Guest Post: They Saw This Coming and Gave us a Manual to Study at Home? #CopingWithCOVID19

by Wendy Chapman

As we were quarantined during the Covid-19 crisis, our ward had a sacrament meeting via Zoom, and I listened to the testimonies of my fellow ward members. There were a few comments about the Savior providing hope in a time of challenge and of renewed appreciation for the cycle in the Book of Mormon of prosperity followed by descent into wickedness, great challenge and despair, a turn to faith, then prosperity again. Those comments resonate with me.

But the most frequent message I heard was being grateful for our prophet and his prescience in knowing this was coming and preparing the church with the Come Follow Me manual so that we could study the gospel at home during quarantine.

A New York Times article told the story of a young ED doctor, Andres Maldonado, who contracted the virus and was admitted to the hospital in abject terror and fear as he struggled to breathe. After 6 days, he left the hospital with his life and newfound empathy for being a patient. A nurse who worked with him and initiated his care “stepped out, weeping and also cursing. ‘I felt incredible anger,’ she said — at America’s lack of preparation for the virus, at shortages of protective equipment, at official dithering that had left Maldonado and other medical workers at risk.”

If our prophets knew what was coming, it’s really too bad they didn’t help prepare for the devastation by purchasing, storing, and distributing personal protective equipment.

Back when the Relief Society had an independent budget, they sent aid to the world through their preparations. Emmeline B. Wells organized a wheat storage program among the women of the church. They eventually bought their own fields and built their own granaries.  As this church article states,

Women would watch the wheat market and buy when prices were low and sell when they were high. Tips about combating pests and when to buy or sell were discussed at various Relief Society meetings.

The Relief Society used the wheat and its proceeds to help the poor. In 1906 the Relief Society donated train cars of flour milled from Relief Society wheat to both the survivors of the San Francisco earthquake and those experiencing famine in China. In 1918 all 200,000 bushels of Relief Society wheat were sold to the United States government to meet the food emergency caused by World War I. The proceeds from the wheat sale were used to support maternity hospitals in the Salt Lake Valley.*

Veneration of the Come Follow Me manual as the zenith of the prophet’s revelation from God in relation to a global pandemic reminds me of Wm. Pepperell Montague’s statements in the opening chapter of Belief Unbound. He speaks of authoritarianism as a threat to religion: “The other evil product of the authoritarian spirit is its implicit yet thoroughgoing subordination of what ought to be to what is, of value to fact, of right to might, of ethics to religion…The result of this phase of authoritarianism is to put all values on one dead level, those that are enduringly important, along with those that are trivial, transitory, or totally irrelevant.”

Lowell Bennion paraphrased Montague: “Religion is the faith that the things that matter most in life are not ultimately at the mercy of the things that matter least.”

It’s great to have home worship (one other testimony said, “this opportunity to become more spiritually independent is inspired.”) I guess the Zoom developers and the inventors of the internet also played a hand in our being able to remain more socially connected during this trying time, and I’m grateful for that. But before we give too much praise for a home study manual, let’s not forget about the things that matter even more—protecting our families, community, and frontline health providers from getting sick. There wasn’t enough preparation from anyone for that, including our prophet and our prosperous church.


*While the wheat program stands as a testament to the industry, organization, and foresight of the Relief Society, this 1918 sale of wheat was in one sense a dark moment for the Relief Society organization, as it was the President of the Church who agreed to sell the Relief Society wheat to the government, without consulting the Relief Society. Relief Society leaders were understandably upset to not be consulted about the sale of their own property, and this moment stands as one of many in the twentieth century in which the Relief Society began to lose autonomy and power over its own organization. See Women of Covenant: The History of Relief Society by Jill Derr, Janath Cannon, and Maureen Ursenbach Beecher, p. 211-213.

Wendy Chapman loves skiing, mountain biking, and cooking–especially for guests. She served a mission in Hong Kong and has lived in Salt Lake City, Utah; Madison, Wisconsin; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and San Diego, California. She moved to Australia with her husband and youngest of three children last September for her new job at the University of Melbourne.

