A Family Story or Two
At a family reunion last summer, a few of our older grandkids—those over 18, some of them returned missionaries—were talking about their testimonies and how they felt about the Church.
I remember feeling so proud of them for their open minds and big-picture paradigm—they were talking about how important it is to realize how much truth and goodness there is in the world, and several emphasized how we should look for faith and understanding everywhere and be inclusive in our attitudes; and not let ourselves become too black-and-white in our thinking, or fall into the exclusive “only true church” mentality.
Then more recently, our four daughters—ranging in age from mid 30s to early 50s, all of them moms, collectively of 18 of our grandchildren—took up the subject of religion on their parenting podcast, In the Arena with the Eyre Sisters. As Temple-going, committed Church members, they expressed their conviction and gratitude for the Church but also their love of the truth and beauty that can be found in other faith traditions. One mentioned how much she has learned from Eastern Religion and particularly from her practice of yoga. Another talked about her love of Catholic theologian Richard Rohr and the insights of his daily emails. They went as far as to say that they felt that one reason their own testimonies of the Church have stayed strong is that they were always encouraged to explore and look for truth everywhere, not thinking of their own church as the only source of truth and goodness.
It reminded me of a personal experience I have told to both my children and grandchildren: I was the Mission President in London and was driving back from a conference with Elder Gordon B. Hinckley who was not yet president of the Church. It was late at night, just the two of us on the dark motorway, and he was kindly complementing me on the number of people our mission was teaching and baptizing. We were both tired that night, and speaking openly, so I responded with a note of discouragement—did he know, I asked, that there were more than 10 million people in our mission boundaries and we were reaching less than one thousandth of one percent of them.?
I will never forget his response…
He chuckled a bit—in that resonant, cheerful way that he had—and then he said, as nearly as I can remember, “Oh President Eyre, don’t ever think that the LDS Church is the only tool the Lord has.”
Those words have stuck with me—hopeful words, optimistic words, assurance that God is the Heavenly Father of us all, that He loves all of His children equally, that he sends blessings and truths through many channels and many people and many sources and many faiths, and that it is not “all on us.”
I think this perspective and this attitude, which some in the Church might label “liberal” is the best way to look at the world and at religion. It is the view we tried to teach our children and that we are trying to teach our grandchildren. And I feel happy when I hear them expressing their own broad, inclusive beliefs and their respect for and interest in the truths within other religions.
But What About the Unique Truths of the Restoration?
Within this open perspective and seek-truth everywhere paradigm, is there room for recognition and appreciation of the more complete eternal view of Our Faith? Can we, without any “better-than-thou” pride, be aware of and deeply thankful for the truths restored and revealed to Joseph Smith and other latter-day prophets that make us a unique kind of Christians and that give us a more vast and complete view of eternity and of the Savior Himself? And that give us Temples and covenants and Priesthood that other faiths lack?
None of us, especially as parents and grandparents, want the pendulum to swing so far to the “truth is everywhere” side that we lose those distinctions and undermine this gratitude. So let us ask this question:
Can we have inclusive views of truth and commonality AND exclusive gratitude for truths found nowhere else?
Can we be open and vulnerable and inclusive and “liberal” and look for truth everywhere WITHOUT any dimming of our deep and heart-held gratitude for the very different form of Christianity that comes with the Restoration and the truths it contains—truths that no other Christian religion, indeed no other religion on earth today can offer?*
I hope we can, because I have two things that I love so dearly that I must balance them and hold on to both:
One: My conviction that God loves all of his children equally and that His truth and light is everywhere and that other faiths and philosophies contain pieces and parts of truth and of practice that are more developed than ours.
Two: My intense gratitude for the more complete paradigm and view-of-eternity revelation (along with covenants and Priesthood) that we have through the Restoration and living prophets.
These are not mutually exclusive. We can embrace both—in fact, they are synergistic.
Back to my children and grandchildren
So, since the older grandkids that evening last summer at Bear Lake and our daughters on their recent podcast did such a superb job of articulating number One, I felt that I wanted to remind them, and myself, of the power and importance of number Two—and to emphasize and underscore the need for balance between them and to express my conviction of how compatible they are with each other.
Here is the essence of some of what I wrote to them:
Whenever we have a spiritual discussion (privately like the one at the lake last summer or more publicly like you four daughters on your recent podcast) I feel gratified by the respect we all try to pay to other faiths and by our seek-truth-everywhere approach; but I also feel so deeply your thankfulness for the broader perspective given us by living Prophets and the Restoration.
I think this gratitude for the things restored that are only found in the Church can slant one of two ways:
- It can tilt toward pride and exclusivity where we say things like “only true church” or where we pit ourselves against other religions and claim superiority or favoritism because “we have more truth than you;” or
- It can lean toward ever more humble gratitude for being the undeserving recipients of the glorious truths of the Restoration and toward a desire to share what we have even as we listen to and receive what others have.
I am grateful, my dear children and grandchildren that you have gravitated to and always seem to lean toward the second—toward B.
So here, within that humble second attitude if gratitude, is a list of some of the insights and truths (and even some of the practical tools) that should make us continually awed and thankful for being part of The Restored Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints: (I won’t elaborate or explain any of them because we can each do that in our own mind—triggered by the simple titles or topical truths on the list.)
