On masks and obedience

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.

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About Geoff B.

Geoff B graduated from Stanford University (class of 1985) and worked in journalism for several years until about 1992, when he took up his second career in telecommunications sales. He has held many callings in the Church, but his favorite calling is father and husband. Geoff is active in martial arts and loves hiking and skiing. Geoff has five children and lives in Colorado.

46 thoughts on “On masks and obedience

  1. In New Mexico we have had a mask mandate since May. I have only worn a mask where a private business has required it. Now we’re supposed to wear them outside, even when we are alone or with our own family groups. I am not going to do that, because the solution to pollution (virus) is dilution, and it is stupid to think that me walking my kids to the park to play by ourselves, or hiking along as a family is a danger to anyone. I felt the language of the letter from the Utah Area Pres, was kind of manipulative as well. I’ve maintained all along that people need to do what is best for themselves and their own families, and that we all need to stop judging other people’s choices. We’re all operating under unusual and terrible circumstances. But to think that we can “stop the spread of Covid19” is foolish. Man has never been able to stop the spread of any coronavirus (cold/flu). There are no right answers right now.

  2. Amen. I, too, will wear a mask where it’s required – and at church. I see no harm in doing so if it makes the people around me feel safer. Am I going to condemn people for not wearing a mask? No, because they may have perfectly good reasons for not doing so.
    I also agree that along with the novel coronavirus, this whole concept of everyone wearing masks is novel, and therefore we don’t really know if it’ll work the way it’s intended. However, I’ve always felt strongly that if we in the States 1) stayed home when we’re sick, or 2) wore a mask when out in public while sick (as they have been doing in Asia for many years), it would help keep the spread of illness minimal. But asking everyone to wear a mask all the time, whenever they go out in public? I feel that’s excessive. Also, do we really not want to get sick at all? Because that seems like an excellent way to deprive one’s immune system of a fighting chance against the next novel illness.

  3. Well said, Geoff. Thoughtful and helpful.

    I thought you were going to say: “If the Savior were to come tomorrow, I feel comfortable that I could look Him in the eye (without a mask) and tell Him that I really tried my best to follow him.”

  4. Jacob, I thought about pointing out that both I and the Savior would probably not be wearing masks, but then I thought that was a step too far. 🙂

  5. You mentioned the doctors, nurses, and surgical staff have worn masks without any noticeable ill effects. On that, you are on point. However, my mother was a nurse and I have good friends who are nurses, I can tell you that they do not wear them for hours at a time as a rule. And when they are out of the environment requiring the mask, they take them off.

  6. Today I had a member of our church have a tantrum in the waiting room when told that she needed to wear a mask. My medical office treats high risk patients and is following State mandate and current medical recommendations regarding masks. Not only did she carry on about her ‘God-given right’ to not wear a mask, she invoked the name of our Church in her public rant. I’m not suggesting she’s apostate, but I am suggesting that her behavior today was appalling and embarrassing. It certainly didn’t go unnoticed by my staff or other patients. They didn’t see a follower of Christ, but rather an ignorant and discourteous person that cheapened everything the Church stands for. We can argue forever about the merits or futility of masks in abating the coronavirus pandemic, but part of what the Church is trying to advocate for is common courtesy and the concept of being good neighbors. Let’s use some common sense folks.

  7. Brent, good point.

    Reid, also good point, and I agree. My daughters work in the service industry and almost every day some rude person enters their business and starts yelling because they don’t want to wear a mask. That behavior is unacceptable. But I have also personally been screamed at for not wearing a mask *on a trail in the middle of nowhere, and the person screaming at me was 10 feet away, and the only way that person could have caught COVID from me is if I had gotten in his face and taught him a lesson that he definitely deserved because he was screaming at me like a complete lunatic.* Luckily for that person, I just walked away and ignored the screaming. So I would point out that there are rude people on both sides of this contentious issue. But, yes, you are completely correct that people having a tantrum about this issue are in the wrong.

  8. I agree with the vast majority of what you state. The same reasoning applies to the much of what we are asked to do by local/regional/area church leaders much of the time. Very little of the admonitions we get relate directly to the temple recommend questions or the core principles of the Gospel. In the end each of us will need to answer both for what we did (or did not) *and* why we did it (or did not do it) when it comes to the final judgment. I think your point that we need to worry a lot less about judging others is both important and helpful.

  9. On July 2 the Church issued updated guidance which stated
    “They should be used as guidance for so long as this pandemic and its associated official limitations on Church meetings and public exposures exist in a particular country or geographic portion of a country….
    Bishops and stake presidents should be alert and attentive to local circumstances and regulations. They should encourage Church members to obey the law…
    Follow public health agency recommendations for using a face mask.”
    It always amuses me when members say well if the prophet asked me I would do it, but we are being asked to follow the counsel of local leaders.
    Recently Elder Uchtdorf said ,”Mask your face, don’t mask your heart”.
    The Utah Area Presidency stated,” Now we ask all Latter-day Saints in the Utah Area to be good citizens by wearing face coverings when in public.”
    President Nelson has said multiple times that church leaders and members want to be good global citizens during COVID-19.
    We haven’t been asked yet, here in the UK, to wear masks in public but it looks like we will be asked to wear them in more places than we currently do.
    Do I want to wear a mask? No but sometimes it is a simple matter of obedience and not trying to justify something which is contrary to that which has been given to us by the laws of the land or by those called as our spiritual leaders – whether they be prophets & apostles or our local bishop.

  10. I think it was long overdue for the Utah area leaders to send out that mask email. Utah rates are spiking, many members follow Trump and think the coronavirus is a conspiracy, and this seems to be one way to help. If our community took things more seriously because our church leaders said to, that would be a step in the right direction whether or not masks are really the answer. We have 32 people in my Utah ward who just tested positive because last week they were together on a Lake Powell houseboat, and one of them (a sister I minister to) is now hospitalized on oxygen, and texted me, “I believe Covid is real now. I’m in the most pain I’ve ever been in in my life.” But sadly, I think it will take this ward drama to make it real for folks before my neighbors do better about distancing.

  11. I don’t consider such as apostates. I do consider them unwise. I also consider them as selfish when refusing to wear a mask when others are around. You may be very healthy with few symptoms, but if you pass it to me and my parent dies from it, then you hold some responsibility for that death and suffering in the same way you didn’t stop your drunk friends from driving and killing someone.
    We have a moral obligation to one another, as noted in scripture regarding caring for the poor and needy. Those poor in health, and others, are put at risk by our thoughtlessness.

  12. Your stake presidency may have overstepped on the abortion initiative. Here is an extract from the official church position on abortion:

    “The Church has not favored or opposed legislative proposals or public demonstrations concerning abortion.”

    I might not have felt compelled to obey if I thought the stake presidency was overstepping. Still, it sounds like it was a request. I hope the stake presidency didn6 hold a grudge against those who didn’t sign. And the Utah Area Presidency’s ask is a polite request.

