Celestial Glory Shall Be Mine
Celestial glory shall be mine if I can but endure.
One of the very first songs a Mormon child learns to sing is I Am a Child of God, a very sweet little song that contains within its simple melody and honeyed phrases the essence of Mormon theology. At a tender age, children learn that they are children of God, that they lived somewhere else in Gods presence before they came here to earth, that they have been sent from that place to this earth, and that their goal is to return to Heavenly Father some day.
The song teaches a number of other principles, some of which I hope to return to; but for this post, I want to focus on the fourth verse, which contains the summum bonum of Mormon theology:
I am a Child of God.
His promises are sure;
Celestial glory shall be mine
If I can but endure.
In this post, I continue an exploration of various aspects of Mormon doctrine and theology that I think have contributed, and continue to contribute, to the formation of Mormon mixed-orientation marriages. Other than Mormon doctrine concerning homosexuality itself, I submit that no other doctrine contributes more to the creation of and angst over mixed-orientation marriages, as well as homosexuality itself, than the doctrine of the new and everlasting covenant (of eternal marriage).
For faithful Mormons, merely being saved is not enough; the goal of life is nothing short of exaltation. Former apostle Bruce R. McConkie explained the significance of this doctrine in Mormon Doctrine:
Exaltation grows out of the eternal union of a man and his wife. Of those whose marriage endures in eternity, the Lord says, Then shall they be gods (D&C 132:20); that is, each of them, the man and the woman, will be a god. As such they will rule over their dominions forever
Marriages performed in the temples for time and eternity [unite] the participating parties [as] husband and wife in this mortal life, and if after their marriage they keep all the terms and conditions of this order of the priesthood, they continue on as husband and wife in the celestial kingdom of God. If the family unit continues, then by virtue of that fact the members of the family have gained eternal life (exaltation)
Mortal persons who overcome all things and gain an ultimate exaltation will live eternally in the family unit and have spirit children, thus becoming Eternal Fathers and Eternal Mothers becoming gods in their own right (Mormon Doctrine, pp. 117, 129, 613).
It is perhaps difficult for non-Mormons to understand the centrality to Mormon theology of these beliefs and teachings. For most Christians, salvation is a post-mortal reward that results in essence from living a good moral life, from following the teachings of Jesus Christ and believing that He can atone for mortal shortcomings.
Mormon theology, however, has moved the goalposts way past the concept of mere salvation. Though faithful Mormons believe that in Gods house are many mansions [which, in Mormon-speak, means kingdoms or degrees of glory] which may be perfectly fine for other people, they believe that for them – salvation is basically an all or nothing concept: either one obtains exaltation (with all that this term implies see Bruce R., above) or just forget it. No lower degree of glory is acceptable.
This concept is taught from a very young age and is reflected in the above-quoted passage from the 4th verse of I Am a Child of God: Celestial glory shall be mine – IF I can but endure [emphasis added]. This verse also reflects another, companion, precept that is of paramount importance in Mormon theology: obedience. Obtaining celestial glory is contingent upon enduring to the end, obeying all of Gods commandments (especially remaining temple worthy) and doing all that is required to reach that goal.
Paradoxically, and as an aside, a modern-day Christian might more easily relate to the teachings of the founder of Mormonism, Joseph Smith, rather than current teachings. Joseph declared that the fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it” (emphasis added; TPJS, p. 121). He also declared that the first principle of the Gospel to be Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
In todays Mormon Church, however, it is arguable that the cluster of doctrine surrounding eternal/celestial/temple marriage constitutes the fundamental principles of our religion and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it; furthermore, perhaps not surprisingly, the first law of heaven has in practical terms arguably supplanted the first principle of the gospel. Obedience is the first law of heaven, wrote Elder Bruce R. McConkie, the cornerstone upon which all righteousness and progression rest. And this first law of heaven has been correlated and woven through much of what one currently finds in instruction manuals, conference talks and church magazine articles.
But I digress.
The point is that this all or nothing concept is at the root of much of what produces angst, self-hatred, deceit and heartache in Mormon men and women who have the extreme misfortune of having been born anything but heterosexual.
