Editor’s Note:  We are pleased to present this once-a-week, all-summer-long series of familycentric essays from Richard Eyre. This is Essay 5 in the series.  As most Meridian readers know, the Eyres, for five decades, have focused their professional lives on strengthening families.  This focus has ranged from writing New York Times #1 bestselling books to speaking to parents in more than 60 countries around the globe.  But their true passion is for an Inclusive, Eternal Family Paradigm that can’t be fully shared or grasped without the insights of the Restored Gospel. And they feel that the reverse of that is also true:  The Restored Gospel can’t be fully grasped or shared until it is seen through an Inclusive, Eternal Family Lens.  The goal of this series of essays is to better understand and have more realistic expectations of both Church and Family. And “family” is broadly defined so that each article speaks to us all, whether we are single or married, parents or siblings, aunts and uncles or grandparents. To read the introductory essay, please click here, essay 2 here, essay 3 here, and essay 4 here.  

Author’s Note: Thanks for wading through all the bullet points in last weekend’s essay.  I will, as promised, get back to the summer-mode of stories in this one— in fact there are three stories in today’s piece, at the beginning, the middle and the end—all of them personal experiences that I feel taught me something about Divine Inclusivity. As always, you are invited to send any feedback or comments to me privately at my pseudonym email Dr*******@gm***.com where I will read and respond.  

Before I tell you my first story, let me underscore what Meridian says in the Editor’s Note above.  The purpose of this series is to help us all view the Eternal Gospel through a more eternal lens—to see the larger, longer picture where time is replaced by forever and where God continues always to offer all of His children all that He has.  In this familycentric lens, we are all children in our Heavenly Parents’ family, and the question of which familial roles we have played so far here on earth is not as important as the assurance that we will each have opportunities to play them all during eternities course, and to bring our families back into His.

In this larger lens we are less troubled that only one of every thousand people on earth now has the covenants of the Restored Gospel and that a majority of those who have lived here did not know of Christ in their mortality.  Instead of concluding that God loves and favors some of His children more than others we can strive to see an endless and equal process of individual and family progression and believe that our Father can reach us through many channels, including the Light of Christ which is in us all.

This is not to say that “all roads lead to heaven” or to embrace a universalist or unitarian concept that each path is as good as another.  Indeed, there is one covenant path, but it is one that all can find in an eternity void of deadlines or cut-off points or last chances. It is that timelessness that is the key to the Divine Inclusivity that is the subject of this fifth essay, and I can think of no better way to begin it than with a cherished experience with President Hinckley.

Opening Inclusivity Story

As a young Mission President, I was driving President Hinckley (then Elder Hinckley) back to London late one night following a Zone Conference and Fireside we had presented in the city of Poole on the English Channel.  It was dark and peaceful as we drove up the motorway, and we were both tired and relaxed.

Somewhere in the conversation, he complemented me on the number of baptisms we were having in the mission, and without thinking I let out a little of my dissatisfied impatience and said something about how there were more than 10 million people in our mission boundaries and in a whole year we were baptizing less than 1 in every 10,000 of them.  Birth rates figured in, I said, we are actually losing ground.  When would the work go forward faster I wondered?  How could the Church ever reach the billions who need it?

I couldn’t see his face in the darkness, but I heard his soft, warm distinctive chuckle.  When he finally spoke, he said something I have never forgotten.  “Oh President Eyre, don’t ever think that the Mormon Church is the only tool the Lord has.”

What exactly did he mean?  Here was one of the Restored Church’s Twelve Apostles comforting me for what I saw as inadequate results—by trying to help me understand that it wasn’t all on me, or all on the mission, or all on the Church.  Was he telling me that what we were doing didn’t really matter that much?  Or was he expanding my understanding by sharing the larger perspective and vision of a Heavenly Father who could speak through many people, many faiths—who was the God of all the earth and all the universe and all of eternity—who could hear and answer the prayers of any-and-all, and whose “tools” or resources or connections to all of His children were vaster than I could imagine.

I have wished all of my life—ever since that midnight drive—for a more expansive, more inclusive view of God, and of His plan, and of our eternity.

