To keep its temples open as COVID-19 numbers continue to rise, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is asking all patrons and workers worldwide to wear masks at all times while in the temple.
“We want to do everything possible to allow temples to remain open,” church President Russell M. Nelson and his counselors, Dallin H. Oaks and Henry B. Eyring, wrote Wednesday in a letter to leaders of the 16.6 million-member church. “...These safety protocols are temporary, based on COVID-19 conditions, and will be rescinded as soon as circumstances permit.”
This latest effort to prevent further spread of the deadly disease continues the message top church leaders have sent from the beginning of the pandemic.
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.”
Nelson, a former heart surgeon who turned 97 on Sept. 9, and his two counselors advised members to “follow the wise and thoughtful recommendations of medical experts and government leaders.”
On top of that, Latter-day Saint leaders in California recently were told not to sign “religious exemption” forms for anti-vax members who want to dodge vaccination mandates by citing their faith.
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Urging Latter-day Saints to be vaccinated and to protect themselves and others from the spread of disease “has precedent,” the First Presidency said in Wednesday’s letter about masks in the temple. “Prior First Presidencies shared similar messages in 1900 about smallpox and in 1957 regarding polio.”
The three leaders again urged members to “do all you can to protect yourself and others so the work of the Lord on both sides of the veil can move forward.”
Latter-day Saint temples have been severely limited during the pandemic. They have been coming back on line under a phased reopening plan. None is yet operating at full operational capacity.
Members view temples as “Houses of the Lord,” places where the devout take part in the religion’s holiest rites, including eternal marriages.