Regrading the Church’s Pandemic Response

Or maybe: awarding the Church’s pandemic response some extra credit.

Last week I wrote that the church had done a poor job encouraging members to get vaccinated against Covid. While leaders had shared posts of themselves getting vaccinated and had put out language encouraging vaccination broadly, it had not been as direct as it is capable of being.

But I’m always happy to offer extra credit to bring a struggling grade up and today the church has earned some extra credit. In a message sent to members around the world[fn1] and posted on the Newsroom website, the First Presidency “urge[s]” members to get vaccinated against Covid, pointing out that the vaccines “have proven to be both safe and effective.”

And it goes further: it also urges the use of face masks in public meetings where members can’t distance.

Now it’s on members; the church leadership has made a clear and unequivocal statement that it takes Covid seriously and that, through vaccination and mask-wearing, we can beat Covid back. Will we respond to their clear guidance?

I certainly hope so.


[fn1] It hasn’t hit my inbox yet, but I trust that, at the very least, it’ll be there soon.

Comments

  1. I do wonder how much stuff that gets posted on the Newsroom site gets read by the average member. I think you’re correct that the next step will be one of the mass emails. I know I read/skim those.
    At least being on the Newsroom site might result in leaders reading it in Sacrament meeting.

  2. Hope E Wiltfong says:

    HURRAH! HURRAH!

  3. I just saw that it’s on the landing page for https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/. That’s a good sign.

  4. Thanks, jader3rd! That’s good to hear. (Also, I understand that super-mass emailings can take some time but they’ve made clear that their intent is to send this to all members.)

  5. Do people read past the headline? Because the Newsroom’s headline adds the unwarranted term “when needed.” That qualification appears nowhere in the 1P letter, but can easily be seized on by any anti-masker who claims that masks are never needed. Until that headline is corrected, I won’t upgrade my opinion.

    I also look forward to my bishop’s announcement this week. Last week he gave PERMISSION to wear masks if we were so weak as to think we needed them. He didn’t wear one. Will he actually, grudgingly follow the 1P this week? Stay tuned …

  6. Ardis, I’ll confess that I skipped the headline. The statement itself strikes me as pretty good; I hope your bishop (and all the other bishops and stake presidents, etc.) read it and take it seriously!

  7. Linda DeSimone says:

    Is there any way to get this notice into the hands/brains of any LDS members of the Salt Lake County Council before they vote this afternoon to stop Dr. Angela Dunn’s mask mandate for kids in schools?

  8. lastlemming says:

    I both agree and disagree with Ardis. The headline writer would undoubtedly claim that “when needed” is not unwarranted because it is shorthand for “whenever social distancing is not possible.” But the anti-maskers can still claim that when social distancing is possible they don’t have to wear a mask, regardless of whether social distancing is actually practiced. So the Church still gets demerits for that language.

    But points for the unqualified vaccination recommendation.

  9. Unfortunately, some area presidents, stake presidents and unit leaders are sending conflicting messages to members. They’ve discounted/ignored the prophet’s original counsel to be “good global citizens” and have instead adopted the viewpoint that vaccinations and masks are unwelcome government intrusions on religious freedom. Meanwhile, the prophet and Q12 have said vaccines are an “answer to prayers” and led by example by wearing masks while social distancing–even after being vaccinated.

    It would be nice to see this latest message not just quietly posted in the Newsroom website, but sent by the First Presidency as a letter for unit leaders to read from the pulpit. Where Salt Lake has fallen short is by telling stakes and units to do whatever the law or local restrictions allow in their individual areas, even when those laws and restrictions differ from one unit to another within the same stake/region. That patchwork approach has led to more politicization of the issue and inconsistent practices. It would be nice to see global leaders take a more uniform approach by warning against prevalent misinformation the same way they warned against MLMs and other societal schemes, and by setting an expectation for members to take certain common denominator precautions until further notice.

  10. Stake conference is this weekend. No virtual watching outside of chapels, unless you specifically ask your bishop and get instructions to watch online. No one wears masks. Four wards per building so they’ll all be packed. Currently taking bets on whether my stake presidency takes any action given this most recent statement from the First Presidency.