If a young gay man does not marry a woman in the temple and then remain faithful to his temple covenants (i.e., enduring to the end), he automatically knocks himself out of the running for exaltation. He knows this, of course, and as a faithful Mormon, it causes him no end of worrying which can quickly escalate into depression. Apart from everything else he feels because he knows he is gay, he feels a deep and dark dense of failure because he knows hes missed forever the brass ring.
On top of this sense of failure is then piled a layer of guilt because he knows because he has been told over and over again as a young man advancing toward the day that he receives the Melchizedek priesthood that he has a sacred duty and obligation toward his Heavenly Fathers daughters to provide one of them an opportunity to go to the temple and be sealed for time and all eternity to a worthy priesthood holder.
This obligation was echoed in the most recent General Conference by Elder Scott when he said,
I feel sorry for any man who hasnt yet made the choice to seek an eternal companion, and my heart weeps for the sisters who havent had the opportunity to marry.
Ouch. Guilt. And dont forget President Monsons talk during Priesthood Session, in which he said the following:
Now, I have thought a lot lately about you young men who are of an age to marry but who have not yet felt to do so. I see lovely young ladies who desire to be married and to raise families, and yet their opportunities are limited because so many young men are postponing marriage.
He then quoted several former presidents of the Church who had said much the same thing. Again, guilt but the young gay man knows its not because he doesnt want to; its because he cant.
Because eternal rewards are bound up in the concept of family kingdoms (exaltation of families, not individuals), actions of a family member in mortality are seen as affecting not only that family members eternal salvation, but also the salvation of his entire family of origin. This leads to parents of gay children not only mourning the loss of these children, whom they believe have lost their chance to sit in the eternal family circle, leading to the proverbial empty chair (No Empty Chairs being a slogan commonly found on walls in Mormon homes); it also often leads to resentment toward this child for putting the exaltation of the entire family in jeopardy.
Beyond all these theological concerns, however, are the (some would say equally important) cultural concerns. A temple marriage for their children is the fondest hope of many a Mormon parent, particularly in areas where there are large concentrations of Church members. A temple marriage is a sign to the community in such areas that a child is ok, is doing the right thing, is respectable, is on the path. Failure to marry in the temple, on the other hand, often becomes the subject of speculation and subjects the childs parents to embarrassment if not outright shame in the their community (which, of course would often pale in significance when compared with the shame of having a gay son).
So, what is a young gay Mormon to do? Teach me all that I must do, he used to sing in Primary, to live with Him [Heavenly Father] someday. Is there a place for him in Heavenly Fathers home? Why is there so much emphasis in the Church upon exaltation (which, apart from what has been described above, contributes to a culture of fake perfectionism in the Church)? Why does this have to be the end-all?
The 131st section of the Doctrine and Covenants is the scriptural source for the Mormon doctrine of three degrees of glory within the celestial kingdom. Apart from anything else that could (and has) been said about this section, why has nothing ever been said about the other two degrees of glory (except that the inhabitants thereof cannot have increase, i.e., spirit children)? Is there not ample room within Mormon theology to provide a place in the afterlife for Heavenly Fathers gay and lesbian children? Did not Jesus himself say that in His fathers house are many mansions? Couldnt families (and the whole church membership) benefit from backing away from the all-or-nothing emphasis on exaltation? Why dont we ever talk about those many other mansions?
And finally, could not our young gay Mormon, together with those he loves, share celestial glory the kind he used to sing about as a child? I believe he can.
“…furthermore, perhaps not surprisingly, the first law of heaven has…supplanted the first principle of the gospel. Obedience is the first law of heaven, wrote Elder Bruce R. McConkie, the cornerstone upon which all righteousness and progression rest. And this first law of heaven has been correlated and woven through much of what one currently finds in instruction manuals, conference talks and church magazine articles.”
“The point is that this all or nothing concept is at the root of much of what produces angst, self-hatred, deceit and heartache in Mormon men and women who have the extreme misfortune of having been born anything but heterosexual.”
Excellent point. However, as a heterosexual, I am struck by how true this is for ANYONE who happens to be different in ANY regard. I think anyone who has backed away from Mormonism (or ran away from it screaming) finds fault in the fact that Mormonism, with its emphasis on “obedience” tries mold people into something they are not.
I’ve been accused of being a non-conformist. My reply is that “I’m not a non-conformist (ie, a rebel); I’m conformity-disabled.” I can only assume this is how a gay Mormon might feel as well.
