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  • Writer's pictureJacob Hansen

Blind Obedience? The Church's Recent Urgings On Covid 19.

The churches recent release of a statement urging members to get vaccinated has been quite controversial in today's polarized social and political landscape.

Dear Brothers and Sisters:

We find ourselves fighting a war against the ravages of COVID-19 and its variants, an unrelenting pandemic. We want to do all we can to limit the spread of these viruses. We know that protection from the diseases they cause can only be achieved by immunizing a very high percentage of the population.

To limit exposure to these viruses, we urge the use of face masks in public meetings whenever social distancing is not possible. To provide personal protection from such severe infections, we urge individuals to be vaccinated. Available vaccines have proven to be both safe and effective.

We can win this war if everyone will follow the wise and thoughtful recommendations of medical experts and government leaders. Please know of our sincere love and great concern for all of God’s children.

The First Presidency

Russell M. Nelson

Dallin H. Oaks

Henry B. Eyring Some might be surprised to find that I actually support them making this statement even if I have serious issues with certain aspects of it. The reality is that there are many people in the church who are at significant risk from Covid and who have been taking in false information about the vaccines and are dying because of it. The first presidency has likely been getting letters from family members of people who are in deep grief having unnecessarily lost a loved one due to bad information. That is also why I personally STRONGLY urge anyone at significant risk from Covid to get vaccinated. With that said I think, the letter had much irresponsible and vague language and implied things that it shouldn't have. It seemed to imply that the "war" with Covid could be won. I have no idea what "winning the war" looks like and they don't say either. There is no good reason to think Covid will ever go away, every unvaccinated person will eventually get Covid. This makes masking totally irrelevant. Wearing a mask might delay someone from getting Covid today, but if a person is unvaccinated they are going to get it eventually. It might make you feel better but you will not stop the spread, you might just slow it a little bit. And considering this is one of the most contagious viruses in world history you won't be slowing it very much.

Furthermore, wearing masks is not going to convince the unvaccinated to get vaccinated, instead it will likely further agitate them into a state where they will go deeper into conspiracy theories. A vaccinated person is at essentially no risk from covid anymore and masking a vaccinated person does nothing but continue to divide people and indulge both sides in irrationality. The church should not participate in this. Lastly the letter seems to imply that we should simply go along with what government officials and experts say. But which government officials? Which experts? What recommendations are actually "thoughtful and wise"? What if they don't agree. Ultimately, that is the very thing being disputed so the letter does not provide much guidance.

In sum, I have been very vocal to my family and friends who are at risk and unvaccinated to get vaccinated. So I can appreciate the statement encouraging vaccinations and believe it will save lives. However, I cannot support any implications that we are to blindly follow state officials or that masks, in a practical sense, do anything more than create resentment and pander to irrational fears.

Don't be blind

The recent statement from the first presidency also has caused many faithful Latter Day Saints their first opportunity to confront a significant disagreement with the brethren. This can be distressing but please know this is nothing new or to be unexpected. We don't believe in prophetic infallibility and though confronting that fact in a real way can be challenging it ultimately must be confronted and reconciled in order for one to grow spiritually. Its ok to disagree with the brethren. Its allowed. The question is not if its allowed the question is if your reasons for disagreement are legitimate. Sadly, for some, instead of reconciling the fact they disagree they just ignore their own feelings and reason and do whatever the brethren say. This is blind obedience based on the spirit of conformity (worry about what others will think if they disagree) rather than the spirit of Truth. Blind obedience is not what our church teaches.

