President Oaks’ much-needed Conference address

A friend of mine pointed out after General Conference that the title of President Oaks’ talk could have been: “No, our position hasn’t changed, why do you ask?”

Left-wing Latter-day Saints, questioning Latter-day Saints and former Latter-day Saints keep on asking, so I guess we will keep on getting the occasional talk at General Conference reaffirming what the vast majority of active Latter-day Saints already know, to wit: “no, the Church’s position on social issues hasn’t changed.”

But President Oaks’ talk is much deeper — and much more important — than I think some people realize. Now that the transcript is up and available, let’s go through the entire talk, which is titled “Truth and the Plan.”

President Oaks starts out by pointing out we should be careful about our sources of information:

We live in a time of greatly expanded and disseminated information. But not all of this information is true. We need to be cautious as we seek truth and choose sources for that search. We should not consider secular prominence or authority as qualified sources of truth. We should be cautious about relying on information or advice offered by entertainment stars, prominent athletes, or anonymous internet sources. Expertise in one field should not be taken as expertise on truth in other subjects…Our personal decisions should be based on information from sources that are qualified on the subject and free from selfish motivations.

President Oaks then discusses the problem of only relying on “scientific or secular” sources for information, and sums it up:

We find true and enduring joy by coming to know and acting upon the truth about who we are, the meaning of mortal life, and where we are going when we die. Those truths cannot be learned by scientific or secular methods.

President Oaks does not say it directly, but he appears to me to be warning about the dangers of “scientism,” the practice of worshipping far-fetched ideas about science, rather than understanding that science has limits in what it can tell us about the world. Let me illustrate by telling a quick story: I was discussing religion with an atheist friend recently, and he said he believes in “science, not fairy tales about religion.” I told him that I also believed in science, and one of the great things about true science is that it tells us things about the world that are provable through the scientific method. True scientists also know that there are many limits to what science can tell us. I asked him, “what if Heavenly Father and angels take place on a plane of existence that science has not yet discovered yet?” I am sad to report that he had never even considered that idea. This person was worshipping “scientism” without even realizing it.

President Oaks then laid out a brilliant summary of the truths of the restored gospel:

I will now speak of restored gospel truths that are fundamental to the doctrine of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Please consider these truths carefully. They explain much about our doctrine and practices, perhaps including some things not yet understood.

There is a God, who is the loving Father of the spirits of all who have ever lived or will live.

Gender is eternal. Before we were born on this earth, we all lived as male or female spirits in the presence of God.

We have just heard the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square sing “I Will Follow God’s Plan.”3 That is the plan God established so that all of His spirit children could progress eternally. That plan is vital to each of us.

Under that plan, God created this earth as a place where His beloved spirit children could be born into mortality to receive a physical body and to have the opportunity for eternal progress by making righteous choices.

To be meaningful, mortal choices had to be made between contesting forces of good and evil. There had to be opposition and, therefore, an adversary, who was cast out because of rebellion and was allowed to tempt God’s children to act contrary to God’s plan.

The purpose of God’s plan was to give His children the opportunity to choose eternal life. This could be accomplished only by experience in mortality and, after death, by postmortal growth in the spirit world.

In the course of mortal life, we would all be soiled by sin as we yielded to the evil temptations of the adversary, and we would eventually die. We accepted those challenges in reliance upon the plan’s assurance that God our Father would provide a Savior, His Only Begotten Son, who would rescue us by a universal resurrection to an embodied life after death. The Savior would also provide an atonement to pay the price for all to be cleansed from sin on the conditions He prescribed. Those conditions included faith in Christ, repentance, baptism, the gift of the Holy Ghost, and other ordinances performed by priesthood authority.

God’s great plan of happiness provides a perfect balance between eternal justice and the mercy we can obtain through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. It also enables us to be transformed into new creatures in Christ.

A loving God reaches out to each of us. We know that through His love and because of the Atonement of His Only Begotten Son, “all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of [His] Gospel” (Articles of Faith 1:3; emphasis added).