  11. We’ve recently been given medical advice that nobody in our family (adults are fully vaccinated; the kids are too young) should be in a large group of mostly unmasked people, especially whose vaccination status is unknown (that’s our sacrament meeting to a T) until our kids get vaccinated. I had just started attending in person again, and definitely had very mixed feelings about giving it up. I’m hoping now I won’t have to. We’ll see…

  12. It did show up in my mailbox, so I’m sure those that have their profile set up like mine (defaults probably) will get it as well.

  13. Over the past 3-4 months, our Northeast IL ward relaxed the “please wear a mask” standard to “masks are optional” standard. Last week, we went back to “please wear a mask” standard. Two families wore masks.

    I don’t have high hopes.

  14. So much damage has already been done by not making a firm, unequivocal statement early on that although I’m glad the First Presidency has now done SOMETHING, I’m afraid it’s too little too late. Members have had almost a year and a half of wishy-washy counsel and “example” that has allowed them to do whatever the “Spirit” and the various news sources they consume told them to do. Now their views are set, one way or the other, and I doubt many of them will be moved by this announcement, whether it’s sent by email (just got mine, by the way), read over the pulpit, or just floating around in the media, though I hope I’m wrong about that. No matter what, though, quite a few members I know personally have felt driven away by the lack of concern for their safety and health shown among local leaders and have quietly left activity and even declared that they will no longer participate in any church meetings or activities. I don’t blame them a bit. For myself, I have lost respect for so many people whom I once liked and admired in the church because of their callous and thoughtless response to the pandemic (and other matters). Maybe some of them would have dug their heels in no matter what, but quite a few would have listened if the Prophet had taken a clear position from the start. Now they’d rather get their messages from other sources, not to mention alienating those who have tried to be conscientious from the beginning. It didn’t have to go so far, I think.

  15. Villate, so much of what you write resonates with me and my experience. Thanks.

  16. The announcement email from the First Presidency just hit my inbox. Props to church leadership.

  17. Mine too. I suspect by the end of the day most members will have received it.

  18. At this point, I have zero expectation or hope that our ward/stake will change anything in response to this letter. Partisanship over religion down here in the South, including at church. We are one of the two or three families in our ward wearing masks to church and we might as well be wearing placards saying ‘We abuse our kids.’ Thank you right wing media!

    One other family I know of hasn’t been attending church in our ward, though they did a couple of times, fully masked like us, before silently disappearing again. I texted them, voiced my concerns over our wards Covid practices, and both the husband and wife immediately responded that we ‘weren’t alone!’ and that they are ‘converted to the gospel and not the culture.’ They don’t feel safe and are clearly appalled by the membership’s response so far.

    Where does this leave us? Well, I’m due for a temple reccomend interview this Sunday and for the first time, I’m honestly now sure how it will go. Largely because church is no longer a place I feel safe. Trump plus Covid has made clear that clear. The very mild, recent efforts of the church to banish politics from church is nothing compared to decades of Benson. The marriage of religion and politics that he pushed is a heavy stain on the church I’m not sure anyone in HQ knows how to get out of. I want to belong. But Packer’s unabashed statement that intellectuals, feminists, and gays, are the greatest threat to church haunts me daily. The church doesn’t want me. I believe the gospel does. I hate to say it, but my wards reaction to this announcement will most likely determine the outcome of my temple recommend.

  19. “the church leadership has made a clear and unequivocal statement that it takes Covid seriously and that, through vaccination and mask-wearing, we can beat Covid back.” Clear and unequivocal, yes. Required, no. Probably the best that can be done at this point, though.

  20. Kirkstall says:

    They posted the announcement on the church’s Instagram as well. Comments are, wisely I think, turned off.

