Come Follow Me – The Family – A Proclamation to the World and The Living Christ – The Testimony of the Apostles

In the last two weeks of the Doctrine and Covenant study, the Come Follow Me curriculum covers the most recent officially published proclamations, The Family – A Proclamation to the World published in 1995 and The Living Christ – The Testimony of the Apostles published in 2000. Family and Christ are fundamental to the gospel. Christianity encourages its adherence toward better lives, providing guides, but then enables that adherence through the sanctifying power that comes when a Christian yields to Christ’s grace. We don’t live as individuals. So much of who we are is shaped by the community we live in. We think of individual responsibilities for sins, but the evidence points more clearly to societal culpability. Similarly, it’s through our associations, especially our familial associations where salvation comes. We need to strive to live up to standards, but in that striving we need to yield to Christ’s grace. This generosity and magical goodness is most profoundly felt and expressed during this Christmas season.

The Family Proclamation

Among progressive parts of the church, this proclamation has taken a lot of heat given the way it’s been filtered through the cultural war lens. It was at least partially written through that lens in response to an attempt to change the law in Hawaii to legalize gay marriage, one of the first attempts to do so. The proclamation describes the importance of traditional marriage, the eternal nature of gender and the traditional nature of gender roles in marriage. The proclamation emphasizes the need for children to be reared in loving nuclear family, to parents who sacrifice and willingly populate the earth with their progeny. Needless to say, those within the LGBTQ community, those who are single or from troubled or complicated family situations, and those who care about people in these situations, have very understandable reasons to struggle with the proclamation as it is written. And those people include all of us. Right now, half of the church membership is single, and all marriages and families have complications and struggles. For those who can’t or won’t read it, I won’t press the issue, but for the rest of us, there are beautifully important principles that can and should be elevated within our public discourse.

Through the Perspective of Children

Christianity is fundamentally about placing people into covenant to love and service to others. For a Christian, entering into the marriage sacrament is yet just another call to service – to love and care for a spouse and for most who do, to ultimately help bring into the world, the next generation of human life. According to the proclamation, marriage and families is “God’s planned destiny for children”. Christianity is a religion concerned about life beyond this life, but it’s also fundamentally concerned about this life. We hope for a better world in the there-after but we’re called into making this world as good as possible in a way that will sustain and progress long after we depart it. How we raise children is a fundamental part of that.

A few years ago, Diane Rehm interviewed Penelope Leach about her book on the impact divorce has on children. No matter how old the children are when divorce happens, they will feel the effects. What we do effects others and we should hold ourselves responsible for the negative impact our choices and behaviors have.

We warn that individuals who violate covenants of chastity, who abuse spouse or offspring, or who fail to fulfill family responsibilities will one day stand accountable before God.

From the Family Proclamation

Every child deserves to have connection to loving, stable caregivers. We need to do more as a society to ensure every child has that opportunity no matter the exact circumstances that brought that child to this world. Too often, but inevitably, biological parents cannot fulfill the obligations of parenthood. Thankfully, many good-hearted people step in to fill in these gaps, through adoption and other essential social services.

But losing this connection to one’s biology leaves gaps.

 What I would say, though, is that even if a child is better off being raised in a one parent home, as this child clearly is, it’s still important that that child be allowed to know about the other parent. We all seem to need to know where we came from, and if you look at the — look on the internet, the adopted children desperately looking for news of their own backgrounds. The same is equally true of children of divorce.

MS. PENELOPE LEACH

I’m not an expert on divorce or adoption, I do feel the joys, yearnings and desires for the well being of my own biological children. I see myself in them. I worry for them in many of the same ways I worry for myself. Fiction is filled with stories about the struggles children have with missing, abusive, or otherwise severely flawed children. A past This American Life episode describes a crazy true-story case where a baby was accidentally switched at birth and the trauma both children felt feeling like neither fit in with the family they were raised in. Barbara Kingsolver similarly dives into the difficulties and complexities adoption imposes in her book, Pigs In Heaven, describing a women’s adoption of a Cherokee daughter.

Relying on the nuclear family, however, to do all of the lifting is problematic and fragile. To this point, David Brooks wrote an important essay recently about how much give up by removing the infrastructural support that used to be provided by an involved extended family, saying

If you want to summarize the changes in family structure over the past century, the truest thing to say is this: We’ve made life freer for individuals and more unstable for families. We’ve made life better for adults but worse for children. We’ve moved from big, interconnected, and extended families, which helped protect the most vulnerable people in society from the shocks of life, to smaller, detached nuclear families (a married couple and their children), which give the most privileged people in society room to maximize their talents and expand their options. The shift from bigger and interconnected extended families to smaller and detached nuclear families ultimately led to a familial system that liberates the rich and ravages the working-class and the poor.

