For the record, this is happening again in our Covid-filled world–the numbers are spiking and people all around us are sick. We’ve returned to huge divisions among our families and friends. There are many who don’t believe in vaccinating to protect against Covid. We got our shots on our way home from the airport the day we returned. We are grateful to have access to vaccinations and doctors and scientists who have developed the vaccinations in record time, saving thousands and thousands of lives.
Last week the world Covid count topped 300 million. Yet, people are way more relaxed about Covid than ever before. They say the new Omicron virus isn’t as dangerous or you won’t get as sick, so it’s no big deal. The truth is people are STILL DYING. And hospitals are clogged with the unvaccinated and people with other medical problems aren’t getting help. Ambulances are being turned away from our Utah hospital doors. The doctors are exhausted. Health care providers are working with no rest of relief. It’s all hard and dangerous. It’s not over and it won’t be over for a long time. They’re saying that if you’re not vaccinated, expect to get sick. Maybe expect to die.
Sadly, there is little agreement about what’s happening in our extended families, in our communities and in our world.
For the record, I’m going to include here a letter from Aaron’s Mission President (shared with his permission). He’s a high powered attorney in NYC. He’s bright and informed and I agree 100% with what he’s written here:
David L. Cook
3 Hurlingham Dr.
Honeoye Falls, NY 14472
29 November 2021
Open Letter to Latter-day Saint Friends
I have been dismayed to watch, read and hear large numbers of fellow Latter-day Saints (LDS) take and advocate positions in direct opposition to Church Leaders and Official Policies regarding vaccines. I write this letter out of love and concern for those that seem to be ignoring, or even opposing the counsel of the Brethren.
My wife and I have compromised immune systems. I was told by my doctor that if I contracted Covid “it would kill me.” No ifs, ands, or buts. So, this is not a philosophical or political discussion for us. I have no intention to debate the science. I am not a scientist and most of you are not. Instead, I will focus on our common ground as members of the Church.
We have a unique theology among the religions of the world, but perhaps what sets us apart more than most other doctrine is the belief in living prophets and apostles. We have no doctrine of infallibility, but we have guardrails that give us assurance when the Brethren are in harmony and speak with a unified voice.
I. Unfolding of the Covid-19 Pandemic
When Covid started to rage, the First Presidency (1P) announced the closure of temples, quarantine of missionaries, and brought home tens of thousands of missionaries at great expense. This was done before any government mandates or quarantines were in place in the United States. We have a close friend who participated in the Church Covid Task Force that met with the 1P and Quorum of the Twelve (Q12) regularly. The task force included world renowned experts on public health, immunology, law, medicine and more. As the Brethren frequently say – “Good information enhances revelation.” Now, overlay that depth of analysis and information with the fact that we have in the 1P, three PhDs (Nelson – Medicine, Oaks – Law, Eyring – Business) from three of the best universities in the world (Minnesota, Chicago, Harvard). There has never been a 1P more prepared to deal with the circumstances thrust upon the world by Covid-19.
The actions the 1P took early were not imposed by government or influenced by public opinion. They were based on science, information and inspiration.
II. Counsel from the Brethren
The Church was the first religious organization to move to hold remote meetings, impose mask requirements, and close venues, including MTCs, Church colleges, Temples, youth conferences and camps. Even before the pandemic was recognized as a global concern, the church had instituted a global response. What followed once the initial actions were taken was a series of statements, talks and admonitions.
A. Pray for a Vaccine
President Nelson asked the Church to join him in fasting and prayer. He announced two world-wide fasts on Mar. 29, 2019 and Apr. 10, 2020. We fasted together as a church and prayed at this invitation for relief from the pandemic. President Ballard taught us in general conference that “prayer will influence scientists and help them toward discoveries of vaccines and medications that will end this pandemic.” When the vaccine was developed, a few months later on Jan. 19, 2021 President Nelson called it a “literal godsend” and declared it was an answer to prayer.
Recently , Kathleen and I were in a meeting related to our calling as Service Mission Leaders. An Area 70 (A70) spoke to the Service Missionaries. In the introduction he was identified as a PhD scientist in immunology. He specializes in vaccines and cancer drugs and was part of the Covid vaccine development team at one of the major vaccine developers. At the conclusion of the zoom meeting, one of the service missionaries asked the speaker if he could ask a question. The Q&A proceed as follows.
Missionary – “Did you work on the Covid-19 vaccine?”
A70 – “Yes, along with others.”
Missionary – “What would you say to someone that is hesitant to take the vaccine.”
