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LDS Church won’t help California members avoid vaccine mandates

Latter-day Saint leaders in California have been told not to sign “religious exemption” forms for anti-vax members who want to dodge vaccination mandates by citing their faith.

The issue has arisen in that state because it now requires vaccines for health care workers, teachers and others.

Some members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have asked their lay bishops to support their applications to receive religious waivers from their employers.

“No church official can sign any kind of document supporting the notion that church doctrine/teaching is opposed to vaccination or that the church is opposed to vaccination mandates,” reads a letter sent to all bishops and stake (regional) presidents from the faith’s Area Presidency. “As to the former, the opposite is true [the church not only supports but also encourages vaccination]; as to the latter, the Brethren [top officials] have not taken a position.”

In some instances, the letter adds, “signing such documents could even be perjury.”

Of course, the Utah-based faith does have an “important doctrine about agency,” it says, “but that alone does not provide a religious basis for disobeying the law or demanding special exemptions from it.”

Assertions that belief in agency provide “a valid religious objection” to government mandates, the letter says, “have never been supported by the church.”

The LDS Church did not respond to a question about the prohibition on supporting religious exemptions churchwide or in California.

From the beginning of the global pandemic, top Latter-day Saint leaders have gone to great lengths to support public health officials in the battle against COVID-19.

They suspended weekly worship services in March 2020 and closed all 160-plus temples. They urged members to put on masks and social distance. They switched to all-virtual General Conferences. In written guidelines, on social media and from the pulpit, when vaccines were available, they encouraged members to get them — showing photos of themselves getting the shots.

Last month, the governing First Presidency issued its strongest statement yet, urging members to wear masks “in public meetings whenever social distancing is not possible” and to “be vaccinated.”

They assured believers that the available vaccines are “safe and effective.”

Church President Russell M. Nelson, a former heart surgeon who turned 97 Thursday, and his two counselors advised members to “follow the wise and thoughtful recommendations of medical experts and government leaders.”

[Get more content like this in the Mormon Land newsletter, a weekly highlight reel of developments in and about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. To receive the free newsletter in your inbox, subscribe here. You also can support us with a donation at, where you can access gifts and transcripts of our “Mormon Land” podcasts.]

The statement seemed to move some in the 16.6 million-member church, but not all.

Thousands of Latter-day Saints opposed to the vaccines, however, complained about the First Presidency statement on the church’s Facebook page.

It is unclear how many of them might be seeking a religious exemption from state or federal mandates.


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The pandemic disrupted Mormon missions. These Houstonians are still determined to serve.

“Still, then the time comes and you actually go, and step away from school, family and friends,” he said. “It’s difficult.”

But his faith pushed him forward. He applied for a mission shortly after graduating from The Woodlands College Park High School. Six months later, he departed for training in Mexico.

“I learned as much Spanish as I could, then I went to Argentina,” Chris Douglas said. “And I’m grateful for every little moment I was able to get down there.”

His mission was cut short by COVID-19.

Instead of spending the usual year or two in Argentina, Chris Douglas was able to stay for only a couple of months before the country went into lockdown. He quarantined and returned home.

Soon the church found a solution, making a decision to protect missionaries and to respect the local COVID-19 guidelines in the countries where they served, Sean Douglas explained.

“I was amazed by how quickly the church reacted,” said Sean Douglas, who serves as a lay minister and also as Area Authority Seventy, responsible to the church within the Houston metro area, from the Gulf of Mexico to College Station. “They returned all missionaries to their country of origin. They were able to bring back tens of thousands of missionaries right away.”

He said that there are currently 67,000 missionaries with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 100 countries.

Once the young adults returned and self-quarantined, the church offered an opportunity to be reassigned to a mission in the U.S.

They were able to continue their work primarily from their apartments, studying Scripture and using technology to reach out to others. Mission presidents could also provide community-service opportunities that met guidelines for health and safety.

For Chris Douglas, that meant being reassigned to the Billings, Mont., mission.

Argentina it is not, but he welcomed the ability to continue to serve.

“I can’t go knocking on doors anymore, but I’ve had wonderful service opportunities,” Chris Douglas said.

He has worked at the Salvation Army and helped community members with yard work they were unable to do themselves.

“You name it, I’ve probably done it here,” he said. “Right now, because of COVID-19, we’ve been able to serve more needs. People are also more likely to hear a message of hope because of the circumstances.”

He creates videos to upload to Facebook, in which he shares the Gospel and answers questions.

“We’re able to still reach out with technology,” he said. “It’s needed now more than ever.”

Missionary Loren Butler, 20, is also using technology in new ways during his time serving in Houston. Originally from Idaho, he moved to the Houston area in December 2018. Before the coronavirus pandemic, he met with individuals regularly, often going door to door.

Butler was also involved in a number of community-service projects, assisting local food banks and helping the elderly or those with health issues. Until the pandemic.

