Church historian on pandemic

Richard Turley discusses the history of the Church and pandemics, from Joseph Smith’s childhood, to Zion’s Camp to Nauvoo to 1918 pandemic to polio to today.


“Well, first of all, I think sometimes people are being a little bit too technical when they try to parse the various statements on the basis of what they’re called. In this particular case, the First Presidency used the most direct and effective method they had at their disposal for communicating their letter. As you know, I was the managing director of the Church’s Public Affairs Department, and then Church Communication Department, and so I know that email is the single most effective method for reaching members of the Church. I think it’s highly significant in this case that we have a message signed by all three members of the First Presidency, and directed using the method that’s most effective in reaching Church members. So, if I were to receive, an individual member, a letter or a call from a member of the First Presidency, which I do from time to time, I would pay attention to it. Think of this in many ways as an individual letter to each member of the Church. “

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About rameumptom

Gerald (Rameumptom) Smith is a student of the gospel. Joining the Church of Jesus Christ when he was 16, he served a mission in Santa Cruz Bolivia (1978=1980). He is married to Ramona, has 3 stepchildren and 7 grandchildren. Retired Air Force (Aim High!). He has been on the Internet since 1986 when only colleges and military were online. Gerald has defended the gospel since the 1980s, and was on the first Latter-Day Saint email lists, including the late Bill Hamblin's Morm-Ant. Gerald has worked with FairMormon, More Good Foundation, LDS.Net and other pro-LDS online groups. He has blogged on the scriptures for over a decade at his site: Joel's Monastery ( He has the following degrees: AAS Computer Management, BS Resource Mgmt, MA Teaching/History. Gerald was the leader for the Tuskegee Alabama group, prior to it becoming a branch. He opened the door for missionary work to African Americans in Montgomery Alabama in the 1980s. He's served in two bishoprics, stake clerk, high council, HP group leader and several other callings over the years. While on his mission, he served as a counselor in a branch Relief Society presidency.

18 thoughts on “Church historian on pandemic

  1. The relationship between the prophets and the people is like a relationship between a man and a woman happily married. It’s like a dance where the partners trust each other, but don’t feel forced.

    Attempts at short-circuiting direct spiritual confirmation tend to be counter-productive.

    My most profound witness of President Nelson as the prophet came to me when I was not even thinking about President Nelson. I was reading the Book of Mormon and something I had shelved (as Geoff puts it) was opened up to me. No other person could have given me this experience. And I believe if I hadn’t shelved it and moved on, if I’d hit myself over the head with it, I wouldn’t have been open to the witness.

    Trust the Spirit to bring the personal meaning to individuals. And frankly, it may not be the same for everyone. We are one body, but different parts.

  2. Missing from Elder Turley’s conversation is a discussion of the smallpox epidemic among members of the Church in Hawaii in 1853. The anti-vaxxer elders of the Church counseled members to rely on faith, not science, and hundreds died from the virus as a result.

    With this pandemic, as well as other big issues we are facing today, it is important to look at the things we have already learned from history. Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

  3. Hi Rita.

    When you look at history, do you see any examples of people needing to stand against governmental tyranny?

  4. History is always more complex than people claim. In the case cited by Rita above, there were elders in 1853 who were quick to promote vaccination, and some who did not, but claiming that all of the elders counseled people to rely on faith alone is simply not true.

    There are also many cases in history where people quickly took a vaccine that was promoted by pharmaceutical companies and corrupt governments and died from the vaccine. So, perhaps if we actually know history, it is not necessarily a bad thing to wait and see how effective a new vaccine is before injecting it in our bodies? This is especially the case if you are under 18, are pregnant or have natural immunity because you already had COVID (which is my case).

  5. “hundreds died from the virus as a result.”

    Assuming this is true, why in the world should we fear death? The pain and heartache of death is understandable. But, if one or a hundred or a thousand were to die, why should we see that as such a bad thing? Do we not believe in life after death with the prospect of greater things into eternity? To force members of the LDS Church to comply by putting the fear of death in their hearts is a rejection of faith. To put down faith alone is to minimize the Greatness, Mercy, and Power of God. Wouldn’t those who pray in faith alone in healing also believe in revelation from God to tell individuals to get a vaccination if that was His will in the process of healing? It amazes me how little faith people have in faith. Then we wonder where all the miracles have gone.