A70 – “I would not demean or make light of their hesitancy. Some people are genuinely concerned. But I would tell them that God is the source of all knowledge. And, as a member of the team that worked on the Covid-19 vaccine, I know there is no question that we felt inspiration beyond our own knowledge of science. Our prophet asked us to pray for this and we now should see it exactly for what it is. A gift from God. Latter-day Saints who are concerned about the quick development of the vaccine need not be. I view it as a direct response to fasting and prayer as directed by President Nelson.”
B. First Presidency Vaccine Letter
Upon the release of the vaccine, every single member of the Q12 and the 1P was vaccinated, including those who had previously contracted Covid. They did not rely on “natural” immunity” from having contracted one strain of COVID as protection from new variants. Some posted on social media about being vaccinated and the 1P all published photos of themselves being vaccinated. On August 12, 2021 they issued a letter saying:
Dear Brothers and Sisters:
We find ourselves fighting a war against the ravages of COVID-19 and its variants, an unrelenting pandemic. We want to do all we can to limit the spread of these viruses. 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.
We can win this war if everyone will follow the wise and thoughtful recommendations of medical experts and government leaders. Please know of our sincere love and great concern for all of God’s children.
For the last 20 years I have made it a practice to read and analyze every official policy statement issued by the Brethren. The use of the word “urge” in this letter is noteworthy and indeed rare. It is as strong as it gets.
C. Use of Masks
While the loudest voices decry the use of masks as an infringement of their freedom, the apostles and prophets model the opposite behavior. At worldwide General Conference broadcasts since the beginning of the pandemic, in every session, all present wear masks for the entire session. Masks are mandatory at all Church operations. In addition, Elder Renlund taught that masks protect from passing and contracting the virus and said “wearing a mask is a sign of Christlike love.” Then he added, “As individuals, as families and as a church, we will be judged by how we treat the vulnerable and disadvantaged in our societies. As the COVID-19 pandemic spreads around the world, it wreaks havoc among those who are already disadvantaged.” He, like President Nelson, knows whereof he speaks, as they are both heart surgeons and Apostles.
On June 24, 2020, the Church joined in a letter with Utah interfaith leaders saying:
“We, the under-signed faith community leaders, appeal to people of faith all over the state to wear masks and practice physical distancing, sacrificing a small measure of comfort for the sake of saving lives. We recall that the greatest commandment is to love God, and the second is like unto it, to love one’s neighbor as oneself. One cannot claim to love one’s neighbor while deliberately putting them at risk.”
On July 10, 2020, the Utah Area Presidency sent an email to all members in the state asking them to wear masks in public.
“A growing chorus of medical authorities has confirmed that the simple wearing of a face covering when in public and when social distancing is not possible will significantly reduce the spread of COVID-19. This is true both indoors and outdoors. We note with appreciation the care exhibited by our members in returning to sacrament meetings wearing face masks. Now we ask all Latter-day Saints in the Utah Area to be good citizens by wearing face coverings when in public. Doing so will help promote the health and general welfare of all.”
D. Elder M. Russell Ballard
On January 6, 2022 Elder Ballard was interviewed by the Church News. His comments confirm that all General Authorities and their spouses have been vaccinated.
“I think people are concerned about the welfare and well-being of their family, of their neighbors, of God’s children. Sometimes these events — whether it’s war or a pandemic — bring about a sense of concern for others that doesn’t happen without something that would cause us to want to worry about our neighbor.”
This sense of concern “is evidenced by the fact that people are willing to get vaccinated, willing to wear masks and willing to be more cautious where they are going.”
President Ballard pointed to state and national statistics that indicate vaccines are helping to quell the spread of the virus.
“Following the guidelines of the federal and state medical advisers has proven to be a wise thing for members of the Church to do. The Church invites its members to be wise and prudent and do the wise thing for their families.” All of the Church’s general authorities and their wives have chosen to be vaccinated, President Ballard said, “not only to protect themselves but to protect others.”
Ask yourself how is it that over 100 leaders and their spouses have reached such unanimity on an issue that has divided the population. This is a very diverse group of individuals. They come from all over the globe and represent a variety of backgrounds, opinions, and political views. They do not all think alike. Yet on this issue they are united.