David Brooks

The well-being of children, then, is not just the responsibility of parents. Extended family, church and society all should help shoulder the enormous burden of raising children.

Christmas is fundamentally a family celebration. At the heart of it is a Jesus’ birth. A new life, a young mother, a worldly celebration. I think every birth should have that celebration, that promise, that support, that hope.

The Baby Bust

We declare that God’s commandment for His children to multiply and replenish the earth remains in force.

From the Proclamation

The family proclamation is concerned with humanity’s eternal destiny. What becomes of us after we die has traditionally been church’s predominant concern. But we also care about the thriving sustainability of human life on this earth as well. We must strive for a growing, thriving existence for humankind on this earth right now. As such, we need to bear, raise and nurture the next generation. A shrinking number of us have children which will put pressure on society going forward. This baby bust has been a concern for Ross Douthat among many, many others.

Many young adults are delaying marriage and child-rearing not because they want to but because they feel a sense of vulnerability and uncertainty in an economic system that increasingly puts all the pressure and burden on them.

We call upon responsible citizens and officers of government everywhere to promote those measures designed to maintain and strengthen the family as the fundamental unit of society

The Family Proclamation

If we want stronger, larger families, our policies should be designed to ease this burden, providing necessary financial support, more consistently good schools, and more equitable access to college.

A Multitude of Individual Adaptations

Disability, death, or other circumstances may necessitate individual adaptation. Extended families should lend support when needed. Extended families should lend support when needed.

From the Proclamation

There are broad and important principles in the proclamation but individual circumstances are messy and complicated. We understand the general principles but we can’t use them as weapons to beat ourselves or others. Not everyone will get married. Not ever married couple will have children. Some of this will be by choice, for many others, by circumstance. No life looks the same. Within each experience we have an opportunity, an obligation and grace. Extended family, friends, and neighbors can all lend a hand to provide the support for others. Church congregations can also fill in as a sort of unofficial family. In my faith, we lovingly refer to our wards as a type of family. I think this is right and important.

Life is Precious

We affirm the sanctity of life and of its importance in God’s eternal plan.

From the Proclamation

But it’s not just about having children, we must recognize the inherent worth of human life, every single human life. Parents have the primary obligation, but all of us should care for, nuture, and reach out to every single human soul to the best we can.

Grace Needs to Infuse all of This

I think it’s an interesting time of the year to be doing a deep dive into the Family Proclamation. Christmas has always been fundamentally a family holiday for me. I grew up in family poverty and dysfunction but I had older sisters who worked hard to provide the magic that is so much a part of my childhood memory. But not just my older sisters, members of my church congregation at times provided extra gifts to ensure Christmas magic had a slightly more bit of equity. There was also an over-arching infrastructure that provided this magic freely to as many who would pay attention. School, church and neighborhood programs and parties. Extra gifts sent out to those in need. Neighbors who spent time to light up their houses, widespread holiday music. The whole season is magical and unifying.

I can’t think of a better example of this than the Christmas truce in 1914.

The so-called Christmas Truce of 1914 came only five months after the outbreak of war in Europe and was one of the last examples of the outdated notion of chivalry between enemies in warfare. It was never repeated—future attempts at holiday ceasefires were quashed by officers’ threats of disciplinary action—but it served as heartening proof, however brief, that beneath the brutal clash of weapons, the soldiers’ essential humanity endured.

Interestingly, the Christ story itself is an example of an individual adaption to this nuclear family. Mary was single, though betrothed, pregnant and poor. Her people were marginalized and subjugated. Joseph, famously encouraged by an angel, chose to marry her despite a pregnancy that wasn’t his. Jesus life was lived in the shadows and on the margins. Defending, sustaining and nurturing those well on the outside of what was considered proper.

I think this is the message, we strive to live good lives, but we are vulnerable. We’re less vulnerable with support. Christ’s grace flows through the supporting networks we build up.
I love this message that was smuggled into the move Home Alone.

Home Alone

Come Follow Me – D&C 137, 138

Historical Context

These last two sections were added to the current version of the Doctrine and Covenants in 1981. Previous to that, these revelations were accepted as scripture and added to the Pearl of Great Price in April 1976. (Information from wikipedia). D&C 137 was a revelation received by Joseph Smith in Kirtland Ohio on January 21, 1836 just prior to the dedication of the Kirtland temple. D&C 138 happened much later, received by Joseph F. Smith (Joseph Smith’s nephew) on October 4, 1918. Both were revelations providing more light and knowledge about life after death.

