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Satan’s Plan of Mormonism

Mormonism teaches that Satan and Jesus both presented plans to the assembled spirits who were God’s children in the premortal life. Satan’s plan was to force everyone to choose what was right, so that no one would be lost, and all would return to God’s kingdom after a mortal life. Jesus’s plan was to allow free agency, so that we could all choose right or wrong, and make mistakes and learn from them. Jesus’s plan required a savior who would come and make the ultimate sacrifice, an eternal Atonement that would allow us to be free from sin and still return to God’s kingdom, if we chose to accept that Atonement on our behalf. The “War in Heaven” followed, in which a third of God’s children chose Satan’s plan, and were cast out, along with him, and have become demons who will never have a mortal body. The rest of us chose Jesus’s plan and thus earned the chance to become mortal and follow Him.

Mormonism proclaims the importance of free will whenever questions about evil in the world come up. How could God allow evil in the world? God loves our free will so much that he allows people to choose evil, to cause terrible consequences to other people, all so that we can have the free will that Satan’s plan would have denied us. Wars are caused by evil people. God has the potential power to restrain them, but chooses not to, because that would take away their free will and then God would cease to be God. Ditto rape, child sexual abuse, poverty, and on and on. God cannot intervene (according to Mormonism) because God chooses free will instead of making everyone do what is right. And in the end, all will be made right in the next life. Because people who were harmed or killed will be resurrected and healed and all will proclaim Jesus’s name as Savior.

I nodded my head about this for many years, believing that this made sense of evil in the world, the question of theodicy. I admit that I believed it until something terrible happened to me (my daughter’s death at birth in 2005). Then I couldn’t see it anymore. It became impossible for me to tell if what felt like a terrible evil had been a result of something someone had done wrong (mostly me or the doctor) or if it was a tragedy like hurricanes, a result of a flawed world that would also, in time, be resurrected and made perfect.

But more problematic for me was the way in which I saw Mormonism now as promoting doing what was right over free will. Mormon parents often
“encourage” or reward/bribe children to do various things, from baptism to finishing progress awards, going to proper Mormon dances, never swearing, following modesty rules and the Word of Wisdom. Also, dating the “right” Mormon people, applying to the “right” Mormon universities. And then there are the veiled or not so veiled punishments. Most Mormon parents offer mild discouragement, removal of certain privileges, but some go so far as to kick children out of the house if they don’t toe the line in one way or another (for instance, insisting they are LGBTQ+).

Later, Mormon teens are encouraged to go on missions. Hesitant missionaries are frequently bribed again— or coerced in other ways. They will be given a new car when they return home after two years, or college will be paid for. If they don’t go, there will be negative consequences. Similar stories about temple marriages. If you are married in the temple, parents will pay for the marriage celebrations and even a down payment on a house. If you aren’t, you have to pay for it yourself. One father even insisted that his daughter’s fiancé would be required to take on the cost of all her medical bills since she was a child if he married her outside the temple.

The coercion continues through adult lives. In addition to mild shunning or sending constant messages to repent in one way or another, parents may tell their children they won’t inherit anything if they aren’t worthy Mormons. I’ve heard multiple stories of families writing into their wills “temple recommend holding children” are the only ones who can inherit. And of course, this is their choice. But are they really encouraging their children to freely choose? No, they are not. They are trying to force them to choose the right (“Choose the Right when a choice is placed before you” — remember that song?) by making the consequences of not choosing the right very dire.

And yet God doesn’t seem to parent this way at all. While we are often told that “wickedness never was happiness,” we are also reminded that it might appear to be happiness, temporarily, in this life, because God loves free will so much that he’ll allow people to continue to choose wickedness and not face consequences until the next life.

Lest you think the coercion is merely “cultural” and doesn’t happen from the top down, let me remind you of the recent talk by Russell M. Nelson (often called the Sad Heaven talk) where he called for parents to increase their pressure on “wayward” children to return to the church before it’s too late and they end up outside of heaven. Or the talk by Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf calling those who have left the church “headstrong unruly children” who have become angry with God and have decided to run away from home. There is the constant insistence that those who leave Mormonism “wanted to sin” or were “led astray by Satan.” There are the talks and articles in church publications about how the families of those who have left pray and fast for them to return and are eventually granted their righteous prayers. There are the scriptural stories of Alma the Elder, who prayed for his son and the sons of King Mosiah, to return to the church, so God sent an angel and made them go unconscious and then berated them until they repented and chose what was right.

With these messages of coercing people to choose the right, are Mormons really honoring the idea of free will? Or is this forcing people to choose the right just like Satan’s plan? Do Mormons tell themselves that a little bit of coercion won’t matter, because if their children choose the right, then they’ll be happy and keep going down the right path? As a parent and a person of conscience, talk of any kind of coercion makes me uncomfortable.

It also makes me think about how polygamy was often practiced in our church, both by Joseph Smith and other prophets of God, who told women various stories to coerce them to agree to a secret marriage. Or young girls who were coerced into polygamy in Utah because of exigent circumstances. And then, on into modern times, when priesthood leaders are sometimes found to have used their positions to coerce women to do what they wanted. Is that free will?

Written by

Author of The Bishop’s Wife mystery series, The Mormon Sabbatical Podcast, Princeton PhD, fiction editor at Exponent II, autist, she/her

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