Doctrine of Agency

Related Posts: Opposition In All Things ; Problem of Evil ; Fall of Man Part I ; Fall of Man Part II ; The Premortal Life

The doctrine of agency is a central Mormon belief. Agency means, generally, that we are free to make morally significant choices, but the purpose of agency is to permit us the freedom to choose moral good. However, freedom to choose moral good necessitates the option of choosing moral evil. Without a choice we could never freely choose to obey God’s commandments because obedience would be the only possibility. Consequently, agency exists to permit righteous choices but cannot exist without the possibility of evil choices. As Elder L. Tom Perry said, “Agency also opens the possibility for sin” (A Year of Jubilee, Ensign, November 1999). And Elder Boyd K. Packer said, “Choice cannot exist unless both good and evil are an option” (BYU Symposium, October 30, 1988).

When agency is understood in this light it is easier to understand how making righteous choices enhances individual agency. Thus we often hear about “develop[ing] our free agency in right choices” [1]; “[following] the teachings of the prophet does not violate the right of free agency; but rather enhances it”[2]; “[Agency] is freedom to choose right against wrong, not a choice between two equal forces”[3]; “When we choose to live according to God’s plan for us, our agency is strengthened”[4]; “to retain our agency we must daily walk in the light of our Lord and Savior”[5]; “pursuing correct alternatives widens the scope of one’s agency and leads to perfect liberty”[6]; “God’s gift and commitment to agency never will include a tolerance of sin”[7]; “one must use his agency to obey truth”[8].

In contrast, sin leads to slavery, addiction, and a loss of agency. “Addiction has the capacity to disconnect the human will and nullify moral agency”[9]; “To keep our free agency, we must not surrender self-control or yield to habits that bind, to addiction that enslaves, or to conduct that destroys”[10]; “If I do wrong, I am in bondage to that wrong. If I commit sin, I am in bondage to that sin”[11]; “When anyone succumbs to evil thoughts or evil doings...he brings himself under bondage to sin”[12].

The source of our agency
Mormons believe intelligence is an eternal quality. Abraham saw “the intelligences that were organized before the world was” (Abr. 3:22).These spirits “have no beginning; they existed before, they shall have no end, they shall exist after...they are...eternal” (Abr. 3:18). “Intelligence, or the light of truth, was not created or made, neither indeed can be....The glory of God is intelligence” (D&C 93:36). Every intelligent being possesses this eternal, uncreated, glorious quality.[13] Therefore every intelligent being is an eternal being. Our intelligence cannot be reduced to the physical, chemical, and biological processes that maintain physical life. We are not robots, nor are we creatures.[14]

But even though we don’t believe we are God’s pure creation created from nothing (see Creation Ex Nihilo), we do believe God has instituted a plan whereupon we (us intelligences) can progress and develop. Agency is an essential part of this plan. But before going into this I would like to address the conditions needed for agency to be exercised. Elder Bruce R. McConkie has listed four necessary conditions for agency (“Agency,” Mormon Doctrine). These topics are interconnected so discussing one involves the others. They are as follows.

The existence of divine law ~ Agency requires freedom of choice, freedom of action. But if anything at all is to happen then our actions must have consequences. The existence of cause and effect means the existence of law. Therefore laws are prior to agency. In its eternal dimension our individual happiness or misery is a consequence of our individual choices and actions. This is how the book of Mormon puts it.

...if ye shall say there is no law, ye shall also say there is no sin.  If ye shall say there is no sin, ye shall also say there is no righteousness.  And if there be no righteousness there be no happiness.  And if there be no righteousness nor happiness there be no punishment nor misery. (2 Nephi 2:13)

Individual, eternal progression (or damnation) is based on cause and effect and therefore rooted in law. “When we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated” (D&C 130:20-21).

Opposites must exist ~ Opposites have to do with tension, competition, and enticement. They are also related to how we know. Without opposition “righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad” (2 Nephi 2:11). In order for God “to bring about his eternal purposes” in man “it must needs be that there was an opposition; even the forbidden fruit in opposition to the tree of life; the one being sweet and the other bitter” (2 Nephi 2:15).

In addition to the bitter and sweet there must also be enticement. We cannot act unless “enticed by the one [thing] or the other” (2 Nephi 2:15-16). God entices us to do good. The Devil entices us to do evil. (Moroni 7:12-13; D&C 29:39.) The enticements we experience result in choices whose consequences are happiness or misery, bitter or sweet, the good and evil of life. These are opposites and consequences and, in and of themselves, enticements. Moreover, they are an integral part of our understanding. Without knowledge of misery we have no knowledge of joy. We cannot do good without knowledge of sin. Without opposites we cannot be enticed, choose, or reap the consequences of our choices. “If they never should have bitter they could not know the sweet” (D&C 29:39).

