First Presidency Urges Latter-day Saints to Get Vaccinated, Wear Masks

The latest statement by the First Presidency minces few words about the importance of vaccination in the fight against COVID-19.

In the midst of this war of words and tumult of opinions, I often said to myself: What is to be done? Who of all these parties are right; or, are they all wrong together? If any one of them be aright, which is it, and how shall I know it?

- Joseph Smith

Those were the words of Joseph Smith, who sought truth about which religion he should join. 

We also live in an age of great tumult and misinformation. The rise of the Delta variant of the coronavirus has stoked fears of church meetings being canceled again, temples being closed, and missionary work slowing. But within all that worry, something of a low-grade civil war is brewing among members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints regarding masks and vaccinations. 

The issue is quite simply that for every social media post or General Handbook update that is clear as a non-Utah day on the Church’s pro-vaccination stance, there is a final paragraph stressing that vaccines remain a personal decision. Some members feel it is painfully obvious the Brethren want us to get vaccinated to end the pandemic. Others feel personal liberty trumps other concerns.

It appears we are meant to be led, if not in all, then in some things. On August 12, the First Presidency of the Church issued a letter stressing the importance of immunization and wearing face masks in appropriate situations:

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.

The First Presidency

Russell M. Nelson
Dallin H. Oaks
Henry B. Eyring

The Brethren describe the battle against COVID-10 as a “war” that can only be won by “immunizing a very high percentage of the population.”

There don’t appear to be many carve-outs in this statement for personal interpretation, although we could parse words about the word “urge” instead of “command,” but how often do Church leaders use the phrase “command” in the counsel they give us during General Conference?  

Lest we forget, it was President Ezra Taft Benson who reminded us the prophet does not have to say “Thus saith the Lord” for something to be scripture.

Likewise, the words of President Harold B. Lee in 1970: “You may not like what comes from the authority of the Church. It may conflict with your political views. It may contradict your social views. It may interfere with some of your social life … Your safety and ours depends upon whether or not we follow … Let’s keep our eye on the President of the Church.”

To be clear, we’re all guilty of selective obedience in one form or another. Some of our choices only adversely affect ourselves. Others have broader ramifications for our families, communities, and in the case of COVID-19, the globe.

A man Latter-day Saints revere as a prophet, seer, and revelator has asked us to follow the guidance of medical professionals and government officials in the effort to end COVID-19. And along the way, wear that mask. Most everyone will agree it’s not the most delightful way to have something on your face (there are worse), but doing so protects others. 

And didn’t we covenant to be our brothers’ keeper?

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