Elder Perry: World Religion vs. Religion of “The World”

Elder Perry’s talk reflects on his visit to the Colloquium on Marriage and Family held at the Vatican last November. This event gathered representatives of 14 different faiths—and as such, the participation of Church leaders raises once again the question of whether Mormonism is a world religion. Elder Perry does not address this question directly, but his use of the word “world” in ways that both harmonize with and run counter to usual LDS usage suggests that answer might be “yes,” albeit not for reasons we might usually suppose.

After recounting his delight and finding common ground with people of so many faiths, Elder Perry rearticulates the relationship between LDS teaching and “the world” in a way quite different to the frequently heard oppositional approach:

Now, you might be asking, “If the majority felt that similarity of family priority and beliefs, if all of those faiths and religions essentially agreed on what marriage should be, and if they all agreed on the value that should be placed on homes and family relationships, then how are we any different? How does the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints distinguish and differentiate itself from the rest of the world?”

Here is the answer: While it was wonderful to see and feel that we have so much in common with the rest of the world in regards to our families, only we have the eternal perspective of the restored gospel.

What the restored gospel brings to the discussion on marriage and family is so large and so relevant that it cannot be overstated: We make the subject eternal! We take the commitment and the sanctity of marriage to a greater level because of our belief and understanding that families go back to before this earth was, and that they can go forward into eternity.

Here Elder Perry follows President Hinckley’s optimistic approach to the world—”Bring all the good that you have and let us see if we can add to it.”

This claim that teachings about eternal families distinguish Mormonism from other religions is interesting in light of the treatment of world religions by religious studies scholar Stephen Prothero in his book God Is Not OneThere, Prothero argues that different religions offer different answers to the question “What is wrong with humanity?” and that religious teaching and practice follow from how the religion proposes to address that problem. In Christianity, for instance, the problem is sin, and the answer, in short, is Jesus. From this perspective, Elder Perry seems to be saying that for Mormonism, the problem with humanity is not only that we all too often fail to form enduring social bonds, epitomized in the family, but that these bonds cannot endure in mortality without some sacralizing component.This focus is not new to Elder Perry. Joseph Smith, after all, worried about his connection to his brother Alvin, who died before the Restoration of the gospel, and the Lord comforted Joseph on this point in D&C 137:5-10. Might this paradigm, more than Mormonism’s affinity with traditional Christianity, form the basis of a claim to be a world religion?

This possibility raises questions about Mormonism’s Christianity. In his talk, Elder Perry only mentions Jesus in the name of the Church and in the standard closing in Jesus’ name (there are a couple of references to “God”). Mormonism certainly teaches that sin is a problem and Jesus the solution—and I trust, this Easter weekend, that we will hear Jesus preached—but if, as Elder Perry said twice in his talk, “the restored gospel centers on marriage and family,” we need to consider how this theological centrality might enrich our understanding of who Jesus is and why He matters. We are, after all, by divine revelation, called The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, not The Church of Eternal Families. This being the case, let’s do the theological work required to understand how our teachings about family keep our faith rooted in Him whose Resurrection we celebrate tomorrow.

 

Comments

  1. J. Stapley says:

    Yep.

  2. Jason K. says:

    I’m really grateful to hear Elder Bednar give a talk so persistently focused on Jesus.

  3. Jason K, Hear, hear. I think this is one of Elder Bednar’s best talks in a while.

  4. Jason, me too. I braced myself, and I was pleasantly surprised by Elder Bednar this time.

    Thanks for this write up of Elder Perry’s talk.

  5. I can see where a belief in a preexistence is fairly novel, but do people believe that a belief in family relationships after death is unique to Mormonism? I think that many people believe or hope that they will be reunited with loved ones after death. Mormonism just specifies that certain rituals are required for such relationships.

  6. Here’s my .02 about where Jesus ties into the Church’s belief that families are eternal. (1) Jesus Christ was, in his pre-mortal life, Jehovah God. (2) Jehovah God made a three-part covenant with Abraham way back (in the Old Testament) when. (3) That covenant can be superficially recounted as addressing priesthood, posterity, and property. In other words, Jehovah covenanted with Abraham to give him eternal increase (i.e., an eternal family), to give him the gospel of Jesus Christ (i.e., the priesthood), and to give him a promised land. Thus, (4) when we say that we’re the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints we’re also, in a way, saying that we’re the Church of Eternal Families (and the Church of the Promised Land, and the Church of the Restored Priesthood), because the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints comprises these other “churches.” In other, other words, faith in Jesus Christ contains in it faith in his Abrahamic Covenant.