A knowledge of good and evil ~ Agency allows us the freedom to choose good. But how do we know the difference between good and evil? It is partly the consequences of our choices, the bitter and the sweet. But the pleasure of sin makes us susceptible to deception. Therefore God gives us commandments which inform us of the eternal consequences of certain actions.

After Adam and Eve “transgressed the first commandments...knowing good from evil” they were situated to “act according to their wills and pleasures, whether to do evil or to do good—Therefore God gave unto them commandments...that they should not do evil, the penalty thereof being a second death” (Alma 12:31-32). We believe “men are instructed sufficiently that they know good from evil” (2 Nephi 2:5). Once we have this knowledge we are responsible for our choices. Agency demands individual accountability. “Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin” (James 4:17). “There is no true freedom without responsibility” (Boyd K. Packer, Agency and Control, Ensign, May 1983).

An unfettered power of choice ~ We believe he who “is compelled in all a slothful and not a wise servant” (D&C 58:26). But it would be too simple to say that unfettered choice means there should be no compulsion at all. Many of our choices are based on negative consequences imposed by others, life has a way of forcing things on us, laws and punishments are necessary for orderly society, and children need parental guidance and sometimes discipline. But humans cannot be mechanistically adjusted to obey; we are not robots.

This is where the doctrine of agency takes on its political dimension. On one occasion President David O. McKay said,

Man’s greatest endowment in mortal life is the power of choice—the divine gift of free agency. No true character was ever developed without a sense of soul freedom. If a man feels circumscribed, harassed, or enslaved by something or somebody, he is shackled. That is one fundamental reason why Communism is so diabolically wrong.[15]

If an action stems from coercion, harassment, or slavery that action is not free. And I think that is an important point. I have heard some Mormons say that agency requires that children be allowed to choose whether to go to church or not, or for girls the length of the skirt they wear to church. Naturally parents will talk to their children about good and bad choices, but it is believed by some that the doctrine of agency demands that they do no more than discuss it with their teenagers. I believe this is a serious misunderstanding. Naturally it can be good for teenagers to experience greater freedom than they had when they were younger. But this has more to do with parents making wise choices for their children, not the doctrine of agency.

From my own experience, when I was a child and behaved outrageously, on a number of occasions (maybe three or four total) I was spanked with a belt. I didn’t like it, but it was never unprovoked. And I was never afraid of my father. I always felt like I could talk to him about anything. I was disciplined but I never experienced fear. As a teenager my experience was of a different kind. I remember one occasion when I was (probably) in the seventh grade. I was at a church youth activity—making bird cages out of popsicle sticks or some-such thing. I wanted to go outside and skateboard with my friends, so I asked my mom if I could. She said, “Troy, you need to decide for yourself.” I looked at her and said, “If you want me to stay, I’ll stay. If you leave it up to me I’m leaving.” As a teenager choosing between a boring church activity and skateboarding was a no-brainer. Skateboarding was way cooler. But she wouldn’t say to me, “I want you to stay.” I knew she wanted me to stay. If she had said so I would have gladly stayed to make her happy. But she wouldn’t say it. So I left. There are various ways that the doctrine of agency can be misunderstood, and misapplied.[16]

Using terror and fear to force others to uphold or oppose God’s law is evil because it is incompatible with the spirit of agency.[17] Using terror to prevent political debate and suppress unwanted beliefs is evil for the same reason. However, “the works, and the designs, and the purposes of God cannot be frustrated” (D&C 3:1). Those living under authoritarian governments can still repent of their sins and be saved. “Wrong alternatives restricts free agency and leads to slavery...pursuing correct alternatives widens the scope of one’s agency and leads to perfect liberty. As a matter of fact, one may, by this process, obtain freedom of the soul while at the same time being denied political, economic, and personal liberty” (President Marion G. Romney, The Perfect Law of Liberty, Ensign, November 1981).[18]

The war in heaven
The struggle for agency began during the pre-mortal life. Mormons believe that all of humanity existed as God’s spirit children before the creation of the world. During that time there was a great counsel where the Father proposed, “We will make an earth whereon these may dwell...[and] prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them” (Abr. 3:24-25). God’s plan required agency which entailed a degree of risk. There would be enticement, consequences, accountability, knowledge of good and evil, hunger and plenty, happiness and misery, suffering and ease, righteousness and wickedness, shades of right and wrong. Some of us would be lost along the way; therefore, a Savior was needed to bring us back. When the Father said, “Whom shall I send?” (Abr. 3:27), Lucifer, one of God’s children “in authority in the presence of God” (D&C 76:25), proposed a different plan, saying, “I will be thy son, and I will redeem all mankind, that one soul shall not be lost, and surely I will do it; wherefore give me thine honor” (Moses 4:1). The guarantee “one soul shall not be lost” meant eliminating agency. Jesus, also one of our Father’s spirit children and his Beloved Son (Moses 4:2), came forward and said, “Father, thy will be done, and the glory be thine forever” (Moses 4:2). Jesus was chosen to redeem mankind, and the vast majority of us stood with our Father’s plan. Lucifer rebelled, starting a war of words and ideas that eventually persuaded “a third part of the hosts of heaven” to follow him. (D&C 29:36.) Because Lucifer rebelled and “sought to destroy the agency of man” he was cast out of heaven (Moses 4:2-3; Luke 10:18; Rev. 12:9; Moses 4:4).