Inclusivity and Equality—What looks like Less is Actually More

In the first four essays in this series, I tried to discuss the power and joy of seeing the Restored Gospel through a familycentric lens and perceiving God as our Heavenly Parents. One implication of these beliefs, of course, is that our Parental God loves all of His children equally and that His promises and covenants are potentially inclusive of all of us.

Then why does so much of this mortality seem, on its surface, to be so unfair, so unkind, so arbitrary—essentially the anthesis of fairness, and maybe of love?

I am going to suggest that it is a matter of perspective, and that the things we see which seem to indicate unfairness or inequality are in fact indications of a love and equity too vast and complete for us to comprehend.

I am going to make the claim that if ever we observe anything that suggests that God is something less than completely inclusive or sees us as anything less than equal, we are misinterpreting as less something that is actually more.

God’s equality does not mean sameness.  Our Heavenly Parents don’t give us all the same life with the same challenges and the same blessings. Indeed, they are far too wise for that.  Equality in the God-like sense is not a one-size-fits-all collective equality—rather, it is His total, eternity-covering individual equality residing within a plan of unlimited agency and endless options which allows what each unique spirit needs to maximize his or her potential, progression, and joy.

Man is not even fully capable of comprehending that advanced forever-equality, let alone giving it. But our Heavenly Parents, in Their Divine wisdom and total perspective, allow each of us the life circumstances and choices and situations that we need to maximize our opportunities for growth. They do not give us trials or terror, or hurt or harm, but they allow all to happen in a mortality that is full of both opposition and options as well as peace and plenty. And over the course of mortality, spirit world, and millennium it will all total up, for each of us (when we have the perspective to see it) to a marvelous kind of glorious fairness and equality that is, for now, impossibly beyond our imagination.

His inclusivity is similar to His equality in that it is so vast that we are not able to see it all, and thus often misinterpret it as exclusivity.  For example, many see our temples as exclusive, when in fact they are incomprehensively inclusive, inviting all who live or have lived or will yet live to partake of God’s covenants.

Inclusivity and Opportunity

When Sister Dennis of the Relief Society Presidency recently made her now famous (or infamous) statement about this Church offering more opportunity and leadership to women than any other church or faith, much of the reaction and push-back was due to limited perspective.  What I believe she was saying, and what I am saying here in an even broader sense, is that the familycentric theology of the Restored Gospel includes everyone, and teaches us a doctrine that gives all of us limitless opportunity, not only for leadership and participation in God’s power, but in becoming like our Heavenly Parents in the very ways that will allow us to return to Their presence.

This perspective incorporates belief in literal and loving Heavenly Parents who, like (but much more so) earthly parents, love us unconditionally and equally, forgive us again and again, continue to provide second chances, and offer to us everything that they have but in ways that feed our progression-potential rather than our entitled-egos.

These are the qualities of Divine Inclusivity. None of it makes anything easy or guaranteed, and none of it undermines our agency, because while it is extended to all, it is given only to those who will receive it. God does not tempt us or give us our trials, but this agency-world allows them—and he does not manage fairness by manipulating our experiences but by providing a long enough and wide enough eternity that what we all have eventually balances.

It is hard to imagine a timeless, eternal existence of endless second chances, yet we once lived in a place like that, and its feeling if not its memory can flow to us even through the veil of forgetting if we invite it. Everything looks different in eternity.  Everything feels different in forever.

Middle Inclusivity Story

We love the island of Maui, and one of our sons and his family live there.  For decades, almost every time we visited the island we drove over to Lahaina to sit under the magical spreading branches of one of the biggest Banyan trees in the world—a massive spreading canopy covering a full city block.  Our favorite fish market was across the street, and we would always pick up our fresh Ono or Ahi or Mahi-mahi sandwiches and take them over to eat under the Banyan tree. The awful fire that destroyed Lahaina last year burned that iconic tree along with most of the town, and when we went back this year, its blackened skeleton seemed to symbolize the devastation and loss and death caused by the tragic fire.

