Follow the Frickin’ Prophet…

Jeez…

J.A. Carter-Winward
Recovering Mormon

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Snagged from a local TV? news? station. IDK. I did a Google Image search… forthcoming and hysterical. “Well, hi there, Dummies. The world sees you.”

I’m proud to call fellow former-Mormon and writer, Matt Ray, a friend, even though we know each other only via the ether. His article (originally posted here on Medium) was accepted in the special editorial in the Salt Lake Tribune. The article (true to SLTrib’s engaging-title generator) is called “Members of LDS Church should follow their prophet’s advice on vaccines.”

But don’t let the title fool you. It’s a great read and it inspired me to write my own take on these members of the LDS Church, who have taken it upon themselves to interpret the word of God by cutting out the middleman, President Russel M. Nelson, their prophet.

“WE BELIEVE…”

No, I’m not going to quote the 12th Article of Faith, which states that members of the LDS Church believe in being subject to the rule and law of the land. I’m going to quote a portion of “Article 13”:

“We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men;…”

In ‘doing good to all men’ [and all human beings], this article specifically addresses members of the LDS Church and Church doctrine and its consistent and historical dedication to the following values, but (much like members themselves), I’m going to hyper-focus on just three of them that serve as factually *convenient arguments for me. However, unlike many members, these points aren’t mutually exclusive, nor do they contradict anything else I believe in.

The three values I’d like to explore are stewardship, being Christ-like, and in the concept of free agency, or in current Church vernacular, agency.

“COME FOLLOW ME…”

Becoming like the idealized version of Jesus Christ involves having faith, hope, behaving with charity and love, being virtuous, having patience and humility.

In “2 Peter,” (New Testament, Bible) this scripture states the actual steps involved in striving to become like Christ:

“According as his divine power hath
give unto us all things that pertain unto life
and godliness, through the knowledge of
him that hath called us to glory
and virtue: … Add to your faith virtue;
and to virtue knowledge;
and to knowledge temperance;
and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness;
and to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly
kindness charity. For if these things be in
you, and abound, they make you that ye
shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in
the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ
.”

— 2 Peter 1: 3–7 (bolded for “durka-dur” purposes)

I gotta say, these verses are not only straightforward, the spirit of them is morally unassailable. This is a recipe for “godliness,” but it’s also a recipe for living a good and moral life. Not necessarily a religious life, but a moral one.

That said, I’m completely astonished as I’ve learned about large swathes of the LDS population who continue to disregard — in the face of a continuing worldwide health crisis — all evidence of said health crisis by refusing to get vaccinated and a refusal to wear masks in church, among other places.

Many continue to cling the *specific words and language used by President Russel M. Nelson, prophet, seer, and revelator of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, to justify their behavior, despite church-wide mandates.

As the world robustly continues towards the beginning of a third year under the pall of COVID-19, along with the innumerable and as-yet-unknown long-term implications of it, the word these Latter-Day Saints cling to?

“Urge.”

Screenshot courtesy of Statista.com

“AS I HAVE LOVED YOU…”

If you note the link to statista.com, the United States leads the world in “total infections,” “active infections,” and “deaths.” While the US also leads in recoveries, that’s proportionate to active cases. But also notable is the evidence that does more than urge or suggest, it outright confirms that no one fully recovers from COVID, not 100%, and study after study bears this out.

Healthline: “Some hospitals see surge of rare COVID-19-complications that affect children.”

Alzheimer’s Association: “COVID-19 Associated with Long-Term Cognitive Dysfunction, Acceleration of Alzheimer’s Symptoms.”

Harvard Health: “The hidden long-term cognitive effects of COVID-19.”

I’ll provide some context for this next link, below, and quote directly from the study’s findings.

Frontiers in Neurology: “Cognitive Impairment After COVID-19 — A Review on Objective Test Data.”

“Results: Twelve articles met all inclusion criteria. Total patient sample was <1,000. All studies on global cognitive function found impairment, ranging from 15 to 80% of the sampled patients. Seven studies on attention and executive functions reported impairment, with varying results depending on sub-domain and different tests. Three out of four studies reported memory difficulties, with two studies reporting short-term memory deficits. Although results indicate possible language impairment, only one study used domain-specific language tasks. Two out of four studies on visuospatial function did not report any impairment.

“Conclusion: Patients with recent SARS-CoV-2 infection appear to experience global cognitive impairment, impairment in memory, attention and executive function, and in particular verbal fluency. Based on the current results, we recommend clinicians to evaluate the need for cognitive assessment of patients with a recent COVID-19 infection, regardless of the severity of the disease, treatment methods and length of ICU stay. We need studies with larger sample and control group.” — Rania Daroische1, Mathilde S. Hemminghyth, Thomas H. Eilertsen, Monica H. Breitve, and Luiza J. Chwiszczuk

University of Minnesota, Center for Infection Disease Research and Policy Studies: “COVID tied to persistent cognitive deficits in seniors.”

I suppose I could go on.

My Google search, “Are there long-term cognitive impacts after recovering from COVID?”, netted these results, so I’ll let a screen capture do the talking:

Images courtesy of my magical ability to Google and use the Snip Tool

In other words, yes. Yes there are.

IF ANY LACK WISDOM, LET HIM ASK MR. WEBSTER (or GOD, whatever…)

Matt went into some detail about the word “urge” (I don’t blame him, I do the same thing), quoting Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, but his brother waved the word “urge,” and its many implications away, stating, “He [President Nelson] said we could get it if we wanted to, but it was up to us whether we got the vaccine or not.”