Let me put it in the first person. I am so grateful that, through the Restoration, we know of or have at least 18 astounding insights, perspectives and powers not present in other faiths today:*
- Our Heavenly Parents – our Parental God.
- The premortal life and the growth-facilitating agency that comes with mortality.
- Christ’s all-encompassing roles of Creator, Jehovah, Savior and Judge.
- Restoration of the Priesthood and Ordinances.
- The blessings of the Holy Temple and the Covenant Path.
- Eternal marriage and forever families.
- Living prophets.
- Vicarious works that bind us with our ancestors.
- An equalizing-of-opportunity Millennium and Spirit World.
- A Heaven and hereafter of Eternal Progression and the prospect of returning to our Heavenly Parents.
- Three additional books of Holy Scripture that expand our understanding of Their Plan and of all the lead roles in that Plan that are played by our eldest Brother, Christ.
- The well-formed concept of eternal Salvation, Exaltation, and Eternal Lives.
- The paradigm of the Gospel of Joy, rather than the Gospel of Guilt (Calvinism, etc)
- Insights into the equality of men and women and the “perfectible entity” that exists only in the merging of the two within the New and Everlasting Covenant.
- The organization of Wards (unique in all Christian history) which brings diverse neighbors together and offers unprecedented opportunity for service.
- Eve, not as the goat (maker of the error that cost us the game) but as the G.O.A.T. (Greatest of all time) who made the courageous choice that triggered God’s plan of mortality for all.
- Understanding of the Church as scaffolding with which we build eternal family which becomes the government of God and the Kingdom of Heaven.
- The proactive family support system of the Church in teaching values and character to our children.
On this list, #3 (An expanded view of Christ) is in many ways the most important, the most central and pivotal, and certainly the most personally powerful. Our belief is that this is His Church (though another way of thinking about it might be that all truth is His) and that the core of the Restoration is the additional insights and understanding of, and relationship with, our Savior. So here is a sub-list of the various levels of belief-in-Christ that illustrates how much additional scope we have through modern prophets. (I think you will agree that true Christianity does not begin until level eight, and that the restoration adds everything beyond level ten.)
Level one: he did not exist. He is a myth.
Level two: he was a trickster, a magician, a deceiver.
Level three: he was a historical figure, but most of what is said about him is fiction or legend rather than history.
Level four: he was a remarkable and powerful teacher.
Level five: he was a charismatic leader and teacher who developed the most beautiful philosophy of life ever devised.
Level six: he was a prophet.
Level seven: he was the greatest of all prophets.
Level eight: He was more than a man, more than a prophet; he was the Son of God who lived a perfect life.
Level nine: He was the Son of God and is our Savior. He died and atoned for our sins and was then resurrected.
Level ten: He was the Son of God and is our Savior. He established his church to preserve and spread his Gospel.
Level eleven: He was the Son of God and is our Savior. He established his church, but because of the agency of mortality, He knew that parts of it would be diluted and destroyed.
Level twelve: He brought His message and His Gospel to scattered Israel, including remnants on these shores.
Level thirteen: He also personally brought His Gospel, in the Spirit World to all who had lived.
Level fourteen: He restored His original Church to the earth in these Latter Days.
Level fifteen: He was and is Jehovah, the God of the Old Testament.
Level sixteen: Additionally, He is the firstborn Spirit offspring of God, the literal eldest spiritual brother of us all.
Level seventeen: Additionally, in the pre-mortal world, He presented and championed the Father’s Plan for mortality and for our Salvation and Exaltation.
Level eighteen: Additionally, He is the Creator of this world.
Level nineteen: Additionally, He will be our Judge.
Level twenty: We, His spiritual siblings, but infinitely separated from him by His perfection and our imperfection, none the less ultimately have the opportunity to live with Him and with our Heavenly Parents in the Celestial Kingdom.
And more could be added–more insights about Christ that were restored and that are not known to the rest of the Christian world today.
May we all nudge ourselves toward even greater and more frequently expressed gratitude for these 18 remarkable truths, and for finding ourselves at level twenty in our belief in Christ.
What President Hinckley said privately to me on that dark English motorway so many years ago, he essentially said again, publicly, in his now famous interview with Mike Wallace:
“Yes. To anybody who is not of this Church, I say we recognize all of the virtues and the good that you have. Bring it with you and see if we might add to it.”
And we might also say, as I know he often did, that as we share what we have, we wish to accept what they can add to it.
The bottom line, I think, for all of us in the Church, is this:
Seeking, finding and respecting truth and goodness in all people and all forms of divine faith is a good thing, and it helps to make us better people, and happier people.
And doing so is compatible, even symbiotic, with feeling humble and overwhelming gratitude for the expanded levels of belief in Christ and the unique and eternal perspectives, awareness, relationships and insights of the Restoration.
I would love to have your comments and feedback on this article. Since it is a sensitive subject, you may want to send your thoughts or inputs privately, and you can do that by emailing me at Ey********************@gm***.com.
*Although most Latter-day Saint theology (and practices) has historical precedents–some seen in records of prior dispensations—it none-the-less encompasses and teaches truths that are not official doctrine elsewhere in today’s religious world; and the Restoration of the Fulness of Times emphasizes and practices the religion of Jesus in a unique way that expands and challenges traditional views of Christianity.
Richard Eyre is a New York Times #1 Bestselling Author who frequently writes for Meridian on family and life-balance.