  21. I trust the vaccine I received, and am thankful I no longer have to wear a mask. I am happy to get back to living life as it is meant to be. I like Lord’s Sumption:

    “What sort of life do we think we are protecting? There is more to life than the avoidance of death. Life is a drink with friends. Life is a crowded football match or a live concert. Life is a family celebration with children and grandchildren. Life is companionship, an arm around one’s back, laughter or tears shared at less than two metres. These things are not just optional extras. They are life itself. They are fundamental to our humanity, to our existence as social beings. Of course death is permanent, whereas joy may be temporarily suspended. But the force of that point depends on how temporary it really is.”

  22. Kevin Barney says:

    I got the church email and our EQP posted it on our EQ Facebook page (but then he’s a progressive guy).

  23. nobody, really says:

    Weird. It was just mid-June when we were told, in a bishop’s training meeting, “the Brethren want us to return to normal just as quickly as possible.” Stop the online broadcasts, dump the masks, stop sanitizing, and no home-blessed sacrament unless you’ve got a really good reason not to be at church.

  24. matthew73 says:

    Sam, maybe you have more influence on the First Presidency than you think :) Like many here I would have preferred to see something earlier but I’m grateful for the statement, and while I wish it were stronger, it is direct and clear.

    I’m commenting specifically with regard the references to the “when needed” language discussed earlier. I received my email and, while I won’t quote it here to save space, it does not contain the words “when needed”. Relevant quotes from the email I received include these:

    ” . . . We know that protection from the diseases they cause can only be achieved by immunizing a very high percentage of the population.”

    “To limit exposure to these viruses, we urge the use of face masks in public meetings whenever social distancing is not possible. To provide personal protection from such severe infections, we urge individuals to be vaccinated. Available vaccines have proven to be both safe and effective.”

  25. Ann Porter says:

    Louisiana is in REALLY bad shape with the Delta variant – 30-60 people are dying every day and we have the highest levels of hospitalization since the beginning of the pandemic. 20% of the tests in my parish are positive. My stake reverted to masks required at indoor meetings last week, and starting this week there are no meetings in person except sacrament meeting. #Leadership.

  26. From anywhere says:

    Salt Lake City Council votes against masks for K-6, by a 6-3 vote.

  27. I would like to pause for a second and say that I really do feel very much like what Pres. Nelson said, that the vaccine in such record time was really a medical miracle for which I’m very grateful. Ardis–I’m interested in hearing what your ward ultimately does.

    I have no idea what my current ward will do. A few people wear masks (I assume they are unvaccinated). No kids wear masks. I could see them announcing masks again starting Sunday, but I could also see them not doing that. My old stake (Scottsdale) will for sure immediately require masks again. That’s what happens when your SP is a doctor.

  28. I got vaccinated as soon as I was eligible, and I’ve worn masks everywhere I’ve been asked to. Having said that, I’m aware of a number of sources that cast doubt on the efficacy of masks against this virus. I’ll still wear one where I’m asked to, but I don’t have to believe they’re anything other than virtue signaling (to be clear, I’m not saying masks are not effective, I’m just not convinced that they are, so I guess I’m sort of agnostic on the issue).

    As far as vaccines are concerned, I think those who don’t have medical conditions preventing it should get it, but I don’t buy into the narrative it’s only conservative people who are unvaccinated. I think something like 70% of black people in New York have not been vaccinated, and it’s doubtful those people are conservatives.

    I recognize the discussion here is about the church and its members, but there are subtle political undertones here (which is to be expected, as everything it seems is politicized these days).

  29. I think there is a light rebellion occurring in some areas. Our stake conf is being modified this weekend and the 1st Pres notice was a major driver. But, several I know in the Phoenix area believe there stake presidencies and bishops won’t take it seriously. This will cause harm and division if it plays out further.

  30. Our stake announced yesterday it will be going back for the time being to wearing masks and distancing at church – there was a post on the stake FB page, on our ward RS FB page, and my ward got an email from the bishopric. All of those linked to the newsroom article. I believe there have been some rumblings, but I thi-i-i-ink people will cooperate on Sunday. We’ll find out.

  31. I feel leaving safety measures in the hands of local leaders at this time is costing them whatever extra credit they earned by releasing a late statement.

