This is the fourth in a series of posts that examines the topic of Mormon spirituality, or how we respond to the Divine in personal living. Readers can find the first here, the second here, and the third here. There will be one final consecutive subject covered. The purpose of the series is to explain why Mormons are the way they are and what that has to do with religion and doctrine. It was inspired by critics who seem to misunderstand or question the inner spirituality of Mormons as materialists or shallow.
Many people who hear that “Families can be together forever” recognize it as an important Mormon teaching. It has been said that Mormons were concerned about the concept of “family values” before it became a political catch phrase. There is the vague notion that we are all related to God as sons and daughters, and therefore brothers and sisters to each other. This amounts to an expectation of large familes. What is less thought about is exactly how central the family is to the Mormon theology of Salvation.
The idea of family is not just about some kind of cosmic emotional connection to a Higher Power. Rather, the family cements each person to God in a way that goes beyond simple relatedness. The power of the Atonement is fully crystallized when humans become part of a structure patterned after an eternal organization. To not become part of that pre-existing community is to keep from reaching the full potential of the individual. Damnation is to be single and without family.
Because of the great religious and moral importance of family, it becomes necessary to pay attention to the Proclamation to the World on the subject. Particularly, we should seriously consider the final declaration:
We warn that individuals who violate covenants of chastity, who abuse spouse or offspring, or who fail to fulfill family responsibilities will one day stand accountable before God. Further, we warn that the disintegration of the family will bring upon individuals, communities, and nations the calamities foretold by ancient and modern prophets
This is more than words that can be lightly ignored. To understand the full meaning of the warnings, it is necessary to realize family existed before the physical world was created. Every spirit that eventually came to earth had a direct relationship to God our Heavenly Father. After much debate, and the loss of many to a dark fate from their own choices, those who decided to participate in mortality left the comforts of spiritual adolescence in hopes of a greater maturity. The risks involved were as enormous as the rewards. From Abraham 3: 24 – 26 we read:
24 And there stood one among them that was like unto God, and he said unto those who were with him: We will go down, for there is space there, and we will take of these materials, and we will make an earth whereon these may dwell;
25 And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them;
26 And they who keep their first estate shall be added upon; and they who keep not their first estate shall not have glory in the same kingdom with those who keep their first estate; and they who keep their second estate shall have glory added upon their heads for ever and ever.
Once we came to earth and gained a body, our true test began. From the start of the mortal probation with the first souls there were commandments and covenants associated with the family unit of father, mother, and children. Genesis Chapter 1: 27 reads, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.” They were commanded to be fruitful and multiply; or simply put have children. It wasn’t just the mother or father these words were directed, but both together sharing responsibilities. Later, after they had eaten of the forbidden fruit and became truly capable of procreation, the relationships were made even more concrete. As Genesis 3: 16-17 explains:
4 And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female,
5 And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh?
6 Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.
Men and women are supposed to be together. He continues and explains that divorce should be a last resort because of faithlessness and immorality rather than no-fault decisions. Jesus’ blessing of the children continues the theme of the sacred nature of families. Children are the foundation of Heaven. Mention of marriage and children both go with a warning that treating the institution of family with impunity can have spiritually disastrous results. Any deviation from this would have to be strictly at the command of God’s instructions. That includes taking on additional wives or not starting a family at all.
Children are equally to show respect for the family before leaving to start their own. One of the Ten Commandments specifically states, “Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.” The promises for showing proper respect for parents extend far beyond long life on a tract of earth. Again, this ideal of family life doesn’t make much sense outside of an agrarian society. Very few parents these days have the ability to hand down anything to the next generation. There aren’t the same kinds of ties to blood that used to exist.
Looking past the material aspects of the commandment, there are still some grand spiritual promises behind the words. The Prophet Ether in the Book of Mormon explains how the house of Israel and the seed of Joseph would be blessed after the great judgement. Family inheritance reaches beyond our short lives and into eternity. In Ether 13: 5 – 9, he talks about the Old and New Jerusalem as places of residence for those saved by the blood of Christ:
5 And he spake also concerning the house of Israel, and the Jerusalem from whence Lehi should come—after it should be destroyed it should be built up again, a holy city unto the Lord; wherefore, it could not be a new Jerusalem for it had been in a time of old; but it should be built up again, and become a holy city of the Lord; and it should be built unto the house of Israel.
6 And that a New Jerusalem should be built up upon this land, unto the remnant of the seed of Joseph, for which things there has been a type.
7 For as Joseph brought his father down into the land of Egypt, even so he died there; wherefore, the Lord brought a remnant of the seed of Joseph out of the land of Jerusalem, that he might be merciful unto the seed of Joseph that they should perish not, even as he was merciful unto the father of Joseph that he should perish not.
8 Wherefore, the remnant of the house of Joseph shall be built upon this land; and it shall be a land of their inheritance; and they shall build up a holy city unto the Lord, like unto the Jerusalem of old; and they shall no more be confounded, until the end come when the earth shall pass away.
9 And there shall be a new heaven and a new earth; and they shall be like unto the old save the old have passed away, and all things have become new.
Such lavish inheritance come from, as stated above, the House of Israel as given to the patriarch Abraham. His sons and grandsons were equally covenanted that they would receive lands set apart for the faithful. It would not end with them, but through their blood dynasty the whole of humanity would be saved.
The key to partaking in the promises made to the Hebrew family is though Jesus Christ. The Atonement allowed all sins to be forgiven and a new covenant administered to the whole human family. The blood of Jesus becomes the power of adoption through faith and repentance. Baptism acts as the birthing process where a new spiritual creature emerges from the womb of mortality.
