Saturday’s opening lecture was by First Counselor Henry Eyering. Elder Eyering’s assignment was to get church members motivated to keep the “Law of the Fast” (see my Oct. 2014 Review for a description of the Law of the Fast). In support of this he cited Isaiah 58:6ff, Matthew 25:44-45, and this citation from The Miracle of Forgiveness by former president Spencer W. Kimball:
“Rich promises are made by the Lord to those who fast and assist the needy. … Inspiration and spiritual guidance will come with righteousness and closeness to our Heavenly Father. To omit to do this righteous act of fasting would deprive us of these blessings.” (Spencer W. Kimball The Miracle of Forgiveness, 1969, pp. 98).
Elder Eyering continued by telling two sentimental stories. One related to the use of an LDS branch building in Vanuatu being used for shelter by people escaping a tropical storm. The second story was a relating of several church members in Sierra Leone who barely had enough food to live on and very little clothing. It was encouraging to see elder Eyering feeling pain over these situations but I could not help but feel hypocrisy seething out of my computer screen as I followed along. I was listening to a man wearing a thousand dollar suit in a massive million dollar church building, representing a church which has spent billions of dollars on constructing fancy temples all over the world. I was at a temple open house in Kansas City, MO several years ago when I noticed a man wearing military fatigues and carrying a sign. His major protests against the church seemed to revolve around its exorbitant spending, as well as the constructing of million dollar facilities, and the wearing of fancy clothing by its leaders. On his sign was written a selection from the Book of Mormon:
“They rob the poor because of their fine sanctuaries; they rob the poor because of their fine clothing; and they persecute the meek and the poor in heart, because in their pride they are puffed up” (1 Nephi 28:13).
At several junctures during the temple open house event we received comments about our clothing not being fancy enough, this seemed to validate the critique all the more. The church has made a name for itself in its disaster relief efforts and various other aid programs. To this I roundly applaud, it is easy to criticize but harder to move with action. From an outsider perspective, this guilt motivating message on the membership to provide for the poor would be better received if the church did not concern itself so obsessively with the wearing of “fine clothing” and the construction of “fine sanctuaries.”
As the Saturday morning conference session “strolled along” I began to notice a certain theme developing in the lectures. This is generally true to some extent but in this case it was incredibly palpable. Many of the lectures centered on the family structure within Mormon practice and theology.
President Boyd K. Packer followed and introduced his lecture with some feel good stories about his wife Donna. President Packer followed this by firmly asserting that “the end of all activity in the church is to see that a man and a woman, their children, are happy at home, sealed together for time and for all eternity.”
The basic LDS cosmology was summed up next,
“The gods went down to organize man in their own image, male and female, we will cause them to be fruitful and multiply. The command to be fruitful and multiply has never been rescinded. It is essential to the plan of redemption. Through this we may experience a fullness of joy, even godhood. Procreation is not part of the plan, it is the plan.”
The Book of Abraham in the LDS Scripture The Pearl of Great Price states,
“And they went down at the beginning, and they, that is the Gods, organized and formed the heavens and the earth.” Also, “And the Gods took counsel among themselves and said: Let us go down and form man in our image, after our likeness,” (Book of Abraham 4:1, 26).
For those Christians familiar with the “shema,” in which the oneness of God is firmly established (see Deut. 6), Mormon statements like these sound very shocking indeed. Such teachings do not exist in the formative LDS Scripture, The Book of Mormon, in fact there are clear statements which seem to contradict (See Alma 11:26-31; Moroni 8:18). Despite this fact Mormon general authorities and church manuals have consistently taught a plurality of gods and a “pre-existence” for mankind in heaven. LDS Apostle Dallin Oaks gives a nice summary of the LDS teaching on pre-existence,
“Our understanding of life begins with a council in heaven. There the spirit children of God were taught his eternal plan for their destiny. We had progressed as far as we could without a physical body and an experience in mortality. To realize a fullness of joy we had to prove our willingness to keep the commandments of God in a circumstance where we had no memory of what preceded our mortal birth,” (Dallin Oaks, “The Great Plan of Happiness,” Ensign, Nov. 1993, pp.72).
The church’s first prophet, Joseph Smith Jr. himself stated in a now famous sermon:
“In the beginning the head of the Gods called a council of the Gods; and they came together and concocted a plan to create the world and people in it. Now, I ask all who hear me, why the learned men who are preaching salvation say that God created the heavens and the earth out of nothing? The reason is that they are unlearned in the things of God,” (Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, ed. Joseph Fielding Smith, 1976, pp. 350).
