Compassionate Coercion: Embrace It, or Fight It?

Happy Pioneer Day, everyone! These mighty spiritual forebears of all Latter-day Saints today came to Utah seeking freedom – a place to speak, worship, and assemble where and how they wanted.

I have to wonder this morning, in light of rapidly changing events around us: At what point would you be willing to stand up and fight against incursions on your own freedoms? That’s an interesting question for Christians of any age – but maybe especially in America with our tradition of righteous revolution.

On one hand, believers can look to the model of Jesus teaching His followers living amidst Roman oppression that the kingdom we’re working towards is “not of this world” – essentially encouraging them to side-step any confrontation with injustice and restrictions on freedom. On the other hand, believers in the United States can look to the model of the Founders rising up to say “not okay” against British limitations on their natural rights and liberties – even to the point of bloodshed. (And Latter-day Saints Christians can look to the model of Captain Moroni doing something similar against Amalikiah’s threat in the Book of Mormon).

So, when is it right to say “not okay” when it comes to incursions on our freedoms? We’ve been dealing with fairly minor issues like baking cakes and wearing masks – but the major issues are very much here, including: (1) Freedom to speak in our online public spaces openly our thoughts (NOT okay with serious resistance to public health orthodoxy and socio-political orthodoxy around race and sexuality) and (2) Freedom to assemble in public schools, spaces and venues – which is rapidly being restricted by fears around COVID-19 transmission, especially among the vilified unvaccinated.

As we see governments like Germany and France pivot towards mandatory COVID-19 vaccination as a condition of normal living, and as we seed private organizations like businesses and churches – including the Church of Jesus Christ itself (at the MTC, at BYU-Hawaii) – move towards mandates, I wonder if it’s time to pay more attention to where exactly the line gets drawn in inspired and practical ways?

As part of that discussion, I’d like to propose labeling what’s becoming a more dominant view, including among Latter-day Saints, something we might call “compassionate coercion.” This is kind of a grown-up version of the “you’ll go to Church as long as you’re in my home” kindly force we sometimes employ in our own homes, yes, “for their own good.” In this case, since so many are so sure that vaccination is The Answer to our COVID-19 woes, and equally confident that those not getting the jab are at risk of not only dying – but harming others…on that basis, “FOR THEIR OWN GOOD – AND OURS” we are seeing increasing arguments about the crucial need to make sure people to “do the right thing.”

Case in point, the New York Times newsletter, “The Morning” by David Leonhardt that went out last week on “How to save lives” argues, “Vaccine mandates are controversial. They’re also effective.” As the authors noted:

It’s true that these mandates often generate intense criticism. In France, more than 100,000 people marched to protest Macron’s policy….But even with the opposition and the exceptions, mandates can play a major role in reducing the spread of Covid and saving lives. That’s especially true now that the Delta variant is fueling a rise in cases. “The takeaway message remains, if you’re vaccinated, you are protected,” Dr. Céline Gounder, an infectious disease specialist, told our colleague Apoorva Mandavilli. “You are not going to end up with severe disease, hospitalization or death.”

They then sought to place such mandates in a historical context:

Throughout history, societies have struggled with when and how to require vaccines. Opponents of mandates have argued that individuals should be allowed to make their own health decisions — and bear the consequences: What, they ask, is more personal than deciding whether to inject a medicine into one’s body? Supporters of mandates have replied that society has a duty to protect its citizens, including those who cannot be inoculated (like young children and some immunocompromised people, in the case of Covid) and are therefore put at risk by people who voluntarily refuse vaccines.

And they end the piece essentially making the case to move in this direction (with the bolding in the final sentence my own):

For these reasons, vaccine mandates cause intense disputes. But when supporters win the argument, public health has often benefited. Guy Nicolette, an administrator at the University of California, Berkeley, pointed out to The Washington Post that colleges have long required other vaccines, like the one for measles. “It’s staggering how well a mandate works on a college campus,” he said. Dr. Aaron Carroll, Indiana University’s chief health officer, has noted that the country’s victories over many diseases — including smallpox, polio, mumps, rubella and diphtheria — have depended on vaccine mandates by states or local governments. “That’s how the country achieves real herd immunity,” Carroll wrote in The Times. (In the U.S., a national mandate may be unconstitutional.) When states and school districts have opted not to require vaccines, a disease can often spread needlessly, Carroll explained. That has been the case with human papillomavirus, a sexually transmitted disease known as HPV that can cause cancer. It’s also been the case with influenza, which kills about 35,000 Americans in a typical flu season. Covid now seems certain to join influenza and HPV as diseases that American society chooses to accept. But it is a choice. Companies, schools and communities that decide to enact vaccine mandates will almost certainly save American lives by doing so. Mark Barnes, a former health official in New York City, told Bloomberg that he expected the number of these mandates to grow in coming months. “We’re going to see more vaccine mandates by large organizations of all kinds,” he predicted.

