political extremist problem defies reason, the anecdotal evidence, and common sense.

    Contrast the Church’s response with that being taken by St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in SLC. At St, Mark’s on Sunday the Reverend begged people to make sure they, those they love, and those within their sphere of influence are vaccinated, the Parish announced its second (in the last two weeks) vaccination clinic, and the Reverend pronounced a blessing on the congregation that “as they walk through the valley of this pandemic” they will be protected, have the ability to influence others for good, and have the courage to persuade others to be vaccinated for the benefit of their families, neighborhoods, cities, the State of Utah, the Country, and the world. That is true leadership!!!

    I can only imagine the good the Church could have done by preaching and leading as the St. Mark’s Parish has.

  101. Gawlfer,

    You’re misreading the data. Even if serious cases of COVID in children doubled, they would still be rare. Children account for .25% of all COVID deaths. Even with the Delta variant, children are much more likely to die in a car accident than from COVID, or be hospitalized from a playground incident than be hospitalized for COVID, yet no one is suggesting we quit driving to avoid accidents or that we rip out playgrounds.

    Yes, kids are “at much greater risk relatively speaking than they have ever been”, but that’s because they weren’t at an appreciable risk to begin with, and now adults are at a much lower risk than they were.

  102. Thanks everyone for the discussion. At 103 comments, it’s probably long enough.

    For those of you who are vaccinated, want to comment, and can’t: I’m sorry.

    For those of you who are unvaccinated, want to comment, and can’t: please get vaccinated.