Many of the statements during this session can only be adequately understood when looking at them through this prism. Later, Packer alludes to D&C 132 when he says,
“Therein are the keys of the holy priesthood, which glory shall be a fullness and a continuation of the seeds forever.” The text cited continues, “then shall they be gods, because they have no end,” (D&C 132:19-20).
This striving after exaltation to godhood has replaced the Christian hope of being with and worshipping God for all eternity. The LDS Scriptures (See D&C 76) teach three levels to heaven and give instructions relating to the type of person which shall inherit them. It is from the top level of heaven, called “Celestial,” that faithful temple married “worthy” Mormons can possibly earn “eternal lives” by which they mean eternal procreation with their temple sealed spouse(s). This is all performed on the basis of the “Holy Priesthood.”
Joseph Smith claimed to restore to the world the lost Melchizedek Priesthood. It is through the power of this priesthood and its keys that the doors are opened for a person holding such an office to earn exaltation to godhood.
They must maintain a level of worthiness and pass an examination by their bishop to receive a temple recommend and visit the temple periodically to have a temple endowment ceremony performed on them on behalf of someone else who is dead. This ceremony will be transferred upon a willing spirit in the afterlife and earn them the resurrection of their mortal body at the day of the great resurrection.
Spencer Kimball taught,
“It is a great privilege and blessing to hold the priesthood of God. Priesthood is divine authority bestowed upon worthy men that they might officiate in the ordinances of the gospel. The keys that have been given to those who hold the priesthood have come from heaven, for the priesthood is an everlasting principle that has existed with God from the beginning and it will exist throughout all eternity,” (Spencer W. Kimball, “The Privilege of Holding the Priesthood,” in Priesthood, 1981, pp. 1).
Kimball later stated,
“that priesthood which is permanent, permanent as long as we are worthy of it, and which can be our shield and our way unto the eternal worlds (ibid., pp. 3).
This explains the frequent reminders placed to the members of the church to attain, to remain worthy. Packer closes his talk this way. “We cannot escape the consequences when we transgress. Every debt of transgression must be paid.” To the believer in Jesus the Bible contrasts earning a wage with receiving a gift.
Romans 4:3-8 puts it this way,
“For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.”
Adding to this is the consideration that the New Testament spends most of its time talking about humanities unworthiness before God. This explains the need for God to send a Savior in the first place. Jesus tells a parable in Luke 18 which is illustrative toward this end. There are two characters, a Pharisee and a tax-collector. The Pharisee lists his achievements and even thanks God that he is not like the tax-collector. In contradistinction to this the tax-collector cannot even lift up his head but merely beats his breast, confesses that he is a sinner, and asks God to be merciful to him.
“this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
For all the discussion in the New Testament regarding righteousness and various activities, there is no mention of worthiness. This demonstrates a misunderstanding of the importance of works by Mormons. Rather than earning God’s favor we thank him for this undeserved gift (grace and gift are synonymous terms) with our deeds, earning ourselves nothing.
The next lecture I am looking at, was provided by elder Dallin Oaks of the quorum of the twelve apostles. He used “the parable of the sower” in order to encourage members of the church to avoid becoming like those whose root withers in the parable. According to Oaks even long term members can “slip into a condition where they have no root in themselves.” In order to keep one’s root they must be fed by spiritual food. However, the internet has become a dangerous place for people of faith. Oaks warns of “the internet which magnifies messages that menace faith.” Oddly, he next lists texting during sacrament as a potential root withering activity.
Technology has provided many pitfalls to the weary Latter-day Saint as once again Oaks warns that technology has accentuated another danger to the soul, that of questioning leadership or particular doctrines or church practices. This he calls the “keyhole view of the Gospel and the church.” For those aware of the latest concerns in the church these comments have an obvious goal of warding away the LDS faithful from using “technology” and the “internet” to research dubious events and contradictory teachings in the church’s history. Former Church historian Marlin K. Jensen cites an awareness regarding an exodus of church membership out the doors of the church and explains, “Everything’s out there for them to consume if they want to Google it.” Members are discovering Joseph Smith’s many wives and affairs with women like Fanny Alger, his money digging and glass looking, and changes in D&C revelations and are finding them troubling.