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is properly known as a family-centered Church. But what is not well understood is that our family-centeredness is focused on more than mortal relationships. Eternal relationships are also fundamental to our theology. “The family is ordained of God.”4 Under the great plan of our loving Creator, the mission of His restored Church is to help the children of God achieve the supernal blessing of exaltation in the celestial kingdom, which can be attained only through an eternal marriage between a man and a woman (see Doctrine and Covenants 131:1–3). We affirm the Lord’s teachings that “gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose” and that “marriage between man and woman is essential to His eternal plan.”5

Finally, God’s love is so great that, except for the few who deliberately become sons of perdition, He has provided a destiny of glory for all of His children. “All of His children” includes all who are dead. We perform ordinances for them by proxy in our temples. The purpose of the Church of Jesus Christ is to qualify His children for the highest degree of glory, which is exaltation or eternal life. For those who do not desire or qualify for that, God has provided other, though lesser, kingdoms of glory.

Anyone who understands these eternal truths can understand why we members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints think as we do and do as we do.

I quote this entire section of his talk because it is one of the best and most convincing summaries of what our church is all about that I have ever heard.

What are the applications of these truths?

First, we honor individual agency. Most are aware of the restored Church’s great efforts to promote religious freedom in the United States and across the world. These efforts do not promote just our own interests but, according to His plan, seek to help all of God’s children enjoy freedom to choose.

Second, we are a missionary people. We are sometimes asked why we send missionaries to so many nations, even among Christian populations. We receive the same question about why we give many millions of dollars of humanitarian aid to persons who are not members of our Church and why we do not link this aid to our missionary efforts. We do this because we esteem all mortals as children of God—our brothers and sisters—and we want to share our spiritual and temporal abundance with everyone.

Third, mortal life is sacred to us. Our commitment to God’s plan requires us to oppose abortion and euthanasia.

Fourth, some are troubled by some of our Church’s positions on marriage and children. Our knowledge of God’s revealed plan of salvation requires us to oppose current social and legal pressures to retreat from traditional marriage and to make changes that confuse or alter gender or homogenize the differences between men and women. We know that the relationships, identities, and functions of men and women are essential to accomplish God’s great plan.

Fifth, we also have a distinctive perspective on children. We look on the bearing and nurturing of children as part of God’s plan and a joyful and sacred duty of those given the power to participate in it. In our view, the ultimate treasures on earth and in heaven are our children and our posterity. Therefore, we must teach and contend for principles and practices that provide the best conditions for the development and happiness of children—all children.

Finally, we are beloved children of a Heavenly Father, who has taught us that maleness and femaleness, marriage between a man and a woman, and the bearing and nurturing of children are all essential to His great plan of happiness. Our positions on these fundamentals frequently provoke opposition to the Church. We consider that inevitable. Opposition is part of the plan, and Satan’s most strenuous opposition is directed at whatever is most important to God’s plan. He seeks to destroy God’s work. His prime methods are to discredit the Savior and His divine authority, to erase the effects of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, to discourage repentance, to counterfeit revelation, and to contradict individual accountability. He also seeks to confuse gender, to distort marriage, and to discourage childbearing—especially by parents who will raise children in truth.

I would ask all readers to re-read the paragraph in bold above. President Oaks is pointing out the truth of what is happening in the world today. God will reveal his will to the prophets, of whom President Oaks is one. Satan will oppose the will of the Father. Today that is manifested clearly in those who want to “confuse gender, to distort marriage, and to discourage childbearing.”

I was struck by the acknowledgement that Church leaders are aware of those opposed to the Church and that they consider this opposition “inevitable.” Note to people opposed to the Church: the leadership understands where you are coming from. They understand that “opposition is part of the plan.” But note that the leadership believes that such opposition comes from Satan. So, good luck with that.

President Oaks’ talk reminds us that truth comes from spiritual activity and following Church leadership. He reminds us of the limits of what the world will teach us. And he reminds us that the Adversary will always be opposed to the truth. This is a much-needed reminder in today’s very confused world.

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About Geoff B.

Geoff B graduated from Stanford University (class of 1985) and worked in journalism for several years until about 1992, when he took up his second career in telecommunications sales. He has held many callings in the Church, but his favorite calling is father and husband. Geoff is active in martial arts and loves hiking and skiing. Geoff has five children and lives in Colorado.