  13. There is probably a difference between simply ignoring the Area Presidency’s request, and trying to explain why it’s wrong. And I’ve seen plenty of the latter on social media and I absolutely have called it out and will continue to do so. And it’s pretty obvious that selfishness is often the root cause. When people rant about “liberty” or “agency” or “God-given rights” (which they’re even doing in this instance, despite it making no sense because the letter is simply a request to follow the medical community’s counsel and makes no mention of government), what I hear is that they think their convenience and comfort is more important than the well-being of anyone around them. As far as I can tell the United States is the only country having this problem, and the rest of the world is mocking us for it, and rightfully so.

  14. Lots of thoughts on this issue.

    I’ll wear a mask when I have no practical choice in some circumstances (to assist with Sunday services as it’s been asked) or when visiting elderly as requested (and I’ll always ask). I won’t go to stores that require them. But if I happened to go to one that sprung a mask rule on me, I’d comply with only an eye roll for a complaint.

    But still, I have no intention of wearing one most of the time in public or when outdoors.

    Hopefully some people can be charitable towards those who refrain. I might think you’re scared, psychologically and socially destructive and you might think I’m uncharitable. But I think it’s your choice to advocate socially and psychologically dangerous behavior. I just disagree.

    But to level a charge of me being dangerous requires proof. You can’t justly accuse someone of being contagious of something they don’t have. And you can’t justly accuse me of being sick if I’m not sick.

    I’m healthy and if I get sick, I’ll happily self-isolate for a couple weeks.

    The church area response is understandable. But I disagree with it as a matter of public policy. However, is it truly to be said that when the area authorities speak, the thinking is done?

    There’s a lot of conjecture and false correlation/causation arguments going on with the pro mask side. And much of those flawed arguments are even based on quite frankly statistically unsound data. Making it all very questionable. People are still getting sick and dying who regularly wear masks and are around people who do the same. There’s a lot of nonsense being said by the antimask side.

    And there’s no studies showing atmospheric viral containment from wearing mask and there never will be, even though it should be it’s feasible to perform and reproduce multiple times over.

    The mask efficacy issue is a tangent to this post on one hand, while absolutely vital in assessing why the church would recommend it.

    The bottom line here is, I’d like to sustain the brethren on this issue. But I sincerely believe there’s long term alterations to the psychological fabric of a society that sees others as a threat you need to be masked from, or sees self as a threat you need to mask yourself from others for.

    Regardless of my opinion, society is willingly or begrudgingly jumping into those dangerous waters anyway. So maybe Pandora’s box has been opened and here I am arguing against a useless proposition.

    It’s likely the same feeling was had by the church authorities. No good answer on either side per se, but the proported benefits of the mask requirement seem better to freedom/psychological concerns.

    Every little issue gets pragmatically acquiesced in favor of the conformist solution.

    I hope I’m not the bearer of bad news here, but I believe things are still likely to keep getting worse -and I’m not talking about the virus.

  15. The interesting thing to me is that a top physician in his field is counseling about being good global citizens. The Area Autrority echoed that reasoning. It seems to me a call to civility, to meekness and kindness. The Mask/No Mask dialog is becoming more and more contentious. This will give groups justification to elllelevate the violence to the point of no return. I feel the Brethren are calling for the path to help de-escalate the coming violence.

  16. It’s interesting that two commenters above, Rame and Christopher Nicholson, say it is “selfish” not to wear a mask. I was speaking today with somebody from Utah who made the exact opposite argument. His point was that people who are at risk are the minority of society and it is extremely selfish of them to try to change the rest of society to protect their health. What could be more selfish than five percent of the population expecting the other 95 percent to change for them, this person asks.
    People are, at the end of the day, responsible for their own health. If you are at a high risk from COVID-19 you can choose to stay home without expecting everybody else to change for you. I would point out that there are several people in my ward in Colorado who are at high risk from the virus, and they are all active on social media, and they all oppose any government mandates, including forcing people to wear masks, to protect them from the virus. They feel it would be selfish of them to expect society to change because they are at high risk.

    Just to present another point of view….

  17. In most arguments I hear in opposition to masks are that masks don’t protect the wearer very well and that they are uncomfortable.
    I’ve always been told that mask wearing is to protect those around us.
    Maybe I will think differently if I am in circumstances where I need to wear one everyday all day. As for now, I am happy to wear one in public places where I am around others. I feel like it is a gesture of goodwill in a world that is scared.
    However, I have always said since the beginning that perhaps our resources would be more practically used to let life go on but to allow our vulnerable populations to shelter at home until they can get a vaccine. But, the issue with that is that our vulnerable populations often live with families. So, then, what percentage of people are vulnerable or living with a vulnerable person? That percent jumps up.
    I guess in my mind, at this point, wearing a mask in public places where I could be in closer quarters with people or around more people, is a relatively small price to pay to show goodwill and to allow more things to be open and accessible. I just don’t feel oppressed.

  18. One aspect of the Area Presidency statement that may not have received much discussions is its lack of explicit exceptions. For comparison, the Texas Government Mask Mandate has exceptions for children under 10, for people who are eating and drinking, for people who are exercising outdoors, etc. Nothing like that is listed in the Area Presidency statement. Should Tony Finau feel obligated to wear a mask while competing in PGA tournaments? (Which, I think, would make him alone in that respect.) Should any LDS players in the various soccer leagues that have reopened feel obligated to wear a mask while playing (and thereby being the only player doing so)? Ought the opened dining rooms in various areas sit vacant, since it is not possible to eat with a mask on?

    Sure, you can answer “Be practical”, but what does practicality mean when (as at Sic et Non) we are confronted with the parallel of Naaman?

  19. The excessive spread of COVID in the United States appears to be driven by a series of things:

    1) People who need to work in a setting with others. As such workers in America are disproportionately likely to be Blacks and Hispanics, this has driven a disproportionately high rate of infection and death in the Black and Hispanic community.

    2) People where pressure to engage in social activity is greater than pressure to adhere to recommended precautions. This is seen in the spikes that followed US holidays that are typified by social gatherings (Memorial Day, Fourth of July). This is seen in the widespread increases seen throughout what is termed the “sun belt”. This is seen in the increases in Utah and Idaho, where historic oppression by government has grown stubborn cultures of resistance to government restrictions.

    As we communicate, we (typically) express ourselves in a manner unintentionally calculated to persuade others to move towards the center of our universe. Since we live in the center of our personal universe, we do not see our words or actions to be unreasonable or coercive. But in the eyes of those whose personal universe is very different, we can seem downright insane.

    COVID, occurring as it did so suddenly, has exposed interpersonal rifts on a level rarely seen previously. Emerging as it did in an age of Facebook-style polarization and a riven society has caused us all to be horrified by those who are not close to our personal center.

    I return to the promise (or threat) of an eternal judgement when we face God and Truth. At that time, I project, our pain will largely be a factor of how far our personal center deviates from God’s center. We will stand alone in this, with no comfort that many others were with us in our deviation from God’s center. Nor will we derive comfort that we were able to persuade or force many others to emulate our personal center – if anything, this mortal comfort will be transformed into burning torment as we see ourselves as the agent by which others were separated from God.