This is oftentimes where we stumble when speaking with members of the Church. One man’s urge is another man’s suggestion.

But Mr. Ray’s brother isn’t alone. From a local perspective, there are members of the LDS Church who agree with the above inference, claiming they have a choice and they’re exercising their agency. On the other hand, both my husband and I have believing family members, all local, who have all been diligent in vaccinations, mask-wearing, and following the advice of people who know more than they do.

This brings me to the LDS Church and its members and their consistent and historical dedication to the final principle as taken from the 13th Article of Faith, and as interpreted by Church doctrine.

Agency.

An important cornerstone of LDS doctrine, faithful members must constantly, wisely, balance their agency with obedience and faith. This cornerstone principle is at the heart of living the Gospel of Jesus Christ and when making any decision, whether major or minor, members are urged (yes, I know) to seek guidance from church leaders, the scriptures, and the Lord. From LDS.org, agency is “The ability and privilege God gives people to choose and to act for themselves.”

It also lists these words as references: “account, accountable, accountability; free, freedom.”

For those members who insist President Nelson is a “false prophet,” I’d like them to consider whether they are allowing their actions to dictate their value systems, or rather, allowing their actions to justify their values and beliefs.

In acting for themselves, through disobedience, members are acting against the wellbeing of others. I don’t have time to list the many ways hurting other people is a spiritual, not to mention, actual, moral, and legal no-no.

An example (often reiterated to me growing up) of people justifying their behaviors when they conflicted with their values was when they rationalized wrongdoing through a lack of humility in the face of things unknown to them. Hubris and pride — what sins have plagued humankind more?

While faith is considered to be a belief in something that is not seen, but is nevertheless true (based on faith, obviously), what happens when faith collides with fact?

I think of examples involving the Word of Wisdom, once seen as a “strongly urged principle,” by church leaders for the health and safety of our earthly temples, but now the “Word of Wisdom” is part of a strict set of principles that are not negotiable. It’s now described as a “Law of Health,” according to an article in the New Era.

We must assume that avoiding coffee, tea, alcohol, and tobacco products — things from the 19th century that have proved to be, more or less, somewhat good health advice — are not up for discussion with these dissenting members who rabidly refuse to help prevent more COVID-19 devastation.

We must assume these members had their children vaccinated against polio and rubella. I wonder if President Nelson has ever “urged” members of the church to get their flu shots. Probably not, because that really is a personal choice, one that affects the individual and their family.

But what we clearly cannot assume is that these members understand that, along with their agency and choices, they also must accept the consequences and be accountable for these choices, specifically in their refusal to obey the living Prophet by behaving as stewards for those who might be fatally harmed by this virus.

This is my Google-image search. OMG… laughing so hard right now…and down the search a bit, President Nelson weighs in, using the word ‘mob,’ so it’s kinda… “yikes” for these…um… rebellious souls?

COME UNTO ME

Or, so the Savior says.

Here’s the thing, kids. Church leaders ask members to have explicit faith in church doctrine, which categorically commands, not “urges” members, to support their leaders — specifically the Prophet — and what they impart to members in their capacity as ordained-by-God leaders. From LDS.org:

“President Ezra Taft Benson (1899–1994) taught that “God knows all things, the end from the beginning, and no man becomes president of the church of Jesus Christ by accident, or remains there by chance, or is called home by happenstance” (“Jesus Christ — Gifts and Expectations,” New Era, May 1975, 16–17).

I’m not entirely sure what part of that needs elaboration or is unclear.

The only elaboration here is the lengths to which these Church members are going to remain a communal and societal risk, despite the words of their ordained leaders, despite the ‘laws of the land,’ despite medical expertise, and despite common sense.

And while many will continue to comb over President Nelson’s words looking for justification for their lack of brotherly kindness, knowledge, and stewardship over and for those in need, it’s time for LDS Church leaders to take the next step, behave as stewards, be Christ-like, and remind members that while getting vaccinated is indeed a personal choice, the immorality of that choice must call into question their faith and standing as members of the Church.

Whether a strong urge or an outright commandment, the issues surrounding the pandemic isn’t just about our own earthly temples, but about the stewardship of, and for, those less able to fend off the infection. Here’s a story that might sound familiar.

There was once a beloved teacher who reprimanded the people gathered around him. He said: “I was hungry, and you gave me no meat. I was thirsty and you gave me no drink. I was a stranger, and you did not take me in. Naked, you refused to cloth me. Sick, and in prison, and you did not visit or help me.”

When the crowd denied any wrongdoing, insisting none present had ever refused him, their beloved teacher, anything, he replied:

“Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” (Matt. 25: 37–40 JST)

I don’t know if there’s a more chilling biblical passage to be found. Loosely translated:

If you hurt someone weaker than you, if you don’t care for your fellow human beings, uh, we’re gonna have a problem come Judgment Day, you and Me.

So, once again, we must assume that this Bible verse had indeed been ‘translated correctly.’

Maybe we need to dumb it down even more and say, “Are you really going to be the douchebag who gives Heavenly Father COVID?”

As for me, it seems only just and fair that these community members should be the ones mandated to stay home, remain sequestered and quarantined in isolation instead of being allowed to roam around freely like airborne chlamydia. If they really believe the Lord will provide, then they’d be correct.

Behold the miracle of Amazon and Instacart.

Now. I hope we’re all a little clearer about the word “urge.”

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J.A. Carter-Winward
Recovering Mormon

J.A. Carter-Winward, an award-winning poet & novelist. Author site, https://www.jacarterwinward.com/ , blog: https://writeinblood.com/ Facebook and Youtube