Publisher’s Note: Over the last 25 years, Richard Eyre, often partnering with wife Linda, has written more than 100 articles and poems for Meridian Magazine, and we are pleased to have him present this extended article as part of our silver anniversary celebration—an article that is gradually growing into a much-anticipated book on the unique family-centric theology and Parental God of the Restored Gospel.

Author’s Note: Some of the ideas and certain parts of this article have been published elsewhere, but I’m honored that for Meridian 25th anniversary I can pull it all together into one cogent whole.  And as mentioned above, this is the beginning section of a book which will further expand this paradigm of the Lighthouse.

So…as you read, if you think this is a rather long article, try to think of it instead as a rather short book. In fact, help me write the book by sending your feedback to me at my pseudonym email:  Dr*******@gm***.com where I will read and respond to everything I receive.

Backwards

I grew up thinking that families were part of the Church.

The Church was the biggest, the most important, and the most eternal thing there was, and the core and the reason of and for all other worthwhile things that existed. It held all truth and no error, and from its Salt Lake headquarters it would roll out of the mountains and dominate the whole earth.

The Family fit into that nicely.  It was the thing that got us here and that got us to Church.  It was the raw material from which wards and stakes were made, and it was the source from which the Church could draw its Bishops and Relief Societies and Deacons quorums.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that I had it backwards.

The Family was what was eternal, and would make up the Kingdom of Heaven long after the Church and this mortal earth had passed away. The Church was, in President Lee’s words, “the scaffolding with which we build eternal families.”  The proper order of things was, in President Nelson’s words “Home centered, Church supported.”

Paraphrasing what Christ’s said about the Sabbath, The Church was made for Families, and not Families for the Church.

Why does this matter? Because when we get it reversed, with the Church as the center and the family as the scaffolding, we live in a false paradigm that causes us to misunderstand and underestimate what the Church is and what it can do for us; and to fail to grasp what the Family is and what it can become.  In this false paradigm the Church judges us and we judge the Church, and there is one ideal kind of Church-supporting family that some have but most do not.

This is not a small juxtaposition, and not a minor misconception.  It can wreak havoc from the micro to the macro—causing everything from personal faith crisis to the destruction of relationships and families to the perception of a Church that manages rather than ministers. It is important not to get this backwards.

It will take me a few pages to explain why, and it may seem like I stray off into some tangents, but stay with me and let me make my full case.

Paradigm Shifts, Navigation, and Exaltation

A paradigm is a world-view or perspective, and our mortal paradigms are often extremely limited and incomplete—so much so that it takes a metaphor or a story to remind us of the pin-hole narrowness of our view.

The captain of a large ship, one dark stormy night, saw on his radar another vessel directly in his path.  He radioed “Change course, or we are going to collide.” The reply came back: “You change your course.” Angered, the captain answered “I am a mega-tanker heading straight for you, MOVE.”

The reply changed everything: “I am the lighthouse, you move.”

When a paradigm completely shifts, it can change not only our perception of the drama but of everything within the drama.  The whole story flips: The mega tanker suddenly becomes relatively small and transitory and maneuverable—the minor player in the drama; and the “other vessel” becomes ultimately fixed and important—the north star controlling everything else. The captain changes instantly from one giving directions to one taking them; the situation shifts from one of irritation and inconvenience to one of saving self and ship.  The “seeing” of true reality changes everything—His paradigm shifts from the power-struggle of doing and winning to the challenge of being and staying alive.

Physical paradigms of ships and sea and lighthouse can change navigation and the directions of our lives, but spiritual paradigms can change exaltation and the directions of our eternity.

Perhaps the most exciting and enlightening paradigm shift of all comes in deeply contemplating the full meaning of both of President Nelson’s inspired couplets, “Home centered, Church supported” and “Salvation is an individual matter, Exaltation is a family matter.”

Means and Ends

My 10-year-old granddaughter was practicing the piano one day when I stopped by for a visit. I listened for a minute and said “you are getting good!” I listened for another minute and asked “What is your goal?”

