Note: The events of recent months have prompted some significant wrestles for faithful members of the Church with sincere questions about vaccines, even leading some to the edge of estrangement. That has compelled me to write this. Although directed primarily at Latter-day Saints cautious about some of the dominant public health messaging about COVID-19 over the last year (and sympathetic to alternative, more natural approaches to healing), I hope some of it might help foster more understanding among those who are neither of these things. Where we disagree strongly about important matters, I keep feeling like the Lord wants us to keep reaching for each other, with love, gentleness, and curiosity.
Come along with me, for a moment, on a little imaginary thought experiment. It’s General Conference, and President Nelson is mid-way through a fall 2020 message on “letting God prevail in our lives.” Then he pauses, and says the following:
As a prophet of God, I must raise my voice about another matter. We are sincerely grateful for new inventions and technological discoveries that have improved the quality of life for so many, including in matters of health. Too often, however, I fear the degree of trust we place in external interventions can unintentionally lead us to discount the Lord’s power in our lives, along with simple adjustments He can inspire us to make in order to improve our health. For instance, scripture and science are both clear on the value of improving what we eat and getting better sleep – with abundant evidence that less stress, and even a little more physical activity can help boost our immunity against disease. Brothers and sisters, now more than ever, may we relish the benefits of greater faith, and inspired daily repentance, including in how we take care of our bodies. Even when we need additional assistance from competent medical practitioners, may we continue to appreciate and explore ways to better care for the “temple of our spirits” – including in serious periods of pandemic.
Furthermore, brothers and sisters, I would add that we need to be cautious about too much power being consolidated into the hands of a few unelected officials to dictate health policy. Although I tend to trust the prevailing recommendations of the health community as a doctor myself, I recognize there are many other wise experts who have raised questions worth taking seriously. And, in this case, I do believe there is reason to be cautious. Just because any particular organization or individual says something, doesn’t make it true – or in line with God’s will. Indeed, the opposite has often been the case in human history, with some of the most popular conclusions being widely promoted as obvious, frequently what followers of Christ need to question the most. So, let’s think for ourselves and make sure to be careful about what we decide to believe and follow.
At that point, the Prophet transitions back to speaking about other matters, before concluding his talk. The conference session ends, and you get up to stretch your legs, and grab your bowl of Kale chips to munch-on as you begin to fry up some organic, pasture-raised, cage-free, non-GMO eggs as part of a late family breakfast (no, I’m not teasing you! We’re suckers enough to pay double for the same eggs). (:
And it’s to you hippie, alternative, natural healing-loving Saints (along with any others with legitimate questions about prevailing public health dictates over the last year) that I’m writing today – not as someone talking down to you, but to someone very much among you. We’re among the many millions, of course, who have harbored serious questions over the last year about dominant messaging around COVID-19 and how to best respond to it. By comparison, if you are one of the many who just (honestly) wish Americans would be more compliant to updated guidelines from the CDC or Dr. Anthony Fauci, this (mostly) isn’t for you.
So, back to the thought experiment. How would that kind of a surprise inclusion at General Conference make you feel, personally? Yes, it might shock your in-laws or neighbors, both of whom look towards modern medicine as an unremitting miracle from God. But, wouldn’t it be somewhat relieving to you – and actually kind of exciting to hear?
If you’ve come to appreciate more natural and complementary approaches to healing as much as my wife and I have, you’d likely come away from such a general conference talk mighty gratified and heartened: “Hey, it’s not every day you get to see the prophet endorsing your own line of thinking, while encouraging others to be more open about it too. What a change from some of the pressure and judgment you’ve been sensing lately! And how cool to see the prophet encouraging us to trust our ability to seek revelation including in health matters, and not just accepting everything we are hearing.”
Okay, time to snap back into reality! As unusual as that kind of public message might seem, I’m aware of leaders in other denominations giving talks just like it. One Baptist pastor, in particular, went viral last year after he dedicated the bulk of his talk to encouraging his congregation to essentially ‘look into the background of Dr. Fauci and his close affiliation with one pharmaceutical company’ as an explanation for why he was hesitant to place so much of our entire nation’s trajectory in his hands. (I would reference his sermon more directly, but it’s been scrubbed off respectable internet forums by Those Who Know Best what we all need).
Leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ, of course, have taken a very different approach than this pastor: not raising concern about dominant messaging around COVID-19, and also very much not staying neutral. But very clearly coming down on the side of social distancing, masking, and this spring, in vigorous support of the COVID-19 vaccinations.
To any Saint of the Latter-days with sincere hesitancy about any of these larger directives, this has been a confusing and challenging period, to say the least. To everyone in that camp, I would return to the thought experiment in asking you this:
If the Prophet had felt prompted to share a message like this (more in line with your own concerns and beliefs), what would that mean for the distinctive MISSION OF THE CHURCH – to gather Israel by bringing the fullness of the gospel to those prepared to receive and embrace the covenant pathway of exaltation?
“Well, wouldn’t declaring that truth still be a great thing?” you might wonder – emphasizing all the potential health benefits this could unleash for Church members – from all the missionaries with health problems, to the relief society sisters still praying for something more than just “managing” depression. “And to have a single institution proclaiming all this truth to the world – however unpopular. Let the persecution come!”
Persecution is right. Given the degree to which natural healing (and any critique of mainstream medicine) has been not only stigmatized, but increasingly purged from the internet – it’s not hard to imagine (especially in 2020) what perceptions of the Church being “in line” with natural healing would have meant. I’m confident it would have lead to acute spikes in religious persecution and undoubtedly limitations placed on our social media and online presence – to say nothing about the added skepticism this would bring to many potential investigators and new ammo to our critics (“Hey, check this out: they not only believe in angels, they’re encouraging members to ‘question science’ and mainstream medicine – while being open to quacks and fringe medicine!).
Could this be one reason that some of what you and I believe to be true about healing doesn’t exactly find itself promoted within the Church of Jesus Christ and its leaders today? In other words, that God knows well what would happen if ALL TRUTH ABOUT EVERYTHING were somehow consolidated in a single place?
Ask yourself, honestly, what would it mean for the willingness of people to be gathered to us IF the Church of Jesus Christ became known not only as “those people who are really nice, and earnestly believe that God talks to humans today, and that family can become heaven on earth, and in another book of scripture”…not only THAT – but also “alternative-medicine lovers” and (gasp!) even measurably more “vaccine hesitant.”
Follow me here: IF that’s what this Church became known for publicly, and if ALL truth about ANYTHING had already gathered together under its umbrella…well, honestly, how many people living in this fallen, polarized, fearful world be able to stomach it?
You know the old joke – that “all the Prophet needs to do to make every member fall away is to teach them that God wants us to eat less sugar.”
Maybe it’s no joke! Imagine if God taught His people even harder things than tapering off Ben & Jerry’s?
Could these kinds of reasonable limits-on-what-any-community-can-handle be the reason Joseph Smith used to hint that there was so much more he wanted to say, but sorrow that he couldn’t?
In any given time and place, there will always be larger societal convictions that may not be entirely correct, and which hold incredible sway, but nonetheless which are not central to the gospel message. Think of how many Americans have embraced the prevailing public messaging around COVID-19 over the last year – the vast majority of people everywhere. Do we honestly think dissenting from ALL OF THAT as a Church would increase the chances of people taking our core message seriously?
Not on your life. Because it wouldn’t. You realize that, right?
In other words, if God did as you wish He would – and sent an angel warning the prophets about some Fauci-led-government-pharma-health intrigue threatening the country…if THAT happened (and they spoke out against it), it might well fatally harm the Church’s ability to continue fulfilling it’s distinctive, singular mission right now.
Which is not to simply preserve physical health as long as possible, or to defend ALL truth anywhere, or to warn against (true) conspiracies. It’s really not. That’s sometimes how we see and think of the Prophets – as if they have a sacred responsibility to stand up against ALL that is wrong in the world. And as if everything they say-about-anything (from antidepressants, to vaccines, to masks, to “I heard Elder Uchtdorf kinda likes Joe Biden!?“) reflects the unadulterated Mind and Will of God.