    What makes us unique among present-day Christian churches is that we, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, claim to be, essentially, the same church that Jehovah more-or-less “founded” with Abraham. Through the Book of Mormon (and of course latter-day priesthood restoration) we stake a direct claim to that earlier OT “church.” That claim makes us unique.

    But “unique” is the wrong thing to focus on, in my opinion. The Church claims to be building the Kingdom of God. It also claims, though the doctrine of Baptism for the dead and its corollaries, that every one of God’s children will have a chance to become part of this restored Kingdom of God. Thus, our claim isn’t for “uniqueness”; its for eternal ubiquitousness. And how will that play out in the eternities? I really don’t believe that quote-unquote “our” church will be forced upon others, but that “their” churches will find their full flowering in God’s Kingdom. And to that I’d add that I believe, too, that “our” present day Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, restored by God though it may be (and I do believe it is), has yet to find its own full flowering. But it will, one day, in the Kingdom to come. In the meantime, we can all pray for more and better revelations.

  7. Jason K. says:

    Thanks for your comment, Matt Evans. That’s exactly the kind of thinking I was hoping the post would encourage.

  8. “Jehovah covenanted with Abraham to give him eternal increase (i.e., an eternal family), to give him the gospel of Jesus Christ (i.e., the priesthood), and to give him a promised land.”

    This is pretty distasteful to me how it makes women and children property to be handed out as a prize.

  9. Jenna Alatriste says:

    Thanks, Jason!

  10. Jason K. says:

    That’s an important rejoinder, Cynthia, and it points to a broader theological problem about Jesus and women in our theology more broadly. He spent lots of time with women in the NT, but how that pattern should apply in our current church situation is far from clear. Can we use Jesus to get away from a patriarchal conception of the family?

  11. @Cynthia L: Thank you for speaking up. Given how I (unfortunately) phrased my comments, I totally get why you interpreted my remarks as you did. And I agree with you — the notion that wife and children are prizes to be handed out to worthy men is a repugnant one. (Even if it is a rather commonly expressed one.)(Although I don’t know that anyone explicitly claims women and children as prizes; it’s more an implicit common cultural assumption or viewpoint, all the worse because unexamined, IMHO.)

    For what it’s worth, I don’t see women and children as prizes for worthy men, and I don’t see myself or my five sisters as my dad’s prize, nor do I imagine that he sees himself as his father’s prize, and so forth. My daughters are prizes in their own right, but that’s because they can’t help but simply be who they are. Eternal life is something that we all partake in as God’s children. And I suppose that’s more or less what I meant when I wrote that Christ covenanted to “give” Abraham eternal life; i.e., that he gave him the promise of living eternally with all his friends and loved ones in God’s presence.

    I suppose the glaring under-representation of women’s (and children’s) viewpoints and stories in the canon is yet one more proof of the need for continuing revelation. Thanks again for calling attention to my careless oversight.

  12. was I the only one SERIOUSLY concerned that L Tom Perry was proud to state that an IRANIAN Professor quoted the Proclamation on the Family at the interfaith colloquium humanum?

    Knowing how women are treated in Iran, especially as the country with the highest rate of stoning deaths, I was concerned with this statement.

    Hoping hoping hoping that the Proclamation wasn’t used in a way to justify such treatment. Looking up which paragraphs were quoted, and yes, it was of course: “By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection of their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. ”
    http://www.media-mormoni.it/articolo/il-presidente-henry-b-eyring–della-prima-presidenza–incontra-papa-francesco-in-vaticano-

    In my mind, this quote is something to cause re-assessment of the Proc wording rather than something to proclaim proudly.

  13. Angela C says:

    JV: You weren’t the only one to notice that or find it cause for concern. Likewise, Iran is a country in which homosexuality can be a capital crime.

  14. Jason K. says:

    Agreed, JV.

  15. Amen, JV.

    Matt, thanks for your thoughtful reply. I’m afraid I probably came across as attacking you when I meant only to raise a criticism of some framings of the Abrahamic covenant. It does somehow seem like what is being promised to men here and elsewhere is that though they may be humble farmers etc in this life, in the next each will be his very own King with his very own lands and kingdom and his very own people to “preside” over, the women and children.

    I don’t think most men view their partners that way today. But some of that is baked into how we talk about temple and other things. I think being conscious of it will help us carefully avoid falling into that framing.