In 2020, W&T featured a variety of posts discussing the early LDS response to the pandemic (suspending meetings; closing temples; returning missionaries to their home countries) and the continuing response through the summer. Then the election heated up and the post-election Trump campaign of chaos and disinformation descended upon us. Politics displaced some of the usual blogging topics. But as of January 20th, sane adults are back in charge of the country, so I can get back to Mormon-ish posts. Let’s start with where the Church is at in terms of its ongoing Covid response. Let’s look at some recent Newsroom posts to see what’s new.
April 2021 General Conference Will Be Virtual Only. No surprise here. From the post, quoting an earlier First Presidency statement: “As a worldwide organization, we have an obligation to be good citizens and to act with caution as it relates to such a unique setting as general conference, which traditionally brings thousands of visitors to Salt Lake City from around the globe.”
The First Presidency and Apostles Over Age 70 Receive the COVID-19 Vaccine. I thought that would be all of the apostles, but no. “Eight senior leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints received the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine Tuesday morning in Salt Lake City.” The eight were the First Presidency (Nelson, Oaks, Eyring) and five apostles (Ballard, Holland, Uchtdorf, Cook, Christofferson). The article includes links and lengthy quotes highlighting the pro-vaccine position of the Church. “As appropriate opportunities become available, the Church urges its members, employees and missionaries to be good global citizens and help quell the pandemic by safeguarding themselves and others through immunization.”
Here’s How the Church Is Reopening. From the article: “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is following the lead of governments and healthcare professionals around the world as it considers a measured return to normal operating procedures disrupted by COVID-19.” A detailed list, with some bullet points at the end telling members to wear face masks, practice social distancing, and wash hands a lot. In view of the current spike in Covid cases in the US and the mismanaged Trump rollout of the initial vaccine doses, I think they’re pushing this “reopening” harder than they should.
“Normal operating procedures” for picking up take out at a restaurant or a five- or ten-minute visit to a retail establishment are probably warranted and will keep some small businesses afloat. But sitting in a chapel for an hour with bad ventilation and singing, surrounded by members in the habit of coming to church even when they’re sick — that’s not a normal operating procedure I want to return to yet. Or sitting in a temple room for 90 minutes with an officiating usher telling me where to sit, with no practical option to exit if the old guy two seats over is coughing his lungs out every two minutes — nope, not interested. All the talk the last ten or fifteen years has been about losing the youngest LDS cohort to inactivity or disaffiliation because of historical and cultural issues. As Covid concerns linger and may well continue even with substantial distribution and administration of the vaccines, we may start talking about losing the oldest LDS cohort because of health risks. I imagine temple operations and attendance could be the hardest hit if this materializes.
Nine Latter-day Saints Are Serving in the 117th US Congress. They are all Republicans, but range all across the Republican spectrum, from wise counselor (see Mitt Romney’s bold speech opposing those who objected to the electoral college results) to complete idiot (likening Donald Trump to Captain Moroni). Which means LDS Republicans are about the same as the larger set of all Republicans, I suppose. I was pleased that, of the 147 Republicans who voted objections to the Electoral College votes on January 6, 2021, no Utah senators and only two of four Utah representatives voted objections. The LDS senator and representative from Idaho did not vote an objection. The LDS representative from Arizona did object.
Conclusions. Readers might weigh in on what’s happening to their local LDS meetings and activities. A lot depends on what measures local and state authorities have put in place. But the initial optimism that followed the public release of several vaccines is now giving way to the suspicion that we might be dealing with serious Covid concerns for years and years. Even if the federal coordination of vaccine distribution and administration gets better under the Biden administration, emerging new strains of the Covid-19 virus might compromise the effectiveness of the various vaccines. Immunity acquired by those who had a case of Covid-19 might fade after a few months or might not be effective against a new and different strain. Some people won’t get the vaccine, either because of legitimate health concerns (pregnant women, nursing mothers, immuno-compromised persons) or because of anti-vax convictions.
So maybe we won’t be moving slowly but surely back to LDS “normal operating procedures.” Maybe there will be significant long-term changes to LDS practices and procedures. None of the posts at LDS.org and the Newsroom raise that possibility or discuss what those long-term changes might be. NFL football is a useful barometer of where we’re at in terms of large events and smaller meetings. There were 17,000 fans in attendance at the AFC championship games two days ago at Kansas City and about 8500 at the NFC championship game at Green Bay. That was two days ago, at outdoor venues. There will be 22,000 fans allowed at the upcoming Super Bowl. That’s between ten and maybe thirty percent of seating capacity. Team travel and team meetings are still limited and curtailed compared to pre-Covid practices. The annual NFL Scouting Combine, which typically brings hundreds of college athletes to a central location for a week of drills, medical exams, and interviews in early March, has been more or less cancelled for 2021. There is no indication NFL football — or other professional sports — will get back to normal operating procedures or normal fan attendance any time soon. The same is likely going to be the case for churches. I think we’re in for a long haul on this one.