    Anecdotal, but locally leaders aren’t taking the delta variant seriously. They’re operating in the spirit of getting things back to exactly how things were before the pandemic and making purposeful decisions aimed at making in-person attendance the only option.

  32. Our stake has now provided a link to watch online but the Stake Presidency is urging people to come in person to stake conference, or at least to a church building. They believe three or four wards can still fit into each building while maintaining social distancing. No masks required or even recommended, but masks will be provided for those who feel they can’t socially distance. This messaging comes a day after the First Presidency message.

  33. indigoshadows22 says:

    Honestly, I feel this announcement is too little too late. My experience last year was horrendous and left me feeling ostracized in a Ward governed by politics and not the Spirit. When I gave a talk carefully re-emphasizing the Prophet’s Thanksgiving prayer and Elder Renland’s message of Christ-like love, I was pulled aside and told I was out of place, and basically to keep my personal revelation to myself. Also told that “masks are not necessary for personal salvation”. When I responded to that statement and asked my bishop how’d he feel if he went to the afterlife and discovered he had killed 100 people by not wearing one- no response. I ended up moving because it was that bad. We definitely aren’t unified. My belief in Christ is stronger than ever. My trust in leadership is gone. I now just worry about leading my family the best way I know how.

  34. I’d be interested to hear more about your talks, and what about them would incite the response that it was “out of place.”

  35. Crickets from my ward and stake, whereas the adjacent stake (which always took this more seriously) has already sent messages and reinstate mask requirements.

    Sorry to say that my ward, which really is full of great people, has catered to and is continuing to cater to a Trumpist base.

    I just don’t think I can go back until this is well behind us. I don’t want to resent people over this but it’s too hard.

  36. I recognize that nobody really cares, but while there may be a number of your ward members who do, in fact, support Trump, that is not a very good explanation for why people aren’t getting vaccinated. Nearly 70% of blacks in New York have not been vaccinated, and my bet is they are not “Trumpists” (he only got about 12% of the black vote in 2020).

  37. indigoshadows22 says:

    Mike- I extracted portions from those talks in my earlier statement as well as Jeffrey R. Holland’s talk the Perfect Brightness of Hope where he discusses Hope and the two great commandments to love God and love one another. I emphasized Hear and Seeing Christ by seeing eachother through Christ’s eyes… I can’t post it all here, but I will say that the evening I was assigned the talk, later that night a friend went to the hospital and I had a clear vision of what to write. This is one of the final sections I wrote:

    “As November became December, my husband came into my room and told me an ambulance had came and that my neighbor, my friend that I have come to know and love through this past year was going to the hospital a second time because of COVID-19. As I laid in bed with tears in my eyes, I thought about the many essential workers suffering through the night to help others while we sleep. I also thought about my Savior entering the garden of Gethsemane.

    If you wish to, I would like to invite you all to close your eyes and think about that night.
    What did the garden look like?
    What did it sound like?
    Was there quiet in the air?
    Did the leaves of the trees rustle in the wind?
    How did the apostles look as they slept?
    All this tumbled through my mind as I rose and wrote the following poem that night. Again, you are welcome to keep your eyes closed and to think about the Savior while I read:
    It is called “The Neighbor”.

    Crickets in a field.
    The soft hum of fan.
    Clicking into the lull of sleep.
    Do you Hear Him?
    Pleading with the Father
    To remove the bitter cup.
    The bitterness- it flows
    Into hundreds of generations
    Without Hope- Without This.
    So in the quiet of the night
    In the splendor of our sleep.
    We are saved.
    Without knowing.
    Without seeing.
    The knowledge ours to be had
    In the dew of the morning.
    Do you see Him?
    Are you tenderly aware of His Love?
    Hope thrumming in you,
    In the many silent hands
    That come together
    To make life possible
    In the dark of night.
    Are you still asleep?
    Do you feel the vibrations—
    Of the engine next door
    The pitch of the ambulance
    The light within the abyss
    Seeking out the silent crying.
    Are you awake this time?
    Are you acutely conscious
    Of the suffering that sustains you–?
    We hear Him through our neighbor.
    We see Him in the face
    Of worry and loss.
    The heartache beats
    In millions of unspoken whispers.
    One need simply ask,
    One need simply see
    Beyond the mask
    Beyond the veil
    Into an eternity greater than
    Your own comprehension.
    In the least of these
    You find a compassion
    That bears you up
    As you bear one another.
    In the sea of life,
    Do you count the sand?