That’s not what Joseph or any modern day prophet has claimed. Yet I respect those who believe that – and follow that. These are the same people who might understandably wonder if this kind of an inner conflict isn’t exactly the kind of moment to show where your heart is, and demonstrate whether you are willing to simply trust and follow the prophet in something that runs contrary to your own biases. I appreciate that too, since the God we worship does and will “wrench our very heartstrings” as John Taylor taught, to prove us. Yet neither President Nelson, nor previous prophets, nor God Himself in scripture, asks people to obey something they cannot feel peace or have their own confirmation of truth about, right?
I also sincerely respect those who would warn us about the slippery slope those last two paragraphs were. Because they are. It’s the very “I’ll follow the prophet as long as he agrees with me” slippery mentality many a family has embraced after adopting the popular narrative of sexuality in America – which so often cuts people simultaneously off from precious prophetic guidance (“one day, they will love gay people as much as I do now.”)
That’s the last thing I want to see, and precisely one of the reasons I’m writing today: to plead that dear brothers and sisters to step away from that edge. Similar estrangement is happening on these health issues too often as well, among those persuaded that the Church, by virtue of encouraging vaccinations, is “cooperating with Bill Gates and the UN” and even “falling into apostasy.”
No, they’re not. Have you felt the thrilling power and reassurance of President Nelson’s core messages at conference in recent years? Please don’t cut yourself off from that! However hard it is to conceive why the Church would take such a direct position on some of this, please recognize that when it comes to these (less central) matters of policy and temporal affairs, these presiding leaders are earnestly doing what they feel will best help the Church as a whole fulfill it’s mission.
EVEN IF you’re right about the vaccines (and they introduce more risk than benefit), I’m simply pointing out that these authorized servants of God might still be exactly right (and inspired) to openly, publicly support the prevailing health recommendations.
Remember that it was Jesus Himself who famously taught that there are times when it’s not right to “resist evil” (not a favorite scripture of culture warriors today).
But could that really apply here? Certainly, the Lord doesn’t call His followers to be push-overs either. We’ve been encouraged to stand up for what is right, even if it’s unpopular. But you might sensibly read Jesus as saying, essentially, “don’t try and fight every battle. Try and be wise – and not inadvertently rile people up needlessly when it’s not central to our mission.”
And maybe this isn’t our battle…even if it’s worth fighting on other fronts? That is, if there are problems to come with the vaccines (unintended side effects or long-term effects), maybe it’s really not what God wants us to fixate on as a people, nor these leaders to warn people about generally.
The gathering of all truth. To reiterate, I respect that many other Saints believe all truth is already gathered into our own community. I would simply point to the increasing numbers of statements about the “ongoing nature of the restoration,” as Elder LeGrand Curtis Jr. wrote in 2020. In 2014, President Dieter Uchtdorf likewise taught the following in General Conference:
Sometimes we think of the Restoration of the gospel as something that is complete, already behind us—Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon, he received priesthood keys, the Church was organized. In reality, the Restoration is an ongoing process; we are living in it right now. It includes “all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal,” and the “many great and important things” that “He will yet reveal” (Articles of Faith 1:9). The exciting developments of today are part of that long-foretold period of preparation that will culminate in the glorious Second Coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.
Of course, these are the same statements that some activist elements like to leverage to insist they know what the Prophet will be teaching in a few years about sexuality…want to hear?
So, let me be doubly clear: I honor the prophetic mantle to unfold the message of salvation. No one else possesses it in its fullest expression. While I believe with all my heart that part of our mission is, yes, gathering ALL truth, goodness and power into this community of Saints – I’m simply pointing out that it’s hard to read justification in prophetic teaching for that being complete. Instead, I read scriptural statements like the following as clarifying that the fulfillment of this Zion (and the gathering of all good ideas in one) is something we will yet witness in the days ahead:
It is necessary in the ushering in of the dispensation of the fulness of times, which dispensation is now beginning to usher in, that a whole and complete and perfect union, and welding together of dispensations, and keys, and powers, and glories should take place, and be revealed from the days of Adam even to the present time. And not only this, but those things which never have been revealed from the foundation of the world.
Have we arrived at that “whole and complete and perfect union” of powers and truth? I don’t see anyone making that argument. Once again, while we rightfully believe that the keys of this total gathering are here, I don’t know that anyone has ever claimed more than that.