Proudly, she said “To practice for an hour every day.”

Her answer suggested that she, like so many of us, was not clear on the difference between a goal and a plan—between the end and the means.  I tried to explain that a goal was a destination—something you want to get to, or complete, or become; and that a plan was what you do to get there. With that simple explanation, she decided that her goal was to be able to play all of piano book 3, and her plan was to practice for an hour every day.

Why does it matter? Because if the plan is thought of as the goal, we can become mechanical—just going through the motions, doing our duty, putting in our time, being “active.”

The clearer our long-range goals are, the better the target they provide for our shorter-range goals and for our plans. If we know the end, we can find the means. The beauty of the Restoration is that it explains, to the degree that we can understand it, our longest-range goal of Exaltation, which then guides our plans and actions. And the beauty of the atonement is that it compensates and makes up for the great gaps between where we want to go and where we can get ourselves.

Piano paradigms are one thing, but when we apply the same separation of ends and means on the big, eternal plane, we begin to see a bright new paradigm. The why questions become cosmic, yet in the light of the Restoration, they are surprisingly simple, and they unfold like the endless series of “why” and “how” that children sometimes loop into:

Why are we here? To exercise agency and become more like God—more like our Heavenly Parents
Why? Because they want us to have what they have
How? By having all the options and choosing and experiencing joy
Why? Because They love us
Why? Because we are literally their spiritually-begotten children and they want us to grow enough to return to Them and be more like Them
How? Through Christ’s atonement

In this context, Family is the earthly embryo of what we want to be for eternity.

Exaltation as the End, and Christ as the Means

“Who shall I send?” said our Father.  And perhaps it was a very broad question…Who can implement this opportunity-and-agency plan? Who can ransom and atone and heal and save? Who is the means that can make the return possible, and bring about the immortality and eternal life and eternal lives that is the end? Who can fulfill this plan that achieves the goal that is my work and my glory?

And One said, here am I, send me.

It is beyond our capacity to grasp, but that One is the indispensable means to God’s end of Exaltation; and in this great mortal and immortal drama, He plays all of the leading roles, including Creator, Master, Savior, Redeemer, and Judge.

He is the Lighthouse, the immovable beacon and guide, and the caster of light by which we see both destination and danger, lighting our way on the Covenant Path and closing the gap between what we can do and what we must do to bring ourselves and our families to live with Him as part of our Heavenly Parents’ family. 

Family as the End, Church as the Means (what that means, and how it ends)

Part of the Savior’s means is His Church.

Remember that in all true paradigm shifts, everything within our personal universe and view changes. In this ultimate paradigm shift (wherein being an eternal family within His eternal family is the end, and wherein doing the duties and service, the callings and covenants that get us there is part of the means) one of our perceptions that may need to change is of the Church itself—of what it is and what it isn’t.

When members are asked what they mean when they say “the Church.” most reply, in essence “The institution…the Brethren…that headquarters in Salt Lake…the ones that tell us what to do and how to live.”

How much better to think of the Church in the scriptural sense as the community of Christ and as the support mechanism for our salvation and our family’s exaltation.

Within this new paradigm, with the Church as the wonderful and revealing community and support and means; we are not being judged by it, and we are not judging it. Rather, the Church is the scaffolding, imperfect in its human-administration but sweepingly spectacular in its revelation—a helper, a facilitator, a means that helps us to do what is required in order to become who we should be and to reach the end that God wants for us.

Paradigm One: The Church as the End

We judge it and are judged by it
It is our measurement and our identity
It is something we have to swallow whole, believing all parts of it totally, whether we understand them or not, and treating doubts as weaknesses—as imperfections to be judged
A test from a sovereign God
The only true Church
An opponent or competitor to false, abominable creeds 

Paradigm Two: The Church as the Means

Something to enlighten, motivate and steer us toward God and God’s goals
A support and guide for our families
A culture to supersede the down-dragging cultures of the world.
A series of revealed, restored insights and truths which come to us through imperfect but striving leaders
A path of powerful covenants that help us to make good choices and remember who we are
A gift from a loving Father
A catalyst and combiner of all truth everywhere.

