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Free Agency and Eternal Families

Free agency

Every faithful Mormon believes there were two plans proposed in the pre-existence: one in which we essentially don’t have free agency and one in which we do. In the end, after some sort of battle, the Savior and the plan to have free agency won out.

Thinking about it, there are very few religions that allow less free agency than the Mormon church. Everything from what you eat, how you dress, and what you do on various days and nights of the week is laid out. Disagree with something taught by the leaders of the church? You can’t say anything or you will lose the ability to go to the temple, forfeit your chance at an eternal family, and be ostracized by other members. Think the prophet is morally wrong on an issue? You have to obey him all the same. That’s a direct teaching from the prophet himself.

Isn’t the very church that should support free agency the one most destroying it? It teaches that you shouldn’t study any aspect of the church or its history unless your source is not critical. It tells investigators their church is wrong, but excommunicates active members who write factual history critical of its own version of history. If you leave the church without jumping through crazy hoops to remove your name, it tracks you for the rest of your life and hounds you with visits and guilt. It tells you that it’s terrible to turn down assignments and callings, even if you feel uncomfortable with them. It tells you that in order to be worthy of an eternal family, you have to do a laundry list of tasks, ordinances, and commandments that most will never achieve.

That also seems at odds with Christ’s teachings in the New Testament. His focus was consistently on the higher commandments, loving God and one another, and He frequently decried the Pharisees and their focus on the letter of the law. When I read the account of His life, I don’t see an emphasis on rituals, strict obedience to specific commandments, or enforced guidance on so many details in people’s lives. I see a focus on being a good person. But try getting a temple recommend if you spent the last year working in a soup kitchen and didn’t pay your tithing.

Hugh Nibley once said:

“The worst sinners, according to Jesus, are not the harlots and publicans, but the religious leaders with their insistence on proper dress and grooming, their careful observance of all the rules, their precious concern for status symbols, their strict legality, their pious patriotism… the haircut becomes the test of virtue in a world where Satan deceives and rules by appearances.”

Scare tactics

I don’t think any religion uses scare tactics as subtly and effectively as the Mormon church. Take for example this story from President Spencer W. Kimball, from

“A few years ago a young couple who lived in northern Utah came to Salt Lake City for their marriage. They did not want to bother with a temple marriage, or perhaps they did not feel worthy. At any rate, they had a civil marriage. After the marriage they got into their automobile and drove north to their home for a wedding reception. On their way home they had an accident, and when the wreckage was cleared, there was a dead man and a dead young woman. They had been married only an hour or two. Their marriage was ended. They thought they loved each other. They wanted to live together forever, but they did not live the commandments that would make that possible. So death came in and closed that career. They may have been good young people; I don’t know. But they will be angels in heaven if they are. They will not be gods and goddesses and priests and priestesses because they did not fulfill the commandments and do the things that were required at their hands.”

Even taken alone, that’s a terrible way to teach a doctrine. Fear should not be the motivating force of a Christian religion. But look at where the quote is found: in a current edition Young Women’s Manual. Scare them while they’re young and impressionable!

The irony, of course, is that President Spencer W. Kimball had a civil marriage and only was sealed seven months later. Oops!

Eternal families

I don’t get why the Mormon church claims eternal families as its own special doctrine. Most Christian and many other religions teach that people and families can be together in heaven. In many ways, the Mormon church teaches that families will be together forever in fewer cases than other Christian churches. Why do I say that? Because they teach that there are 5 segments to heaven: telestial, terrestrial, and three levels of the celestial. Anyone in the lower two levels, which the church teaches will be the vast majority of people, will have no eternal families.

Does that sound like the plan of a loving Heavenly Father? That only a precious few will be able to live with their families forever and that the division will be the difference in their earthly beliefs? The church clearly teaches that the people in the terrestrial kingdom will be honorable. “They will be those who did not accept Jesus on earth but later accepted Him in the spirit world.” Considering that 99.8% of the world right now are not members and that only 35% of members are active, it doesn’t seem like a policy that a loving Heavenly Father would have.

I believe very strongly, along with most of Christianity, that I will be able to be together with my family in heaven, at least with the people who make it there. But I don’t believe in multiple strict divisions in heaven that will eternally separate most families.

Remember that marriage is taught as being required to enter the celestial kingdom. According to church teachings, you simply cannot gain entrance above the terrestrial kingdom without being married. Where does that leave gay members? They are counseled that heterosexual marriage is not the answer, are told that homosexual marriage is a great sin, and yet they cannot live with their families forever unless they do get married.

It’s funny, but the more I study it and think about it, the concept of eternal family as taught by the church is just a carrot dangling before a horse. How many faithful members have parents, siblings or children that, even if the church was true, would not be with them in the celestial kingdom? Sure the occasional horse will manage to catch the carrot while it is swinging back and forth, but that’s a rare case.

But doesn’t the church teach about free agency frequently?

No, in fact it is teaching about it less and less. I personally searched through the 30+ years of General Conference addresses. The term “free agency” has not been used in General Conference since 2008 and even then was just quoting a church leader from 1971. Really, it hasn’t been used in a GC sermon in over a decade. Here is the distribution:

2011: 0 times

2010: 0 times

2009: 0 times

2008: 1 time (source) *as part of a quote from 1971*

2007: 0 times

2006: 1 time (source) *as part of a quote from a non-church leader*

2005: 0 times

2004: 1 time (source) *as part of a quote from a 1982 book*

2003: 0 times

2002: 0 times

2001: 1 time (source)

2000: 0 times

1999: 0 times

1998: 1 time (source)

1997: 0 times

1996: 0 times

1995: 2 times (source 1, source 2)

1994: 0 times

1993: 0 times

1992: 3 times (source 1, source 2, source 3)

1991: 1 time (source)

1990: 5 times (source 1, source 2, source 3, source 4, source 5)

1989: 3 times (source 1, source 2, source 3)

1988: 2 times (source 1, source 2)

1987: 5 times (source 1, source 2, source 3, source 4, source 5)

I think you get the idea by now. By the way, the next numbers are 2, 4, 2, 6, 5, and 4. Over the last 16 years, it was mentioned in 5 General Conference addresses, 3 of which were just quotes. In the previous 16 years, it was mentioned 44 times. The church used to call it “the most precious of all gifts” but now rarely mentions it. In fact, sometimes it suppresses mention of it by General Authorities as can be seen by the next blog post.

Next Step: The Greatest Talk the Church Has Never Given

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