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.