Can you see the philosophical groundwork being laid for more people to say very soon, “we really need to do this next!”? It’s hard to miss the sense of SUCH urgency for people to “do the right thing” (aka, what the CDC asks us to do), that they can hardly stop themselves from taking it to the next level – “well, we’ve given people a chance to do the right thing freely. It might be time to do you-know-what…”

As a contrast to this narrative, consider Connor Boyack’s own newsletter this week entitled, “On Vaccination and Free Will,” which I encourage you to read in its entirety. As you consider both of these arguments, I’m curious which feels right, true, and good?

I suspect in the days ahead many Latter-day Saints are going to embrace the narrative encapsulated by the New York Times piece – leading them to lend their support to compassionately coercive measures all around them. These are, after all, the natural and logical extension of all the other things we’ve already embraced so willingly. And with the possible exception of Mike Lee, most Latter-day Saint politicians seem all too eager to “embrace the science” (whatever that means – in an age when dissenting scientific voices are silenced) and channel popular conclusions about what to do next.

Before more Latter-day Saints jump on the compassionate coercion bandwagon, I’d simply ask them to read Boyack’s essay and consider: Where does the line get drawn in terms of restrictions on our freedom? It’s a hard question, but one I’m afraid we can no longer avoid.

Jacob Z. Hess, Ph.D., writes about the implications of competing socio-political and health narratives – and what it takes to preserve public conversation where open exploration of truth in these matters is still possible. To see more, check out my personal blog ( or my YouTube channel (

29 thoughts on “Compassionate Coercion: Embrace It, or Fight It?

  1. Good grief. “Compassionate coercion” is an oxymoron if I ever heard one. We fought a war in heaven over this question, and we’re still fighting it now.

    You cannot achieve this level of stupidity without reading the New York Times or getting an advanced academic degree

  2. Interesting how states like Wyoming have lowest V rate except for Teton county (very liberal) which has highest rate. Makes me wonder if Trump had won would it be the opposite? Remember Kamala said she would never get it while Trump was in.

  3. If it was just the United States that was dying I would be sad, but consider it expected. However:

    “including the Church of Jesus Christ itself (at the MTC, at BYU-Hawaii) – move towards mandates, I wonder if it’s time to pay more attention to where exactly the line gets drawn in inspired and practical ways?”

    My main concern cannot be discussed here because it would be against the M* guidelines. Basically, those who should be the most protective of freedoms are themselves setting up restrictions.

  4. Jacob,

    I suppose your question is whether we, as a society, treat COVID like
    . . (1) smallpox, polio, mumps, rubella and diphtheria, and mandate vaccination; or
    . . (2) flu; and do not mandate vaccination.

    COVID falls somewhere between smallpox and flu.

    I favor treating it like smallpox, and requiring vaccinations for all except really special cases. A society has to make rules for its members — it has always been so since societies were first formed. When a person lives within a larger society, he or she necessarily must forfeit some “freedoms” for the greater common good.

    I think “compassionate coercion” is a loaded and unhelpful term.

    I support mandates made by church leaders over the past year-and-a-half to require masks at meetings, to shut down meetings, and require vaccinations at BYU-Hawaii and for some full-time missionaries. I do not believe these church leaders are acting ignobly, dishonorably, or at Satan’s behest.

  5. I am at an age such that when I was in public grade school in the late 1960s in Phoenix, I stood in line with my classmates and, one by one, we were stabbed in the arm by a nurse wielding a large metallic-looking gun. This happened at least once, perhaps more. I am sure I received the MMR vaccine this way. I don’t recall if parents were notified first; nevertheless, it was received with a big *yawn* and as a matter of course. The highest amount of tension was from my third grade classmates regarding how painful the shot might be. I am not aware of any parental, let alone broad societal, uproar or resistance. There was no coercion involved – rather, there was broad acceptance and submission.

    These vaccines virtually wiped out several frightening and potentially fatal childhood diseases.

    How could we have been so united and non-confrontational about vaccinations back then and yet so polarized today? I realize this is not an apples-apples comparison to the current COVID situation, but is similar enough to make the question valid. Why the difference in attitudes?

  6. Nor do I believe this, Ji – “I do not believe these church leaders are acting ignobly, dishonorably, or at Satan’s behest.” As I wrote in great detail previously, I can see meaningful and even inspired reasons behind their actions – and I believe they are acting in good-faith and thoughtful, as we would expect from servants of the Lord.

    I simply raise the two example of Church mandates to illustrate how this issue is pressing upon us now, including in our faith community.