Not yet, at least. Instead, what I personally see happening is that different communities of thoughtful, good-hearted people are gathering around different areas of truth all around the world. While we gather people around the fulness of truth in terms of spiritual, eternal redemption, there are inspiring other bodies of people gathering around what many of us consider higher truth in matters of health (and other areas too).
If so, rather than pretend that our faith community has become the receptacle of “all truth,” ours can be the joyful mission, as Brigham Young once taught, to continue to “gather every item of truth… found in every nation, kindred, tongue, and people and bring it to Zion.”
As Dr. Richard Williams taught us so well as undergraduates at BYU, the apostasy was not confined to the religious realm – with all areas experiencing a falling away from truth. He went on to suggest that the discipline of psychology itself needed a legitimate sort of “restoration” – and that we shouldn’t simply accept prevailing teachings in the field as right and true.
That’s what I’m talking about. Those who embrace these disruptive higher “truths about psychology” are not the same ones – generally speaking – as the people who have embraced the “higher truth” about religion. And likewise, those who have embraced “higher truth” in terms of mindfulness practice, are not the same as those who have embraced the truth of the restoration (many of whom continue to see mindfulness as devilry). Although there clearly are some overlaps in all these groupings, more often these communities see each other with great skepticism.
I would say the same thing about Christ-centered energy healing, natural healing for cancer or heart disease, and a more sustainable approach to helping people find healing from depression/anxiety. I have followed for years many inspired thinkers who have advocated mental health approaches and practices that I have a testimony can lead people to deeper, more lasting healing. I’ve written about this often over the years (even recently) – while watching our own faith community continue to follow a remarkably conventional policy (most missionaries with mental health problems in my parents’ mission were encouraged towards medical management).
Do I believe this is a mistake? Yes, I honestly do. But an understandable one, in a society where prevailing narratives encourage everyone in this direction, and larger systemic imperatives make it very risky for any large organization to deviate from the so-called “best practice” of dominant medical dictates (I say “so-called” because as my own research is confirming, many of these best practices have been shaped by undue influence from Pharma funding. Very few best practice guides, for instance, pay any attention to non-medical interventions – or to the long-term outcomes of the medical interventions they inevitably recommend as “first line” treatment).
Although I continue to be saddened at how few Saints seem open or interested in these possibilities (and how much they suffer while embracing the same philosophies, systems and interventions as everyone else – see here and here and here), it no longer surprises me. Once again, I believe the fullest expression of truth is being received in different communities, to differing degrees.
Which brings us back to COVID-19, and the consistently status quo approach we have seen leaders in the Church of Jesus Christ take towards masking, social distancing, lock-down, vaccinations, etc. On one level, this perhaps shouldn’t surprise anyone who knows of Latter-day Saint commitment to be “subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.”
But what happen when the dictates of prevailing authorities turn out to be harmful – and lead people in a risky, or even dangerous direction? That’s certainly what many of us suspected about some of the directions America is going with both our health and economy over the last year. What then?
In that case, wouldn’t God warn the presiding leaders of His Church and Kingdom on earth?
Once again, maybe not. Not if doing so would complicate and interfere with the singular mission He needs this body of believers to perform in the Latter-days: not proclaiming a message of physical healing (however important that may be), but instead, raising the message of eternal salvation to all the world…with an eye laser-focused on that message, undistracted by other (otherwise noble) causes and efforts.
Remember, this is the same Lord who told both his ancient and modern day disciples to “care not for the body, neither the life of the body; but care for the soul, and for the life of the soul.” Even though we know the Lord certainly cares about temporal matters of health, it doesn’t appear to be His top priority, right? So, should we be surprised His Church and Kingdom isn’t on board with all the various health crusades of our day? (many of which we may personally still find inspiring, necessary, and right?)
If you’re still unpersuaded, check out this passage from Elder Neal A. Maxwell’s book, Things as They Really Are:
The living church will not be unmindful of political [we might add “health”] movements (righteous or unrighteous), but these will not be the focus of its activity and its energy anymore than Jesus Christ was drawn off to use his perfect talents and energies in settling the disputes between the Rome and the Jews anciently. There were surely wrongs to be remedied, but Jesus had more important things to do then and now…. So it is with the living Church today….its mission is to declare the gospel of Jesus Christ and to perfect a people.