  38. My salt lake county stake sent an email right after the newsroom one, saying basically that the 1st pres encourages masks so as such please don’t mock the people who choose to wear them.

  39. Mike, this post has nothing to do with Trump or his supporters. The First Presidency didn’t call out Trump supporters or opponents. They called on all members to get vaccinated and to wear masks at meetings where distancing isn’t possible.

    Also, while I’m not sure why you’re so fixated on the percentage of the Black population vaccinated in NY, but your numbers are off. Per the latest data I’ve seen, about 40% of the Black population in NY is vaccinated. And for those who are members of the church, the First Presidency has told them that they should get vaccinated.

  40. You’re right. The original post had nothing to do with Trump supporters (I didn’t vote for him), but several comments have touched on it. This appears to show it closer to 13% blacks vaccinated statewide for NY: https://covid19vaccine.health.ny.gov/vaccine-demographic-data

  41. Actually, I may not have read that correctly. But my prior comment reflected 30% blacks being vaccinated, and Sam’s comment said 40%. Not a huge difference.

  42. Mike, two things:

    First, and most importantly, the Mormon community has people who we sustain as prophets, seers, and revelators who have told us to get vaccinated and to wear masks in meetings where we can’t socially distance. That’s different from virtually every other community and, if we take their role seriously, it’s hard to understand why a sizeable portion of us refuse to get vaccinated or wear masks. (I hope those numbers change as a result of this statement.)

    Second, being off by 33% is pretty significant.

  43. Anonymous says:

    indigoshadows22 Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the atonement and the poem. It was lovely.

  44. Sam, whether 33% is significant or not depends on the context. If someone argues that Trump is responsible for people not getting vaccinated, and I say 70% of blacks in NY have not been vaccinated and you say it’s only 60% who have not been vaccinated, I’m not sure that really makes a difference when Trump only garnered 12% of the black vote.

    The point is that “Trump” does not explain why so many are hesitant to get vaccinated. I suppose the finer point would be that “Trump” does not explain why blacks aren’t getting vaccinated, but I’m not sure there’s evidence to support that argument.

    Your first point is well taken. And I can’t explain why members have seemingly rejected that counsel. I’ve been vaccinated, wear masks when/where asked, and didn’t vote for Trump (though I’ve been wondering the past 8 months what I was thinking).

  45. The constellation of extremist politics that came together around Trump explains why some people are reluctant. The issues behind many Black Americans’ vaccine hesitancy are different. Merely pointing out that Blacks tend to have different reasons does not negate the fact that Trumpism explains a lot, especially among members of the LDS Church.

  46. Jane, the point of my comment was that there are different reasons why different people are reluctant to be vaccinated. I didn’t say or assume anything about your motives. I don’t know you.

    As to Trumpism, anyone who has spent any time with Latter-day Saints (at least in the United States, where I am) knows that Trumpism is a significant factor in many members’ reaction to the First Presidency’s message. Regardless of what your situation might be, Jane, political extremism is a problem affecting the church in the way we deal with the pandemic and many other things.

    In any case, Sam’s point stands: any Latter-day Saint who claims to follow the prophetic leadership of the church must reckon with the clear guidance that the First Presidency gave us this week.

  47. Perhaps. I don’t think there’s any real evidence to support that narrative, but people are certainly free to think what they want. Isn’t Trump that guy that pushed Warp Speed to get the vaccines ready quickly, and got the vaccine himself? Not sure I’ve seen any videos of him telling people to not get vaccinated, but perhaps I’m just not looking hard enough.

  48. S. Smith, you gotta be trolling. But if you’re serious, look, their original statement still stands, don’t you think?

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