How often do you get a letter from the LDS First Presidency in your inbox? I got one last week, and I imagine many readers did as well. As far as I can tell, every LDS person whose email address is in the LDS system got a copy. It tells the reader that the various Covid vaccines (at least the ones approved for use in the United States) are “safe and effective” and that “we urge the use of face masks in public meetings whenever social distancing is not possible.” They came right out and said this: “[W]e urge individuals to be vaccinated.” The letter is signed “The First Presidency” and their three names follow thereafter. Let’s talk about the letter and how it being received.

First, so everyone is on the same page, let’s post the letter itself.

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

Now let’s talk about it.

It’s only two or three months late. I think the letter says the right things. These things could and should have been said two or three months ago. Even four or five months ago. Perhaps the latest surge in Covid cases, fueled by the Delta variant, spurred them to action. They’re being reactive when they should proactive. But at least the letter says the right things.

Yes, it’s telling everyone to wear masks in Sacrament Meeting. The letter says “we urge the use of face masks in public meetings whenever social distancing is not possible.” That almost certainly includes sacrament meetings, which are open to anyone who wants to attend and which are generally very well attended, precluding social distancing. The letter is headed by an unmistakable photo of an LDS family putting on masks in the foyer of an LDS chapel as they prepare to enter. I posted the photo as the image at the head of this post. In light of the photo, I can’t understand why, according to social media posts anyone can read, most local leaders in Utah and Idaho who referenced the FP letter (some did not) still seem to regard face masks in Sacrament Meeting as optional and stated so over the pulpit. Some go so far as to say something like “it’s okay to wear face masks if you want to.” As if, in the face of a FP letter saying we should wear face masks in sacrament meetings, I need some dumbsh*t bishopric counselor to tell me it’s okay to do so.

Meanwhile, out in the hinterland … It seems local leadership outside the U&I corridor was much more responsive to the letter, generally reading it over the pulpit and telling the membership that masks are more or less required in Sacrament meetings for the moment. So there seems to be some sort of split between local leadership in the Mormon Corridor and leadership outside it. Check in with your own experience and location. Let me ask: Is your confidence in your local leadership going up or going down at the moment? You can guess which way my bishopric barometer is pointing.

A refreshingly secular tone to the letter. I didn’t notice it the first time through, but go read the letter again. It doesn’t attribute the challenges of Covid to “the adversary.” It doesn’t call the vaccines a divine blessing. Surprisingly, from a First Presidency that seems to call every announcement a revelation, there is no hint of calling this a revelation or even inspired. It’s just a straightforward letter stating good advice and telling the membership to follow that obvious good advice. It didn’t invite members to pray about it and do what’s right. It told members what’s right, and told them to do what’s right.

What’s next? Let’s be honest: August and September are going to be very tough months, as the Delta variant surges and as kids, those little walking superspreaders, go back to school and then go home every day and mingle. The Delta variant is so contagious that it’s possible that over the next couple of months pretty much everyone in the US is going to get it, with those who are vaccinated generally getting milder cases and those not vaccinated at considerably higher risk of getting a severe case or dying. That might actually be better than some later Epsilon or Zeta variant that is highly contagious but also causes more acute symptoms and with a higher death rate.

Best wishes to all. Blogging is a strange animal. On the one hand, when you hit “post” you are publishing to all the world. Anyone with access to the internet can conceivably read your post. On the other hand, it’s a one-on-one experience of reader and author. I write, you read, and we’re sort of in a virtual personal conversation. I try to keep that in mind, particularly in posts like this. I hope you and your family are vaccinated. I hope no one in your family gets a serious case or, if they do, that they pull through. If you have someone in your family who is a Covid long-hauler, as they say, I hope they get better over time. These are tough times (and I haven’t even mentioned heat waves and forest fires and melting permafrost and Afghanistan and unemployment and social unrest and so forth). Tough times and it looks like it’s going to get tougher. May you and your family stay well. God strengthen and comfort each of us in the coming time of troubles.