    The interesting thing about the mask debate is that we’re each looking at the other side and envisioning that they are the ones who stray from God.

  20. Nathan Whilik, yes to your comment above. This is why I think it is a mistake to read too much into the Utah area authorities’ letter. It does not mention the many exceptions you mention. I think the real purpose is, as some commenters have mentioned, to get people to treat each other more kindly on this issue. The people screaming at each other — and accusing each other of apostasy or being selfish — are the real problem. Kindness and consideration can resolve such differences. I think Meg’s comment immediately above this one points out why we are screaming at each other and accusing each other rather than being kind — we are living in the social media generation where all subjects tend toward ginning up outrage rather than charity. Satan loves contention and outrage. When it comes right down to it, modern-day prophets’ main message is one of promoting the opposite of contention and outrage.

  21. Meg,
    It’s almost certain the spread of Covid into Utah is not people who want to socially gather, but people who traveled out of state into Utah.

    I still maintain there are serious issues with suggesting someone who is not sick, is indeed sick and the world needs to be shielded from them in the name of kindness.

    I further strongly believe the evidence points clearly to masks being ineffective against a virus. (there are literally thousands of cases of people transmitting the virus who are masked and getting the virus who are masked).

    Again, the test would be relatively simple (as far as any test detecting a virtually invisible virus could be described as simple) to demonstrate that covid is contained by a mask. I am aware of only one such test; which showed that covid was not contained, but still transmitted.

    So on one hand, we have overreaction, which looks around at it’s fellow man and sees everyone as a potential threat to be shielded from (just as shutting down for a couple weeks to slow the curve did not stop at a couple weeks, so too will wearing masks to stop the contagion not stop at wearing masks).

    On the other hand, we have an ineffective solution being prescribed as 85% effective in some cases. That 85% claim in itself ought to raise some eyebrows. Almost nothing in the medical field is 85% effective, and certainly something as trivial as fabric mask will not do 85% of the work in containing a virus.

    The debate will wear on, as if wearing a mask solves the issue, or reduces numbers by 20%. Rameumptum – attributing responsibility to a person for inadvertently spreading a virus is nonsense. Sheer nonsense. A simple fabric mask does not assure containment. You might as well, say, “maybe that person shouldn’t have gone to the grocery story that day — hence they are responsible.” or “maybe that person shouldn’t have breathed so heavily — they are culpable now” or “maybe that person should have worn a more effective mask that was double layered, they are responsible”. The narrative can extend for ever.

    How about this – maybe the person who got sick, should have taken responsibility for their health to the best of their ability, and accepted that life comes with risk, society comes with risk, lack of sociality also comes with risk; and blaming someone else when you got sick and your immune system failed is a never ending blame game.

    Wise parents long ago learned not to get upset when their children came home from church with the sniffles, wondering, “what unwise person sent their sick kid to church?” It’s part of life. Eat healthy, live healthy, exercise, spend time in the sun, trust God. That”s what we can do.

    There’s the concept of the super spreader that’s still to be considered — and unhealthy people are more prone to have an immune system that can’t suppress the virus and in fact shed the virus more readily into the atmosphere through coughing, etc.

    As that is the case, the most effective measure against the virus would actually not be wearing a mask, but:
    Exercise in the sun
    Not be obese
    Abstain from all alcohol and any form of smoking/vaping.

    Those things will demonstrably make individuals and society healthier and more resistant to get and spread covid.

  22. I couldn’t agree more with what Geoff wrote here.

    I’m not a mask denier either. I know that science heavily point in the direction that normal face masks are not able to successfully shield their wearers from inhaling the virus.

    On the other hand I know that certain risk groups might benefit from wearing a mask and having people around them wearing some as well. And the elderly in our wards (and everywhere else) are a risk group. So I wear them at church without much hesitation. I would also wear a mask when visiting a hospital or nursing home.

    A friend of my mother’s is immune compromised after having received a stem cell transplant. Simple infections could be dangerous and even life threatening for her. So what is she doing? She will wear a face mask when interacting with other people. She will also do her groceries in the early morning or evening hours when there are less people at the grocery store. She is extra careful with her hygiene as well.

    She is vulnerable and at risk and protecting herself accordingly. But of course nobody else would be required to wear a mask simply because of her. She herself takes the responsibility to protect herself. That is the way we have always done it. The most vulnerable protect themselves by altering their own behavior and lifestyle. The public will continue to just go on with normal life.

    Many respiratory infections are caused by a strain of corona virus. Every single one of us has already had an infection with some type of corona virus. We have survived it. And for thousands of years the old and vulnerable will pass away because of some type of respiratory infection. It has always been that way. That is how life very often will end. COVID has not changed this in any way.

    So yes, I do wear a mask where I’m around certain groups of people who are more likely to catch the virus and who are at risk for serious complications. And no, I do not wear a mask where common sense and science tells me it makes no sense at all.

    People need common sense. People do not need politicians babysitting them.

  23. “People are, at the end of the day, responsible for their own health.”

    Somewhat true, but public health is not simply an individual responsibility. It includes a set of collective responsibilities, group obligations, especially during our current epidemiological situation.

    While I don’t think it’s selfish to ask others to make simple accomodations for immunocompromised people, like wearing a mask, it is much bigger to require indefinitely long business/church/school shutdowns. We should negotiate with our populations carefully.

  24. I’m going to have to agree with Sute’s comment on Rameumpton’s claim that “You may be very healthy with few symptoms, but if you pass it to me and my parent dies from it, then you hold some responsibility for that death and suffering in the same way you didn’t stop your drunk friends from driving and killing someone.” Viruses simply do not work in a predictable way, and it is impossible for you to know who exactly gave it to you. It may very well have been the masked person who passed you the virus because as we should know (and apparently many people do not), even the best masks are not 100 percent effective. I am also going to reiterate the point that people are responsible for their own health. Many of the highest risk people have made poor decisions with their health for which I am not responsible. If you are a high risk person, you are responsible for making the decision to stay at home, which as I say is how everybody in my ward sees it. The greater community can help with other peoples’ health, but at the end of the day, the community is not responsible for your health — you are.

  25. Geoff, I’m going to disagree with some of what you have written here. I agree that kindness and some degree of flexibility for different viewpoints is warranted and appreciated. And I think that many of the criticisms of mask wearing are valid. However, I think your comparison between someone who rejects the counsel of the Area Authority to wear a mask with someone who neglects to do their ministering assignment or to read their scriptures daily is mistaken.

    Most members accept the idea that daily scripture reading and ministering are good and inspired, but often they fall short in carrying them out because of human weakness. There is a very real difference between falling short of a policy or counsel that you agree with vs disagreeing and actively rejecting the counsel or policy itself. Those who refuse to follow the counsel of their Area Authority are not falling short of counsel with which they agree, they are actively rejecting the counsel itself. That is a significant difference. I agree with you that they shouldn’t be labeled “apostates.” But I think it is fair to say that they are flirting with the kind of approach to priesthood leadership and counsel that can eventually lead to apostasy.

