Medicine Versus the Priesthood?

Medicine Versus the Priesthood? March 12, 2020


Edelfelt's Pasteur
Louis Pasteur in his Paris laboratory, ca. 1885 (by Albert Edelfelt).  Rumors that Latter-day Saints pronounce ritual curses upon him every Sunday remain, thus far, without corroborating support.

(Wikimedia Commons public domain image)


Particularly in the wake of announcements about — to choose some prominent examples — the coronavirus-driven withdrawal of missionaries from certain areas, the closing of the Conference Center to the public for the approaching annual General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the suspension of classroom teaching at Brigham Young University, and the temporary cancellation of all Church meetings, I’ve been seeing a raft of genuinely juvenile comments by embittered and disaffected former believers.


They pretend, at least, to be puzzled at the lack of faith that Church leaders are demonstrating by following best epidemiological practices.  And, anyway, can’t the Church’s purportedly magical priesthood power simply put an end to COVID-19? Couldn’t Church leaders just say a prayer over our meetings that would keep the virus out?  Heck, couldn’t they cure it worldwide?


I have a difficult time imagining that they ever really imagined such things when they were believers as they now mockingly ascribe to the faithful Latter-day Saints among whom they were once numbered.  Did they never know a Latter-day Saint physician before their apostasies?  A Latter-day Saint dentist?  A Latter-day Saint nurse?  A Latter-day Saint physical therapist?  A Latter-day Saint optician?  A Latter-day Saint counselor or psychologist?  (Such folks aren’t exactly rarities.  I’ve known them most or all of my life.  At least one example of each lives in my local neighborhood ward.)


Have any reputable Latter-day Saints or Latter-day Saint leaders seriously contended that medicine, dentistry, and health care are unnecessary, on the grounds that priesthood blessings will take care of everything? Have any reputable Latter-day Saints or Latter-day Saint leaders counseled the Saints to ignore modern medicine and to take no scientific counsel for maintaining their health?


(I realize, of course, that Brigham Young and certain other early Church leaders were critical of the “medicine” of the first several decades of the nineteenth century.  But their complaints were not without merit in the days of leeching and quack elixirs, before such things as Louis Pasteur’s germ theory and the antiseptic procedures of Joseph Lister and Ignaz Semmelweis entered into general medical practice.  Their criticisms aren’t relevant to my point, which is about modern medical science — something that, it can be argued, only really arose in the latter part of the nineteenth century.)


Do these critics really, seriously, imagine that Russell M. Nelson, M.D., Ph.D., the current president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — a man who, prior to his call to the apostleship, had a highly successful and influential career as a heart surgeon, disdains medical science?  That he (or, for that matter, his fellow apostle and fellow former professor of medicine, Elder Dale G. Renlund, M.D.) believes that people should ignore medical advice and dispense with medical precautions but rely solely on prayer?


Were the critics ever taught in the Church that we should take no reasonable actions or precautions on our own, but simply wait for the Lord to do everything on our behalf without our lifting a finger?


They mock the Church for behaving with prudence and caution.


But guess who would be the first to attack the Church if it failed to take reasonable precautions against the spread of the coronavirus.  Go ahead.  Try to guess.



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