The other reason I’m writing is because there is something even deeper than the (very important) vaccine discussion at play here, and that is truth itself. I am concerned that the prophet will ask us to do something hard–far harder than masks or vaccines–and we will listen to him only if he agrees with what our preferred pundits are saying.
Let me say that again: I am worried about the vaccine, but I am far more worried about the general trend toward equivocation I am seeing by people who ought to know better. I am afraid because God has stipulated that if we reject truth, He will take away “even that which” we have. I have friends who are agnostic–not just about God, but about truth itself: that it is hard, even impossible to discover, and nearly so difficult to maintain. I am of a different view: truth is hard, sometimes impossible to discover, and that is why we must have some sense of gratitude for the sacrifices we have made for the truths we now enjoy. I am every bit as skeptical and agnostic as my friends are–I only differ in that I see bits and pieces of truth and consider them precious.
And so I write today in favor of truth. I hope you’ll listen to me on vaccines. I hope far more that you’ll listen to me on following the prophet. But most important of all, I hope you’ll see that truth exists, and is costly–and every penny paid should be honored.
I’ve organized this essay as a set of equivocations with my brief responses.
Equivocation 1: We have agency.
This is true, of course–but irrelevant. I have agency on murder, honesty, tithing, and adultery too. Agency means that I can choose as I see fit and accept the consequences of my actions. I hope people will get vaccinated–but I would suggest that ignoring a prophets’ counsel is in some ways more dangerous than a new virus, twice as communicable, and just as quick to mutate. Those who have covenanted to sustain him should weigh the costs seriously.
Equivocation 2: We can receive revelation for ourselves.
When I was praying about whether I should serve a mission, my dad gave me a bit of counsel that has served me well. “Would you pray about helping someone who needed help? Would you pray about being honest?” The answer, of course, was no. Praying about that would be silly. Then he dropped the hammer: “praying about whether to keep a commandment–one that you already know is a commandment–is a great way to set yourself up for spiritual deception.” I have seen that kind of deception. I see it now, but I have seen it for years. I am a strong proponent of seeking to know God’s will through prayer and study. I fear, however, that some have made “I will get an answer for myself” a way to evade accepting the counsel God is clearly giving. If you are seeking answers, you will be fine. If you are seeking to counsel God under the guise of seeking answers, you are perilous spiritual ground. Many do not realize they are in the latter camp.
Equivocation 3: I think for myself.
So say all who follow the crowd.
Equivocation 4: Prophets get things wrong.
Of course they do–and yet, the increasing trend is to shout loudly that they make mistakes when they disagree with us, and to loudly wax doctrinaire (with the truth on our side, no doubt) when they agree with us. I prefer this counsel, offered by a doctor I know: “My experience is that once you stop putting question marks behind the prophet’s statements and put exclamation points instead, and do it, the blessings just pour.” That doctor later became a religious leader whom you might know.
Equivocation 5: I trust my immune system.
I do too. Which is why I’m giving them a sketch of the bad guy–so they’re ready. The question is whether I trust the immune system of my immunocompromised friends. I do not intend to discover that I was the one responsible for leaving the gate open for the villain to cause them harm. I could not forgive myself for that.
Equivocation 6: Don’t make this political.
Agreed. Don’t make it political. There are too many who worship at the altar of politics on one side or another, and it is wreaking enormous damage; my evidence is that Utah is 45% vaccinated. That isn’t because 55% of people have legitimate medical concerns, or because 55% of people are rare exceptions. That’s because people listen to their pundits more than their prophets.
Equivocation 7: I am afraid of side-effects.
As you should be. Everything carries risks. The question is whether you should be more afraid of vaccine side-effects, or Covid side effects. If you are looking for a perfect scenario, I cannot help–those do not exist in this life. What I can tell you is that the balance of probabilities comes down firmly on the side of the vaccine, and far more importantly, on the side of following the prophet. There will surely be some who need to avoid the vaccine–but they are not the 45% cited. Consult your doctor. Then take courage. All of life is uncertainty, and the boldness and the nobility is in making a choice in the midst of the darkness, trying the best you can.
Equivocation 8: I have a legitimate health concern.
I respect this. The message is to consult a doctor, not to take the vaccine with no thought. Again I reiterate, however, that a 45% vaccination rate in Utah is not because 55% of people are medical exceptions. Something else is at play here. What I see happening is a breakdown of social trust–a group of people who are aiming to
Equivocation 9: How do you know for yourself that the vaccine is safe?