23 thoughts on “President Oaks’ much-needed Conference address

  1. There is a concerted effort by many to get the prophets to just shut up if they won’t preach what these activists want to hear. I am grateful that they are holding true despite the slings and arrows of those opposed to our position.

  2. People tend to be vastly uninformed about reality.

    The gender issue has been confused by the fact that activists were whacking off male parts of genetically male individuals due to an incorrect belief that genetic maleness could be transformed into femaleness by nurture. So there are thousands of individuals who are male but were raised female. This is the “intersex” category in LGBTQIA, and is the category that is most tragic, in my opinion.

    Being asexual (the A in LGBTQIA) isn’t a big problem, aside from being surrounded by people who keep asserting that sexuality must necessarily play a large role in life. Being asexual can also suck if one is a spouse to an individual who isn’t asexual.

    Wishing to become the gender other than one’s biological gender is a wish that modern means can facilitate. This is the T in LGBTQIA. A mere hundred years ago, gratuitous slicing into one’s person was associated with a high rate of mortality. As to hormone therapy, this was not possible until very relatively recently. Given that changing the perceived gender via surgery and hormones wasn’t even possible until recently, it doesn’t seem appropriate for folks to insist that it is a right. But for now I will be glad that I’ve not had reason to wish to alter perceived gender via surgery and hormones, and I’ll continue to love my family and friends who think this is a wise thing to do. I will, however, refuse to take up the banner of transgender advocacy, particularly where my transgender friends and family wish me to fundamentally deform my life to salve their mental irritations.

    As to folks who wish to engage in sexual behavior outside the bounds of traditional heterosexual marriage (the L, G, B, and Q of LGBTQIA), I am of the opinion a child is best served by being raised by their biological parents, all other things being equal. Irresponsible and illicit reproduction is tragic due to the negative outcomes for the children involved. This irresponsible reproduction creates a supply of children who need parents. LGBTQIA individuals who wish to rear children provide a demand for children they have not engendered/conceived, which is added to the existing demand for children on the part of hetero-normal couples who are unable to engender/conceive their own children.

    In aggregate, then, we see a demand for children that exceeds the supply of children arising from irresposible/illicit reproduction. This results in creation of children outside of wedlock for the express purpose of meeting demand. This also results in markets where children are taken from loving parents to meet a demand.

    If we believe that each child born is a child of God, equal in divine value to every other child, then participating in a market that creates a need for displaced children is contrary to our belief.

    I’m pretty sure what I’m saying here is consistent with my post, Children of God or Chattel of Men? And I’m similarly sure that folks might take exception to what I say here, though I’m glad I’m not poking the maternal bear the weekend of Mother’s Day.

  3. Geoff, re: ‘I asked him, “what if Heavenly Father and angels take place on a plane of existence that science has not yet discovered yet?” I am sad to report that he had never even considered that idea. ‘

    Ask him if he believes quantum physicists who say that there are 11 dimensions. Ask him if he believes in those higher dimensions. If he does believe in those 8 higher dimensions, ask him if they are -proven-, or merely theorized. Ask him if anyone has ever viewed, gone to, or experienced those higher dimensions. Ask if he can “believe” that those dimensions exist, merely on the evidence that the “mathematics works” when using 11 dimensions to work out the observed behavior of quantum particles.

    That leads to your comment: Couldn’t God and the angels exist and operate in those higher dimensions, occasionally intersecting with our three? A great Sagan video explaining higher dimensions, and how higher beings would appear to lower beings if they intersected our space, is his “Flatland” on Youtube.

  4. Every sentence he wrote for this talk (and the one from a year ago, “The Plan and the Proclamation”) was very carefully, prayerfully, and methodically written. Of this I have no doubt, just as with the other talks. Those who dismiss, criticize, ignore, and gnash their teeth at President Oaks–an apostle of the Lord and likely the future prophet of God–are in shaky territory and on the road to apostasy.

    Apostasy is defined on as “When individuals or groups of people turn away from the principles of the gospel, they are in a state of apostasy” and “When we find fault with Church leaders, we begin to separate ourselves from the Church.” It is also defined as “the repeated, clear and open public opposition to the Church, its leaders and its doctrine” and when “someone seeks to teach as doctrine something that is contrary to the Church’s beliefs, attempts to persuade other Church members to their point of view or publicly insists the Church change its doctrine to align with their personal views.”