    Let’s say that, hypothetically, the Area Presidency over Utah sent out a letter asking that members in Utah start making in-home ministering visits every week. In general the ministering program is purposefully more flexible and less prescriptive than that. So the instructions from the Area Presidency run contrary to the general way the ministering initiative is administered in the Church.You seem to be saying that if I disagreed with this hypothetical area-specific instruction that not only would I be justified in disregarding it, but it would be appropriate for me to openly disagree with their counsel and publicly encourage those within my influence to reject it too?

    I think that is a dangerous and inappropriate approach. Even if someone decided to disregard the counsel for themselves, there should be a strong hesitancy to publicly advocate against the counsel or to encourage others to disregard it.The First Presidency has explicitly delegated at least some degree of authority to the Area Presidencies, and specifically regarding responses to COVID-19 for their areas. So they are acting within their stewardship, with the proper authority, and under the direction of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve.

    Openly rebelling against their counsel and encouraging others to do likewise is very, very questionable. Disagreement would be better communicated privately to Stake Presidents who can communicate the disagreement up to the Area Presidency and other General Authorities. That is the pattern of the church. Turning instead to social media to build up public resistance and rebellion is contrary to the order of the church. And if that rebellious attitude is allowed to get a hold, it can eventually lead to apostasy.

    I admire those who disagree with mask wearing, but have decided to submit to the counsel of the Area Presidency, and who make a conscious effort to avoid undermining their authority.

    You are right that disagreeing with local authorities is not the same as disagreeing with the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve. But I still think that there are appropriate ways to disagree with priesthood authorities and inappropriate ways. Publicly rebelling against them and undermining their authority is inappropriate.

  26. I believe there is both personal and community responsibility for my health. For example, a ward I was in many years ago had a family that came to church with whooping cough. Apparently, they thought it fine to come to church with a horrible cough, not knowing it was whooping cough. Does this mean they bear no responsibility for exposing infants to whooping cough? Should I bear all responsibility and thus never take an infant out of the house? That is the point of public health and booster shots for whooping cough. To help protect the vulnerable who cannot protect themselves. There has to be a happy medium between community and solely self reliance.

  27. I’ve read all the comments, but still, it seems to me that my wearing a mask in the presence of others is the kind and charitable course of action — so I am okay with wearing a mask in the presence of others.

  28. Jmax, good, thoughtful comment. I am glad you took the time to respond. I respect you and I respect your opinions, so I will give your comment some thought without being defensive. All the best to you and your family.

  29. I work for the Air Force, a relatively healthy population, with strict mask and social distance rules and so there have been few cases. In my Command, at least, none of the people who work on base who have contracted the virus were exposed at work. Every one who has tested positive was exposed to it by a family member, usually one of their children. It was safer for them at work than at home. I’m not mask agnostic.

  30. Here is my first crack at a response to Jmax’s comment above. I am taking the time to respond to him at length because I have tremendous respect for him. I have asked him some questions in private, and let’s see if he responds. My first point is: he seems to think my post is encouraging people not to wear masks and that I am somehow encouraging people not to follow the counsel of the Utah area authorities. I think this is a false and uncharitable characterization of my post. I write in my OP: “I am not a mask denier, and this post is not about trying to convince people not to wear masks.” In addition, I point out that there are several circumstances in which people should wear masks.

    At the end of the post I make some common sense and very mild comments about potential problems with mask wearing. And I say that if I were in Utah I would not wear a mask in public all the time. I submit that there is no person reading this post today who will not wear a mask in public *all of the time.* When you are in a car by yourself, you are in public, and I submit that almost all people reading this would not wear a mask in public when they are alone in their cars. Most experts on mask wearing tell people not to wear masks when exercising. It is potentially hazardous for people to wear masks when jogging, for example. Yet a lot of jogging takes place in public. This is another circumstance when I would not wear a mask, and I bet most people agree with me.

    Let’s think of other public situations. Would I wear a mask to the store if the store says I must wear a mask? Yes. Would I wear a mask to Church. Already asked and answered: yes. Would I wear a mask to an amusement park if the park said I needed to? Yes. Would I wear a mask to the mall? If the mall, which is on private property, said I should, yes I would. Would I wear a mask to an office building? Yes, if the office building said I must. Would I wear a mask in my private, enclosed office at an office building? No. Would I wear a mask to the public lunch room at an office building if that was the company policy? Yes. Would I wear a mask to a park where I am far from other people? No. Would I wear a mask while hiking, biking or jogging, even if I were in public? No.

    C’mon people, and especially Jmax: is this the position of some kind of rabble rouser trying to get people to go against Church authorities? As I said very clearly above about the purpose of this post: “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 purpose of my post was to encourage people not to attack others. And here we have Jmax (seemingly) attacking me and calling my post “dangerous and inappropriate.”

    I probably should have made more attempts to point out that people should try to follow all Church leaders as much as possible, but I thought that I said that several times in my post, and it would have gotten repetitive to say it again. But in case there is any doubt: people should follow Church leaders, including Utah area authorities, as much as they can on all issues. This includes mask wearing.

    I want to make it clear that Jmax is one of my favorite people in the world. I really appreciated him taking the time to read my post and comment. But if his comment is intended to tell me that my approach is “dangerous and inappropriate,” it seems to me that he has completely misread my post. If that is his message to me personally, I have to say I am disappointed that he did not read my post more carefully. I actually think that he owes me an apology because he did not read my post carefully, and that is the first cardinal sin of blogging. If that is not his message, then never mind!

  31. Second point on Jmax’s comment: he writes: “However, I think your comparison between someone who rejects the counsel of the Area Authority to wear a mask with someone who neglects to do their ministering assignment or to read their scriptures daily is mistaken.” I would generally agree with this, but I would point out it was one of a list of things I mentioned and certainly not the primary one. In the beginning of my post, I used the comparison of my stake presidency urging people to sign an anti-abortion petition. That was the primary comparison I was using, and I see the letter from the area authorities in Utah as comparable to the letter from my stake president. And any fair reading of my post would have seen that this was the primary comparison I was using. Perhaps another comparison is in order: every two years in November we are encouraged directly by the First Presidency to be involved in civic affairs and to vote. I try to be involved in civic affairs in my own way, and I usually vote (although I will admit that sometimes there is nobody good to vote for). Are the people who choose not to be involved in civic affairs on the road to apostasy? I don’t think fair-minded people believe that. So, while I agree that the one comparison to ministering is not a fair comparison, and Jmax has a good point on that issue, he completely ignored the other comparisons I gave in my post. Once again, I found his comment unfair for cheery-picking one issue instead of addressing the totality of my post.

  32. Maybe I’m reading it wrong, but I don’t get the feeling that the area council, or even if it was church wide council, is a thus sayeth the Lord kind of thing. It’s a, “hey guys let’s be good citizens and unite around this issue and do anything that might pull us though this. Oh, and here are some basic principles that this action is founded on.”

    I imagine if there was a lot of debate about following the speed limit, we’d get similar council. I see this as a similar vein (but substantively different) than council on earnings (my personal opinion is 0 is the right number of earrings) or R movies.

