On Friday night, as Donald Trump was pardoning Roger Stone and others were executing their various Friday evening news dumps, the Utah Area Presidency1For those unfamiliar with our religion, the Church divides its administration into several “areas,” one of which constitutes the State of Utah alone of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints sent a letter to Utah-based members suggesting that they follow the advice of local authorities and wear a mask in public areas.
This is astounding and embarrassing to LDS Church members for reasons too numerous to count. But let’s try anyway:
1) Faith without works is dead: This is supposedly one of the central tenets that separates the LDS faith from the mass of Christianity. We are repeatedly told that we must act consistent with our faith in order to obtain blessings. How many LDS people participated in the worldwide fasts President Russell M. Nelson ordered, and are now carrying on like nothing happened with nearly 150,000 dead and rising daily? And if you think that is the best God can do, you probably need to start at the beginning and re-check your faith anyway.
2) We agree in being subject to civil authority: The 12th Article of Faith establishes that LDS church members will defer to civil authority. These articles have been adopted as scripture. It is embarrassing that self-proclaimed Christians must be directed by church leadership to follow common-sense health guidelines.
3) We need not be commanded in all things: It is better to do the right thing under our own command than be directed to do so. LDS Church members learn this from the age of three. And yet we still must be commanded in what is literally the simplest of acts.
4) The Church is based in service: The mask doesn’t protect you. It isn’t airtight. It protects others by limiting the droplets and aerosols you expel. This lowers the risk of disease and, in cases where the disease does spread, may limit the viral load so its symptoms are weaker. But this means the mask-wearer is unprotected if you aren’t wearing a mask. Latter-Day Saints are supposed to combat such ironies, not perpetuate them.
By the way, this is also exactly how the Priesthood is supposed to work. It is supposed to be used to benefit others. Or so LDS Church members claim, until they go to the grocery store and everybody is on their own.
5) Bear ye one another’s burdens: “I” can’t wear a mask because “I” have freedom. “I” can’t wear a mask because “I” don’t get enough oxygen. “I” won’t wear a mask because “I” am an individual. There’s enough “I”s in these arguments to make an optometrist wealthy. All selfishness. All me-oriented. All barely-concealed arrogance.
6) If you have done it unto the least of my brethren: COVID-19 only kills the weak, sick, and afflicted. Well, yes, lucky you. Try not to give it to them, you sociopath.
7) Pro…Life?: Ahahahahahaha, permit a hearty chuckle at this one, as hypocrisy on this point has been a staple of “pro-life” adherents for far longer than this pandemic, and will long survive whatever vaccine finally emerges. Suffice it to say that those rejecting masks have long signaled that their adherence to “life” is a political Trojan Horse housing terrifyingly nefarious intentions.
8) Proclaim what gospel?: The world has the pandemic largely under control. Europe is returning to normal. Taiwan has had six deaths and is playing baseball with fans. South Korea may hit 300 deaths total this week. And we’re supposed to go out and proclaim that the gospel is “throw-up-your-hands, the socialists can’t make me wear a mask so I guess people gotta die?” This is ludicrous. It staggers belief. Literally. Trust me when I say this.
Even before the pandemic started, our family made a conscious decision to shut out what we had identified as largely noise, and focus on our own spiritual well-being. Our fervor has only intensified during the pandemic. And I would be happy to leave it there, except that the thing rotten in the State of Denmark isn’t personal here—people are going to die because basic truths are going unfollowed. As with many things, this should matter more than it seems to.
And it isn’t the sort of thing that gets cleaned up with a letter, as welcome as that letter was. There will have to be a reckoning, certainly not from me, and perhaps not now, but soon, and in ways that make me wonder whether I will want to be around to see it.