“It was definitely an adjustment period,” he said. “COVID-19 is not something we’d seen before in the world. It’s not something we’ve experienced in the past, and it wasn’t something we knew how to deal with. As a mission, we had to adapt.”

He wondered how to continue to share the Gospel with individuals and help them with their needs.

“That’s a lot different when we can’t show up on their doorsteps,” he said. “We had to start becoming keener with social media, whether that’s helping over a video call or talking about our beliefs on a regular phone call.”

His mission president Jeremy Guthrie identified safe ways to serve the community, leaning into outside tasks, such as working in their yards, and still remaining at a distance.

“In a sense, our days still look a lot like normal mission days before COVID-19,” Butler said. “We used to go to our neighbors to knock on doors. Now we do essentially the same thing but through Facebook.”

Participating in the mission has helped him grow in a number of ways, he said, but the pandemic especially taught him creative problem-solving skills.

“To continue to do this work, to come up with these solutions, has been an opportunity,” he said. “All the missionaries were able to actively continue.”

This is the type of growth Sean Douglas saw in his years as a mission president in Peru. He remembers dropping off returning missionaries at the airport at the end of their mission.

“They had just grown leaps and bounds,” he said. “They learn how to study, learn self-discipline.”

In addition, they learn about world issues and problem-solving. Missionaries are assigned a companion not of their choice. Working with someone else 24/7 can prepare young adults for their future co-workers and spouses, Sean Douglas said.

Signing up for a mission is voluntary and reflects faith and commitment on the part of the young adults, he added.

“They check out of being in the world to focus on being a servant of God,” he said. “And when they’re in the service of fellow man, they’re in the service of God.”

Sean Douglas fondly recalls signing up for his own mission in Chile at age 18.

“I genuinely feel my life began after my mission,” he said. “It became a gateway for a lot of decisions, and it prepared me for those decisions. It was transformative.”

Guthrie, who serves from downtown Houston to Galveston and west to Victoria, went on his own journey in Spain, after his freshman year of college.

The call to mission is in Scripture, he explained, in Matthew: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.”

“It’s not something we’re doing for ourselves,” Guthrie said. “We’re doing it on behalf of God.”

The missionaries in his area usually help at food banks and shelters. They also teach English classes, meet new people and attend services at local churches.

“They’re just going about doing good,” Guthrie said.

Now, the young adults spend the majority of time indoors, but they’re still connecting to people using Zoom, Messenger and WhatsApp, he said.

He is also receiving new missionaries, who were reassigned from posts abroad to Houston.

Sean Douglas estimates that 200 young adults are in Guthrie’s mission and about 600 in Greater Houston.

At the same time, hundreds of young Houstonians are now serving in missions throughout the U.S.

“It’s a miracle in some ways to keep this work going,” Sean Douglas said. “It’s God’s work. And if they can’t serve abroad, they’re still serving. They just are continuing this work in a very different way.”

He believes that this generation was particularly suited to make the adaptation.

“If there ever were a culture of youth that could change rapidly to an environment of remote service and connection, it’s this population,” he said. “These young people quickly adapted to a new way. So much of the world today is online. I don’t think the previous generation would be able to do this.”

The pandemic has pushed people toward faith, Sean Douglas added.

“I believe this is a turning point,” he said. “I believe we are opening up to a time when people’s hearts are going back to what matters most in life. They’re being softened — and maybe becoming a little more God-centric. Maybe there’s more interest in learning about Christ.”

Lindsay Peyton is a Houston-based writer.

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How to Join the Mormon Church (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints)

Article SummaryX

To join the Mormon church, you’ll need to learn about the religion, go to church, and get baptized. Start by researching Mormon beliefs online and reading the book of Mormon to see if their beliefs align with your own. To be a Mormon, you’ll need to start living by these principles, like abstaining from sex before marriage and substances like caffeine, tobacco, and alcohol. If you agree with the Mormon beliefs, head to a Sunday service at your local church to join them in worship. Once you’ve gone to a few services, speak to a church representative about getting baptized. You’ll then need to have an interview, get baptized, and take on Mormon responsibilities, like educating others and donating a tenth of your income to the church, to become a member. For more tips, including how to deal with negative opinions of Mormonism, read on.

Thanks to all authors for creating a page that has been read 106,230 times.

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SALT LAKE CITY — After more than a year of attending church virtually, Monique Allen has struggled to explain to her asthmatic daughter why people from their congregation of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints don’t wear masks. Allen said she’s taught her daughter that wearing a mask is Christlike, but now she worries her child feels like an outcast.

Church leaders recently issued their strongest statement yet urging people to “limit the spread” by getting COVID-19 vaccines and wearing masks, but Allen said she fears it’s still not enough to convince the many families in her congregation who refuse to wear masks and have succumbed to anti-vaccine misinformation.

Members of the faith widely known as the Mormon church remain deeply divided on vaccines and mask-wearing despite consistent guidance from church leaders as the highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus spreads.