    To suggest someone is on the road to apostasy if they disregard the council to watch an R movie is pretty severe. Now, I’m not saying these are equivalents, but I’ve known full time missionaries on the road to apostasy and “inactive” members who have been phenomenon member missionaries for 20 years who have positively influenced people from all over the world with regard for the church and our love of fellow man.

    We don’t need to shoot a fly with a 12-gauge, and charges of near apostasy on this issue are akin to that. Most people are content to say nothing about not wearing a mask, if they don’t want to, other than it being thrown in their face begging the question so to speak.

    If you really want to label me with a Scarlett A or maybe just a¹ to show I’m on that road, I think that says more about you and your desire to control others through labeling. We all give into that temptation, but I wouldn’t say someone who votes for a proabortion or pro socialist candidate is on the road to apostasy; I’d just say they’re wrong.

    And on this case, I don’t even need to go that far and say the area authority is wrong. I understand their reasoning and I disagree with it.

    If the prophet wants to go full authority and invoke the priesthood to compel us, I’d actually feel that’s moreover wrong, but I’d comply and wonder what’s really going on.

    My service to my fellow man and love of the Lord demonstrates my discipleship well enough. I know my standing. If I’ve made an error here, it’s just that. An error. No need to assume it’s something deeper and more dangerous.

  33. I hear folks say masks don’t work, and I have to wonder if they are looking at a different news source than I have seen.

    It is true that fabric masks don’t block every COVID particle, and much early discussion was focused on attempting to develop filters that could block all particles. Based on these early discussions, home-made fabric masks would be relatively ineffective.

    But now that we have more data, it appears masks are sufficiently blocking the moist viral air. The turning point amongst American politicians was the case of the infected hair stylist in Springfield, who did infect a co-worker (presumably from socializing in the back without masks), but where neither infected hair stylist infected any of over a hundred clients, as all stylists and their clients were required to wear masks.

    If we turned this discussion on its head and asked how to become infected with the disease, it would involve spending extensive time indoors, without ventilation, yelling or singing with unmasked people from populations where COVID is rampant (measured by rate of infection – a measure which highlights the sunbelt, Idaho, and Utah as problem places).

    I’m in Virginia, where I don’t believe it’s been made mandatory to mask while outdoors away from others. But I am comforted when I see someone has a mask they could don when entering an establishment. In my county, which has half the population of Utah, we’ve seen 15,000 confirmed infections and 500 deaths. So as a population we have ceased arguing about whether it is real, at least based on my husband’s recent shopping forays where there was 100% mask usage.

    I think when it comes to behavior, Geoff and I are pretty similar. But where Geoff chose to call our mask advocates as wrong to paint others as apostates, I live in a household where someone talks about pleading with the First Presidency to formally encourage mask wearing. That individual is deeply concerned to see the elevated infection rates in areas where members of the Church make up significant portions of the community, paired with our recent presence in that location and eye witness understanding of local behavior.

    As for me, I am less hopeful that a statement by the First Presidency would make a difference. Last night we read Alma 33, about the type raised in the wilderness, and all sufferers had to do was look to be saved, yet many refused to look. All of us mentioned that we thought of mask wearing as that verse was read. All of us except the one who needed extensive prompting to remember Alma 32 likened faith to planting a seed.

    When Ordain Women questioned the statements made by those other than the First Presidency, many of us rolled our eyes. While there may be times that lower level leadership runs amuck, I would be hesitant to criticize guidance from leaders who have stewardship over the area in question. And were the local counsel to be wrongful, principles of organizational behavior suggest it is more effective to treat with the organization in ways that have proven effective in the past. Social media and popular pressure has proven singularly ineffective at forcing policy change from central Church leadership. Even in cases where excommunication of leaders ended up being warranted to check their abuse, popular outrage does not appear to have been the instigation for change.

    After 9/11, it was striking to see which country didn’t express sorrow for what had occurred. In a similar fashion, it is striking to see countries fail to control this virus. It is the country-level equivalent of being grossly inappropriate.

  34. There’s very little that I can add to what has already been said in this wonderful debate. I doubt I am the only covid-19 survivor here, and it came as no surprise that my wife and I contracted it from my 70-year old mother-in-law who works at a nursing home where the virus hit hard in June and infected 36 of 38 patients (killing 11) in addition to some staff. My mother-in-law had been dreading the looming possibility of infecting us for months, then wham, everyone at the facility, including all exposed family members of staff, had to be tested.

    Previous to our illness, we wore masks faithfully in public places, while noting that many did not. These places often had signs encouraging mask-wearing at entrances. I wouldn’t denigrate others who won’t don a mask, but regardless of the science or lack of science, masks are touted as a benefit and a socially considerate thing to do.

    Though I am now unlikely to transmit the virus at this point, I will still carry a mask any time I go out and wear it or not when prudent and wise to do, mainly because I want to be a good neighbor. i could easily wear a t-shirt proclaiming, “I survived covid-19!! Thus my mask-wearing days are over!” but that would be silly and probably engender confusion, suspicion, and paranoia than not.

    I have never seen someone with a mask being yelled at or accosted for wearing one, whereas one without a mask risks the ire of strangers or even being confronted by police. I really don’t care what your mask policy/opinion is. Of course, you think you are right, but wear the stupid mask anyway as an example to the believers and unbelievers. We will all get along better. At least until science and entities overwhelmingly prove otherwise. I think that’s what Church leaders are driving at–let’s be good neighbors. One might feel that not wearing a mask makes him/her part of the woke crowd, but wearing one makes you look caring and concerned.

    On a related, yet conflicting, note, people wearing masks everywhere is driving me crazy!! I am profoundly deaf and I am essentially cut off from communication and lip reading (what I more accurately call lip-guessing). Fortunately, I can use the Google Transcribe voice to text app to more of less grasp what others are saying. A bit awkward at first but folks quickly grow to love it because, of course, it’s far less work for them, not having to write! But I’d much rather count my blessings instead of rehashing complaints.

  35. Meg,
    Fair points.

    “If we turned this discussion on its head and asked how to become infected with the disease, it would involve spending extensive time indoors, without ventilation, yelling or singing with unmasked people from populations where COVID is rampant (measured by rate of infection – a measure which highlights the sunbelt, Idaho, and Utah as problem places).”

    Let’s be clear. You are almost certainly right now infected with all kinds of viruses that aren’t compromising you and you have also almost certainly passed those viruses on to others. Is the goal to reduce or eliminate COVID infections or deaths and suffering due to COVID or complications from COVID?

    What’s the best way avoid dying from COVID? Hint, washing your hands and wearing a facemask, while I agree might offer a small amount of benefit, is probably lowest on the totem pole of avoiding COVID deaths.

    Alcohol abstinence
    Exercise regularly
    Diet Change
    No smoking/vaping

    I’m pretty confident there are more people who have died washing their hands and wearing masks than have died who:
    Exercise regularly
    Have a BMI under 30
    Don’t smoke , vape or drink alcohol

    I hope people can realize, despite all the risks of COVID and the fact that it’s very real, if you were to study a long term civil proproganda campaign, you would end up describing exactly what we have with COVID. It’s literally a classic drip-drop campaign. What would have been an absolute non-starter at the outset is now accepted as normal.

