Latest from Mormon Land: Fraud suit against church gets new life; COVID vaccine gains acceptance among members

Some 65% of Latter-day Saints now say yes to shots; up from 50%.

(The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Church President Russell M. Nelson receives the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine on Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021, in Salt Lake City. A new poll shows Latter-day Saints are increasingly accepting the vaccine.

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COVID shots get a boost

Top Latter-day Saint leaders — in written guidelines, on social media and from the pulpit — have encouraged members to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

Church President Russell M. Nelson, a former heart surgeon, and other apostles showed the way by releasing photographs of themselves getting their first doses.

So are their exhortations and examples paying off?

Maybe so.

A fresh survey from Public Religion Research Institute and the Interfaith Youth Core — which showed faith leaders can help sway their flocks to get the shots — reports that 65% of Latter-day Saints are now vaccine acceptors.

That’s up 15 percentage points from a March survey.

Other survey numbers shed additional light as the delta variant spurs new worries in the war against the coronavirus:

• Some 37% of Latter-day Saints reported they did or would look to their church leaders for guidance about vaccines. That’s a higher percentage than every other religious group, save for Jewish Americans.

• Most white evangelical Protestants (63%) and Latter-day Saints (59%) agree kids should be able to attend public schools without required vaccines.

• About 41% of Latter-day Saints express at least moderate concerns about the vaccines, roughly in the middle of the faith groups surveyed.

• Latter-day Saints (72%), white evangelical Protestants (72%) and other Protestants of color (67%) are the most likely to favor religious exemptions to vaccine mandates.

• Latter-day Saints (46%) and white evangelical Protestants (31%) rank as the least likely to support requiring proof of vaccination for certain activities.

Church leaders still have their work cut out for them persuading vaccine refusers to roll up their sleeves. Nearly 1 in 5 (19%) of their members still fall in that category, about the same as March.

You also can read about a Latter-day Saint family in Utah who initially refused the vaccine but now regrets it after the husband-father landed in the hospital with COVID-19.

Fraud lawsuit against the church gets new life

Laura Gaddy, a former Latter-day Saint who lives in North Carolina, won a small legal victory in her fraud lawsuit against the church last week.

In a July 28 ruling, federal Judge Robert Shelby dismissed Gaddy’s arguments about church founder Joseph Smith, his supposed spiritual experiences, and statements about the faith’s scripture, reasoning, as he has in the past, that the First Amendment bars such assertions when they would require a court to “consider the truth or falsity of a church’s religious doctrines.”

But the judge allowed a narrow issue about the church’s use of tithing to go forward.

Gaddy is not arguing against “the religious principles of the church or the truth of the church’s beliefs concerning the doctrine of tithing,” Shelby wrote. Rather, she has “challenged secular representations concerning the use of money received by the church.”

In particular, her lawsuit in Salt Lake City’s U.S. District Court points to statements from Latter-day Saint authorities that no tithing funds went toward development of the for-profit City Creek Center. Gaddy insists such pronouncements run counter to allegations made in a 2019 IRS whistleblower complaint about the church’s purported $100 billion reserve account.

Church leaders have maintained that cash for the downtown Salt Lake City mall came from “earnings of invested reserve funds,” not from tithing money itself.

Gaddy contends such representations are false and that billions of dollars of “principal tithing” were tapped for the project.

Shelby ruled that she could revise and refile her amended complaint within 30 days and, according to her attorney, she plans to do so.

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