  5. It was so hard to read in other venues the comments of those who are not reached by the spirit of his message. The Holy Ghost bears witness to truth. President Oaks spoke the unvarnished truth and I felt it. Would to God that others would put away all the sophistry he identified by the sources he listed and open themselves to this truth. Certainly, we must deal lovingly and with care for those who are directly impacted in their everyday lives by these truths, but we help no one if we hold out for their sakes some hope that this doctrine will someday change. These truths are central to the Plan and immutable, though precise application in individual lives may be beyond our ken given the vagaries of biology. Thanks for the post.

  6. There seems to be a confusion between empathy and sympathy with sympathy often being seen as less valuable. However it is virtually impossible for normal people to feel true empathy which requires a certain amount of telepathy. Many years ago when one of my daughters suffered the death of an infant I said ‘I know how you feel’ and she promptly told me I could never know how she felt. I felt rebuffed, but realized that she was right. I had also suffered the death of an infant, but the circumstances were very different. None of us have exactly the same circumstances yet society urges us to feel the pain of others as if we were ‘walking in their shoes’. Since this is almost impossible for most, it is tempting to try to appear empathetic by setting judgement and reason aside and immersing ourselves in what we perceive as their pain. We cannot criticize, suggest repentance, urge prayer or other methods we have found useful for overcoming despair. We often feel we must set aside standards and even regret and support all behavior without judgement.
    There are some behaviors which are still not seen as calling for such full immersion. Thankfully it is still seen as bad to mistreat people because of their race, as long as the race is ‘minority’. The stand for standards from President Oaks is like a dose of clean cold water after too many sticky sweets. I will continue to love those who suffer from problems that cause them to stray from the Gospel , but I need not overbalance and fall into supporting behavior I find dangerous or immoral.

  7. We live in the last days. Elder Oaks spoke by the gift of the Holy Ghost to our Hearts. Truth. Our Heavenly Father loves us unconditionally, but hates our sins. The Church separates the sheep from the goats.Celestial for sheep.

  8. This was my favorite talk of the conference. All others were great and had their place but this one spoke to me the most. Coming from my own family that is in a delicate situation that is hard. This same challenge to truth is afflicting my family as well. President Oaks spoke to the message that I know wanted everyone to hear but it me, this message intended to strengthen me to continue the course in the church despite the heartbreak at home and lonely nights at the temple. Now I hope and pray for the miracle that I know God can give to repair the spiritual divide in my family.

  9. Andrew, I would bet that every person reading this blog has family members who are divided — and sometimes in very ugly ways — regarding the Gospel. Remember what Jesus said in Luke 12:52-53:

    “From now on, five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”

    This is obviously not how Jesus would want it, but he said that to give us comfort in the last days that family contention is inevitable because the Adversary is always hard at work to stir things up.

  10. Meg, Maybe I’m not interpreting your meaning properly, but I’m wondering where you got the data to support your statement: “LGBTQIA individuals who wish to rear children provide a demand for children they have not engendered/conceived, which is added to the existing demand for children on the part of hetero-normal couples who are unable to engender/conceive their own children.
    In aggregate, then, we see a demand for children that exceeds the supply of children arising from irresposible/illicit reproduction. This results in creation of children outside of wedlock for the express purpose of meeting demand. This also results in markets where children are taken from loving parents to meet a demand.”
    From US government sources there are over 100,000 children eligible and waiting for adoption from the foster care systems alone (so there’s more when independent sources are accounted for) and it’s been that way for at least the last 10 years. About half that number are adopted each year, with more entering each year to keep the surplus about the same.
    Nonetheless, there are estimated to be 1-2 million couples waiting to adopt. So, I guess the waiting couples are not finding a suitable child amongst their choices or the adoption process is clogged or both??

  11. Hi KarlS,

    The report you were looking at focuses on foster care, so the adoptions it cites are not all adoptions, but those adoptions of children who were served by the foster care system.