    In some ways, for many people, the mask has not become a symbol of, “I love my neighbor and want to protect them” [debatable nevertheless], but a symbol of accepting this drop-drop campaign. Get enough people just to go along to avoid confrontation (or looking like the presumed village fool) and you are forever and fundamentally altering the reality for everything that follows. Drip drop, it will continue.

    That being said, I assume the brethren actually are aware of the many potential downsides to what’s happening. But they are focusing on the positive and maybe (hopefully) avoiding confrontation will rather let the adversary play out his machinations until it’s clear he’s revealed himself to the destruction of his unwitting servants.

    Sounds wild to say. And I don’t suggest there’ s a great conspiracy behind every corner. But surely there are combinations at work here. Even as we comply with what’s asked, we ought to discuss and be aware of what’s going on.

    The masks will not end this. The unmasked will continue to be blamed for the perceived failures of the infirm, unhealthy, and unfortunate, just as the Jewish people of old were. We can see the feint evidence of it here in this discussion, among the elect — which allusions of culpability for death and road to apostasy, etc. We see it clearly among those who are fighting in the streets or stores over it, as though existing as a free independent organism, exhaling your breathe as nature intended were a violation of law.

  36. For those who enjoy computational fluid dynamics, here is a link to a paper published in May 2020 that looks at the “ejecta” when humans cough, with and without a mask.

    https://arxiv.org/ftp/arxiv/papers/2005/2005.03444.pdf

    In summary, content in small droplets expelled by an unmasked cough will linger in the air for as long as 60 seconds and will spread as far as 16 feet (5m) from the face. Conversely, small droplets expelled by a cough into a mask will only spread 1 foot (0.3m).

    [Unfortunately, this paper only addresses the fluid dynamics associated with coughs. Sneezes, yelling, singing, talking, and simple breathing weren’t studied in this paper.]

    The mechanism fueling the vast enduring spread of whatever is in the “ejecta” from a cough is the turbulent cloud associated with the cough. Even a simple fabric mask will serve to effectively prevent this turbulent cloud.

    As to acquiring infection, probability of becoming infected increases as the load of viral particles increases. So it could be sufficient (to achieve infection) if you encounter many instances of the virus in a sudden rush (e.g., an person with a large load of viral particles coughs in your face). Another way of ensuring you achieve infection is to put yourself for an extended period of time in an environment that is likely to contain viral particles for a long time (e.g., an extended indoor gathering where large numbers of unmasked participants likely to suffer from asymptomic or presymptomatic infections are yelling, singing, coughing, etc.)

    Obviously none of us should be trying to achieve infection. But when we look at things through the lens of trying to achieve infection, it becomes easier to understand the opposite that reduces the chance of infection.

  37. Just want to follow up on my previous comment with some clarification. I think I failed to communicate very well and that my comments came across as more critical of Geoff’s post than I intended.

    I did not mean to imply that Geoff was calling for anyone to openly rebel. Clearly he has not. However, there are quite a few other conservative members in social media and elsewhere that are encouraging others to openly rebel. I completely agree with Geoff that disagreeing with the Area Authority’s counsel regarding masks doesn’t _automatically_ make someone an apostate. However, in the context of so many others who are rebelling, I wanted to push back and emphasize that there is real spiritual danger in choosing to rebel against the counsel of local authorities, especially when people do it publicly and encourage others to do so. It is certainly a red flag when it is done brashly and in an effort to convince others to do likewise. Geoff’s post didn’t call for anyone to rebel, but to me it seemed to underplay the real potential _spiritual_ dangers of rebelling. That is what I was responding to. I was not accusing Geoff of apostasy or of leading others into apostasy. I was not saying that his post was inappropriate and dangerous. I was identifying a potential gap in his argument and pushing back to make sure that the danger was identified and acknowledged. And my comment was directed at those who would try to construe what Geoff was saying to justify their open rebellion.

    But my comment was written hastily and at a time when I didn’t have any time for further discussion, clarification, or followup. So it unfortunately left the wrong impression.

    My comment was not about mask wearing per say, but the spiritual dangers inherent in choosing to actively reject the counsel of priesthood authorities, regardless of what that counsel is. The danger is real _regardless_ of the reasons that the priesthood authority decided to offer the counsel. Everyone who rejects the direction of priesthood authority can always point to a series of circumstances, and motivations, and facts for why the counsel is wrong, or why it doesn’t apply, or why it is safe to disregard. Like I said, that doesn’t automatically make them an apostate. But the danger is real.

    There are appropriate ways to disagree with priesthood authorities and inappropriate ways. Publicly rebelling against them and encouraging others to do likewise is inappropriate and definitely a red flag. Disagreeing with local authorities is clearly not the same as disagreeing with the 1st Presidency & Quorum of the 12. But it isn’t something a faithful member of the church can engage in with abandon. It isn’t something to trifle with or engage in lightly.

    I know that Geoff agrees with me about the danger here. He is a long time friend and ally. But because of my poorly worded comment, I came across as attacking him. I am very sorry about that. Hopefully this follow up comment helps to clarify things. Sorry Geoff!

  38. I think part of the dissonance is caused by
    misunderstandings or mischaracterizations of intent. Which of the following two is probably closest to the Utah Area Presidency’s intent?
    (1) They were making a request of members and hoping to persuade; or
    (2) They were commanding lower-graded Saints with an expectation of obedience?

    I think it is (1). But some apparently feel it is (2). And, some might say that (1) and (2) are identical.

    Some who think it is (2) are condemning their neighbors as apostates for not obeying. Others who think it is (2) are offended that the Church would command in a matter of civil liberties. So really, all the squabbling and hating seems to be among the (2) people, who share (2) but for different reasons.

  39. Meg,
    The viral particles exhaled from your mouth are much smaller than those droplets and literally linger in the air, and go up into the atmosphere and circulate the planet and rain down on us every minute by the millions. The vast majority of those are inert, we suppose. But if they aren’t, there’s nothing we can do about it and it’s not as if people just randomly get sick (oh wait…). But anyway I believe those atmospheric raining viral particles aren’t a threat.

    However, what is still a threat and very much alive for hours is the stuff that the guy just breathed through his mask while looking at Cheetos. Yes, some of the moisture was dissipated and contained. Most of it still came thru the mask, under it, and over it; albeit at a slower rate. But instead of propelling forward, it lingered in the place where he just was. And you or I walked into it as we passed by the Cheetos.

    Wear a mask if required or desired may help in some situations – I think primarily very crowded ones where people aren’t moving much it will contain a bit. But once you start moving, you move into it, and moreover I’ve already mentioned that the viral particles move of their own accord (in a sense) through the air without droplets. This is well documented.

    I’d wager for every mask anecdote you mentioned there are other unmasked anecdotes to refute it. Did you read about the unmasked infected person on the bus who no one got sick that was sitting right next to them, but a couple people 5 or 6 rows ahead did? And even more significantly, that anecdote about the hairdresser is refuted by people getting sick who have worn masks surrounding people who wore them. There’s just not enough to go on with anecdotes, but the reality is you don’t contain viruses that are airborne; or at least not without looking like an astronaut.

