Well this is nice. It’s been at least a few weeks since we all fought over COVID-related matters through a Latter-day Saint lens. The First Presidency must have picked up on our collective ennui and has issued an official letter asking temple patrons and workers to wear masks.
Dear Brothers and Sisters:
We are grateful that in recent months, some level of ordinance work has resumed in every temple. Our desire is to keep temples open.
As cases of COVID-19 increase in many areas, we want to do everything possible to allow temples to remain open. Therefore, effective immediately, all temple patrons and workers are asked to wear face masks at all times while in the temple. These safety protocols are temporary, based on COVID-19 conditions, and will be rescinded as soon as circumstances permit.
Our urging Church members to be vaccinated and to protect themselves and others from the spread of disease has precedent. Prior First Presidencies shared similar messages in 1900 about smallpox and in 1957 regarding polio. Please do all you can to protect yourself and others so the work of the Lord on both sides of the veil can move forward.
Russell M. Nelson
Dallin H. Oaks
Henry B. Eyring
Temples have reopened at an impressive clip over the past few months, but the rise of the Delta variant, coupled with plateauing vaccination rates, have put temple goers more at risk than they were in the spring.
And before anyone starts picking apart words, in this case “ask” is very clearly a requirement. If the First Presidency says, “effective immediately, all temple patrons and workers are asked to wear face masks at all times while in the temple,” that is the Church’s highest governing body stating what should occur in the House of the Lord. It is not, “It’d be nice if you could consider wearing a mask.” It’s, “Wear a mask in the temple. Full stop.” but with more benign language because the Brethren traffic heavily in this sort of language.
The final paragraph in the letter is a curious pivot, practically bereft of any segue, into the Church’s history with vaccines. If one were to read the social landscape of the Church, it is hard see this as anything more than the Brethren reiterating the Church’s previous request for members to get vaccinated, this time reminding Church members that this is not the first time the Church has encouraged us to be immunized, nor will it be the last.
If you don’t want to click the links to previous statements, here they are:
On the smallpox vaccine, 1900:
We take this opportunity of suggesting [to the Saints] … that they employ every precaution to prevent the spread of the contagion.
To the question of vaccination we have given careful thoughts and consideration[.] … We are aware that there is a difference of opinion in the community as to the merits of this question; and… we have felt reluctant to express ourselves publicly on it. Now, however, we feel to … suggest and recommend that the people generally avail themselves of the opportunity to become vaccinated[.]
Geo. Q. Cannon,
Salt Lake City, November 17, 1900.
On the polio vaccine. 1957:
We have been deeply impressed by reports submitted to us as to the urgent need for funds to support the well organized campaign against polio. We have been moved by the instances of generous and effective care accorded by the Polio Foundation to victims of this dread disease. Much of this care, we are informed, will go forward for many years to come.
We are grateful that there is assurance and hope in the prospect of universal protective vaccination. We commend all our citizens, particularly the women, who are giving so generously of their time and effort in the support of the campaign.
We have no hesitancy in urging all members of the Church and other citizens to support the campaign now in progress by giving as generously as each can afford, and by making sure that all members of families, unless exempted on doctors’ orders, receive Salk vaccine inoculation.
The First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
David O. McKay
Stephen L Richards
J. Reuben Clark Jr.
Notice how in 1900, the First Presidency was aware of disagreements among the saints and did not want to inject itself into the conversation, but it felt compelled to do so anyway and encouraged the Saints to obtain the smallpox vaccine.
As for polio, the First Presidency wished to make sure that “all members of families, unless exempted on doctors’ orders, receive Salk vaccine inoculation” (emphasis added).
Vaccine hesitancy is a perfectly valid position, but we have to be willing to explore our positions. At the time of writing the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey showed that 51.0% of Utahns listed side effects as a reason for not receiving a COVID vaccination even though the Pfizer shot has already received full FDA approval. That’s a 12 point drop since August, which is a good thing, but still represents more than half of those surveyed. The same survey showed nearly 48% of respondents flatly not believing they needed a vaccine.
Perhaps because COVID does not have as readily apparent effects on our community as smallpox and polio did, particularly on children, we simply don’t feel as much haste to eradicate it, assuming it’ll fizzle out on its own. But we have the cure and we have the way out. Leaders of our faith have been abundantly clear about the Church’s position on the matter. It’s merely a question of what we will do about it and if we will take the collective action to end the pandemic.
Besides, we should embrace this opportunity to go meta and wear a temple-themed mask in the temple.