LDS divisions on pandemic can lead to more free thinking

A more nuanced view of the church can lead to progress.

(Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) A view of the Salt Lake Temple from the tunnel under North Temple Street that will eventually connect the conference center parking lot to the Salt Lake City Temple, June 2021.

By J. Todd Ogden | Special on The Tribune

I think it’s fair to say that there is some disagreement following the Declaration of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints of the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints published on August 12 about vaccines and masks gave. But this is not an opinion on vaccines and masks.

Something important happens here for LDS members. And it could be very positive for the church. On August 12, many members who had not previously questioned found that their ingrained beliefs suddenly contradicted their leaders. Some for the first time.

This is not new to many other active and loyal members. We have felt this type of dissonance for years, on topics ranging from white shirts, ear piercings, green tea and tattoos to more important issues of gender equality and LGBT status. Many of us have worked overtime to balance this dissonance with a desire to continue as members in good standing. And it’s not always easy. Especially in a church that constantly affirms reverence for its leadership with quotes such as “The prophet will never lead the church astray”. And children’s songs like “Follow the Prophet”.

But the recent COVID announcement has undoubtedly raised a question on the minds of a generally more orthodox subgroup of members: what should I do if my personal beliefs do not match my prophet? It only takes a few minutes to see a variety of answers to this question on social media. And some of those answers were prominent: you speak as men, men are fallible, this is an opinion, not a doctrine, and my personal beliefs of truth must guide me.

Welcome to what some call “nuanced” or “progressive” Mormonism. And despite the ongoing mask and vaccination debate, I believe that some nuances and questions can have a very productive impact on church policies, practices, and even doctrines.

Throughout the development of the LDS Church, such questions and debates have resulted in some of our greatest improvements. Allowing people of color to enjoy temple ordinances, changes to the role of women in the Church, repeal of troubled LGBT policy from 2015, and introduction of safer guidelines for youth interviews by church leaders. Everyone followed the pleas and cries of questioning, thoughtful members.

As Acting President Russell M. Nelson said after such a change, “We knew this policy caused concern and confusion to some and distress to others. That saddened us … So our supplication to the Lord went on. “

Without trying to discuss conclusions about the complex vaccine or mask problems, dissonances and questions can be good, especially in a church where these things are not always spoken or welcomed.

Some members are realizing for the first time that their personal beliefs may have more weight. And sometimes even to the extent that they choose to follow their own beliefs rather than those of their leaders.

And that awakening, assuming we can safely get to the other side of this global pandemic, could at best lead to some real, positive change in the church (on LGBT issues, worthiness ratings, financial and historical transparency, etc.).

And at least we may learn to live with a little less judgment of those who wrestle with their own church concerns and questions, even if those questions do not coincide with ours.

J. Todd Ogden, Colorado Springs, Colo., Is an active, but diverse, lifelong member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. A husband, father, small business finance manager and occasional editorial photographer.

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