  7. I think you linked to the wrong article. You quoted at length from the NYT but nothing in the linked post seems quote-worthy. Isn’t this one just saying that a line should be drawn somewhere so we must draw it back there—with insight only to the first part and nothing on the second.

  8. Thanks for the clarification, Jacob. From my first reading of the posting, I thought you were expressing a fear of unrighteous dominion (although styling it as compassionate coercion). I am glad I misunderstood.

  9. Ji, just curious: do you support the Church’s stance 1)against same-sex marriage, 2)against elective abortion and 3)do you believe that male and female genders are eternal, as the Church has clearly stated?

    Or do you pick and choose which Church doctrines you will agree with and not agree with based on ideology?

  10. As I have written many times now (and to paraphrase Ben Franklin), people who favor security over freedom are certain to eventually get neither. The protests over the weekend worldwide against the government mandates are certain to grow. Instead of using government force, all latter-day Saints should follow the prophets and encourage voluntary measures of compliance. There is nothing at all wrong with encouraging people to wear masks to be compassionate and to get vaccinated (which have mostly been a huge benefit to mankind). There are a myriad of problems with arresting and fining people and in some cases even using government violence against people who disagree with you. If you favor government force to make people accept your ideology, perhaps you should consider that it is only a matter of time until that same government force will be used against you in one way or another. That is one lesson from history that is undeniable.

  11. Regarding John Perry’s question above about how people accepted vaccines in the past and don’t seem to accept them now: your memory of history is a bit off. Did you know that the first polio vaccine (the Cutter vaccine) was a massive failure and actually caused children to get polio, rather than preventing polio?

    You can read about it here;

    There was massive resistance to the polio vaccine at first because of this failure. What happened was that over time people began to realize that the new vaccine created by Jonas Salk was safe, and this vaccine has been tested and re-tested thousands of times since then, and, yes, it is mostly safe.

    In the 1970s, the rush to get a vaccine for the swine flu caused hundreds of deaths and unnecessary side effects. The government reaction to the swine flu was completely overblown. You can read about that here:

    It seems like there is another virus scare every few years. SARS-CoV-1 was going to kill us, and then Ebola, and then MERS.

    Some of us want to live our lives without turning into a complete germaphobe. There is a difference between “being alive” in a state of constant fear and panic and deciding to live your life knowing there are risks. Germaphobia is a real mental illness, by the way, but it appears modern society wants everybody to be a germaphobe.

    If you actually study the history of vaccines, the history will show you that rushing to take a vaccine too early is the stupidest thing you can do (unless you are at super-high risk from the disease). So in the case of SARS-CoV-2, if you are elderly, obese or have hypertension or diabetes, you should probably get vaccinated. The risk to young people from SARS-CoV-2 is minimal, so vaccinating people under 18 is not recommended, and even the WHO has issued this guidance.

    For those of us somewhere in between, we are open to being vaccinated in the coming years after we have had some time to see which vaccine is the safest and most effective. That is actually how most people reacted to the polio vaccine and the measles vaccine, and on and on, by the way.

  12. Quandmeme – it was the David Leonhardt “the Morning” newsletter.

    And thanks, Geoff. I would only add that rates of measles, Polio and some of these awful diseases were going DOWN before the vaccination campaigns were introduced – due to other measures like cleaning up the water, improving food, sanitization. The fact that vaccinations so often end up taking all the credit is confusing for many observers of history.

  13. One more thing, Ji – I maintain compassionate coercion is exactly the right descriptor here: force from a place of desire to help, right?

  14. Jacob and Geoff:

    The term that is painfully absent from the media and politicians and from online discussion is:

    . . . . . . Risk Management . . . . .

    Geoff illustrates it above with the “if… then…” statements.

    Life is rarely a “one size fit all” scenario.

    My guess is that the bifurcation, the divide, the hard-line “you must” from the side that paints the other side’s hesitancy as a “must not”, is a purposeful ploy on the part of media and politicians to divide the country.

  15. For the person who wanted reasons why one would have vaccine hesitancy on this shot vs all the previous vaccines.

    Here are some of the various reasons:

    The vaccine was created in “warp speed” (9 months) And some of the politicians (Kamala Harris) said they would never take it when Trump was in office, but suddenly are pushing it now.

    These shots don’t fit the traditional definition of a vaccine.

    No long-term safety testing. I personally know three people who have someone in their life who died after receiving it. In addition, others who suffered serious long-term side effects.

    Adverse effects and death are mostly un-advertised or reported or even suppressed.

    Not proven to prevent infection and transmission,e only to reduce symptoms.

    Emergency use authorization vs. FDA approval.

    Lack of trust in inconsistent medical advice.

    Not necessary for a virus with a 95-99.98% survival rate.