    I don’t think that newborns to mothers intending to give the child up for adoption would be counted in the numbers you considered.

    Children adopted from other countries would not be counted in the numbers you considered. This is the population where the children are sometimes taken from loving biological parents who are facing political or economic barriers to remaining a family unit.

    Children created via artificial insemination and surrogacy are not counted in the numbers you considered.

    Returning to the foster care system, there are times when a relatively mature child (say around age ten) is in a situation where parental rights have been terminated and the child is subsequently adopted. For a child whose biological parents have lost parental rights, there is often a significant amount of baggage. This baggage does not make the child less an individual of divine worth, but it does mean there is more than the typical amount of care and love required.

  12. Meg, Thanks for replying. I was just trying to confirm if I thought LG individuals / couples were significantly impacting the chances of heterosexual couples from adopting. I tried to do a back of envelope with % gay in US x % that might marry x % that would want children, vs. available children, etc, but I just couldn’t gather the needed data with any reasonable confidence. Relative to foster system and children, I’ve gotten close to a number of families in distress with CPS monitoring them and have been a respite family for them. That is such a hard place for those children.

  13. Meg stated: “Given that changing the perceived gender via surgery and hormones wasn’t even possible until recently, it doesn’t seem appropriate for folks to insist that it is a right.”

    And therein lies the crux of the problem, the point of division. Activists view rights as continually evolving to meet the circumstances of the day. They usually view rights as expanding. By definition, that which continually expands cannot be absolute.
    Others, often derided as “conservatives,” do not view rights as expanding. They view them as static. They were placed by God. They expect that political rights reflect or are bolstered by moral principles or even moral absolutes.

    The real danger arises when various activists (prone to neglect reflecting on the attributes and commands of God) realize that what can expand in the mind of human beings can also contract, with no reflection or concern for the moral imperatives they are meant to protect. Hence, “older” rights, such as religion, can be discarded to the dust bin.

  14. Hi KarlS,

    A quick google search turned up this website, which is advocating for LGBT Adoption:

    In summary, up to 14 million children in the US are in families that involve a gay parent. Approximately 2 million LGBT individuals are interested in adopting.

    Heterosexual (aka cisgender) couples head 99.6% of all families with children, of which 9% of the parents are not married. For heterosexual/cisgender families, 90% of the children are the biological children of the parents, with ~10% of the children being step-children or adopted.

    As the website notes, same sex couples are four times more likely to adopt than “opposite sex” couples. The website indicates there are 22,000 adopted children being raised by same sex couples, with 16,000 of these children being raised in California.

  15. With respect to adoptions of individuals being served by foster care, the annual number of minors adopted from foster care is ~50,000. If we multiply that number by the weighted average age of minors who would be in foster care, we get a total of ~500,000 individuals adopted out of foster care who might still be considered “children” in national statistics. Doing math with numbers on the LGBT Adoption website, it seems there are at least 2,000,000 adopted children being raised in families in the United States. So there are currently ~1% of all adopted children being raised by same sex couples.

    But we must also consider that we are at the “early adopter” side of such family dynamics. If there are 14 million children with at least one gay parent, we are talking about nearly 20% of all children who have at least one gay parent.

    One of the areas where I particularly see the objectification of children is in the case of women who are concerned that they will never have children within a committed relationship. I perceive an increasing number of these women who perceive that it is better to become a mother without having a partner than to risk never being a mother at all. Women in this situation see obtaining a child to be a right, an obligation they are eager to take on, a situation that is not seen as deleterious to the child. However such women are willfully ignoring the negative correlation between being raised by one parent and an individual’s future prosperity and happiness.

    Life is difficult and “offences” occur. But as Matthew 18:7 indicates, woe unto the individual who creates the “offence.”

    That said, the overarching message was that we may all repent and return to God. We may freely choose God and rejoice in His ways, becoming remade in His image as His trusted friends and saints (not as His obedient lap dogs).

  16. Meg, Thanks again for engaging. The data is complicated. I delved into one of the sources’ studies, but didn’t have time to really digest it.
    I did notice that the study indicated that only a little over 10% of lesbians who had considered adoption had actually taken a step toward adoption. So, the general number you gave of 2 million gay individuals interested in adopting may appear more dominating than it really is, given the 10% actual engaging number and the likelihood that they most often would adopt as a couple (so the interested “couples” = ~1 million), though it appears that the number of gays adopting is not insignificant.