About 65% of Latter-day Saints who responded to a recent survey said they were vaccine acceptors, meaning they’ve gotten at least one dose or plan to soon. Another 15% identified as hesitant, and 19% said they would not get the vaccine, according to the survey this summer from the Public Religion Research Institute, a polling organization based in Washington, and Interfaith Youth Core.

The survey found 79% of white Catholics and 56% of white Evangelical Protestants identified as vaccine acceptors.

Allen, a church member living in Wisconsin, is among a contingent who fear fellow members who refuse to get vaccinated are allowing their political views to supersede their loyalty to a faith that largely prioritizes unity and obedience.

The message she’s shared with her 8-year-old daughter is that “of course Christ would wear a mask, of course he would get vaccinated because he’s a loving person,” she said. “And that’s the only way you can take care of people these days is doing these simple things.”

Other church members are upset that their leaders aren’t letting them exercise their own decision-making about vaccines and masks. The Utah-based religion of 16 million members worldwide is one of many faiths grappling with how best to navigate the pandemic’s lingering effects.

Divisions on masking and vaccinations in the Latter-day Saint faith appear to be tracking along political lines, with conservative members being more hesitant, said Patrick Mason, associate professor of religion at Utah State University. Mason said the church’s divide is indicative of a larger pattern in the United States of political ideologies shaping people’s religious commitments.

“The common perception of Mormons and Mormonism is that when church leaders speak, church members listen and do what they’re told,” said Mason. “This has revealed sometimes how conditional that loyalty can be.”

The Latter-day Saint faith was one of the first to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. In March 2020, church leaders suspended all church gatherings and closed temples. The church has also held three consecutive major conferences remotely since the pandemic began. The twice-yearly conference usually brings about 100,000 people to Salt Lake City over two days.

Many faith leaders have spoken in support of vaccinations, including Church President Russell M. Nelson, a former heart surgeon who got the vaccine in January and encouraged members to follow his example.

Church-owned Brigham Young University in Utah has asked students to report their vaccination status but is not requiring vaccinations. Masks are required in classrooms and any indoor spaces where social distancing isn’t possible.

Missionaries who are not fully vaccinated are also unable to receive an assignment outside of their home country.

Regarding masks at services, top church officials have said it’s up to bishops to encourage people to follow local public health guidelines.

In mid-August, they went so far as to release a statement calling on members to get the vaccine, which they described as “safe and effective.”

Among other denominations in the U.S., faith leaders have varied widely in how they address the issues of vaccinations and mask wearing. To a large extent, there has been vocal support for getting vaccinated — including from top leadership of conservative bodies such as the Southern Baptist Convention and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

However, some Catholic prelates and evangelical pastors have been sharply critical of the the vaccine campaign and masking mandates, and others have shied away from addressing those issues for fear of angering some congregation members.

An August AP-NORC poll found that among white evangelicals, 51% are at least somewhat confident in the vaccines to be effective against variants, compared with 73% of Catholics, 66% of white mainline Protestants such as Presbyterians and Lutherans, 65% of nonwhite Protestants and 67% of the religiously unaffiliated.

Some Latter-day Saints have accused those who promote anti-vaccine rhetoric of apostasy, a term that is associated with wickedness and describes when individuals turn away from church principles.

Kristen Chevrier, co-founder of a Utah-based health freedom group that has advocated against vaccines, said the church should not be involved in health choices, and she worries people are being discriminated against based on their vaccine status.

Chevrier, who is a member of the faith, said she rejects the idea that people who are anti-vaccine are apostates. She cited the church’s history of encouraging members to seek their own personal revelations with God.

“How can we say that there’s a blanket statement that applies to everyone regardless of their personal revelation,” said Chevrier, who’s based in American Fork, about 30 miles (50 kilometers) south of Salt Lake City.

Many members have voiced concerns on social media that pro-mask and pro-vaccine sentiments aren’t shared by all regional church leadership, with some describing their experiences as “bishop roulette.”

Unmasked bishops at an Idaho church read the statement from top church officials to the congregation, but only a few chose to start wearing masks.

One member, Marie Johnson, said she has been disappointed that so many in her community have heeded misinformation on social media rather than church leadership’s continued calls for vaccination.

“You can find something on the internet to support any position you want to take,” said Johnson. “Why would you choose the side that doesn’t include your faith leader?”

But some churches began resuming masking practices even before the leaders’ statement.

One Salt Lake City church has been encouraging vulnerable people to participate in meetings virtually and sent a message to congregants in early August recommending that everyone wear masks and get the vaccine.

“Our faith leaders have been so consistent from the very beginning,” said Søren Simonsen, of Salt Lake City. “And to hear people say, ‘This is a hoax, it doesn’t matter, it’s not affecting us,’ when millions of people have died, it’s heartbreaking.”

Eppolito is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

This story has been updated to correct that Church President Russell M. Nelson is a former heart surgeon, not a cardiologist, and to clarify the vaccination rules for missionaries.

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