    Unknown long-term effects of this new mRNA gene technology.

    Personal family history of blood clots, drug reactions and stroke or neurological issues. (Which no one even asks about before they give it to you.)

    Natural immunity after having had Covid infection including variants. (See Cleveland study for efficacy.)

    Hidden list of unfamiliar ingredients.

    Lack of informed consent is unethical.

    Vaccine makers cannot be sued or held accountable for injury or death.

    Moderna and J&J have no past track record for making vaccines.

    Pfizer, Moderna and J&J have controversial and criminal reputations.

    “One size fits all” adult doses are not customized for age, weight, or gender or medical history.

    Too many conflicts of interest among vaccine experts and CEOs.

    Marketing campaign with celebrities and incentives is too intense with little open discussion about concerns.

    Media censorship of opposing medical experts is unprecedented.

    Unjust suppression of social media reimports from vaccine victims and their families.

    Moral conflicts from the use of aborted fetal cells in vaccines production and testing.

    Want people to respect their ability to pray and receive inspiration on making their choice not to.

    My Body, My Choice.

  16. Thanks, Geoff and Jacob for that interesting info on the polio vaccine. I didn’t know that. I only remember standing in line as a child waiting to get my sugar cube.

    It’s interesting to see (even though the main media won’t cover it) that hundreds of thousands of people are protesting vax mandates in Italy, France, London, Dublin, Melbourne, and other cities in Europe. This goes way beyond a few vaccine hesitant people.

  17. I am coming back on here to encourage everyone to read the link I posted in the above comment. I posted it when we were driving so I kept my typing short as I am prone to car sickness.

    The above link is long – 15 pages to be exact. But a good part of it is about Judy Smentkiewicz, an 80-year old woman from Buffalo, New York, whose life, threatened by Covid-19, was ultimately saved by ivermectin. The story exposes the legal battle her family had to go through to get her the care she needed – as she was fighting for her life.

    When Geoff posted a while back about Ivermectin and it’s potential to end the pandemic, he wasn’t wrong. In my opinion – in agreement with the above article – this is the David that can take down the Goliath of Covid.

    Please read it. If anything, it’s a faith-filled story about a miracle Covid-survivor named Judy.

  18. Kristin, my MD recommends Ivermectin. He used it when he had Covid and has suggested it for his patients with good results. He also suggests taking it to help mitigate side effects of the vaccine, along with zinc and Vitamin D. I wish more doctors would talk about therapeutics.

  19. Kristin, in regards to that link,

    It _could_ be true. But there are some glaring problems with it that render the article unconvincing, and the author untrustworthy. It _may_ be true, but it’s slip-shod and amateurish.

    1. There is no mast-head information that says what “Mountain Home” is, who they are, or how to contact them. And no web link. That’s a red flag.

    2. No author contact information or web site.

    3. Serious magazines have the publication name and publication date in the header or footer of every page. This has publication name and date on only the first page. That’s a sign of amateurishness.

    4. In the article… no links, no footnotes, no formal cites, and no references to verify claims, quotes or studies. The only link is to the web site that hosts the pdf file. Big red flag.

    Bottom line: It _could_ be all true. But its _appearance_ is that it’s just made-up bullshit.

    _If_ the article’s content is true, then the author is either a) a sloppy amateur, or b) a false-flag operative whose mission is to make the truth look like lies.

  20. Geoff,
    Thank you for the background information on vaccines.

    However, my memory was not “off’. I merely related a personal experience from around 1970 and asked a question about vaccine acceptance.

  21. I find it interesting that getting the vaccine is somehow worse in many people’s minds than taking Ivermectin. Those worried about the vaccine do not place the same standard of proof on the efficacy of Ivermectin. Why not?

  22. O.M.: I am pro-vaccine, but if I may answer on behalf of the Ivermectin-believers…. Ivermectin has a long track-record of safety.

    BTW, I’m looking forward to a booster shot for the delta variant. I would be disappointed if there is not one in the pipeline.

    Targeting a vaccine for Delta would also make it at least slightly more effective for future variants that are “descended from” delta.

    The original vaccines, targeted at the original corona virus, will be two generations removed from any “sons of delta” that show up.

    I also note that the US, in spite of having 32,000,000 people infected, has not produced any variants-of-concern, as have the lesser-developed countries of India, South Africa, and Brazil.

    Related: A really weird thing of the virus increase that started July 1st (going by Wiki’s US covid stat page,
    is that the increase coincided with _both_ a) the lifting of mask mandates and social restrictions, and b) the advent of the delta variant in the US.

    Does anyone know how, or if, those two things can be separated out? I mean, do we blame the delta variant, or do we blame the lifting of restrictions? Or is it synergistic and we logically have to blame both for happening at the same time?

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