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Latest from Mormon Land: Why anti-vaxxers aren’t pro-church — at least on COVID

Their faith leaders are encouraging inoculation and refusing to sign religious exemptions from the shots. Also, a blogger notes that Latter-day Saint doctrines can and do change from time to time. Might that happen with same-sex marriage?

(The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the church's First Presidency, receives the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine on Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021, in Salt Lake City. Church authorities aren't allowing lay leaders to sign religious exemptions that members could then use to avoid getting the shots. Instead, top Latter-day Saint leaders support vaccination.

These are excerpts from our free Mormon Land newsletter, a weekly highlight reel of developments in and about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Want this newsletter with additional items in your inbox? Subscribe here. You also can support Mormon Land with a donation at Patreon.com/mormonland, where you can access, among other exclusive gifts and content, transcripts from our “Mormon Land” podcasts.

Just say no to religious exemptions

So you want your bishop to sign a religious waiver helping you avoid a vaccine mandate?

It’s not going to happen.

“The church does not provide religious exemptions,” a church spokesperson bluntly confirmed Friday to The Salt Lake Tribune. Period.

It’s hardly surprising. After all, the faith’s top leaders do more than support vaccinations. They have had them. And they encourage the members to do so as well. In preaching, in practices and in policy, they make clear that inoculations line up with the church’s position.

“We urge individuals to be vaccinated,” the governing First Presidency declared in August. “Available vaccines have proven to be both safe and effective.”

We wrote earlier this month about the church telling California bishops and stake presidents not to sign religious exemptions. Well, the same prohibition extends churchwide.

In short, the overwhelming message from the church’s big shots is to get those little shots.

Doctrine can and does change

Change happens — even, sometimes especially, in the church.

Three-hour meeting blocks become two. Home and visiting teaching becomes ministering. Female missionaries wear pants.

Exponent II guest blogger Nicole Sbitani notes that change happens within the faith not just with cultural, peripheral and procedural practices but even with doctrines.

Sbitani points to the current debate over same-sex marriage. The church, of course, opposes it. But might that, could that, change?

Sbitani says she’s heard Latter-day Saints say that if it does, they’ll leave — not because they oppose LGBTQIA+ rights, per se, but “because that would mean the doctrine changed and the church isn’t true.”

The blogger has news for those members: “Doctrine and not just policy does change,” she writes. “It has changed many times, and it can change again.”

She lists significant changes to the doctrine of marriage and eternal sealings, including:

• Members used to be sealed to top church leaders, a “mistaken” notion that this would be needed for exaltation.

• Members used to not seal children to deceased nonmember parents — or wives to deceased nonmember husbands.

“Something as monumental and fundamental to our religion as the nature and practice of sealing is not a mere policy,” Sbitani adds. “These are core doctrinal changes. … Revelation has changed doctrine, and I am hopeful it will do so again.”

Patrick Mason, head of Mormon history and culture at Utah State University, told The Washington Post recently that some members “have already started to do the work to sketch out a theological rationale that would allow for the kind of revelation that allows for … same-sex marriage.”

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