Two months ago my stake presidency in Colorado sent out an email to the members of our stake requesting that all members sign a petition so that an initiative could get on the 2020 ballot banning late term abortion. I happily signed the petition, and this initiative will be on the ballot in 2020, and I plan to vote for a ban on late term abortion.
This post is not about abortion, but instead the issue of obedience to Church leaders. As a general rule, I try really hard to follow the counsel of my local leaders. When we go to stake conference, we are urged to go to the temple regularly, to take our callings seriously, to help minister to those around us. I could go on and on, but you get the drift: I really do try to do what local Church leaders ask us to do.
Now, what are we to think of the people who did not sign this initiative? Are they all apostates? Could it be they did not have time or were working? Perhaps they are in favor of late term abortion because they are generally pro-choice. Are pro-choice people all apostates?
I think we would agree that the people who ignored the stake presidency’s guidance had their reasons. I know people who did not sign these petitions for a variety of reasons, and I guarantee you the people I know are NOT apostates.
Last week the area presidency in Utah sent out a letter urging people to wear masks in public because of COVID-19. I know dozens of people, good friends and family members, who will ignore this request. I also know several people, including people I like and trust, who have argued that this is a wheat and tares moment and that the people who refuse to wear masks in public are apostates. I think this is crazy, and the people making these claims should be ashamed of themselves.
Before the pro-mask people get their knickers in a twist, let me make a few points. I have spent hours looking at the arguments for and against wearing masks. The most persuasive argument in favor of wearing a mask is that health care workers have been doing it for decades, and there appears to be some clear benefit to wearing a mask under certain conditions. It makes perfect sense that fewer people spewing out droplets and fewer people breathing in those droplets will help create a better environment (in many ways) to stop the spread of COVID-19. So, I am not a mask denier, and this post is not about trying to convince people not to wear masks. (I have further thoughts about mask wearing below — keep on reading).
Instead this post makes one clear and undeniable point: it is stupid to imply that people are apostates because they don’t follow local Church leadership guidance on mask wearing. People who do this are being divisive and are attacking their fellow latter-day Saints in offensive ways. Their argument is not convincing and simply stirs up unnecessary contention.
The bottom line here is that everybody knows that there are levels to the Church’s belief system. There is a difference between Church doctrine and suggestions from local authorities. There is a difference between the prophet speaking at General Conference and saying, “thus sayeth the Lord” and a local authority asking you to follow local guidelines. Whether you wear a mask or not is not a question on a temple recommend interview. There are no covenants about mask wearing during temple ordinances.
I am being deliberately obtuse to make a point here. It is simply not acceptable to deem people not wearing masks apostates. If we are going to go down that road, we would have to claim that all people who don’t do their ministering are apostates, and all people who don’t read the scriptures regularly are apostates. And of course the people not signing the anti-abortion initiative in my stake are apostates. And remember Ezra Taft Benson? He was a General Authority when he pointed out: “No true Latter-day Saint or true American can be a socialist or support programs leading in that direction. These evil philosophies are incompatible with Americanism, with Mormonism, and with the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ.” He also pointed out that all welfare programs were nothing more than socialism, so ETB said, in effect, that if you support welfare programs you are not a true Latter-day Saint. How many people believe that today, when the overwhelming majority of Americans and Europeans support some welfare programs?
So, to the people claiming that people not wearing masks are apostates: you need to repent. Your rhetoric is uncharitable, unconvincing and against the spirit of the Gospel.
Now, should you wear a mask in public? If you are in a high risk group, definitely. If you are at church, yes. If a business or other office requires you to wear a mask to enter, yes. I recently flew from Colorado to California, and I work a face covering at both airports and on the plane. It was required, so I did it.
I would also like to point out that the Church has a policy of encouraging members to follow local laws and guidelines. When you leave conference, you are often encouraged to follow local traffic laws when driving. People are encouraged to be good citizens and follow the laws in their local countries. This encouragement to follow local laws is obviously good for the Church overall. It is probably the primary reason that we are building temples in Dubai and in Shanghai, and it certainly is one of the reasons we have a campus in Jerusalem. I see the local letter as simply the latest in a long string of admonitions that we should obey local laws and customs.
Now having said that, I have to bathe the pro-mask people with some basic common sense. There have never been widespread studies done on what happens to a population when hundreds of millions of people starting wearing masks hours every day. Yes, there have been many studies done on mask wearing, and many show no ill health effects (while others do show some ill health effects, by the way). But if you have even a modicum of scientific honesty, you must admit we are in a new world that has never been studied. We don’t know what will happen to tens of millions of kids required to wear masks at school. We don’t know what will happen to tens of millions of workers wearing masks for eight hours a day.
We do know a few things: people who are not used to wearing masks find them uncomfortable. They touch these masks a lot, and they touch the areas around their faces a lot. So, they will go to the bathroom, maybe forget to wash their hands, and come out and immediately touch their faces because they find the masks uncomfortable. People will push the masks down below their chins all the time. People will shake hands or touch other people (even by accident) and then touch the masks on their faces in ways they would not have done before they wore a mask.
And then there is the whole issue of washing the masks. If you wear a mask all day long, you spew out all kinds of gross stuff onto the mask. And unless you wash that mask, you are putting on a dirty mask with gross stuff on it. And let’s face it: most people are not going to re-wash their masks every day.
So, yes, in a perfect environment where people act like ICU surgeons and nurses and wear clean masks that are changed regularly, obviously masks do more good than harm in terms of spreading COVID-19 — and a lot of other diseases. But we are in the most imperfect environment possible with hundreds of millions of people unaccustomed to wearing masks. We don’t know for sure what the results will be in terms of overall health. It is not unreasonable for people to question whether it really is more healthy to have all of these new people wearing masks in this new environment.
NOTE: Some commenters have pointed out that this post needs to make it clear that questioning guidance from Utah area authorities is not appropriate. I want there to be no doubt that I agree that publicly challenging church authorities on this issue or any other is not what latter-day Saints should do. People should follow the guidance of Church authorities as much as possible. This post is aimed at those who are stirring up contention against people trying to work through their own response to the mask issue. As I say several times in this post, calling them apostates is also not appropriate.
So, if I were in Utah I would not wear a mask in public all of the time for the reasons I mention above and several others. I would not wear a mask at a public park, nor would I wear one alone in a car or while exercising. However, I would wear a mask to church and to any other places where it is required. And I would consider myself a worthy temple recommend holder. If the Savior were to come tomorrow, I feel comfortable that I could look Him in the eye and tell Him that I really tried my best to follow him. So stop with the mask shaming. Please.