While announcing Monday that some temples of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints soon will allow members to resume vicarious rituals for their dead ancestors, a prominent doctor-turned-apostle gives a strong directive to wear masks.
“I speak to you not as a former physician. I speak to you as an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ,” Dale G. Renlund says in a newly released three-minute video. “...The Savior taught that the second great commandment, after loving God, was ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.’ As it relates to this pandemic, especially in temples, that means social distancing, wearing a mask and not gathering in large groups. These steps demonstrate our love for others and provide us a measure of protection. Wearing a face covering is a sign of Christlike love for our brothers and sisters.”
A retired cardiologist, Renlund — who the church announced Saturday has been diagnosed with COVID-19 “despite carefully following recommended public health practices” — also says: “Sadly, responses to the pandemic have become politicized and contentious. Ours need not be.”
In July, after witnessing an alarming spike in coronavirus cases, top Latter-day Saint leaders in Utah amped up their support for masks by asking all members in the Beehive State “to be good citizens by wearing face coverings when in public.”
Masks always have been required in Latter-day Saint temples around the globe during the pandemic.
Until Monday’s announcement, temples that are open have permitted religious rites only for the living. By year’s end, though, four temples will resume proxy ceremonies for deceased ancestors.
Since then, nearly all the faith’s 168 operating temples have reopened in Phase 1 (husband–wife “sealings” or marriages by appointment). Now most temples have moved on to Phase 2 (open for both sealings and all other living ordinances).
On Monday, the church’s governing First Presidency announced that temples in Nuku’alofa, Tonga; Apia, Samoa; Brisbane, Australia; and Taipei, Taiwan; will begin Phase 3 by Dec. 31.
“These temples are located in areas where the incidence of COVID-19 is low and local public health guidelines for gathering and worship can be appropriately met,” according to a letter from church President Russell M. Nelson and his two counselors.
Significant restrictions still will apply, the church notes in a news release, including mask-wearing, a limited schedule, a small number of patrons and temple workers, and all temple ordinances conducted by appointment only. The regulations also outline symptom screening three times: when making an appointment, in a follow-up email, and upon arrival at the temple.
Other temples will move into Phase 3 after consulting with the temple department at church headquarters in Utah, temple presidencies and area presidencies.
Latter-day Saints view temples as “Houses of the Lord,” places where the devout participate in their faith’s most sacred ordinances. They also believe that proxy ceremonies for their ancestors are essential to their eternal salvation.
“As we anticipate performing more proxy ordinances in the temples, we do for others what they cannot do for themselves,” Renlund says in the prerecorded video. “Without these blessings, these deceased individuals are profoundly disadvantaged.”
Renlund recently became the second Latter-day Saint apostle to be diagnosed with the coronavirus.
He and his wife, Ruth L. Renlund, tested positive for COVID-19, church spokesman Eric Hawkins said Saturday in a news release. “... Elder Renlund currently has just mild symptoms and Sister Renlund is asymptomatic.”
In early October, apostle Gerrit W. Gong and his wife, Susan, contracted COVID-19. They, too, experienced mild symptoms and later were cleared. The couple oversaw the socially distanced groundbreaking for the Taylorsville Temple on Halloween.
Now, Hawkins said, top church leaders will be tested again.