I remember on one of our earlier visits, it occurred to me that a huge Banyan tree is an extension of the Family-Tree symbol or metaphor.  The main tree’s branches go out, always connected to their trunk and roots, and when they extend out horizontally so far that they can’t support their weight, branches drop down and sprout roots of their own, becoming new individual trees, now linked by both branches and roots to the Parent Tree.  Doesn’t our Heavenly Parents family grow similarly?

If there is a bigger or more famous Banyan tree, it may be the one in West Bengal, India where tourists flock to see what at first glance looks like an expansive forest. Branches create an expansive canopy over the Botanical Garden. But of course the amazing thing about this collection of plant life is that it’s not a forest at all; it’s one massive tree, known simply as the Great Banyan Tree, and all those apparently distinct members of a forest are actually one of 3,600 aerial roots.

Aspen groves are in some ways similar, the white-barked trees stand individually, but their branches touch, and their roots are all joined, forming what is said to be the largest organisms on earth. It is reported that the largest living organism in the world is an aspen grove not far from where I am writing today, near Fish Lake, Utah. It is believed to be the largest, most dense organism ever found weighing 13 million pounds, and it spreads over 106 acres, consisting of over 40,000 individual trees all connected to the same root system.

To see how big and extended and inclusive the Restored Gospel views families, one must only look at an ancestor chart or fan chart or at the family tree we use in genealogy, and then imagine that tree, like a Banyan, made up of individual trees, connected at root and branch, extending forward and back until it includes God’s whole family.

Within the Restored Church, we are busy linking our families, welding in the links.  We are all on that tree as branches from branches, connected by limbs to cousins, uncles, aunts, and generations, and all with opportunity here and now (or there and then) to add on, to make our branch into a trunk within the bigger tree and to connect our roots with our own branches.

(And BTW, as I was writing this, I got curious about that big Lahaina Banyan tree, so I googled the latest, and it made me happy: “When wildfires ravaged Maui last August, all was burned in the historic town of Lahaina—including the town’s famed banyan tree.  But the huge tree remained standing and has shown a new sign of hope: New green leaves sprouting among the dead.”)


I find it wonderful that Nephi, who in his youth may have sounded to some a bit self-righteous and condemning of those who did not possess his faith or zeal, became in his later years so expansive and inclusive in his love and in what he said of God’s love and its application to all. As he concludes his writings, he says that God “commands all men, both in the east and in the west and in the north and in the south and in the islands of the sea.”  He speaks of the words of Christ which “teach all men that they should do good” and he prays to the Father in the name of Christ that “all may be saved in his kingdom at that great and last day.”

President Nelson, speaking of the restored keys of the Priesthood, also focused on the word all.

“I invite you to consider carefully the following three statements:

“The gathering of Israel is evidence that God loves all of His children everywhere.

“The gospel of Abraham is further evidence that God loves all of His children everywhere. He invites all to come unto Him—“black and white, bond and free, male and female; … all are alike unto God.”

“The sealing power is supernal evidence of how much God loves all of His children everywhere and wants each of them to choose to return home to Him.”

Elder Uchtdorf speaks eloquently of the completeness and inclusivity of God’s love,

“Though we are incomplete, God loves us completely. Though we are imperfect, He loves us perfectly. Though we may feel lost and without compass, God’s love encompasses us completely. He loves us because He is filled with an infinite measure of holy, pure, and indescribable love. We are important to God not because of our résumé but because we are His children. He loves every one of us, even those who are flawed, rejected, awkward, sorrowful, or broken. God’s love is so great that He loves even the proud, the selfish, the arrogant, and the wicked.”

This life is not a race or a contest.  It’s not even a test—not in the pass-fail way which we sometimes portray it.  It is an experience designed specifically to give us opportunities and options that allow us to become, bit by tiny bit, more like our Heavenly Parents.

We must never sell short the endless patience and unconditional parental love of our Heavenly Parents.  They never give up on us, they never stop wanting to give us all They have, never withdraw their presence—it is only we who can distance ourselves from them.