  6. Hi Mark,

    I understand what you are saying. I certainly agree. But I say the fight in a democracy is about deciding who has the right to “compel thee to go a mile”.

  7. De Tocqueville saw this problem back at the beginning in America, that in our country we would come to feel oppressed by our neighbors for not agreeing with our politics, because rule by the people means people using force on each other, rather than say the Romans forcing subject people to go with them a mile.

    We choose our “tyrants” which makes our situation unique. We are not in a context of authoritarian government, and it is not wrong to use our free speech to warn people if we are headed in that direction. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time free people would rather have authoritarian government, but they should be warned what they are choosing.

  8. Perhaps the revelation many seek has already been given to the prophet. Maybe that is the faith issue in this instance. Do we trust the prophet more than we distrust government.
    Do we have actual reasons to not take the vaccine, or just excuses? I’ve seen both from people.
    How long should it take the average person seeking personal revelation to get an answer?

  9. Hi rameumton,

    I think what you will see, because of conservatives valuing institutional stability, is a lot of people continuing to go to church without coming around quickly to following the recent advice. It’s part of being conserve-ative and honest to spend time deliberating while still following the institutional habits. Bread and butter conservatives eschew hype. They find it noisy and want to wait for a time of calm.

  10. I think Jettboy’s argument perhaps proves too much. If we should not fear death or physical impairment from COVID, it seems logical that we also should not fear death or physical impairment from the COVID vaccine. Nor should we fear the prospect of living under the totalitarian-regime-in-waiting that is supposedly emboldened by our submitting to vaccination.

    If we wholly eliminate the idea of self-interest from the decision-making process, then it seems that following the prophet is all we’ve got left. And we know what the prophet is saying.

  11. “How long should it take the average person seeking personal revelation to get an answer?”

    Anecdotal and subjective, but …. the answer to my question of which vaccine I should get was immediate, clear, and repeated. And not what I expected.

  12. Given the fact that many will choose not to follow the counsel, what do pro-vaccination people think should be done as far as enforcement?

    Because if there is no enforcement, most people who don’t work for the church are just going to do what they want.

  13. JimD of course totally misses my point. Then again that is always what happens with my words. The two most important sentences are ” To force members of the LDS Church to comply by putting the fear of death in their hearts is a rejection of faith,” and “Wouldn’t those who pray in faith alone in healing also believe in revelation from God to tell individuals to get a vaccination if that was His will in the process of healing?”

    In other words, its about freedom and personal conscience as a priority for those of faith. Using fear of death as an argument and then questioning those who put faith in faith is spiritual abuse. I see nothing in the Scriptures that requires me to take a vaccine. In fact, it specifically says not to put our trust in the arm of flesh. It also tells us to treat our bodies like a Temple.

    Yes, I go to doctors and partake of modern conveniences like everyone else, but nothing requires me to do that. In many ways modern life has stunted and devalued Spirituality. There are people who don’t trust doctors and end up dead, while still others survive. Will God judge us either way? I believe not! Will he judge us for not following the Prophet? Since the Prophet has not said God commands us to take the vaccine, then I don’t need to do such. Seriously consider? Yes. Decide yes or no? Yes also.

  14. Lucinda, I’m against government mandates. I’m all for companies and schools to set their standard for employees, students, and customers.

    I’m all for pro-vaccinators to continue encouraging and teaching people to be open minded enough to consider the vaccine and reject the conspiracy theories. I’m for people taking the question to the Lord with real intent.

    Then, we will all deal with the collective consequences of everyone’s choices.

  15. Rameumpton,

    Sounds good. I hope you can also persuade other pro-vaccine people to back off the totalitarianism, because that’s the biggest thing making it hard for people to find the mental peace required for revelation.

  16. For those waiting for the vaccines to get full FDA approval, Pfizer is now fully approved.

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