Maybe God doesn’t want his prophets poking at every sacred cow…For the Lord’s own purposes, maybe he’s not only okay if His servants take for granted a few things in larger society, he needs them to.
Not just out of naivete. But out of wisdom, and celestial strategy.
At least according to God’s designs. To be clear, I’m not arguing President Nelson and other leaders are consciously shying away from important truths “strategically.” I believe they’re sincere in what they see and advance as the best for the Church. I’m simply suggesting that God (who knows more than all of us) is deliberate about what is revealed (and is not revealed) in order to further His work.
All this to keep us focused on the most important matters. Remember what President Nelson reiterated more recently, that “the gathering of Israel is the most important thing taking place on the earth today. Nothing else compares in magnitude, nothing else compares in importance, nothing else compares in majesty.” (And yes, he means it: nothing compares in importance to this – not even convincing them to stay away from GMO products, exercise more, or warning people about potential side-effects or unknown long-term effects of conventional treatments).
Harder questions to face. Fair enough, you say. So, maybe this simply isn’t part of the mission of Christ’s Church on earth today. Not yet, at least – not at this stage (anticipating a day when all truth comes together in one). And maybe you’re right that attempting to do so prematurely would complicate our ability to do exactly that.
So, if these matters are so external to the Church’s singular mission, why say anything about them at all? Why not stay a little more neutral, kind of like we do with politics, where before every election, the membership is reassured that “principles of truth may be found in many political parties.”
That’s a good question. Could not a similar approach be taken towards the many competing philosophies of health? I would think so. But instead of that, the Church has come out strongly in favor of conventional approaches – encouraging members to trust “competent medical practitioners.” They have also taken strong public stances against alternatives – adding official policy statements against “energy healing” that have become over-interpreted to condemn all such practitioners as a categorical threat to healing. (Especially after seeing such statements give license to other members in piling on natural medicine and venting about how evil and “inspired by Satan” energy healing is, I’ve written in this same venue to encourage people to appreciate meaningful diversity among such healers, many of whom are humble followers of Christ seeking to receive the spiritual “gift of healing” and with total commitment to the the Lord and His Church).
Precedent in our sacred tradition. While yes, Latter-day Saints seek to follow the living prophet first, above any other counsel in the past, it’s worth acknowledging the diversity of perspectives in these matters looking back. That is, it’s not hard to find in our own sacred cannon and history, encouragement towards natural healing approaches, alongside pointed critique towards mainstream established medicine of prior eras (which share strong resonances with mainstream health philosophies today) – from the New Testament woman who “had suffered many things of many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was nothing bettered, but rather grew worse,” to the Book of Mormon statement:
And there were some who died with fevers, which at some seasons of the year were very frequent in the land — but not so much so with fevers, because of the excellent qualities of the many plants and roots which God had prepared to remove the cause of diseases, to which men were subject by the nature of the climate.
Joseph Smith and Brigham Young both had strong reservations about conventional medicine of their day (which likewise prioritized giving people synthetic compounds with assurances of immediate positive benefits to ensue, without other adjustments to their lives). Consider this statement from the prophet’s records:
I preached to a large congregation at the stand, on the science and practice of medicine, desiring to persuade the Saints to trust in God when sick, and not in an arm of flesh, and live by faith and not by medicine, or poison; and when they were sick, and had called for the Elders to pray for them, and they were not healed, to use herbs and mild food.” (Joseph Smith – History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Sunday September 4, 1841,Vol. 4:414)
Joseph Smith later warned members about those physicians “going about the country pretending to cure you of all diseases, and you swallow what they give you like young robins, without knowing what it is. I wonder you don’t die, taking their nostrums!”
As you see in the notes, the Prophet himself practiced this in his own healing. In a detailed historical summary, John Heinerman has noted that “Throughout his entire life, the Prophet [Joseph] endorsed ONLY men of botanical medicine” and “surrounded himself with the very best herbalists of his day; he made them his intimate acquaintances”– adding that Levi Richards was appointed “surgeon-general of the Nauvoo Legion” simply because he “prescribed no calomel” (recall that calomel-induced mercury poisoning is what killed the prophet’s older brother Alvin, administered with assurances it would cure his condition).