We can’t ponder a premortal life where we were literally born as the sons and daughters of Heavenly Parents without coming to the conclusion of inclusivity. Parents do not exclude their children or stop wanting them to return.  Certainly not Heavenly Parents. Having a belief in a premortal life where all of us lived and all of us on earth made the choice to follow and live God’s plan that was presented by Christ, testifies of inclusivity. And on earth, even those who do not yet know Him are equal as God’s children, and in a timeless eternity, the exact order or sequence in which they receive truth is less relevant than we may think. There is endless time, endless chances, and this mortality represents such a tiny portion of it all.

Which way do our Blessings Bend?

The worry-coin of perceived inequality and exclusivity has two sides.  On the one side, we see the depravity and poverty in our world which causes so many to worry about the fairness of God.  And on the other side we see those with such huge comparative blessings that we may wonder about the favoritism of God.

We mentally mitigate the first side of the coin by relying on God’s promises of inclusive love for all, and our belief in realms to come which equalize eternity’s opportunities and challenges.

But the other side of the coin is we—we who have so many blessings of returned truth, revealed covenants, and restored Priesthood that it seems unfair to everyone else.  Back in essay two I listed some of these blessings which are held here on earth by so few of us—our knowledge of and access to:

Our Heavenly Parents—our Parental God
The Premortal life and the agency that comes with mortality
Christ’s all-encompassing roles of Creator, Jehovah, Savior, and Judge
Restoration of Priesthood and Ordinances
Eternal marriage and families
Living Prophets
Holy Temples and covenants for us and our ancestors
An equalizing Spirit World and an eternal-progression Heaven
Three additional books of Holy Scripture
The clarified goals of Joy, Exaltation and Eternal Lives

The question is this: Do these incalculable blessings (that, for now, are enjoyed only by members of the Restored Church) cause us to feel favored and exclusive, or do they cause us to feel humble and inclusive.  Do they bend us toward condescension and pride or toward gratitude and meekness.  Do they wall us off from others or send us forth to share with others?

The purpose of this essay is to reassure us in our favoritism that we are not favorites and in our disfavor that we are not disfavored

Closing Inclusivity Story

Let me end with a personal story that I think bent me a little in the right direction, and testified to me of the inclusivity of God’s love for all (and for each) of His children—reassuring me that He will never stop offering to us all that He has.

One evening, after speaking to a large audience of parents, most of whom were Church members, Linda and I were hanging around at the front of the auditorium chatting with several of those who had attended.  A little line had formed of people who wanted to visit, but one woman in that queue was emotionally distraught—she was sobbing.

When she got to the front of the line, she couldn’t talk, and I didn’t know what to say, so I just put my hand on her arm and waited.  She finally looked up and her wavering voice whispered, “I’ve lost my son.”

All I could think of to say was “What happened?”  She tried to explain—she had not seen her son for six months…he had rebelled and pulled away from her…she had failed as a mother…she had no idea where he was…he was legally an adult so the police said he had a right to go where he wanted…the friends he had been with before he disappeared were doing drugs…she had no idea where to look or what to do.  She slumped lower and lower and sobbed harder as she expressed her hopelessness.

Trying to think of something comforting to say, and wanting to empathize, I offered what felt like a shallow and inadequate question, “So I guess you have just about given up?”

Something about that little question triggered a small miracle to happen right before my eyes. This small woman, so pitiful a moment ago, snapped her head back, drew herself up to full height, brushed away her tears, took a deep breath, fixed me in her gaze and said in a suddenly clear, strong voice, “What did you say?  Did you ask me if I’m giving up?  This is my son!  I will never give up on him!”

Her transformation somehow transformed me, and emboldened me. I took her hand, looked into her determined eyes and made her a promise that I felt in my heart.  “You will find your son, and you will reconcile with him, and all will be well.  I don’t know if this will happen in a month, or a year, or a decade, or in 100 years, but it will happen.  Because Sister, the only way to fail as a parent is to give up.  And you will not ever give up.”

I realized as I said that, and in the years since, that if that woman can summon the complete conviction to say that she will never give up on her son, how much more can our Heavenly Parents say the same thing to every one of their children.

We are the Church of eternal equality; we have the Gospel of infinite inclusivity. May they bend us all toward gratitude and humility.