President Ezra Taft Benson said,

Satan stood for...coercion and force. Because Satan and those who stood with him would not accept the vote of the council, but rose up in rebellion, they were cast down to the earth, where they have continued to foster the same plan. The war that began in heaven is not yet over. The conflict continues on the battlefield of mortality... Proof of this is found in the long history of humanity. (The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, p. 23-24)

President David O. McKay said, “only by the exercising of Free Agency can the individual even approach perfection.”[19] Elder Hugh B. Brown said, “Man faces a vista of limitless development, eternal progression...Free agency is prerequisite to any character-building plan...[and] with free agency any plan is inevitably crammed with risk.”[20] “All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). Therefore we need a Redeemer, Jesus Christ. Elder Boyd K. Packer pointed out, “Had agency come to man without the Atonement, it would have been a fatal gift” (Atonement, Agency, Accountability, Ensign, May 1988). “Agency also opens the possibility for sin; that, in turn, creates the need for repentance” (Elder L. Tom Perry, A Year of Jubilee, Ensign, November 1999).

President Gordon B. Hinckley said,

The eternal nature of man has been revealed. We are sons and daughters of God. God is the Father of our spirits. We lived before we came here. We had personality. We were born into this life under a divine plan. We are here to test our worthiness, acting in the agency which God has given to us. (The Great Things Which God Has Revealed, Ensign, April 2005)

End Notes_______________________________________

[1]Elder Delbert L. Stapley once said “we have built-in powers of conscience sufficient to develop our free agency in right choices and to acquire qualities of goodness, humility, and integrity of purpose” (Using Our Free Agency, Ensign, May 1975).

[2] John A. Widtsoe, Evidences and Reconciliations, p. 239.

[3] S. Dilworth Young, BYU Speeches of the Year, October 28, 1959, pg. 3.

[4] Gospel Principles, p. 21.

[5] Hales, Robert D., To Act for Ourselves: The Gift and Blessings of Agency, CR, April 2006.

[6] President Marion G. Romney, The Perfect Law of Liberty, Ensign, November 1981. 

[7] Elder Marvin J. Ashton, A Pattern in All Things, Ensign, November 1990.

[8] Elder Richard G. Scott, Healing Your Damaged Life, Ensign, November 1992.

[9] Elder Boyd K. Packer, Revelation in a Changing World, Ensign, November 1989.

[10] James E. Faust, Reach Up for the Light, p. 33.

[11] Teachings Of Presidents Of The Church: Joseph F. Smith, p. 283

[12] Elder Joseph Quinney, Jr., Conference Report, October 1936, p. 37–38.

[13] Joseph Smith taught, “The intelligence of spirits had no beginning, neither will it have an end. That is good logic. That which has a beginning may have an end. There never was a time when there were not spirits; for they are co-equal [co-eternal] with our Father in heaven...Intelligence is eternal and exists upon a self-existent principle. It is a spirit from age to age, and there is no creation about it. All the minds and spirits that God ever sent into the world are susceptible of enlargement” (Teaching of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 354).

[14] “The volition of the creature is free; this is a law of their existence, and the Lord cannot violate his own law; were he to do that, he would cease to be God. He has placed life and death before his children, and it is for them to choose. If they choose life, they receive the blessings of life; if they chose death, they must abide the penalty. This is a law which has always existed from all eternity, and will continue to exist throughout all the eternities to come. Every intelligent being must have the power of choice” (Brigham Young, JD 11:272).

[15] Man May Know for Himself: Teachings of President David O. McKay, p. 80.

[16] I have noticed that many people from my parent’s generation have a notion that agency demands a kind of libertarian freedom of choice. I remember when I flunked my first school class. It was either the seventh or eighth grade (Jr. High). My parents sat me down and said, “What can we do to help you want to do better in school?” Needless to say, I was astonished, incredulous really. At that age I didn’t care about grades and it was plainly obvious to me there was nothing they could do to help me want to do better. To be honest, it caused me to loose a little respect for my parents. Such a statement seemed profoundly ignorant. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want anyone to think these examples characterize my parents. One of my friends once mentioned to me that my parents were in the top 5%. Looking back as an adult I’m inclined to agree. But there is this notion among that generation that children should be permitted “to exercise their agency.” It is not uncommon to come across this when the doctrine of agency is discussed in Sunday school.