“We have heard men who hold the priesthood remark that they would do anything they were told to do by those who preside over them — even if they knew it was wrong. But such obedience as this is worse than folly to us. It is slavery in the extreme. The man who would thus willingly degrade himself should not claim a rank among intelligent beings until he turns from his folly. A man of God would despise this idea. Others, in the extreme exercise of their almighty authority have taught that such obedience was necessary, and that no matter what the Saints were told to do by their presidents, they should do it without any questions. When Elders of Israel will so far indulge in these extreme notions of obedience as to teach them to the people, it is generally because they have it in their hearts to do wrong themselves.” — Joseph Smith, Jr. in the Millennial Star, volume 14, number 38, pages 593-595.*

"Concerning the question of blind obedience. Not a man in this Church, since the Prophet Joseph Smith down to the present day, has ever asked any man to do as he was told blindly. No Prophet of God, no Apostle, no President of a Stake, no Bishop, who has had the spirit of his office and calling resting upon him, has ever asked a soul to do anything that they might not know was right and the proper thing to do. We do not ask you to do anything that you may not know it is your duty to do, or that you may not know will be a blessing for you to do. If we give you counsel, we do not ask you to obey that counsel without you know that it is right to do so. But how shall we know that it is right? By getting the Spirit of God in our hearts, by which our minds may be opened and enlightened, that we may know the doctrine for ourselves, and be able to divide truth from error, light from darkness and good from evil."- Joseph F Smith 1892.

" How do we know that the leaders of this people teach the truth? By revelation. What proved this work true to you? Was it not the spirit of revelation that rested upon you? . . . Let all persons be fervent in prayer, until they know the things of God for themselves and become certain that they are walking in the path that leads to everlasting life....what a pity it would be if we were led by one man to utter destruction! Are you afraid of this? I am more afraid that this people have so much confidence in their leaders that they will not inquire for themselves of God whether they are led by Him. I am fearful they settle down in a state of blind self-security, trusting their eternal destiny in the hands of their leaders with a reckless confidence that in itself would thwart the purposes of God in their salvation, and weaken that influence they could give to their leaders, did they know for themselves, by the revelations of Jesus, that they are led in the right way. Let every man and woman know, by the whispering of the Spirit of God to themselves, whether their leaders are walking in the path the Lord dictates, or not. This has been my exhortation continually." - Brigham Young.

"When a prophet speaketh in the name of the Lord, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the Lord hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously" - Duet: 18:22

"And now, if there are faults they are the mistakes of men; wherefore, condemn not the things of God, that ye may be found spotless at the judgment-seat of Christ." - Title Page Book of Mormon.

"And now, if I do err, even did they err of old; not that I would excuse myself because of other men, but because of the weakness which is in me, according to the flesh, I would excuse myself."- 1 Nephi 19:6

"A prophet is only a prophet when he is acting as such"- Joseph Smith.

"We do not believe in the infallibility of man. When God reveals anything it is truth, and truth is infallible. No President of the Church has claimed infallibility."- Charles Penrose (1912 Improvement Era)

Following the Prophet with eyes wide open.

But aren't we supposed to "Follow the Prophet"? Sure, but not blindly. So what does that mean? Following someone blindly means you follow them even if your reason and the spirit tell you otherwise. But beware! The spirit of conformity and a willingness to please man more than God is strong and many will claim "the spirit" is telling them to follow the brethren when what they are really following is their fear of being judged for not going along with the crowd. The spirit of God is the spirit of truth. You are not expected to check your brain at the door. Instead listen carefully to the reasons given and consider them with both your mind and heart. Recognize that prophets (while still fallible) may see something you don't. Pray about it and seek the spirit of God, the spirit of truth rather than spirit of conformity. However, if you still disagree just accept the fact that you can disagree with something a church leader has counselled or with a particular policy of the church while still sustaining the calling of a church leader.

I fully believe in granting special (though not blind) trust in our church leaders. I fully believe they are inspired by God. I also do not believe they are perfect or that I am expected to follow them blindly. So how do we "follow the prophet" without being blind sheep? That is a question you will need to sort out. However, I would like to share what I have learned in exploring this question. I believe a close examination of the principles that under-gird the law of witnesses can show us the way. This way of viewing things has been critical to my testimony as I have confronted many aspects and instances of prophetic fallibility. I call it the collective witness model.

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1 Comment

William Patrick
William Patrick
Aug 14, 2023

Jacob, now that we see the vaccine did not work as it was planned, and for many people it caused health complications. Do think the leadership should offer an apology?

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