  40. Sute, almost all comments are moderated on my posts because I have attracted vast teams of trolls over the years, and I like discussion to be positive and uplifting, not negative. I review comments before I approve them. As far as I can remember, your comments are positive and welcome, so please don’t take it the wrong way (at least on my posts) if your posts are moderated. I am likely to approve your comments.

  41. The Springfield, Missouri, hairdresser situation isn’t an anecdote, it is a researched instance that has been widely reported.

    The bus incident that is well characterized involved two full buses where one of two buses had an infected “pre-symptomatic” individual. Though individuals from both buses mingled at the destination venue (a Buddhist festival), only people on the bus with the infected person became infected from their exposure that day. Those who became infected were evenly spread throughout the bus, though not all occupants of the buss became infected. Your characterization of a bus event appears to be a transmogrified version of the verified Buddhist festival goers.

    Testing and contact tracing in the US is thoroughly broken. Other than the hairdresser incident, I am not hearing independently verified accounts of how the virus is spreading in the US, though national news outlets are carrying stories regarding refusal to heed scientific recommendations, as occurred in the 15 July Utah County (Provo) meeting Mr. Ainge ended due to widespread failure to heed state recommendations regarding mask wearing and social distancing (the Washington Post highlighted this incident in their 16 July coverage of the opposition to recommendations seen in places where the normalize rate of infection is high).

    For what it’s worth, the Post article hyperlinked in the article about the Utah County fracas mentioned that “Mormon” leaders had encouraged mask use, as had other legitimate state authorities. So anyone reading these articles would perceive that any Church members in the Provo meeting opposing mask use are elevating their desire for freedom and “compassionate” refusal to use masks over adherence to Church guidance.

  42. There is so much to say on this on this subject, but for now, I will keep my comments focused on the letter issued by the Area Presidency.
    Let’s be clear, the area presidency should not have put out such a letter.
    There are half truths, inconsistencies and PR manipulations throughout this letter that are incredibly disappointing.
    First, is this an issue of health or civil obedience?
    Some have said, in this thread, it is merely an issue of obeying local government leaders. The church is urging people to be good global citizens by obeying the law.
    I understand your argument, but is it consistent?
    The church has many gray areas in obeying and sustaining the law, particularly with immigration.
    The church allows for those breaking immigration and visa laws (as well as a mirade of other laws) to get baptized, get temple recommends and hold leadership positions in the church. In my area outside of Utah, our Spanish branch president is an illegal alien. I am actually okay with this policy. I believe that certain gospel principles supercede local laws. So I ask, where is the consistency? The same area presidency has spoken very little about the lawlessness of protests, riots and destruction of property all over the state of Utah and Country. Is this not more important?
    I would also like to remind everyone, this mandate is not a law. It has not been passed by the Utah State legislature. It is an executive order. And for those citing The 12th article of Faith….. If your local leader or president/king is not honoring or sustaining the law, then what do you sustain? Clearly, these executive orders and mandates have flown in the face of the supreme laws of the land and God. The 12th article of faith does not say to support local leaders who violate the law. Let’s be clear.
    Also, should the church be a little more focused that in this free nation, local governments are banning church? It is literally illegal to attend church in areas of the country and will be again. Perhaps we could issue a letter about that rather than wearing masks…..

    Second, for those of you who are arguing this is a matter of health, then you are also wrong. I am disappointed that the letter uses PR speak by saying a growing chorus of medical professionals agree……
    I’m sorry, that is PR, corporate speak garbage. There are equally thousands of well-respected medical experts that disagree. I will leave in the description a study just put out by the Netherlands with their head epidemiologists that says masks make no difference.
    But I am not here to argue the efficacy of masks.
    I am here to say, if the area presidency firmly believes this is an issue of health, does God only care about the saints in Utah? Should this not be a worldwide proclamation? If it is about health, then all of God’s children should be wearing masks.
    Yet, God’s children in Denmark are not wearing masks, are going to church, are singing hymns and attending primary! Does God not love these children? Does God not love these saints of the church? Why is the prophet not making this statement? The area presidency, with the authority of their office (and I assume the quorum of the 12 approved of this letter) have declared that masks will not only mitigate the spread of COVID 19 but promote health and wellness.

    I have heard members argue that this is a kin to Moses raising the snake on the staff. That is patently absurd. Others have said, what a miracle that our prophet was a doctor and leads the church through a pandemic. This is also absurd. Joseph Smith was not a linguist that qualified him to translate the Book of Mormon. Brigham Young was not an explorer and colonizer that qualified him to settle the West. Moses was not an orator before he went and proclaimed God’s word to Pharaoh. God qualifies you, not your lived experience.

    So I ask, why does God only love the saints of Utah and want them to wear masks? You may argue, their authority simply lies in their area. That’s fine if you believe that. So I ask, why has God not told other area presidencies the same information if it’s about the health and wellness of the saints? Do masks only work in Utah? Does God not care about saints other places? Why do some congregations sing while others don’t? I promise, God does not tell one area presidency that singing may spread Corona virus and kill Sister Peterson while telling the other area presidency singing is fine and there’s nothing to worry about. If this is about health, it should be a general statement to the entire church and world and not just a single area.

    It is also completely untrue to say this is the worst pandemic in the last century. That is verifiably false. Why would you put that in this letter?

    I could go on, but my point has been made. I am deeply troubled by this letter. I am deeply troubled by the decisions that leaders of the church are making in regards to this virus. We are treating the church as a corporation. My area has yet to open for church, yet we have far lower numbers than many other places that are open.
    The world is being ruled by fear those seeking Dominion and power are wielding it against everyone else. The church I belong to, has many of it’s leaders and members gripped by the same fear. Of all the statements the area of presidency could have put out, this should be one of the least of their worries.
    Can you imagine if the early saints deciding whether to cross the plains to get to the land of Zion made arguments that 0.04% of the saints crossing might die so we better stay home and not establish Zion? let’s wait until they develop the railroad, or roads or vehicles to get us there? I have no doubt, my ancestors who left Denmark, came to Missouri and then trecked to Utah would be utterly embarrassed and heartbroken over the fear of the saints today.

    Study Link
    https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-8583925/amp/The-land-no-face-masks-Hollands-scientists-say-theres-no-solid-evidence-coverings-work.html

  43. Jordan D, I think you make some decent points above. I agree with many of them. I would just make this point for your consideration: please read Jmax’s comments above. His point — that we should not publicly question Church area authorities — is worth pondering and praying about. I have done this, and I have received the answer that it is not appropriate to question area authorities even when they are doing something that to my secular self seems nonsensical. Area authorities would not release such a letter without consultation with the First Presidency. So, there are reasons for such a letter, and there are reasons that latter-day Saints in Utah should follow the area authority advice on this issue *where practical.* We can have a long talk about practicality, but, just to give one example, these days masks have basically disappeared from my rural part of Colorado, and there really is no reason to wear one because COVID has also practically disappeared. So, wearing a mask today in early August where I live in Colorado would be nonsensical for me. BUT there may be other reasons the area authorities put out the letter that simply don’t make sense to us today. Just to give one thought that has come up: maybe this is a test run for a much worse pandemic that will come a decade from now, and the Church is trying to prepare members for the idea of giving up personal liberty in the face of that pandemic so they develop habits of safety. So, to sum up, I let out a half cheer at your comment, but I wanted to pass on that on a personal level I have some reservations about criticizing the area authorities publicly.

