A day after the state’s health care leaders begged Utahns to wear masks with COVID-19 infections surging, an interfaith group of 28 religious leaders issued a joint appeal to people of faith to use face coverings.
Latter-day Saint, evangelical, Catholic, Jewish, Islamic and other faith leaders asked Utahns to sacrifice “a small measure of comfort for the sake of saving lives.”
“As faith leaders, many of us have seen the effects of this virus on vulnerable persons in our congregations,” they said in a letter sent out on the letterhead of Utah Gov. Gary Herbert.
“We pray for the end of this devastating pandemic. However, the reality is that our actions must accompany those prayers,” they added. “Please join us in continuing to take action to prevent the further spread of the pandemic by wearing masks in public and maintaining physical distancing.”
Earlier Wednesday, Herbert pleaded with Utahns to wear masks in public and said he will sign an executive order requiring face coverings in state buildings overseen by his office. He agreed to join the faith leaders, spokeswoman Brooke Scheffler said, because he wanted to convey the urgency of the state’s situation.
Pamela Atkinson, an elder of the First Presbyterian Church, said Herbert has been in regular contact with the faith leaders throughout the pandemic, providing information and expressing gratitude. During a brainstorming session with his staff and advisers about encouraging people to wear masks, Atkinson suggested asking for help from the state’s faith groups. Once the letter was drafted, she quickly contacted the faith leaders.
“There was a consensus that this is just a small act people could do, protecting themselves and also protecting other people,” she said.
The letter from the interfaith leaders, which was publicly read in its entirety Wednesday by the governor in a press conference, said:
“Over the last several weeks we have seen alarming increases in COVID-19 infection rates in the state of Utah. The state epidemiologist has identified the lack of masks and social distancing as key factors responsible for the increase. As faith leaders, many of us have seen the effects of this virus on vulnerable persons in our congregations. COVID-19 has caused so many disruptions in people’s lives including mental, physical and financial stress.
“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.
“We pray for the end of this devastating pandemic. However, the reality is that our actions must accompany those prayers. Please join us in continuing to take action to prevent the further spread of the pandemic by wearing masks in public and maintaining physical distancing.”
The letter was signed by Rev. Curtis Price, First Baptist Church, Salt Lake City; Rev. Monica Dobbins, First Unitarian Church; Rev. Fred Smullin, Morgan Valley Church; Rev. David Nichols, Mount Tabor Lutheran Church, Salt Lake City; Elder Randy D. Funk, first counselor in the Utah Area Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; Bishop Oscar Solis, Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake; Bishop Scott Hayashi, Episcopalian Diocese of Utah; Rev. Greg Johnson, Executive Director, Standing Together (100 Evangelical Utah Churches); Rev. Charles Robinson, St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Park City; Joelle Wight, Seventy, Community of Christ Church; and Rev. Russell Butler, Christ United Methodist Church, Salt Lake City.
The other signees were Rev. Mary Janda, Episcopal Priest (Retired); Rev. Jerry Hirano, Salt Lake Buddhist Temple; Anna Zumwalt, Zen Priest; Rev. Steve Klemz, Zion’s Evangelical Lutheran Church; Rev. Monica Hall, Trinity Presbyterian Church, Ogden; Rev. Marijke Rossi, Holladay United Church of Christ; Rev. Tom Goldsmith, First Unitarian Church; Imam Yasir Butt, Islamic Society of Greater Salt Lake; Rev. Shesh Tipton, Holladay United Church of Christ; Rabbi Sam Spector, Congregation Kol Ami; Rabbi Benny Zippel, Chabad Lubavitch of Utah; Rabbi Avremi Zippel, Chabad Lubavitch of Utah; Pamela Atkinson, Elder, First Presbyterian Church; Rev. Scott Delgarno, Wasatch Presbyterian Church; Josie Stone, Chair, Salt Lake Interfaith Roundtable; Rev. Steve Aeschbacher, First Presbyterian Church; Rev. Trace Browning, All Saints Episcopal Church.