Paradigm Two does not in any way lessen the Church or diminish its importance or that of its called leaders. Let’s be clear: The Church is the Kingdom of God on earth, and it is led by prophets, and it is what we need here, now. As the Doctrine and Covenants says, “…may it go forth, that the Kingdom of Heaven may come.”

This second Paradigm is not only More True, it is More Beautiful

Consider how dramatically our perspectives change in Paradigm Two:

  • Fault-lines in our history, or imperfections in our ward and stake leaders are not particularly upsetting or faith-challenging, they are just the reality that comes with the human-ness of a people-administered lay Church.
  • We are not so much trying to conform to the Church—rather to have the Church’s help in finding our own unique foreordinations and destinies. We feel less stressed about how we compare with other Church members and how we conform to the standard sequence of the covenant path. Instead, we feel more joy in our own particular sequence, moving toward a common ultimate end that all can reach over an eternity that includes a millennium and a spirit world prior to our judgment.
  • We share the Restored Gospel not as the only truth which replaces other truth, but as new revealed truth which adds to and combines with the true beliefs and faith that others have, learning from them as we teach, and receiving from them as we give.
  • Instead of judging ourselves or feeling judged by others on how “active” we are in attending every meeting and checking every box, we pay attention to how active our minds are in questioning, in thinking, in listening, in learning and in growing; and to how active and engaged our hearts are in serving, seeking, and understanding.
  • The church is not the Rameumptom tower we climb to get to heaven, but the temporary “scaffolding with which we build eternal families.”
  • We are, truly, “home-centered and church-supported” and we love rather than resist all the support and scaffolding that can help us build families that last into eternity.
  • We understand President Nelson’s couplet “Salvation is an individual matter; Exaltation is a family matter,” and we notice that most of what was lost in the Apostasy and is now being restored in the Restoration is about Exaltation.
  • The concept of Heavenly Parents is not a distraction from Church doctrine that we should not think or talk about, it is the representation of the ultimate goal that we seek. Our end is to be like They are, and our means is to do what They have done, including marriage and parenting either here or in the hereafter.
  • Problems and challenges begin to feel like benevolent parts of mortal experience, without which we would be underprepared for what is to come.

Within this second paradigm, we can have questions and doubts without leaving the Church or feeling guilty or compromised.  We can love what we understand and work on (and pray about) what we don’t.

Problems, Faith and Gratitude

Within this second paradigm, problems and challenges and even the terrors of this life can begin to feel like benevolent parts of a plan so encompassing that we can’t grasp it all but so personal that we can feel its love and truth.  We begin to understand that if things are fine, perfect, no problems, no worries—we are getting short-changed in this place, unprepared for eternity.  But if we face the problems now—neglect, abuse, separation, death—learning to deal with them in this physical world so we will know how in the eternal world.

Those without these trials and problems here may be underprepared for what is to come.

This ultimate paradigm shift, with family as the eternal end, Christ as the indispensable, universal means, and Church as the temporary earthly means or scaffolding, not only corrects the errors and short-sighted smallness of our perspectives, it replenishes and restores both our faith and our gratitude.

Many who are experiencing a faith crisis are judging the Church or its leaders or its history in some way; and many of their conclusions of inadequacy or error may be correct. But to walk away, or to discard all that the Church is and all it has given them is like throwing away a car because it has one tire with a slow leak, or deciding to swim rather than staying on a boat that is painted a color we don’t like or has an engine that coughs or sputters occasionally.

But aren’t there other cars, other boats?  Certainly, and perhaps we should have higher hopes for someone who was “leaving for something else” than who was “just leaving.”

But try to find another Church, another Means, another Boat, that will teach and expand you toward and through doctrines like:

  • 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
  • Temple covenants for us and our ancestors
  • An equalizing Spirit World and an eternal-progression Heaven
  • Three additional books of Holy Scripture
  • The goals of Joy, Exaltation and Eternal Lives

That is a lot to leave.

