Masks a sign of ‘Christlike love’ during pandemic, apostle says

Elder Dale G. Renlund said Monday that wearing a face covering need not be politicized or contentious, the latest statement supporting masks made over the past nine months by leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

An apostle said Monday that wearing a face covering during the pandemic is “a sign of Christlike love,” adding to numerous statements supporting masks made over the past nine months by leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Loving one’s neighbor as oneself since the arrival of COVID-19 includes wearing a mask, said Elder Dale G. Renlund of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

“As it relates to this pandemic, especially in temples, that means social distancing, wearing a mask and not gathering in large groups,” he said. “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. COVID-19 is serious. Its consequences are not yet fully understood.”

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Elder Renlund spoke in a video released Monday morning, when church leaders announced that later this month, four temples in Oceania and Taiwan will become the first to reopen for proxy work since the church temporarily stopped performing ordinances for deceased ancestors on March 13.

The video was recorded before Elder Renlund tested positive for COVID-19. The church reported on Saturday he and his wife tested positive for the virus. He has mild symptoms, she has none.

“Sadly, responses to the pandemic have been politicized and contentious. Ours, need not be,” he said in the video.

Elder Dale G. Renlund of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles says wearing a face mask “is a sign of Christlike love” while speaking in a video released by The church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Monday, Dec. 7, 2020. | ChurchofJesusChrist.org

His comments came during a surge of COVID-19 cases in the United States. More than 1.53 million people worldwide have died due to COVID-19, according to the World Health Organization. The surges have prompted bipartisan calls in the United States to follow health guidelines. Last week, President-elect Joe Biden said he plans to ask Americans to commit to wear masks during his first 100 days in office.

On Sunday, the coordinator of President Donald Trump’s White House coronavirus task force urged Americans to be vigilant.

“I want to be very frank to the American people,” Deborah Birx said on the NBC News show “Meet the Press.” “The vaccine is critical, but it’s not going to save us from this current surge. Only we can save us from this current surge. And we know precisely what to do. So, if you have loved ones that you want to protect, you have to follow these guidelines now.”

Church leaders began encouraging mask use even before the World Health Organization declared a pandemic on March 11. Since then, they have repeated that encouragement continuously while requiring masks in some settings and modeling the use of face coverings themselves:

On Jan. 29, the church’s first public statements about the coronavirus were about a donation of respirator masks and other personal protective equipment to medical workers in a Shanghai children’s hospital.

A teacher wears a mask in an image from a video that called wearing face coverings during the pandemic a sign of Christlike love. The video was released by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Monday, Dec. 7, 2020. | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
  • On March 4, church leaders asked members around the world to follow the health recommendations of the World Health Organization and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They specifically said members should follow public health agency recommendations for wearing a face mask.
  • On May 6, with temples and meetinghouses closed and all church gatherings suspended, President Russell M. Nelson issued a video in which he said, “We are grateful for the helpful direction and guidance that government, health and civic leaders have provided to keep us safe. And we will continue to be prayerful and proceed with an abundance of caution. Your safety and well-being will always be our utmost concern.”

He also repeatedly has said that church leaders and members want “to be good global citizens and do what we can to control this contagious illness,” and has followed that statement by wearing a mask in public settings.

  • On May 7, church leaders announced they would begin to reopen some temples for small-group marriage sealings with everyone wearing masks.
  • On May 19, the church authorized the return of Sunday worship services with the requirement that members sit in families and those preparing, blessing and passing the sacrament wear masks. Church headquarters instructed local leaders to follow local government regulations, noting that those guidelines might require all members in attendance to wear face masks. Today, many congregations are meeting weekly in areas requiring face coverings.
  • Throughout the spring, members in Utah joined an effort to make 6 million masks for health care and restaurant workers and others.
  • On June 24, Elder Randy D. Funk, a General Authority Seventy, represented the church in an interfaith appeal to wear masks in Utah:

“We, the under-signed faith community leaders, appeal to people of faith all over the state to wear masks and practice physical distancing, sacrificing a small measure of comfort for the sake of saving lives. We recall that the greatest commandment is to love God, and the second is like unto it, to love one’s neighbor as oneself. One cannot claim to love one’s neighbor while deliberately putting them at risk.”

The First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles wear face masks before the broadcast of a general conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Oct. 3, 2020. | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

“A growing chorus of medical authorities has confirmed that the simple wearing of a face covering when in public and when social distancing is not possible will significantly reduce the spread of COVID-19,” said the email from three General Authority Seventies. “This is true both indoors and outdoors. We note with appreciation the care exhibited by our members in returning to sacrament meetings wearing face masks. Now we ask all Latter-day Saints in the Utah Area to be good citizens by wearing face coverings when in public. Doing so will help promote the health and general welfare of all.”

The email was released to the public by the church, emphasizing that it was prepared and sent under authority from the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve.

  • On Oct. 3-4, the First Presidency, Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and other general church leaders wore face coverings and maintained physical distancing during the broadcasts of the church’s October general conference. Photographs showed leaders arriving with face coverings, too.
  • On Nov. 7, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland responded to a question from the Deseret News at the groundbreaking ceremony for the Red Cliffs Utah Temple in St. George by saying that church leaders and members were wearing masks.

“We’re very hopeful about getting back in the temples,” he said. “We won’t put people at risk. We’re not going to do anything foolish, and we’re honoring very carefully the guidelines. We mask and we socially distance and we’re not having people in temples yet (for proxy work), but we’re into the second phase fully and we hope for a third soon that would allow more participation,” Elder Holland said, “but we’ll just have to be wise and medically and socially responsible, not rush that and put anyone at risk. We’re just going to have to be patient.”

Monday’s announcement by the church about a cautious first step toward reopening temples for work for deceased ancestors included another video by Elder Gary E. Stevenson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. He said that masks must be worn throughout any visit to a Latter-day Saint temple anywhere in the world. The only exception is during a baptism.

Elder Renlund and, in another video, Elder David A. Bednar, emphasized the fundamental importance of temple ordinances in Latter-day Saint practices and beliefs. Elder Renlund tied that importance to wearing masks so temple work could continue.

“As we anticipate performing more proxy ordinances in the temples, we do for others what they cannot do for themselves,” he said. “Without these blessings, these deceased individuals are profoundly disadvantaged. The Savior taught that the second great commandment, after loving God, was ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.’”

Then he spoke about face coverings as a sign of Christlike love, adding that “As individuals, as families and as a church, we will be judged by how we treat the vulnerable and disadvantaged in our societies. As the COVID-19 pandemic spreads around the world, it wreaks havoc among those who are already disadvantaged.”