THE UNIVERSALISM OF MORMONISM
By Michael Barker
First, let me give the definitions of two words so everyone understands what the heck I’m talking about. The word universalim, as it pertains to religion, is the idea that everyone will be saved by God – eventually. Particularism (sometimes called exclusivism) is the idea that there are particulars of your religion that are exclusionary, meaning that only those of your faith will be saved.
Growing up, I was a strict particularist. I don’t think I was any different from my other congregants. I stressed the “one and only true Church”. As I got older my particularism came into tension with the universalim of our LDS faith – a universalim that existed in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, but has seemingly been lost in our contemporary LDS parlance.
Below you will find quotations that speak to the universalism of Mormonism. As I went searching, I did find some quotes from the contemporary church which I was happy to discover. But, the fact that I had to search for these quotes are problematic. How much easier would it be for me to find quotes to backup the particularisms of our faith? Answer: Pretty freakin’ easy. It took me over a month to find the quotes in preparation for my post – to give you an idea of how hard it is to find universalistic quotes.
Here are some questions I’ve wrestled with:
- I recently heard Gregory Prince speak about “Big Tent Mormonism”, which I like. As a scientist, he explained how variation within a species is needed for the species to survive. The example he gave is that of the cheetah. Apparently, there is very little variation within that species which is one of the reasons that the species is slowly going into extinction. He used this scientific principle and applied it to Mormonism. There needs to be a variety of voices within Mormonism. My question then, is this: At what point does a variation within a species become so great that the species has now become a different species? At what point would Mormonism, with all its variations, not be Mormonism anymore?
- How do we bring back the universalims of Mormonism without purging it of its particularisms? If the universalistic tent is so big, what will differentiate us from other religions and greater society in general? If there is no tension between our religion and society (summoning the spirit of Dr. Armand Mauss) then our religion just becomes irrelevant.
- Why was it so hard for me to find these dang quotes?
- If all are going to be saved, then why should one be Mormon now?
Now onto the universalistic quotes. I’ve presented them without any editorial commenting. My goal was to find all the quotes out there about Mormonism’s universalistic theology and have them posted in one place. So, here you go:
“…Perhaps the Lord needs such men on the outside of his Church, to help it along. They are among its auxiliaries, and can do more good for the cause where the Lord has placed them, than anywhere else…some are drawn into the fold and receive a testimony of the Truth; while others remain unconverted…the beauties and glories of the gospel being veiled temporarily from their view…Again I say, the Lord’s Work has need of auxiliaries outside as well as inside, to help it along…many are kept where they are, where the Lord has placed them, and can best use them for the good of all…”(Elder Orson F. Whitney of the Twelve, April 1928 General Conference).
“We should gather all the good and true principles in the world and treasure them up, or we shall not come out true Mormons” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 316).
[The gospel] “embraces all truth, whether known or unknown. It incorporates all intelligence, both past and prospective (future). No righteous principle will ever be revealed, no truth can possibly be discovered, either in time or in eternity, that does not in some manner, directly or indirectly, pertain to the Gospel of Jesus Christ” (Aposlte Orson F. Whitney, Elders´ Journal 4, no. 2 [Oct. 15, 1906]:26).
“…“Mormonism,” so-called, embraces every principle pertaining to life and salvation, for time and eternity. No matter who has it. If the infidel has got truth it belongs to “Mormonism.” The truth and sound doctrine possessed by the sectarian world, and they have a great deal, all belong to this Church. As for their morality, many of them are, morally, just as good as we are. All that is good, lovely, and praiseworthy belongs to this Church and Kingdom. “Mormonism” includes all truth. There is no truth but what belongs to the Gospel. It is life, eternal life; it is bliss; it is the fulness of all things in the gods and in the eternities of the gods…” (Brigham Young,delivered in the Bowery, Great Salt Lake City, April 8, 1867, Journal of Discourses, vol. 11, pg. 375).
“[Unlike the Latter-day Saints] Methodists have creeds which a man must believe or be asked out of their church. I want the liberty of thinking and believing as I please. It feels so good not to be trammeled [sic]. It does not prove that a man is not a good man because he errs in doctrine” (Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 288).
“There were men in those dark ages who could commune with God, and who, by the power of faith, could draw aside the curtain of eternity and gaze upon the invisible world . . . There were men who could gaze upon the face of God, have the ministering of angels, and unfold the future destinies of the world. If those were dark ages I pray God to give me a little darkness” (John Taylor, in Brigham Young et al., Journal of Discourses, 26 vols., reported by G. D. Watt et al. (President John Taylor, Liverpool: F. D. and S. W. Richards, et al., 1851–86; repr., Salt Lake City: n.p., 1974), 16:197–98.).
“We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may” (Article of Faith number eleven).
“We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men; indeed, we may say that we follow the admonition of Paul—We believe all things, we hope all things, we have endured many things, and hope to be able to endure all things. If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things” (Article of Faith number 13).
“Let me say that we appreciate the truth in all churches and the good which they do. We say to the people, in effect, you bring with you all the good that you have, and then let us see if we can add to it. That is the spirit of this work. That is the essence of our missionary service” (President Gordon Hinkley, meeting, Nairobi, Kenya, 17 Feb. 1998).
“…The great religious leaders of the world such as Muhammad, Confucius, and the Reformers, as well as philosophers including Socrates, Plato, and others, received a portion of God’s light. Moral truths were given to them by God to enlighten whole nations and to bring a higher level of understanding to individuals. Our message therefore is one of special love and concern for the eternal welfare of all men and women, regardless of religious belief, race, or nationality, knowing that we are truly brothers and sisters because we are sons and daughters of the same Eternal Father…”(STATEMENT OF THE FIRST PRESIDENCY OF THE CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST OF LATTER-DAY SAINTS REGARDING GOD’S LOVE FOR ALL MANKIND).
