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The Promises of Mormonism

Mormonism makes some pretty big promises, but perhaps there is no bigger one than that families will be together forever. I think many Christians believe they will be with their families in heaven, but it isn’t taught as the big ticket item as it is in Mormonism. Even back in Joseph Smith’s day, this was the big promise of Mormonism, though the concept of the nuclear family was different in the 1830’s. Some argue that Joseph Smith’s plan was to unite the entire human family through temple sealing ordinances, back into the past and out through the future.

One of the most significant promises of Mormonism was that children who died would wait for their parents (in particular their mothers) to grow up in heaven. Then their mothers would be able to raise them exactly as they had been at the moment of death, and thus there would be nothing lost. For frontier mothers, who lost children at a much higher rate than mothers do today, this promise was a glorious one. Even for mothers who never lost a child to death, this security was an enormously attractive one. They couldn’t lose their children with the promise of Mormonism — not to anything. If their children died or simply moved away or rejected them or Mormonism itself, those children would not be lost. They would be together in heaven again. How this plays out with grown children with their own families, people who were widowed and married again, and polygamists, is well, complicated. But when my own daughter died, I wanted so much to believe this was true, because then I could skip past the messiness of grief and just keep going as I was before.

The Mormon church has the largest free on-line genealogical resource to this day, and offers many people who are not Mormon the chance to find out who their family is, adding regularly to its resources. When I was a teen, I went with my mother regularly to a local church building to look through microfiche from Denmark and write down names of the dead so that they could go through Mormon temple ordinances by proxy. At the time, I did not consider whether or not this was appropriate to do for those who were not related to me in any way. But this is another one of the great promises of Mormonism, to connect the living with the dead.

Other big promises of Mormonism? Universal resurrection and salvation. While Mormons have long lists of requirements to enter the celestial kingdom, the highest level of heaven, and there are kingdoms within kingdoms to add complication to the idea, there is no real Mormon hell. A handful of those who have rejected Christ go to Outer Darkness, where they will have no presence of God, but there is no torment there other than the knowledge of their sins and the withdrawal of God’s love. And basically, Mormons believe that most people will become Mormon because, of course, Mormonism is the truth and eventually everyone will confess it.

While the Mormon church is currently walking back some of the major promises of the nineteenth century, I still remember being taught in the 70s that men would become gods (it was less clear whether women would become goddesses or what that even meant). There were promises that yes, these men might have planets to rule over, but the planet was not the important point. It was the idea that we would all become like God, with not only our own planets, but an entire universe to create and guide through the same pattern of life that we had lived with God here in this universe. I’m not sure what it means when I hear current church doctrine doesn’t include this promise anymore. Brigham Young would surely turn over in his grave.

For me, stepping away from Mormonism means letting go of the hope of all these blessings. Eternal families, a path laid out from before life to after, the assurance that God was in charge of every detail of every life, the belief that eventually almost everyone would believe in Mormonism like I did, the hope that I would eventually become a god — it all caused an existential crisis. I didn’t know who I was anymore without Mormonism. I’d always clung so tightly to my faith, the world was strange and scary to me without it. If I couldn’t trust Mormonism’s promises, what could I trust? When you grow up with all these promises, it’s a kind of paradise and I suppose I’m like a poor little rich girl without it.

Sometimes I think of Mormonism as a massively effective marketing plan promising everything, but delaying the delivery date. After all, eternal families are a big promise and impossible to verify in this life. Ditto becoming like gods — or having your own universe. How many gods are there, then? When did gods begin? There’s even a song about that, and if you know it, you know it’s, well, very long and complicated. I guess my answer to all this has been that until you stop wanting the big stuff and find yourself happier and more content with smaller things, leaving Mormonism is one of the hardest things to do. And trying to explain it to people who see these grand promises as ridiculous because they weren’t raised with them, is just as difficult.

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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