For two months Utah had one of the lowest rates of spread of the virus. Then Utah started to open up. On the 24th May Mormons went back to church, albeit in groups of less than 100. Almost perfectly on cue, COVID cases started to spike about 5 days later, the mean incubation time for the virus. The growth in cases is now alarming.
It’s unlikely the spike is only the result of Mormons going back to church, since society was starting to leave lockdown around that time, but I have heard reports of wards where there have been clusters. Many Mormons are also full on Trump supporters and are likely to be dismissive of social distancing rules like their president.
On the 17th June Elder Bednar, an apostle and one of the most senior leaders of the Mormon Church, spoke at a law conference on religious freedom via a web link. His talk was reported in the Deseret News and on the LDS website. These are some of Bednar's comments that were quoted in the news reports.
Bednar even drew the false equivalence between restricting religious freedom and allowing people to purchase gas. People need gas to buy essential items to sustain life. They don’t need to gather in large numbers in churches to keep them alive!“…𝙞𝙛 𝙩𝙝𝙚 𝙛𝙖𝙞𝙩𝙝𝙛𝙪𝙡 𝙖𝙧𝙚 𝙣𝙤𝙩 𝙜𝙖𝙩𝙝𝙚𝙧𝙞𝙣𝙜, 𝙨𝙤𝙤𝙣𝙚𝙧 𝙤𝙧 𝙡𝙖𝙩𝙚𝙧 𝙩𝙝𝙚𝙮 𝙬𝙞𝙡𝙡 𝙗𝙚𝙜𝙞𝙣 𝙩𝙤 𝙨𝙘𝙖𝙩𝙩𝙚𝙧”.
“𝙏𝙝𝙚 𝙥𝙤𝙬𝙚𝙧 𝙤𝙛 𝙜𝙤𝙫𝙚𝙧𝙣𝙢𝙚𝙣𝙩 𝙢𝙪𝙨𝙩 𝙝𝙖𝙫𝙚 𝙡𝙞𝙢𝙞𝙩𝙨,”
“𝙏𝙝𝙞𝙨 𝙩𝙞𝙢𝙚 𝙤𝙛 𝙧𝙚𝙨𝙩𝙧𝙞𝙘𝙩𝙞𝙤𝙣 𝙖𝙣𝙙 𝙘𝙤𝙣𝙛𝙞𝙣𝙚𝙢𝙚𝙣𝙩 𝙝𝙖𝙨 𝙘𝙤𝙣𝙛𝙞𝙧𝙢𝙚𝙙 𝙛𝙤𝙧 𝙢𝙚 𝙩𝙝𝙖𝙩 𝙣𝙤 𝙛𝙧𝙚𝙚𝙙𝙤𝙢 𝙞𝙨 𝙢𝙤𝙧𝙚 𝙞𝙢𝙥𝙤𝙧𝙩𝙖𝙣𝙩 𝙩𝙝𝙖𝙣 𝙧𝙚𝙡𝙞𝙜𝙞𝙤𝙪𝙨 𝙛𝙧𝙚𝙚𝙙𝙤𝙢,”
“𝙒𝙝𝙞𝙡𝙚 𝙗𝙚𝙡𝙞𝙚𝙫𝙚𝙧𝙨 𝙖𝙣𝙙 𝙩𝙝𝙚𝙞𝙧 𝙧𝙚𝙡𝙞𝙜𝙞𝙤𝙪𝙨 𝙤𝙧𝙜𝙖𝙣𝙞𝙯𝙖𝙩𝙞𝙤𝙣𝙨 𝙢𝙪𝙨𝙩 𝙗𝙚 𝙜𝙤𝙤𝙙 𝙘𝙞𝙩𝙞𝙯𝙚𝙣𝙨 𝙞𝙣 𝙖 𝙩𝙞𝙢𝙚 𝙤𝙛 𝙘𝙧𝙞𝙨𝙞𝙨, 𝙣𝙚𝙫𝙚𝙧 𝙖𝙜𝙖𝙞𝙣 𝙘𝙖𝙣 𝙬𝙚 𝙖𝙡𝙡𝙤𝙬 𝙜𝙤𝙫𝙚𝙧𝙣𝙢𝙚𝙣𝙩 𝙤𝙛𝙛𝙞𝙘𝙞𝙖𝙡𝙨 𝙩𝙤 𝙩𝙧𝙚𝙖𝙩 𝙩𝙝𝙚 𝙚𝙭𝙚𝙧𝙘𝙞𝙨𝙚 𝙤𝙛 𝙧𝙚𝙡𝙞𝙜𝙞𝙤𝙣 𝙖𝙨 𝙨𝙞𝙢𝙥𝙡𝙮 𝙣𝙤𝙣𝙚𝙨𝙨𝙚𝙣𝙩𝙞𝙖𝙡.”
For a state struggling with a significant spike in COVID cases, calling for less restrictions on gatherings is a thoughtless and poorly-timed message, given he leads the dominant religious group in Utah. Church gatherings are notorious for spreading the virus. Bednar’s comments are dangerous and ill advised and yet the LDS Church widely publicised them on its website and in the major Utah newspaper read by Mormons.
Bednar is forgetting that half the church does not live in the United States. They couldn't care less about the second amendment and the US constitution right now. The only thing most non-Americans know about the US constitution is that it is used to protect the right of Americans to buy semi-automatic weapons so they can shoot their countrymen more efficiently. That is the extent of it.
Many non-US members of the church live in countries with universal health care and strong social safety nets. These countries have far higher levels of trust in their governments, their scientific and health institutions and have for the most part been pretty content to accept that in these exceptional circumstances they need to do what the government has asked of them.
And the benefits of following our non-US government's COVID rules are plain to see. The number of new cases a day in all of Europe now numbers around 4,000 and is falling. In all of Asia, Australia and New Zealand it is far, far less. Australia gets concerned when we have more than 20 cases a day. The US is now approaching 30,000 new cases per day! [The US just topped 36,000 new cases]
It's not hard to imagine how non-US Mormons might feel reading Bednar complaining about government overreach. All I am hearing from my Australian Mormon relatives is praise for the wisdom of our government. There will be many non-US Mormons who will be very confused, if not alarmed, by Bednar’s obsession with individuals liberties and government interference at a time like this.
Bednar's comments will also be misconstrued by large numbers of American Mormons who hang off every word he says. Many will be inclined to feel more cynical about government health regulations and more inclined to flout social distancing rules.
It was a serious error of judgment for the church to publicise Bednar’s comments on the church's website. These views are completely Amerocentric and send a poor message at a critical time in the progress of the pandemic. If a senior religious leader in Australia published such an irresponsible article at a time like this they would risk being censored or even arrested.
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