The Come Follow Me lesson that introduces these sections reference a recent General Conference talk given by Dallin H. Oaks where he reminds us how little has actually been revealed about the after life. These revelations are glimpses only, revealing important and helpful principles and insights. As we feel tempted to wonder or worry about the details, we should, to use Elder Oaks’ words, “trust in the Lord“.

D&C 137 (January 21, 1836)

Alvin Smith

This revelation centers on and was triggered by Joseph Smith’s thoughts, feelings and relationship for and with his older brother Alvin Smith. Alvin had previously passed away on Nov. 19, 1823 at the age of 25. During his funeral service, the minister presiding over the funeral service had taught that Alvin’s soul was in jeapardy because he had not been baptized in any church before his death. Thirteen years later, Joseph received this revelation about the celestial kingdom after both giving and receiving a blessing from his father.

The Vision of the Celestial Kingdom

Verses 1-4, Joseph Smith describes his vision, “whether in the body or out I cannot tell.” He described the “transcendent beauty of the gate” “like unto circling flames of fire”. “The blazing throne of God”, the “beautiful streets of the kingdom” with the “appearance of being paved with gold.”

Next he describes who he sees, starting first with two significant Old Testament prophets, Adam and Abraham, followed by his still alive father and more significantly, his brother Alvin. (verse 5). Joseph Smith had long dismissed the authority of the minister who presided over Alvin’s funeral, but the preeminent importance of baptism stayed with him. Seeing this vision caused him to question and then receive an assurance.

 And amarveled how it was that he had obtained an binheritance in that kingdom, seeing that he had departed this life before the Lord had set his hand to cgather Israel the second time, and had not been dbaptized for the remission of sins.

Thus came the avoice of the Lord unto me, saying: All who have died bwithout a knowledge of this gospel, who would have received it if they had been permitted to tarry, shall be cheirs of the celestial kingdom of God;

Also all that shall die henceforth without a knowledge of it, who awould have received it with all their hearts, shall be heirs of that kingdom;

verses 6-8

That the Lord will “judge all men according to their works, according to the desire of their hearts.” (verse 9).

We should be careful to interpret these words too narrowly. As a general rule, imagine a kind, loving God who loves and cares for every single one of God’s children. Thinking too about the capricious, uneven, wildly unjust nature of this world, we’re called into love, compassion, care and forgiveness. There is an accountability. We do need to adopt a sense of urgency. We need to avoid complacency. But God wants us with Him. Heaven is not Harvard. The bar for Heaven is far higher and more essentially important than Harvard’s admissions, but God desires a 100% admission rates, US News & World Report rankings be damned.

D&C 138 (October 3, 1918)

More Background

This revelation came to Joseph F. Smith just as WW1 was ending, a war that resulted in an estimated 40 million lives lost. It was also the start of the first outbreak of deadly 1918 flu epidemic in Utah. One week after this revelation, there would be a ban on all public meetings in Utah. Moreover, president’s life was also nearing his end, his death would be a couple of months later, in December of that year. Joseph F. Smith’s life was filled with tragedy and death. He was only six years old when his father, Hyrum and his uncle Joseph were killed in Carthage Jail. When he was only 13, his mother died in Salt Lake City of pneumonia. He also had 13 children precede him in death.

The Nature of this Revelation

Joseph F. Smith before getting into the revelation describes the manner in which the revelation comes. He’s pondering over the scriptures, reflecting on God’s great love and mercy. While engaged, he remembers the writings of Peter.

While I was thus engaged, my mind reverted to the writings of the apostle Peter, to the aprimitive saints scattered abroad throughout bPontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, and other parts of Asia, where the gospel had been cpreached after the crucifixion of the Lord.

I opened the Bible and read the athird and fourth chapters of the first epistle of Peter, and as I read I was greatly bimpressed, more than I had ever been before, with the following passages:

5-6

He proceeds to quote several verses in Peter culminating in 1 Peter 4:6

For for this cause was the gospel preached also to them that are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit.

1 Peter 4:6

As he reads these passages, the spirit rests upon him and the eyes of his understanding are opened, and he sees the “hosts of the dead”.

Christ First Teaches to the Just

His vision first focuses on the just. The scriptures often talk in binary, the just and the unjust, when in reality, this binary is not well representative as we all fall within some complicated continuum. What’s interesting here is the specific attributes that qualify someone as just.

  • Verse 12: “Offered sacrifice in the similitude of the great sacrifice of the Son of God”
  • Verse 13: “Departed the mortal life, firm in the hope of a glorious resurrection, through the grace of God”
  • Verse 14: Those “filled with joy and gladness”, rejoicing because the “day of their deliverance was at hand.”