II. “Things that are Caught and Things that are Taught”
Elder Boyd K. Packer frequently taught that if you want to really understand how the Lord is working and inspiring the 1P and Q12, you need to pay attention not only to what they are saying (what is taught) but also what they are doing (what is caught). Applying that counsel to masks and vaccines it is clear:
· Clear unequivocal statements and general conference sermons
· Official letters signed by the 1P
· Adjustments to the General Handbook of Instructions
· Policies requiring masks in all temples
· A letter to all members in the Utah Area and public pronouncements
· Every member of the 1P, Q12, 1st and 2nd Quorums of the 70 and their wives are vaccinated
· Modeled their behavior by posting on social media and in church publications
· Requiring all missionaries to be vaccinated (which has been the policy for decades). Those that choose not to are restricted to service in the US
· Millions of dollars in donations to vaccination efforts across the globe for decades
· 1P and Q12 modeling the use of masks in every meeting and broadcast
This is not new. The Church did the same thing during the 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic. The following link is a podcast with Rick Turley, the former Director of Church History and Public Affairs. https://www.thechurchnews.com/podcast/2021-08-17/episode-44-podcast-historian-richard-turley-vaccinations-face-masks-222519
III. Religious Freedom
Some LDS have claimed that being required to wear a mask or be vaccinated infringes on their religious freedom as members of the Church. That simply is not the case. In the LDS church there is no doctrine or policy against vaccines or masks and therefore no member can claim a religious exemption.
The Church has long supported vaccination and its official policy for a century has been to encourage members to be vaccinated against illness. Recently, the 1P issued a letter to local leaders directing that no Bishop, Branch President or Stake President is authorized to provide a letter at any member’s request for a religious exemption to rules requiring vaccines.
Jared Cook is a bona fide, and recognized legal expert on First Amendment issues. He was requested to write an editorial for the Desert News in September. If you want to learn more, I suggest you read the editorial.
I frequently hear those opposed to vaccination claim that no matter what the Brethren have said they still have their personal agency not to be vaccinated. That is a misunderstanding of the doctrine of agency and the role of prophets. Elder Bednar has taught:
“I’m always put off when someone says ‘I have agency, I can do whatever I want.’ Excuse me? What you want doesn’t drive this. When you take His name upon you, you covenant to do what He wants. What He wants is more important than what you want. …
“We are not given agency to do whatever we want. We are given agency to love God and love one another. …
“When we are baptized, we take upon ourselves a new name. ‘Christian’ is a new family name. From then on, representing Him and doing what He wants, because His name is on us, is much more important than anything we want. It’s not just agency, it’s representative agency. We use our agency to represent Him. That’s why we covenant to ‘Always remember Him.’ ” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mmErOV9oQZ8
Elder Oaks recently lamented that the vaccination issue has become politicized in the United States. With the lamentable result that some members of the Church are choosing political pundits over the Lord’s servants. When one says “I just don’t feel good about being vaccinated.” They are treating the issue as a belief. Vaccinations are not about “belief”, they are about science and public health. The 1P and Q12 have been abundantly clear.
V. Conspiracy Theories
Perhaps the most concerning thing I have heard is a conspiracy theory that the Prophet and the Brethren are actually lying to the members when they have directed us to get vaccinates against COVID-19 because they know that if the Church was viewed by the government as “antivax” it would bring down persecution and the closure of the temples. I have heard several versions of this. Think about how bizarre this is. This extreme idea requires one to believe that the prophet is not just uninspired, but that he is a liar. Yet, I have heard it more than once from people I have long believed to be good and faithful members. Why would the Prophet ask us to fast and pray for a vaccine under this bizarre scenario. Let’s analyze this:
· The Brethren are lying to protect us. There is literally no scriptural, doctrinal or policy basis for this type of deceit. Unlike some evangelical churches who skirted hostile foreign governments prohibiting proselyting, the Church never has attempted to go in the back door. President Hinckley said when we enter a new country, we do it through the front door with official government permission and approval. Look at the example of the BYU Jerusalem Center where BYU students are by law prohibited from proselyting. When enrolled they sign a pledge. There is no example that would support the theory that the leaders of the church based their actions on fear of government retaliation.
· Every action taken by the Brethren is done in harmony. There is no difference of opinion on the issue of vaccination or wearing of masks. The Brethren do not issue statements under their signature or take actions until they have achieved total consensus. There are proposals that sometimes remain on their agenda for years when agreement cannot be reached. The removal of the priesthood restriction was an issue that was delayed for years until unanimity was achieved. Elder Eyring shared an experience to illustrate this. When he was Commissioner of Church Education he attended a meeting of the combined Council of the 1P and the Twelve. He described the Council discussion as very animated. He observed that the Brethren always invited the most junior apostle to voice their thoughts first, in order to prevent them from feeling influenced by more senior Brethren. In this particular meeting, at the conclusion of a lively discussion, The President of the Church noted that he wanted to table the issue because he sensed there were some that were not settled. Elder Eyring noted as the Brethren left the room there was one that held back and as he passed The President of the Church he expressed his appreciation for tabling the matter. Pres. Eyring used this to teach the principle that when an official policy is ready for release it has been vetted and has the complete and total support of all the members of the 1P and the Q12.