“That pronouncement [the above statement by the First Presidency] is a contemporary confirmation of the Prophet Joseph’s earlier entreaty for tolerance. Unitedly we may respond. Together we may stand…tolerant of neighbors with differences they hold sacred. Our brothers and sisters throughout the world are all children of God” (Elder Russell M. Nelson,in Ensign, May 1994, 71).
“…Wherefore, I will that all men shall repent, for all are under sin, except those which I have reserved unto myself, holy men that ye know not of…” (Doctrine and Covenants 49:8).
“…Mormonism is truth; and every man who embraces it feels himself at liberty to embrace every truth: consequently the shackles of superstition, bigotry, ignorance, and priestcraft, fall at once from his neck; and his eyes are opened to see the truth, and truth greatly prevails over priestcraft. … Mormonism is truth, in other words the doctrine of the Latter-day Saints, is truth. … The first and fundamental principle of our holy religion is, that we believe that we have a right to embrace all, and every item of truth, without limitation or without being circumscribed or prohibited by the creeds or superstitious notions of men, or by the dominations of one another, when that truth is clearly demonstrated to our minds, and we have the highest degree of evidence of the same” (Letter from Joseph Smith to Isaac Galland, Mar. 22, 1839, Liberty Jail, Liberty, Missouri, published in Times and Seasons, Feb. 1840, pp. 53–54; spelling and grammar modernized).
”Mormonism is Truth… One of the grand fundamental principles of Mormonism is to receive truth, let it come from whence it may”(Discourses of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 199).
“..I stated that the most prominent difference in sentiment between the Latter-day Saints and sectarians was, that the latter were all circumscribed by some peculiar creed, which deprived its members the privilege of believing anything not contained therein, whereas the Latter-day Saints … are ready to believe all true principles that exist, as they are made manifest from time to time…” (Joseph Smith, January 1843, History of the Church, 5:215; from “History of the Church” (manuscript), book D-1, p. 1433, Church Archives).
“…He [Joseph Smith] closed by referring to the Mormon Bible, which he said, contained nothing inconsistent or conflicting with the Christian Bible, and he again repeated that all who would follow the precepts of the Bible, whether Mormon or not, would assuredly be saved…” (In a letter from M.L. Davis to his wife Mary, Date: 5 February 1840 (Wednesday Evening) Location: Washington D.C., USA Source: History of the Church 4:78-80 (Words of Joseph Smith, 32–34) click here to read rest of letter).
“While the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is established for the instruction of men; and it is one of God’s instrumentalities for making known the truth yet he is not limited to that institution for such purposes, neither in time nor place. God raises up wise men and prophets here and there among all the children of men, of their own tongue and nationality, speaking to them through means that they can comprehend. … All the great teachers are servants of God; among all nations and in all ages. They are inspired men, appointed to instruct God’s children according to the conditions in the midst of which he finds them” (Elder BH Roberts, Defense of the Faith and the Saints, 2 vols. (1907), 1:512–13).
“Keep all the truth and all the good that you have. Do not abandon any sound or proper principle. Do not forsake any standard of the past which is good, righteous, and true. Every truth found in every church in all the world we believe… The more truth we have, the greater is our joy here and now; the more truth we receive, the greater is our reward in eternity” (Elder Bruce R. McConkie, in Russell M. Nelson, “Teach Us Tolerance and Love,” Ensign, May 1994, 70).
“As members of the Church of Jesus Christ, we seek to bring all truth together. We seek to enlarge the circle of love and understanding among all the peoples of the earth. Thus we strive to establish peace and happiness, not only within Christianity but among all mankind” (President Howard W. Hunter,“The Gospel—A Global Faith,” Ensign, Nov. 1991, 18).
“I am not a strict constructionalist, believing that we seal our eternal progress by what we do here. It is my belief that God will save all of His children that he can: and while, if we live unrighteously here, we shall not go to the other side in the same status, so to speak, as those who lived righteously; nevertheless, the unrighteous will have their chance, and in the eons of the eternities that are to follow, they, too, may climb to the destinies to which they who are righteous and serve God, have climbed to those eternities that are to come” (J. Reuben Clark, Church News, 23 April 1960, p. 3).
“Jesus had not finished his work when his body was slain, neither did he finish it after his ; although he had accomplished the purpose for which he then came to the earth, he had not fulfilled all his work. And when will he? Not until he has redeemed and saved every son and daughter of our father Adam that have been or ever will be born upon this earth to the end of time, except the sons of perdition. That is his mission. We will not finish our work until we have saved ourselves, and then not until we shall have saved all depending upon us; for we are to become saviors upon Mount Zion, as well as Christ. We are called to this mission” (Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine, 5th ed. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1939, p. 442).
“There is never a time when the spirit is too old to approach God. All are within the reach of pardoning mercy, who have not committed the unpardonable sin” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 191).
“…in accordance with God’s plan of eternal progression, advancement from grade to grade within any kingdom, and from kingdom to kingdom, will be provided for. But if the recipients of a lower glory be enabled to advance, surely the intelligences of higher rank will not be stopped in their progress; and thus we may conclude, that degrees and grades will ever characterize the kingdoms of our God. Eternity is progressive; perfection is relative; the essential feature of God’s living purpose is its associated power of eternal increase” (James E. Talmage, The Articles of Faith [1899 edition] pp. 420-421).
“I do not like the old man being called up for erring in doctrine. It looks too much like the Methodists, and not like the Latter-day Saints. Methodists have creeds which a man must believe or be asked out of their church. I want the liberty of thinking and believing as I please, it feels so good not to be trammeled. It does not prove that a man is not a good man because he errs in doctrine” (History of the Church, 5:340).