That is a Means that is hard to replace.

And failing to appreciate the Church because we had a Bishop who was too conservative or because we felt that a statement on children of gay parents was unfeeling or ill-conceived is like (excuse the cliches, but I am a both cowboy and a parent) looking a gift horse in the mouth or throwing out the baby with the bath water.

Ultimately, we realize that it is not about our goals, but about His, and His for us.  When we do, we begin to tilt away from focusing entirely on our agenda, and toward understanding and adopting His.  We accept His way, His timing, His perspective (taking much of it on faith simply because we are grossly incapable of grasping it all)

As with the ship captain, a complete paradigm shift changes everything; and can turn a faith crisis to a productive and ongoing faith exploration.

The Paradigm of the Porch

Within our families, within our stewardship of our children and our homes, there is a widespread need for a paradigm shift of judgment.

It is quite amazing how often, as Linda and I speak to Church groups, parents approach us and talk about their children’s faith crisis as though it was the end of the world.  Some of these parents talk about their kids who have left the Church—or even who do not currently attend Church—in the past tense, as though they have died.

As parents, grandparents, friends, and stewards of those we love, we need a paradigm shift of our own.  We need to move away from the monolithic judgment of our loved ones based on the single factor of whether they are “active” in the Church.

Of course, we would prefer for them to attend, to be involved, to have callings in the Church.  We want Church activity to be part of our family unity and our common bond with our children, and we want them to derive the same comfort, the same faith, and the same joy from the Church that we feel.

But that Church activity should not be our only point of reference, or of measurement, or of judgment.

One couple who we know are so obsessed with, and so saddened by their married son’s drop-out from the Church that they are blinded to all of his good points.  He is a kind, thoughtful, good person who is a wonderful father and a loyal husband.  He treats others well and loves and respects his parents and siblings.  We asked these friends recently whether they would rather have a son of wonderful character with all of these good qualities who didn’t go to Church—or a son who was “active” but didn’t have many of those personal character traits.  They took our point, but admitted that they were still having a hard time accepting and unconditionally loving this son who now was so indifferent to the Church they hold so dear, and that it was hard for them to think of him as a full member of their family.

In an attempt to make our question more pointed, we asked why they would even think of letting his separation from the temporary Church of this mortality precipitate or cause his separation from their forever family of all eternity.

Another couple we know and love sees things differently, and theirs is the perspective we wish more could follow.  Their eldest son stopped attending Church years ago, but lives a wonderful and service-oriented life, and is totally involved with and committed to his younger siblings.  This couple’s paradigm is that they love who their son is, and feel that though they can’t overtly use the tool or scaffolding or “means” of the Church in their ongoing parenting of this adult son, they are deeply proud of who he is, and have hopes that he will someday see and appreciate what the Church can be for him and his family, as well as what he can do for the Church.  In the meantime, he is part of their goal or end, even though the Church is not presently part of their means.

How about changing our metaphorical view of “leaving the Church” from that of a great abyss into which loved ones disappear forever to that of a wonderful, beloved house that they have walked out of, but are still just outside on the veranda porch—still completely in communication, available and “meetable” and able to walk right back in through the front door and find themselves amongst our atmosphere of ongoing, never changing, unconditional love.

Having loved ones, even children, on the porch rather than in the living room may be hard for us to accept, but it keeps them close, and while we may worry more about them—it’s colder out there—we stay close and always in touch, and we don’t let the absence of the means affect the ongoing reality of the end.

Fully adopting the paradigm of Individual Salvation and Family Exaltation as the eternal goal or end and the Church as an earthly part of the plan or means may alleviate or ease or even solve some faith crises.  That is the best-case scenario.

And if not, it may at least take much of the tension and angst and despair and defeat out of how we face and understand the alienation or departure of a loved one from Church activity and allow our hope of short- or long-term return to flourish. And in the unconditional love of our shifted paradigm, that is an acceptable worst-case scenario.