It would be a joy to many of us if the health-ideological diversity of committed disciples (both past and present) were more acknowledged by leaders today. That would surely create an environment encouraging the pursuit of truth “wherever it comes from,” rather than adding more pressure to accept the prevailing approaches to healing around us.
One woman told me recently about how much pressure she had received from fellow members and leaders to get vaccinated, with strong insinuations that failing to do so was a failure in having “faith in the Prophet.” In some wards, there are constant reminders in bulletins and from the pulpit that those unvaccinated needed to “mask-up” – and even calls to repentance to those who dissent. Needless to say, those harboring questions about any of these dominant medical and public health dictates have had some unique challenges navigating Church interactions of late. Rather than simply being seen as holding a different philosophy of health, the vaccine question has turned for many into a question of being “faithful” enough (or “loving” enough or “honest” enough in our lives).
Those are hard accusations to live with – even if we know they’re not true.
And it’s to these people I’m writing today. To those deeply troubled and trying to reconcile what they believe to be true in matters of health and faith. I’ve made the case for why it may be expedient that things unfold this way, and highlight a place where you can stand.
It’s true, some may read all the foregoing as simply elaborate rationalizations for not heeding strong prophetic counsel about COVID-19 vaccination, similar to excuses for people come up with on other challenging teachings. They might wonder, “how can you resist vaccination when the Prophet has been so clear?”
Respecting those for whom the questions are black and white, it’s simply not so clear for some of us. Nor have we been able to find peace about following this medical recommendation. So, what are we to do? Should this really become a new litmus test for who is faithful enough?
I would certainly hope not, because God doesn’t ask us to follow what we don’t have our own confirmation and peace about (especially when it comes to something clearly not “core” to our doctrine, like matters of sexuality and family are). Nor, however, does he want us to jettison all the amazing goodness and beauty in the Church if we happen to find ourselves disagreeing with a certain policy or position. To the critics, then, who might ask, “how can you continue to support an organization that disagrees with one of your convictions?”
This is how. And my explanation for how I’ve reconciled it.
Rather than seeking to justify disobedience, a disregard of prophetic counsel, or “cafeteria-style religion” my overriding intent is very much in the other direction: encouraging a continuation of trust in the sacred mission of the Church, even if (after serious prayer and consideration) you can’t get on board with the vaccine. For many of the people deciding against the vaccine, it’s painful not to be following the prophet’s counsel. Describing two other women in our neighborhood who have made this same decision, my wife said “these are the kind of women who took out their earrings during President Hinckley’s talk where he counseled against double-piercings.” As one person said on Facebook, “I won’t be getting it either and this has absolutely NOTHING to do with my faithfulness in following a Prophet of God.”
Even harder questions. So, even if you’ve been persuaded of the foregoing, you might still wonder: how can any of this really be okay? To have the prophet we love encouraging members in a direction that many of us find so concerning?
I’m not going to pretend this has been easy, but one day as I was contemplating this all, the experience in the Garden of Eden came to mind, specifically, the time where Adam and Eve had been given two conflicting commands – and not by accident.
Multiply and replenish the earth…and DON’T eat the fruit of that tree that would get you there!
How could a God of order, and clarity, and light, and love possibly put them in such a dilemma?
Maybe because He’s not as worried as we are about us squirming and struggling – and facing challenging questions. Maybe because He knows that’s how we’ll grow the most….and precisely what we need to expand our minds and hearts.
I know I’ve learned a lot as I’ve been sitting with this – especially about how to seek revelation and hear Him for myself, as President Nelson has been pleading with us to do. I’ve also thought a lot about how different it is to “hold questions humbly” – even and especially serious ones, compared with holding them angrily, bitterly, and starting to cast aspersions at the other side.
We’ve unfortunately seen plenty of that in recent months. Just look at the comment section of the Desert News on any vaccine article, and you’ll see the bickering, the ugliness, the dismissiveness, the attacks.
There is another way. I’ve written about the unique challenges of pursuing that elsewhere (Is Vaccine Dialogue Even Possible?). Moving this direction might not be as dramatic, and exciting, and get as many emoji’s on Facebook. But you sure can sleep better at night.