I agree with Noah. It’s true that the situation for GLBT Mormons is exceptional, however, Mormonism presents the same type of difficulties for people who are different in ANY regard.
There’s a long list of random personality traits that will help a person be successful and happy as a Mormon — and if you don’t have those traits, you often end up feeling morally inferior; less “valiant”. Examples include feeling comfortable with demonstrative spirituality (public testimony-bearing), ability to enjoy listening to repetitive talks and manual-based lessons, skill and talent at handicrafts (for women), etc. These overlap with skills that are learned (through being Mormon): public speaking, organizing groups and events, journal-writing, etc. — but even in these cases, people who have more difficulty (or don’t enjoy) learning these skills often feel like they are inferior to people who pick up such skills easily.
One more point:
It’s not just the guilt factor.
This quote also perpetuates the belief that marriage is a duty and a favor that a man does for a woman; that marriage is something a woman needs a man to give her in order for her to be a whole person in the LDS church.
This is a horribly dehumanizing message that girls are taught from the cradle in the LDS church.
Noah, I totally agree with you. In fact, I would go further and say that it is the “all or nothing” attitude that is one of the prime factors that creates angst, depression, a spirit of competitiveness and other undesirable emotions in everyday Mormons – including those who are conformists or are otherwise “happy” with the Mormon way of life. Of course, patriarchy is also a prime factor that creates these emotions for women in the church. And there are other factors, of course; but I would submit that this “all or nothing” belief affects all Church members to one degree or another.
Chanson, I also totally agree with what you are saying about what these statements say to women in the Church. I was, of course, focusing on the effect they have on young men, but you are absolutely correct. Attitudes such as these are patronizing, patriarchal and frankly offensive.
I realize that marriage is still very much the norm of Mormon culture, and that gays are faced with the dilemma of being looked down upon for being single and of then being looked down upon for being gay if that is ever put up as a defense.
However, how do statements from church leaders urging gays NOT to marry (and, although I only have a vague idea of the trend, the fact that they are becoming less and less likely to push gays to change so that they can marry), and of reassuring gays that they’ll be able to be married after death, play into the themes of your article?
Cody – Heterosexual marriage is not only the norm, it represents the pinnacle of Mormon theology. To be gay in the Mormon Church is, in a way, to stand in opposition to what is viewed as man’s highest purpose here on earth and his highest goal in the afterlife.
Church leaders now say gays shouldn’t marry in a misguided attempt to live the Mormon ideal. At the same time, they say that if guys feel they have “overcome” their attractions and fall in love with a woman, they should go ahead and get married. This view/counsel is based in part on their continued reluctance to accept the concept of sexual orientation.
The view that has been expressed by some church leaders that gays can be “cured” in the afterlife and then go on to marry a woman is based on the notion that homosexuality is akin to Down Syndrome or other “defects” that can be similarly cured in the afterlife. I find this view detestable. It also contradicts other elements of Mormon theology, e.g., that who we are when we leave this life is who we’ll be in the afterlife.
The basic premise of my post, above, is that I believe there is a place in Mormon theology for gays, as gays. This view affirms homosexuality as a part of God’s master plan, including the hereafter; whereas the current position of the Church views homosexuality as a mortal affliction that, in essence, does not serve any useful purpose in this life and will be discarded in the life to come.
Exactly. It’s important to keep in mind that Mormons don’t believe in a sort of pass/fail system of heaven and hell like other Christian religions. Instead, Mormons believe that (essentially) everyone is resurrected and receives some sort of glorious afterlife that’s better than this life. However, only the top echelon get to progress eternally and become Gods. To qualify for this, you have to be a man celestially married to (at least one) woman. (Mormon women can only aspire to be the eternal silent help-meet of a God.)
Regarding statements from church leaders urging gays NOT to marry, let’s have a look at the official statement posted and discussed here.
Reading between the lines, it seems to say that if you succeed in praying the gay away, then you can get right back on the patriarchal leadership track (which necessarily includes marrying a woman). However, if you absolutely can’t pray the gay away, then you deserve second-class citizenship.
That would be great if Mormon theology would allow a place for for gays, as gays. Or, more generally, if there existed respected roles in Mormonism other than patriarch.