There’s something within the just that has a general knowledge and relationship with God that calls them into an enduring effort to love and serve others. It was them that Christ preached the everlasting gospel. Unto the wicked he did not go (verse 20).

Death is described here as bondage that all endured. The difference is that the righteous had knowledge of God’s grace having experienced it while in the flesh, striving to live as Jesus lived. They had a gut-level hope of an eventual resurrection and with that, hope for deliverance. I’m sure there were degrees and continuums here, but it speaks to the importance of living well here, while embodied, to ease the burdens while there, disembodied.

Constrast With the Unjust

The unjust were those who “defiled themselves”, were rebellious and “rejected the testimonies and the warnings of the ancient prophets”. Who can this be? How can we recognize when it’s happening within us? I believe that the spirit of prophecy can come from all kinds of sources and that we need to be willing to listen to their testimonies and warnings with an open heart, willing to repent and change our minds and our hearts. There’s too much of stubbornness in this world.

Verse 22 describes their state and then compares them with those who have light.

Where these were, adarkness reigned, but among the righteous there was bpeace;

And the saints rejoiced in their aredemption, and bowed the bknee and acknowledged the Son of God as their Redeemer and Deliverer from death and the cchains of dhell.

Their countenances ashone, and the bradiance from the presence of the Lord rested upon them, and they csang praises unto his holy name.

verse 22-24

The Vastness of the Mission

In the middle of this remarkable vision, Smith begins to wonder and marvel, beginning in verse 25, that Christ’s ministry was so short (three years), converting only a smattering of followers and his ministry among the dead was even shorter. How could he reach so many people in so short of time.

 I marveled, for I understood that the Savior spent about three years in his aministry among the Jews and those of the house of Israel, endeavoring to bteach them the everlasting gospel and call them unto repentance;

And yet, notwithstanding his mighty works, and miracles, and proclamation of the truth, in great apower and authority, there were but bfew who hearkened to his voice, and rejoiced in his presence, and received salvation at his hands.

But his ministry among those who were dead was limited to the abrief time intervening between the crucifixion and his resurrection;

verses 25-27

The Mission – Continual Preaching and Teaching After Death

The answer came through a quickened understanding (verse 29), that Christ organized the mission among the just to teach the gospel to the unjust (verse 30). The gospel would be taught to those who died in their sins, “faith in God, repentance for sins, vicarious baptism, the gift of the Holy Gost” (verse 33). The idea here to entrance to God’s kingdom, that through God’s judgment they might live with God in the Spirit.

Thus was it made known that our Redeemer spent his time during his sojourn in the world of aspirits, instructing and preparing the faithful spirits of the bprophets who had testified of him in the flesh;

That they might carry the message of redemption unto all the dead, unto whom he could not go personally, because of their arebellion and transgression, that they through the ministration of his servants might also hear his words.

Verse 36-37

The Mighty and Great ones

Similar to Joseph Smith’s revelation in D&C 137, President Smith sees Old Testament prophets among those present in this revelation, but it’s far more expansive, spanning the dispensations, Adam, Eve, Abel, Seth, Noah, Shem, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Elias, Malachi, Elijah, and so many more. Righteous daughters of Eve, though many are sadly left out of scripture are referenced as well as the Book of Mormon prophets. This teaching spans from the very unique and narrow perspective of a prophet of this modern Christian church, but I think with a broader lens, one could see the need to teach and be taught from all prophets who ever lived everywhere, representing all traditions, cultures and people. This was a mission to shine light in dark places.

The Eternal Mission

The point of this mission was life:

For the adead had looked upon the long absence of their bspirits from their bodies as a cbondage.

verse 50

The spirits of the faithful were eternal, forever learning and expanding.

Even before they were born, they, with many others, received their first alessons in the world of spirits and were bprepared to come forth in the due ctime of the Lord to labor in his dvineyard for the salvation of the souls of men.

verse 56

Conclusions

And so concludes the revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants. This book of scripture was intended, originally to contain Joseph Smith’s revelations as the church was just beginning while Joseph Smith was trying to figure things out and largely that is what this book is. The final two sections are appropriate exclamation marks on the ultimate mission and vision of this church. One from Joseph Smith, the other given by his nephew, both describing visions of the afterlife. Joseph Smith’s describes the Celestial glory with God and the real possibilities to be at one not just with God but our loved ones as well – our brothers, sisters and parents. Joseph F. Smith describes an afterlife filled with teaching and preaching, shining light where there was darkness and the proposition that repentance is still possible after death. Most emphatically, the revelation describes the need for the resurrection and that a core part of salvation is this intuitive longing for life.