Core to healthy dialogue is granting that however passionate any of us might feel, those who disagree with you or me do so because they’ve concluded that is the right way to go. They’ve thought about it. They’ve examined. And they’ve reached a different conclusion.
Is that okay? (A challenging question for folks on both sides of this!)
To some, this whole piece may be hard to hear – at least without judging me as being ignorant, selfish, or reckless even in writing this. (I imagine some might question the wisdom of saying anything that might reassure those with vaccine concerns that they have space to hold them. Shouldn’t we keep the pressure on? No. The pressure has been incredible, and relentless. Any more borders on coercion).
As I emphasized recently, vaccine skeptics are becoming the most persecuted
minority in America – and responsible (in the prevailing view of health), for setting at risk the entire collective health of the country.
These are serious concerns, and I don’t begrudge brothers and sisters who hold them sincerely. I would simply ask you to respect space for people to see and feel differently than you.
All this being said, let me be clear: When the prophets of the Latter-days give counsel, our first, sacred obligation is to consider it humbly, prayerfully, and seriously. That’s what I hope everyone will do, about anything our presiding leaders say.
If after that, however, you cannot find peace to move forward…don’t bolt! Don’t run away from us. There may be reasons the Lord has led the prophets to speak as they have, and act as they do – reasons that go beyond our understanding.
With humility and love, I’ve tried to articulate what some of those may be in this case. Certainly, these won’t be compelling to those who have been able to embrace prophetic counsel about vaccinations fully. To them, they rightly wonder whether the ideal shouldn’t still be attempting to embrace that counsel fully, and with our hearts.
I agree that’s the ideal – and I do aspire to that like all Latter-day Saints. I’m simply saying here that if you can’t, maybe there’s a reason for the Church taking a different direction than your own conscience.
And maybe that’s okay.
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 read more, visit: http://unthinkable.cc
 “Wednesday, June 14 (1837). I continued to grow worse and worse until my sufferings were excruciating, and although in the midst of it all I felt to rejoice in the salvation of Israel’s God, yet I found it expedient to call to my assistance those means which a kind Providence had provided for the restoration of the sick, in connection with the ordinances; and Dr. Levi Richards, at my request, administered to me herbs and mild food, and nursed me with all tenderness and attention; and my heavenly Father blessed his administrations to the easing and comforting of my system, for I began to mend in a short time, and in a few days I was able to resume my usual labors.” (DHC 2:493)
I’ve heard from several concerned about my writing this. I want to be clear this has not been an easy thing to write, and that my wife and I have grappled over the question in our own family – and have sought to be prayerful and humble. I also waited six months after President Nelson’s counsel on purpose, so I wouldn’t be actively influencing anyone considering his direction. By this point, those who have received the vaccination have done so – and those who have not, are still hesitant. I have not shared this on social media, and don’t plan to – hoping, instead, that it finds its way to the people in distress over their faith, and in a way that is reassuring that they can still very much be a part of us! In response to push-back and concern raised, I would also add this:
Can disciples of Christ disagree about the best philosophy of health and healing, while still being united in their loved of the gospel and our living prophets? It was people concluding no – I can’t be a part of this Church anymore if I disagree with the prophet’s counsel on vaccination – that prompted me to finally publish this piece. To those who have reached out with concerns, I want to say I hear your frustration and worries. I really do. And I’m glad you trusted me to hear it too.
I’m well aware of how delicate a conversation this is – and how easily my own suggestions may be taken as another Mormon Building Bridges-style “let’s appreciate all the ways we know better than the prophet.” That was not my intent. I wanted to reassure fellow brothers and sisters to KEEP trusting the prophet and this beautiful Church, even IF they grappled with their presiding direction on vaccination – encouraging them to consider why God may have inspired a course of action they may feel personally uncomfortable with. It felt like the right thing to do – and still does.
I don’t believe what many of you do about the medical orthodoxy of our day. If you had experienced what I had in my life, you might feel similar reservations. Thank you for trying to respect the space for me and others to follow our conscience in these matters, as we seek to do for you too.
I especially appreciated this evaluation from a professor I greatly respect at BYU, especially his last sentence: “Bravo. This is the way such problems must be pondered. It may be that the Church had no choice but to line up with the mainstream on this one, or spend all of its social capital on one issue.“