Like Packer, Oaks wants members to stay worthy and cites BYU scholar Hugh Nibley in stating that faith is “supposed to be a test, it’s supposed to be hard.” In order to avoid unworthiness Oaks places a challenge before the member, “keep your priorities fixed on the commandments of God and on the leadership of his church.” We can keep ourselves good soil. It’s up to us “to be converted to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We achieve this through prayer, Scripture reading, serving, and by regularly partaking of the sacrament.”
The final Saturday morning talk was delivered by Apostle L. Tom Perry. The positive position taken by the LDS church in the public sphere is praiseworthy. Perry acknowledges that many faiths have these truths in common. Last November several church authorities were invited to speak at an ecumenical family symposium at the Vatican. Perry explains the church’s participation in these ecumenical organizations by stating that they “want their voice to be heard against counterfeits and alternative lifestyles.”
After recognizing the similarities that all Christians have regarding the sanctity of marriage and importance of a mother and father for child rearing, however, Perry asks, “How are the LDS distinguished?” He provides the answer, “Only we have the eternal perspective on the Gospel.” In this statement he seems to conflate the idiosyncratic idea of “eternal marriage” with the “good news” about Jesus resurrection (Gospel means good news). This regard for marriage is a selling point for Perry. The church eliminates ‘til death do us part and replaces it with “for time and eternity.”
“We make it a subject of eternity, we take the commitment and the sanctity of marriage to a greater level because our belief and understanding [is] that families go back before this earth was and they will go forward into eternities.”
Like previous speakers in this session Perry affirms a belief in a “premortal life” where all people existed as “literal spirits and children of God our eternal father.” In this life the church offers a unique opportunity, namely, “that marriage performed by the proper authority will continue.” In fact, marriage is the “basic unit of the kingdom and government of God.” For head over heels spouses and loving parents this may sound attractive.
To be faithful to God we want to know what he believes about marriage. Jesus upholds marriage in several places including Mark 5 and Matthew 19. Jesus reaffirms the teaching of the Jewish Torah that a man should leave his father and mother and become one flesh with his wife. He also condemns divorce for any other reason than marital infidelity. Jesus sometimes taught things which provided stumbling blocks for his audience.
A difficult text to this concept of marriage exists in Matthew 10:35-37.It reads,
“I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” Luke words this challenge this way, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.”
In the Old Testament Israel frequently got in trouble for worshipping good things that God made. In Exodus and 1 Kings Israel is guilty of worshipping calves. God made calves. In Ezekiel 8 we are showed idolaters worshipping Chemosh, the sun god. God made the sun. Canaanite s led the Israelites to worship other animals and creeping things. God made all of these things as well. Could it be possible to take something fantastic, created by God, and make it an idol? Unequivocally, Israel’s history shows us that the answer is yes! Perhaps the church has led people to love father and mother more than Jesus by subtly replacing the great hope of “eternal life” with the hope for exaltation and “eternal lives.” The LDS Celestial Marriage manual teaches:
“By definition, exaltation includes the ability to procreate the family unit throughout eternity. This our Father in heaven has power to do. His marriage partner is our mother in heaven. We are their spirit children, born to them in the bonds of celestial marriage. The Lord would have all his children attain exaltation,” (Achieving a Celestial Marriage, 1976, pp. 129).
If it is God’s desire that all of his children gain exaltation then why does the Apostle Paul teach,
“To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single as I am. But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry,” (1 Cor. 7:8-9)?
Likewise, in Mark 12 we see a test put forth to Jesus by the Sadducee’s. The Sadducee’s did not believe in the resurrection on the last day. In order to trap Jesus they tell a little story about a man who had seven brothers. The man died and left his wife a widow. The first brother marries the widow and then dies. This situation repeats itself until all the brothers have married the woman. They then ask Jesus,
“In the resurrection, when they rise again, whose wife will she be? For the seven had her as wife.”
Jesus’ reply is instructive,
“For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.”
The doctrine we have been examining states that married couples will be sealed for time and eternity. Jesus does not respond to the Sadducee’s by offering them this hope. Remember, they want to know whose wife she would be, this presents a great opportunity to teach Celestial Marriage but instead Jesus tells us that she would be none of their wife after the resurrection because people are like the angels in the resurrection because they will not be married nor will they be given in marriage. These people were married in time and Jesus is giving them no hope of being married for eternity, neither does he mention temple marriage or binding and sealing of families forever. The clear weight of his teaching rests upon the breaking in of the Kingdom of God which precedes every other human institution in importance.