The Return of the Mormons

Chartered jets retrieve Mormon youth from around the world

It made headlines two weeks ago that multiple Mormon missionaries around the world were being brought back to the United States in response to Coronavirus travel bans. Although the Church’s initial stance on the matter was to keep missionaries in their respective locations, the constantly evolving nature of the pandemic has forced them to reconsider. The Missionary tradition of the Mormon faith is one they hold near and dear, and it is no wonder than many Missionaries would have preferred to stay abroad. With over 67,000 Missionaries in more than four hundred locations, however, Coronavirus posed a serious liability to the faith’s proselytizers. Efforts to transport them back began in mid-February in response to the outbreaks in Italy, but moved slowly on a region-by-region basis. Despite the US State Department’s warning two weeks ago strongly encouraging all Americans to return as soon as possible, international flights chartered by the church continue to land as recently as today. An unscheduled Fiji Airways flight from Nadi and a LATAM flight from Lima landed in Salt Lake City this afternoon. Chartered flights like these have been arriving in the city for weeks.

Today’s chartered flight from Nadi, Fiji, to Salt Lake City, USA — data from flightaware.com

While most of the United States has been on lockdown to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Mormon church continues to retrieve youth missionaries from around the world. While I agree with the decision to bring them home, I believe this should have been done two weeks ago when the State Department issued their warning. The retrieval effort was already active at the time of the warning, but these efforts were not completed with the alacrity required during a pandemic. To make matters worse, large groups gathered to meet returning Missionaries at Salt Lake City Airport as recently as March 22. The Mormon Church quickly resolved this issue by communicating with members of the faith and working together with local authorities. By March 22, however, the United States had been in a State of Emergency for nine days. For perspective, most universities had sent all students home by Sunday, March 15. The fact that Mormon Missionaries were returning from abroad as recently as today is simply irresponsible. Fortunately, only two Missionaries have tested positive for the virus.

Suva Fiji Temple, Church of Latter Day Saints

The blame is not exclusively on the Church of Latter Day Saints, however. Pastors and other religious figures have been making headlines across the country for resisting local lockdown orders and social distancing guidelines. A Christian mega-church pastor was arrested in Tampa Bay this week for hosting a mass-liturgy in defiance of ‘stay-at-home’ orders, going so far as hiring busses to bring members to the Church. Even the President of the United States was antagonistic toward Coronavirus, initially claiming the virus was a Democratic hoax aimed at removing him from power. With the President and many State Governors actively disagreeing on containment efforts, perhaps the Mormons’ late response was simply a result of this rift. It is our nation’s leaders who must lead a unified pandemic response, after all.

The Pope understands the severity of the virus, however, given Vatican City’s location in Rome, Italy. The blessing he delivered to an empty St. Peter’s Square was streamed by over 11 million viewers.

Pope Francis prays for an end to Coronavirus

Throughout history, politics and religion have had a difficult time co-existing. Religious leaders have always had to be skeptical of politicians, especially when fighting against persecution. Coronavirus, however, is not an attempt to undermine religious power. Pastors will not be viewed as martyrs for defying quarantine; instead, they will be viewed as murderers.

President Donald Trump is to blame for America’s botched response to COVID-19, but we must expect all leaders to take responsibility for their own constituents, whether they be faithful believers or tax-paying voters.

Written by

Journalist, entrepreneur and student - Boston College, University of Otago. Buddhist. Expert adventurer and consultant for conducting business in Asia.

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