Remembering that the Church is part of His Plan

Speaking of means and of plans, let us keep in mind that the Lord’s Church is a part of Heavenly Father’s plan, and His plan is a plan of agency and of growth that extends all the way through this messy but necessary stage of mortality.

In that context, the Church is not some power play of perfect results and keeping everyone in check and in control by its authority—some end that we are all forced and predestined to get to.  In fact, that sounds more like Satan’s plan.

Rather, the Church is the guide and the covenants and the community the Lord has given to us and to our families to help us negotiate the world with all of its options and oppositions.  The Church is not going to save us or guarantee our return to heaven.  Rather, it is here, just for this mortality, to help us make and implement our own choices of righteousness and to guide our families toward becoming the kinds of embryonic kingdoms that will fit into and return to His eternal Kingdom of Heaven.

“Covenant Path” is another way to view means and ends, because it is our covenants that become the means that keep us pointed and headed toward the end.  But perhaps we need to broaden our definition of covenants to include not just Baptism, Ordinances, and Temple, but also the weekly Sacrament, and the Book of Mormon-explained covenants of kindness and love and empathy…mourning with those that mourn, and comforting those that stand in need of comfort.  President Nelson speaks of getting on and staying on the covenant path which includes all these covenants, though perhaps not always in the same order or sequence for every person. Thus, the fact that an older man or woman has not yet made a particular covenant (marriage, that he or she thought would come earlier) should not be thought of as straying off of the path or impeding other covenants, for covenant-opportunities are ongoing, extending even from this life to the next.

All Inclusive, Forever—A poem to end on

Friends who read the early draft of this article asked lots of what-about-questions.  What about LGBTQ relationships and families? What about men that are sealed to more than one woman? What about agency-robbing death or disabling?  What about those who keep making the wrong choices? What about open rebellion and kids who leave and never come back?  What about a bishop whose apostasy or error harms individuals or families? What about people in places that have no freedom, no light and no options?

For me, there are only two ways to answer questions like this: 1. Be bluntly honest and simply say “I don’t know,” and 2. Try to say—as beautifully as possible—what I believe but cannot explain. And the best way I know to do this is poetry, so I will end with this:

Inclusive

is
another word for unity
the antonym of division
and the correct interpretation of God
and restoration

the onlooking world gets it backwards
(and often so do we)
temples are exclusive
God saves the few
most are wicked and disqualified
sheep are in        goats are out
some have families and some don’t

these are errors of mortal shortsighted pseudo-division

prophet oaks said
our theology begins with Heavenly Parents
in that light who would interpret
gathering zion as separating the good kids from bad
or
covenant path as set singular sequence
or
tiny celestial as walled off from everyone else
or
exaltation as slipping in before the door closes

all these accuse god of being small and partial
the direct opposite of what God is

oh God
please excuse the absurdity of our petty time-bound judgments

“don’t talk of marriage or family because
you’re leaving out singles and lgbtq”
no no no no         no one is left out
thinking otherwise disrespects God as a Father
parents do not leave out some of their children

just because we do not know the way
does not mean there is no way
zion is everyone—we are just presently gathering the first part
covenant path can double back
because the same gates may come
in different order for each

with even earth and spirit worlds interchangeable
with repentance that is transformational rather than transactional
with Him offering every opportunity
forever
to choose to receive all that He has to offer

so look up and let your spirit expand beyond our simpleness
all are in
all are Theirs
all can have all
in a place and a span where there is so much time that there is none

the how has been calculated
all we must do is receive and accept and act
and we have the incalculable forever to do so
we do what we can now not for future admission
but for present joy

none can exclude but themselves
and that is easier to understand than we might think
after all
who would you deny
among your spiritual siblings

Richard Eyre is a former London Mission President and candidate for Utah Governor.  His writing career has produced more than 50 books and made him a N. Y. Times #1 bestselling author and a frequent guest on national media. He is the editor of the new Deseret book No Division Among You: Creating Unity in a Diverse Church. He would welcome your private feedback on this article at his private email Dr*******@gm***.com.