In Galatians 3: 26-29 Paul explains:
26 For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.
27 For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.
28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.
29 And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
With Christ, the uniting of the eternal family can return full circle. Receiving the inheritance of the second estate as discussed in our pre-earth life becomes a real hope. Paul states in Ephesians 3: 14 -15 with traces of emotion, “For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named.” The Temple is where the eternal bonds of mother, father, children and God come together. A link is created not only between those now living, but the whole of generations both past and present.
Joseph Smith in D & C 128: 15 – 18 explains:
15 And now, my dearly beloved brethren and sisters, let me assure you that these are principles in relation to the dead and the living that cannot be lightly passed over, as pertaining to our salvation. For their salvation is necessary and essential to our salvation, as Paul says concerning the fathers—that they without us cannot be made perfect—neither can we without our dead be made perfect.
16 And now, in relation to the baptism for the dead, I will give you another quotation of Paul, 1 Corinthians 15:29: “Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? Why are they then baptized for the dead?”
17 And again, in connection with this quotation I will give you a quotation from one of the prophets, who had his eye fixed on the restoration of the priesthood, the glories to be revealed in the last days, and in an especial manner this most glorious of all subjects belonging to the everlasting gospel, namely, the baptism for the dead; for Malachi says, last chapter, verses 5th and 6th: “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.”
18 I might have rendered a plainer translation to this, but it is sufficiently plain to suit my purpose as it stands. It is sufficient to know, in this case, that the earth will be smitten with a curse unless there is a welding link of some kind or other between the fathers and the children, upon some subject or other—and behold what is that subject? It is the baptism for the dead. For we without them cannot be made perfect; neither can they without us be made perfect. Neither can they nor we be made perfect without those who have died in the gospel also; for it is necessary in the ushering in of the dispensation of the fulness of times, which dispensation is now beginning to usher in, that a whole and complete and perfect union, and welding together of dispensations, and keys, and powers, and glories should take place, and be revealed from the days of Adam even to the present time. And not only this, but those things which never have been revealed from the foundation of the world, but have been kept hid from the wise and prudent, shall be revealed unto babes and sucklings in this, the dispensation of the fulness of times.
Before we can save the generations past and future, we must be sealed to our own families. The marriage between man and woman is the start of eternal progression. Adam and Eve were archetypes, as Christ’s atonement had become the sealing mechanism. With the creation of family comes the ultimate expression of the joy of the Gospel. Becoming sealed together, as D & C 132:19 indicates, will bring blessings that mortals can hardly comprehend:
19 And again, verily I say unto you, if a man marry a wife by my word, which is my law, and by the new and everlasting covenant, and it is sealed unto them by the Holy Spirit of promise, by him who is anointed, unto whom I have appointed this power and the keys of this priesthood; and it shall be said unto them—Ye shall come forth in the first resurrection; and if it be after the first resurrection, in the next resurrection; and shall inherit thrones, kingdoms, principalities, and powers, dominions, all heights and depths—then shall it be written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, that he shall commit no murder whereby to shed innocent blood, and if ye abide in my covenant, and commit no murder whereby to shed innocent blood, it shall be done unto them in all things whatsoever my servant hath put upon them, in time, and through all eternity; and shall be of full force when they are out of the world; and they shall pass by the angels, and the gods, which are set there, to their exaltation and glory in all things, as hath been sealed upon their heads, which glory shall be a fulness and a continuation of the seeds forever and ever.
The prophet Ezra Taft Benson stated in terms similar to the Proclamation on the Family:
In an eternal sense, salvation is a family affair. God holds parents responsible for their stewardship in rearing their family. It is a most sacred responsibility.
Today we are aware of great problems in our society. The most obvious are sexual promiscuity, homosexuality, drug abuse, alcoholism, vandalism, pornography, and violence.
These grave problems are symptoms of failure in the home—the disregarding of principles and practices established by God in the very beginning.
Because some parents have departed from the principles the Lord gave for happiness and success, many families throughout the world are undergoing great stress and trauma. Many parents have been enticed to abandon their responsibilities in the home to seek after an elusive “self-fulfillment.” Some have abdicated parental responsibilities for pursuit of material things, unwilling to postpone personal gratification in the interest of their children’s welfare.
It is time to awaken to the fact that there are deliberate efforts to restructure the family along the lines of humanistic values. Images of the family and of love as depicted in television and film often portray a philosophy contrary to the commandments of God.
Innocent-sounding phrases are now used to give approval to sinful practices. Thus, the term “alternative life-style” is used to justify adultery and homosexuality, “freedom of choice” to justify abortion, “meaningful relationship” and “self-fulfillment” to justify sex outside of marriage.
If we continue with present trends, we can expect to have more emotionally disturbed young people, more divorce, more depression, and more suicide.
The family is the most effective place to instill lasting values in its members. Where family life is strong and based on principles and practices of the gospel of Jesus Christ, these problems do not as readily appear.
My message is to return to the God-ordained fundamentals that will ensure love, stability, and happiness in our homes.
Ezra Taft Benson, “Salvation—A Family Affair,” Ensign, Jul 1992, 2
Protecting what is called “family values” is essential to God’s plan of Salvation. It is not something we can tinker with and expect no consequences. The Scriptures are clear that the very purpose of existence is tied to marriage and family. Any person, community, or nation that does not protect the family will ultimately have to answer to God. Before that happens, a society that doesn’t respect the institution of traditional marriage and rearing of children has been warned by prophecy of disaster.