Monique Allen, a mother of an asthmatic child, has been struggling to explain to her daughter why members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints do not wear masks after more than a decade of attending church online. Allen claimed that she has taught her daughter to wear a mask because it is Christlike. But now Allen worries about her child feeling like an outsider.
Church leaders recently issued their strongest statement yet urging people to “limit the spread” by getting COVID-19 vaccines and wearing masks, but Allen said she fears it’s still not enough to convince the many families in her congregation who refuse to wear masks and have succumbed to anti-vaccine misinformation.
Despite consistent guidance from church leaders, members of the Mormon faith remain divided about vaccines and mask-wearing as the coronavirus strain spreads.
A recent survey found that about 65% of Latter-day Saints responded to the survey saying they are vaccine acceptors. This means they have received at least one dose, or plan to do so soon. According to the poll this summer by the Public Religion Research Institute (based in Washington) and Interfaith Youth Core, another 15% were unsure and 19% stated they wouldn’t get the vaccine.
According to the survey, 79% of white Catholics were willing to accept vaccines while 56% of white Evangelical Protestants accepted them.
Allen is a member of the church who lives in Wisconsin. He fears that fellow church members who refuse to be vaccinated will allow their political views to override their loyalty to a faith which largely values unity and obedience.
She shared the following message with her 8-year old daughter: “Of course Christ would wear a helmet, of course he would get immunized because he is a loving person.” These are the most basic things you can do to take care of people today.
Others are outraged that their leaders won’t let them make their own decisions about vaccines or masks. One of many faiths struggling to deal with the pandemic’s lingering consequences is the 16 million-member Utah-based religion.
According to Patrick Mason, an associate professor of religion at Utah State University, divisions regarding vaccinations and masking in the Latter Day Saint faith seem to be following political lines. Conservative members are more reluctant. Mason stated that the church’s division is indicative of a wider pattern in the United States regarding political ideologies influencing people’s religious beliefs.
Mason stated that Mormonism and Mormonism are viewed as one big family. Mason said, “The common perception is that church leaders talk and church members listen.” “This has sometimes shown how conditional loyalty can be.”
Latter-day Saint faith was among the first to respond the COVID-19 pandemic. In March 2020, church leaders suspended all church gatherings and closed temples. The church has also held three consecutive major conferences remotely since the pandemic began. Salt Lake City is home to approximately 100,000 people over the course of two days at this twice-yearly conference.
Many religious leaders have supported vaccinations, including Russell M. Nelson, Church President, who was a former heart surgeon and encouraged his followers to get the vaccine.
The Church-owned Brigham Young University, Utah, has asked students to report their vaccination status. However it does not require vaccinations. In classrooms, and in any indoor space where social distancing cannot be achieved, masks are required.
Missionaries not fully vaccinated will also be unable to accept assignments outside their country.
Top church officials stated that masks are not allowed at worship services. It is up to the bishops to promote local health guidelines.
They released a statement in mid-August urging members to get the vaccine.
There are many faith leaders in the U.S. that have different approaches to the issue of mask wearing and vaccinations. There has been a lot of vocal support to get vaccinated, even from the top leaders of conservative organizations like the Southern Baptist Convention or the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Some Catholic prelates and pastors of the evangelical faith have been harshly critical of the vaccination campaign and the masking mandates. Others have avoided addressing these issues out of fear of angering certain congregation members.
A AP-NORC August poll revealed that 51% of white evangelicals are at least somewhat certain that vaccines against variants will work. This compares with 73% of Catholics (73%), 66% of white mainline Protestants (Presbyterians and Lutherans), 65% of non-white Protestants (67%), and 67% for the religiously unaffiliated (67%).
Latter-day Saints accused anti-vaccine rhetoric supporters of apostasy. This term is often used to describe wickedness and when people abandon church principles.
Kristen Chevrier is co-founder of the Utah-based health freedom organization that advocates against vaccines. She said that the church shouldn’t be involved in health decisions and that she fears people are being discriminated against because of their vaccination status.
Chevrier is a member the faith and said that she does not believe anti-vaccine people are apostates. She pointed out the history of the church encouraging its members to seek their personal revelations with God.
Chevrier is based in American Fork about 30 miles (50 km) south of Salt Lake City.
Many members expressed concern on social media about the fact that not all regional church leaders are supportive of pro-mask or pro-vaccine sentiments. Some described their experience as “bishop Roulette.”
An Idaho church had unmasked bishops read the statement of top church officials to the congregation. However, only a few chose not to wear masks.
Marie Johnson, a member of the community, stated that she was disappointed by how many people in her area have ignored misinformation on social networks rather than following church leaders’ calls for vaccination.
Johnson stated that “you can find anything on the internet that supports any position you wish to take.” Johnson said, “Why would anyone choose a side that doesn’t include their faith leader?”
However, some churches began to resume masking practices before the leaders’ statements.
One church in Salt Lake City has encouraged vulnerable people to attend meetings online and sent out a message to congregation in early August, recommending everyone wear masks and get the vaccination.
Soren Simonsen of Salt Lake City said, “Our faith leaders are so consistent from the beginning.” It’s heartbreaking to hear people saying, “This is a hoax. It doesn’t matter, not affecting us,” when millions have already died.