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6 Responses

  1. Em says:

    I think this is a really good point. I think a lot of LDS people desperately want the process of revelation for the First Presidency to look dramatically different from our own — they should be more like fortunetellers, having specific information, or being ordered to do specific things. But I think your post points to the likelihood that the Q12 and the First Presidency probably have revelation just like ours — a vague sense of urgency, or a sense of unease about a particular thing. Clearly they cannot have literally known the details of this pandemic, I cannot imagine that if they did their only response would be to update lesson manuals. But a sense several years ago of moving individuals more toward spiritual independence makes sense to me.

    I also think we have a tendency to believe in some kind of clearly visible cause and effect relationship in inspiration. You see it a lot with talks on tithing. If you obey tithing, the blessing you get will be a financial one. That makes no sense. Similarly because the Come Follow Me program is particularly beneficial to us during the pandemic we assume that it came into being FOR the pandemic. But perhaps the reasons are far more complicated and ten years from now people will be saying “THIS is why we need Come Follow Me!” For reasons that are likely beyond our ken, we need to become more spiritually self-sufficient. We needed a curriculum that was less repetitious, empty and auto-pilot. I for one thought the manuals were totally inadequate for youth Sunday School (since there wasn’t one specifically for teenagers) and for YM/YW. We needed this. It’s especially helpful to us when we cannot rely on church, but we needed this regardless.

    I think your points about other forms of preparedness ring true as well. At the beginning of the pandemic local medical facilities could not get their hands on gloves or sanitizer and put out requests in the community to donate what people had in their homes. Being an anxious person I had a fair sized stockpile (not the result of hoard buying once scarcity set in) and donated it along with other local church members. Our preparedness should be such that we can bless those around us, both individually and as an institution

  2. Abby Hansen says:

    This is such a good post! And I think it reasons to say, no – no leader in our church was shown a vision of what was about to happen this year, because if they did and they only came up with a lesson manual in response to a global catastrophe – they’d be kind of terrible world leaders. There’s a desire for them have been prophetic for sure, but I don’t think this is an example of it actually happening at all.

    And the Relief Society wheat story (when it’s sold without their permission) always makes me nuts. It’s like me selling my neighbor’s car without even asking them until it’s already done, but saying it’s fine because I’m the HOA president and in thus in charge.

  3. Caroline says:

    Thanks for this post. Like Em says above, the discourse you point to about prophets knowing this pandemic was coming is indicative of so many members’ belief in the “zap” theory of of revelation when it comes to our highest church leaders. This theory usually entails God clearly and immediately communicating all sorts of information and it’s transferred seamlessly to the prophet. But as you point out in your post, that theory of revelation opens up all sorts of cans of worms. Far more likely is they get their revelation exactly like the rest of us do. Impressions, feeling good about x,y,z, etc.

  4. KJ says:

    Wanted to pop in and give some context to the CFM manual – when I was in a single’s ward in the SL valley towards the end of Pres Monson’s tenure as president – and while he was in the throes of dementia – our stake was one of the pilot programs of the CFM manual. So, it didn’t originate with Pres. Nelson. It was a product of the Sunday School and Correlation Committees, overseen by whichever of the 12 was supervising the effort, and was vetted before it was rolled out to the greater church at large. It just happened to be rolled out in Pres. Nelson’s time as president.

  5. Just Me says:

    At the beginning of April’s General Conference, President Nelson admitted that the situation was not what he had envisioned when he said it would be a conference like nothing we’d seen before. I appreciated his honesty in admitting that, and wish we saw more of that in the attitude of the people he leads. Even after that, though, our ward devotionals were full of comments about how grateful they were to have a leader who saw this coming. Sigh.

  6. meri says:

    He HELPED prepare us without necessarily knowing what he and others were preparing us for. They were inspired to do what they did, and we can benefit greatly from their efforts in following through on thing they were inspired to do.

    I am sometimes amazed at how critical some can be of others’ testimonies yet so defensive of their own (or their own lack of one).

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