  44. I read Jmax’s response. To be fair, I have not prayerfully pondered whether criticizing this letter is appropriate. I will, however, continue to give my opinion.
    I don’t think it is fair to compare a government mandated mask policy supported by the Area Presidency to a theoretical issue with a church “policy” or “program” like ministering. The Area Presidency can issue a letter about mask wearing inside of Church or for a Church sponsored activity. Now while I would still hold the opinion that such a policy is unnecessary and fear based, I would not actively campaign to have members disobey such a policy. The Church can make whatever internal policy they choose, whether it be right or wrong. This is a very different issue.

    Again, my problem with the letter is the half-truths. This is not the worst pandemic in a century. You cannot state that it has been “confirmed” that a face mask reduces the spread of Covid 19. That has not been confirmed. This Government mandate may very well not be “for the blessing and benefit of all”.
    Why issue a letter with extremely misleading information on a secular issue completely divorced from the church? It makes no sense.

    I have a few other points.

    With all due respect Geoff, unless your rural area has reached a level of herd immunity, it is naive to say Covid 19 has disappeared. This is one of the things that perplexes me the most about the “pro-mask” crowd. I’ve heard from so many people and government officials something along these lines….
    “If we all just wear a mask for 2, 3, 4, 5 months, we can get rid of this virus and get back to normal.” Please understand, this is not how viruses work. This is here forever and you cannot avoid it. If a single person, across the globe in Wuhan China, can start spreading this in late November and shutdown the Globe in 2-3 months, your mask won’t stop anything. Let’s say not a single person in America tests positive because masks “worked”. Without a significant number of people with antibodies (meaning, have already had the virus), a single asymptomatic person traveling from Canada to America will start this all over again. That’s how viruses work. Masks don’t send the virus into space.

    Let’s get back to the Church and this mess. I live in Missouri. I have not been back to church. My area hasn’t been opened. In the 5 months that I’ve not been allowed to go to church, I have received no communication from my Area Authority, 1 letter from my Stake President and 4 from my Bishop. I have not been told why we haven’t started church. Other Christian Churches in my area are open…..and with no masks. I have gladly attended them. I am very frustrated with the lack of communication from anyone as to why we can’t attend church. Our numbers are far better than Utah, yet we haven’t opened. No communication. Nothing.

    Geoff, you may be right that this is some sort of conditioning for a “real pandemic”, however, this may have the opposite effect. I believe this may turn into the story of the boy who cried wolf. Covid 19 is not serious, as far as pandemics go. More Latter Day Saints will die from diabetes this year than from Covid, and it’s not even close. In fact, if the church was truly worried about health and safety, issue a proclamation urging the overweight and obese Latter Day Saint population of Utah and America to take the Word of Wisdom more seriously as to stop preventable deaths. That would have a far better affect than masks at saving a significant number of people in the Utah Area.

    What is happening with this virus is an evil game. Yes, this virus kills people. No, it is not as bad as the CDC or Government would have you believe. This is a power play. It is obvious. If you are under the age of 70, you have a 99.9% of surviving this. That is one of the most benevolent “pandemics” in the history of the planet.

  45. Geoff, also, in response to your general theme of members wielding this letter as an apostate thermometer, I totally agree.

    So many members of the church and family members have used this a “beating stick” against me. I have been told, over and over, things in this “vein” during the quarantine:
    “If the church shut down, this is the will of God. God is taking this virus very seriously and so should you. You should obey the LDS governor and not go over to friend’s houses to play games or have grand kids over to the house. He is a Latter Day Saint and God is telling our governor things that are going to keep us safe. If the prophet shut down temples, this is a serious and deadly virus and we should only go out when absolutely necessary.”

    If masks are the “saving grace” to stop this virus, can I ask a question……?
    Why did President Nelson not issue a Church Wide proclamation during General Conference that the membership of the church needed to wear masks at all times, to be a shining example to all the world on how to stop the spread of this “deadly” virus? After all, the Area Authority claimed this will “promote the general welfare and health of all.” Did God not know that masks worked and stopped the spread? Why didn’t he tell the prophet then? Did we have to have a worldwide fast to figure out the answer was masks all along? I mean, the country was literally locked down at this time. Why no talk of masks? Masks are not a new thing. These things have been studied for years. We already had information on how coronoviruses spread and are transmitted and the effectiveness of masks with them (and that they don’t mitigate it). Or……is it more likely that the area presidency was politically pressured to issue a statement when they met with the Governor just a few days before they wrote their letter. A Governor who was under pressure to be seen as “doing something” as case numbers rose in the state. Numbers that have not significantly declined despite a month of a mask mandate. Please, just think about things critically for just a moment…..

    Sorry, nope. I don’t know the “will of God” concerning this virus, but here are some things I do know.
    Were the 10 commandments the “will of God”? NOPE! God gave Moses a “higher law” he inscribed on tablets. Now why would God do that?! Was God not aware of the unrighteous behavior of the Israelite’s in the valley? Of course He was! So why would God take the time to inscribe the “higher law” on stone tablets, have Moses travel down there, only to have him smash the tablets and head back up the mountain to inscribe a revised law of the 10 commandments and the Mosaic Law?! God was showing us that because of our wickedness, we often live below the actual will of God.
    Here’s a modern day example:
    Blacks and the Priesthood. Was it the “will of God” to deny blacks the priesthood? I’m going to go out on a limb and say, probably not; that’s not what God wanted. However, because of the wickedness of the country and possibly wickedness within the membership of the church, that policy was issued. Perhaps similar to why Slavery wasn’t abolished in 1791. There were versions of the constitution that outlawed slavery, but because 2 colonies wouldn’t sign on to it, they had to omit it. Was it the “will of the Founders” for slavery to be a part of this nation. NO! Yet, they did so because of the wickedness of 2 colonies. They also paid dearly for it later.

    I’m going to go out on a limb here, and this is purely my opinion……..
    Is it the “will of God” to stop all temple work for the dead, stop all church worship, stop many from receiving the sacrament for months, stop eternal marriage covenants from taking place from a 0.04% chance of death? I say, NO WAY. That’s my opinion. Even President Nelson feared what Joseph Smith and Brigham Young would think of such actions but believes this is the choice the church has to make. I believe the church has issued these changes because of the wickedness of our country and people. The evil works going on behind the scenes and the lies and spin being put out with this virus are unprecedented. This is truly a time where the very elect are being deceived. I would be very careful to classify any of the church’s actions as the “will of God”, just as the Law of Moses (which never had power to save anyone) was not the “will of God” but a law for a fallen, stiff-necked and wicked people.

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