  17. Paul, the church’s job is not to separate the sheep from the goats. The church’s job is to bring the good news of the atonement to the world, and to help facilitate the atonement working wonders in individual lives. Thinking the church’s job is to divide, is part of the problem.

  18. Meg, it does get to be sticky. With responsible heterosexual couples providing the most reliable scenario for raising children (though some data shows disparate results) it is understandable when the Church is concerned with same sex couples raising children. However, the numbers are considerably larger for single parent households and non-married couples raising children than same sex couples. So, it seems like the emphasis would be on encouraging and supporting traditional marriage over trying to squelch same sex couples. Though there are some requirements to being able to raise a child without government restrictions (e.g., drug abuse), raising the bar to scenarios that are considered by some to be less than ideal (single parent, gay, non-married) results in freedom restrictions and requires judgments that society is not able to accept, nor should it. If only we could better facilitate the increased adoption of the principles of the gospel there wouldn’t be such a big problem.

  19. Camsten, Paul wrote: “We live in the last days. Elder Oaks spoke by the gift of the Holy Ghost to our Hearts. Truth. Our Heavenly Father loves us unconditionally, but hates our sins. The Church separates the sheep from the goats.Celestial for sheep.”

    You wrote: “Paul, the church’s job is not to separate the sheep from the goats. The church’s job is to bring the good news of the atonement to the world, and to help facilitate the atonement working wonders in individual lives. Thinking the church’s job is to divide, is part of the problem.”

    You are putting words in Paul’s comment that he never placed there himself.

    Of course the Church’s job is to spread the Gospel. As the Gospel is spread, some people will accept it, and others won’t. There will be a process of separation. In addition, some members will choose to follow the prophets, and some won’t. There will be another process of separation. Paul is *describing* what happens. And he is right, there will be a separation, and it will be result of the Church’s actions. This does not mean that he or anybody else is *in favor* of dividing people. All active Church members are in favor of everybody joining the Church so we can all be unified. Church members are hopefully in favor of all people following the prophet so we can be unified. It seems to me that those in favor of dividing people are the people who attack the Church and question the prophets, not the ones who want to follow the prophets.

  20. My daughter and her husband adore sheep. As in, they purchased a home in a location and with a lot specifically to accommodate the future hope of owning sheep.

    According to my daughter, sheep are vastly intelligent. Their behaviors are intended to maximize survival through cooperation. Sheep are gregarious and flock together, becoming agitated if separated from the group. When faced with danger, they flee rather than fight. Sheep are unusually able to sense possible predators. Sheep will rarely exhibit pain, because predators disproportionately target individuals that seem weak.

    Goats are also intelligent. Their behaviors are intended to maximize survival through opposition. They bite and butt heads. If you try to push them, they will lean into your “push.” They are curious and very conscious of pecking order (beating up “new” goats until the proper pecking order is established). Goats that are restrained (tied down) are more vulnerable to predators.

    Children of God are neither sheep nor goats. But we exist along a continuum of:

    1) those who yearn to follow the shepherd together with like-minded saints and

    2) those who love to bite and butt and fight to establish pecking order.

  21. Meg – As a huge animal lover who has owned both sheep and goats, your descriptions are way off. Both are herd, flight-before-fight, prey animals. Both have pecking orders. The descriptors used to separate them into 2 categories are genuinely true of both. (I watched a very sweet looking sheep beat up a 12 year old at a recent country fair that was almost, but not quite head butting)

  22. Hi Lehcarjt,

    I was writing my summary based on what one sees online as descriptors for those species, not just my own thoughts. While sheep and goats have similarities, few people would argue that they are so similar as to be indistiguishable.

    I see one of the websites I used as a source actually has a page for telling the difference between sheep and goats:

    It’s a bit as though I were arguing that men and women are different, and you, having experience with both men and women, wished to argue that they are largely the same. And we would both be right. I suggest the same is true of sheep and goats: they are different in some ways and similar in many ways.

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