The six most frightening words in a Facebook argument are “Don’t worry, I’ve done my research.” Only a very few researchers know for themselves about how the vaccine works. I trust them. If you’d like to have nightmares, look up what happens when interpersonal societal trust breaks down. It’s not pretty. Every one of us rely on others to fix our car, dry clean our clothes, or keep our money safe in a bank. Our trust is at the lowest levels I have seen in my lifetime, and it is profoundly concerning. I am not asking you to do your research–as good and helpful as that can be. I am telling you to trust people who have sacrificed for a bit of truth. Parenthetically, we have drunk deeply of the well of independent thinking, and have managed to swing the pendulum to the point where we do not trust those who know more than us. The answer is not to do more research, it is to trust with more discernment–and more often.
Equivocation 10: Is this really the most important thing to follow the prophet on?
No. And that’s why I’m writing. Because if it were “some great thing” we’d be more likely than we are to simply look at the brazen serpent. I want to build Zion. I want to understand the cosmos. I intend to see visions. I want to comprehend the doctrine of the fullness of the priesthood, and the eternal role of women in God’s kingdom. I have questions to ask, and things to accomplish, and I can’t, in part, because we’re still arguing about looking at the (*family-friendly-expletive*) serpent. That is my frustration. How I wish we could be worthy of the “weightier matters” and the greater things that he would reveal to us. Truth is real, and it is costly, and it is precious.
And I don’t have nearly enough.
Equivocation 11: What about all the division?
An online acquaintance pointed out all the division around this issue. Said he, “something feels evil–broken.” He’s right, of course. The threads of our unity are rapidly fraying. Elder Cook in a recent conference address said that unity flows from righteousness. The direction of that relationship is critical: we will achieve unity by consecrating our wills to our Father, and nothing else will do.
Equivocation 12: Will you treat me poorly over this?
No one has a right to treat anyone poorly. No one has a right to be anything less than Christlike. All disciples must follow His example of kindness, and even when church leaders give consequences, they should do so with thoughtfulness and care, never spite or arrogance. Full stop.
13. I will obey the prophet when he speaks as a prophet. He is not speaking as a prophet now.
I have seen a notable number of people arguing about whether something is doctrinal or administrative. I remember back to when President Benson reminded us that a prophet does not need to say “Thus Saith the Lord” to speak as the prophet. Ceretainly, it applies here. I suspect that part of our judgment will be how easily entreated we were to do what is right. Did we respond to kind counsel? Did we require a personal visitation by an angel? Were we stubborn and foolish until God was required to correct us? I am deeply concerned that the people who say that the prophet isn’t speaking as a prophet will tend to find him not speaking as a prophet whenever they disagree with his take. I am deeply worried that the kind voice of prophets will be followed by greater–less pleasant–signs, which will better convince us, albeit at our peril. Better to listen when the voice is soft, than wait until the world shakes with thunder.
14. You really think that you can trust the media on this?
More than I can trust anonymous Facebook commenters, that’s for certain. The disinformation campaign isn’t just on the side of the media or the CDC. If you don’t see that, you aren’t looking very hard.
15. Is this a sifting?
Recently, a gleeful pro-mask, pro-vaxx type suggested that this was a sifting by the hand of God between those righteous and those wicked. I object to that kind of language, and to the judgmentalism behind it. God intends to help as many of His children who are willing return to Him, and find joy in the meantime. And yet, I must add that all commandments are a sifting–and this is no different. The law of chastity sifts, and so does the requirement to honor our parents, and so too is the commandment to be honest. When Joseph Smith first met Moroni, the angelic visitor warned that the day was not yet come when those who would not hear the voice of the Lord would be cut off from among the people–but was soon to come. I do not believe that today is that day, but neither can I conclude that we are in any way ready for that day. We’ve work to do. We’ve repenting to do.
I close with a story and a favor. The story first, one I saw online.
(Today’s sacrament speaker) “augmented his talk on one of the temple recommend questions to include an anecdote about his vaccine hesitancy. He is probably 50 years old. He has a blood clotting disorder and had a heart attack at age 36. He has had the virus already and as a result has antibodies, so he has foregone the vaccine. Until now…With tears in his eyes, he said, “I’ve been too stubborn and proud. I make excuses for not getting it. Now with this letter, I had to decide to be obedient or proud. So, I’m going to get it. I’m terrified, but I want to follow the prophet.”
I find this man’s actions to be laudable. I can’t promise that he’ll come through completely safe. But I think he will come through better.
And now, to my friends who were hesitant–my friends who inspire me–an invitation. This issue is easy for me. I have a strong amount of trust in our medical community, and I am an empiricist who trusts researchers. This is an easy one.One day, it won’t be. One day, I will have to follow the prophet when it is hard for me.
On that day, I ask you to use this article on me. I hope you urge me to follow the prophet. And I hope I am faithful enough to do so.