· There is no basis in fact to support the theory of government persecution. There have been several evangelical churches that have defied mask and vaccine mandates. Yet there is no wholesale effort by the government to shut them down. Nothing has come close to government persecution.
· Amos 3:7. Our missionaries and our doctrine teach that the Lord God will do nothing save he revels it to his prophets. The straining at gnats required to believe this conspiracy is simply not doctrinal.
This conspiratorial thinking has been condemned by the Brethren and to be completely frank it is wading in to apostate territory. I’ve known members who started down this path that have found themselves outside of the Church in full blown apostasy.
If you remain unvaccinated, please consider the following quotes that are relevant to present circumstances.
“There seems to be no end to the Savior’s desire to lead us to safety. And there is constancy in the way He shows us the path. He calls by more than one means so that it will reach those willing to accept it. And those means always include sending the message by the mouths of His prophets whenever people have qualified to have the prophets of God among them. Those authorized servants are always charged with warning the people, telling them the way to safety.”
“Looking for the path to safety in the counsel of prophets makes sense to those with strong faith. When a prophet speaks, those with little faith may think that they hear only a wise man giving good advice. Then if his counsel seems comfortable and reasonable, squaring with what they want to do, they take it. If it does not, they consider it either faulty advice or they see their circumstances as justifying their being an exception to the counsel. Those without faith may think that they hear only men seeking to exert influence for some selfish motive.”
“Another fallacy is to believe that the choice to accept or not accept the counsel of prophets is no more than deciding whether to accept good advice and gain its benefits or to stay where we are. But the choice not to take prophetic counsel changes the very ground upon which we stand. It becomes more dangerous. The failure to take prophetic counsel lessens our power to take inspired counsel in the future. The best time to have decided to help Noah build the ark was the first time he asked. Each time he asked after that, each failure to respond would have lessened sensitivity to the Spirit. And so each time his request would have seemed more foolish, until the rain came. And then it was too late.”
“Sometimes we will receive counsel that we cannot understand or that seems not to apply to us, even after careful prayer and thought. Don’t discard the counsel, but hold it close. If someone you trusted handed you what appeared to be nothing more than sand with the promise that it contained gold, you might wisely hold it in your hand awhile, shaking it gently. Every time I have done that with counsel from a prophet, after a time the gold flakes have begun to appear and I have been grateful.” Henry B. Eyring
“A resistance to anything that limits one’s conduct has almost taken over society. Our whole social order could self-destruct over the obsession with freedom disconnected from responsibility, where choice is imagined to be somehow independent of consequences.” Boyd K Packer
“Some might use the excuse of ‘agency’ to ignore the counsel of the prophets. Well, I would suggest to you, that our use of agency, a gift from God, is not to determine whether the prophet is right but rather to choose whether or not to follow the counsel of the Lord as directed by the prophet. As the Savior taught, ‘whether by mine own voice or by the voice of his servants, it is the same’ (D&C 1:38)” W. Christopher Wadell
To be very frank, if you are unvaccinated and do not wear a mask you exhibit a complete disregard to those who may be at risk. Immunocompromised individuals like me and my wife do not wear a sign warning people of our health conditions.
Listen to those we sustain as Prophets, Seers and Revelators whose mission is to guide the people of God. Don’t place your trust in the opinion pundits whose goal is ratings and revenue. I have never seen a time like this where so many members of the Church are in defiance to the clear and unambiguous teaching and policies of the Church. If you take offense, I am sorry. I do not intend to hurt your feelings. But if you believe in this Church and especially if you have made sacred covenants in the temple to build the kingdom of God and establish Zion, you owe it to yourself, to God, and to other members of the church to put your trust in those we sustain.
If a concern for the health of others does not move you to act to protect them from disease, if a belief in living prophets does not move you to follow their counsel, then at the very least, let common courtesy and respect for others move you to wear a mask when you are in close indoor contact with them. You may not believe it is real, but there is no harm in respecting the wishes of your friends and family when you are with them.
With Love and Concern,