I have wondered from where they got such a strange belief. Did it have anything to do with the growing sense of personal freedom that was developing in the sixties? hippies being the most obvious example. Perhaps it was a popular social science trend? Did Freud have anything to do with it? (Developing the child ego and all that.) I haven’t been able to pin it down. But there was a libertarian interpretation of agency during that generation. To quote from a Dialogue article from 1967.

Parental eagerness to lead children in righteous patterns can easily and subtly result in essential denial to them of the rights of free agency. When the nine-year-old announces his intent to stay home to watch television instead of attending sacrament meeting, a real challenge exists for a parent to choose between the two principles of "teach thy child" and "allow your child free agency." If the parent conveys to the child that he cannot have a choice in such matters, the child somewhere will assert his right to be a free agent. A young Mormon soldier who had earned all his priesthood awards for faithful attendance began smoking, drinking and, in general, violating the rules and practices of the Church when he went into military service. The man's discussion of his early life disclosed a feeling that he had rarely been given a chance to decide things for himself. His church attendance was mainly because of parental pressure. The parents did not give him a feeling that he was a participant in the choices made. The discomfort he felt from being deprived of his free agency, coupled with poor judgment from lack of experience in making choices, resulted in his aberrant behavior, which nearly destroyed him as he searched for his privilege of being a free agent. (Veon G. Smith, Free Agency and Conformity in Family Life, Dialogue, vol. 2, no. 3, Autumn, 1967, pp. 64-68)

The doctrinal mistakes are revealed in phrases such as “allow your child free agency” and one young man’s feeling of “being deprived of his free agency” who “searched for his privilege of being a free agent.” The war in heaven was fought over the issue of agency. The agents of agency won. The issue is settled, we have our agency. Period. Moreover, if moral agency is retained while living under authoritarian governments what justification is there for ideas such as allowing agency, or searching for agency, or even respecting agency? They seem rather empty.

[17] In the document The Family: A Proclamation to the World the church states, “There are too many homes where children fear their parents or where wives fear their husbands...individuals who … abuse spouse or offspring … will one day stand accountable before God” (The Family: A Proclamation to the World, Ensign, Nov. 1995).

[18] “Know that the wicked choice of others cannot completely destroy your agency unless you permit it” (Elder Richard G. Scott, Healing the Tragic Scars of Abuse, Ensign, May 1992). Thus, “Some men may succeed in denying some aspects of this God-given freedom to their fellowmen, but their success is temporary. Freedom is a law of God, an eternal law” (Elder Ezra Taft Benson, Conference Report, April 1967, Second Day—Morning Meeting). “The adversary cannot take away [your agency] without your yielding it to him” (Elder Robert D. Hales, To Act for Ourselves: The Gift and Blessings of Agency, Ensign, April 2006).

[19] Taken from President Howard W. Hunter, The Golden Thread of Choice, Ensign, November 1989.

[20] Elder Hugh B. Brown, Conference Report, April 1956, Third Day—Morning Meeting, p. 105.

Polygamy versus Democracy

The June 5, 2006 issue of the Weekly Standard has an article written by Stanley Kurtz titled “Polygamy Versus Democracy: you can’t have both.” (Kurtz is an adjunct fellow of the Hudson Institute, Senior Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, and has written for National Review Online, Weekly Standard, Policy Review, The Wall Street Journal, and Commentary.) His general thesis is polygamy, or more broadly polyamorous unions, as well as gay marriage are antithetical to democratic values. He writes, “American democracy rests upon specific family structures.” In his article he outlines what he believes is a relationship between polygamy and tyranny, and a large section of his article is dedicated to an analysis of 19th century Mormon polygamy—The Mormon church officially discontinued the practice of polygamy in 1890. Under the section titled “The Mormon Question” he draws parallels between the United States Government’s struggle to stamp out Mormon polygamy and the current war on terror. “In effect, the fight against polygamy was a slow, frustrating, expensive, ultimately successful campaign to democratize Utah. (The parallels to the war on terror are eerie)” (parenthesis original). Writing that “the Mormons renounced polygamy and set themselves on the path to democracy.”

Being a devout Mormon that naturally ticked me off. But for this post I shall focus on only one sentence from his article.

“Religious leaders schooled their families privately, while most of the territory’s children remained illiterate.”

The data
Because I am a mega-nerd, and because I was so irritated by Kurtz’s article, I spent the last year collecting education data for every US state and territory for every year from 1870 to 1899 from the annual reports of the United States Commissioner of Education (COE reports), as well as illiteracy rates for every state and territory in the US from the 1860, 1870, 1880, 1890, and 1900 census. Education statistics from the 19th century can be tricky. And I nearly have my database in a usable format. Some of the results are rather embarrassing for Utah, but most are ordinary or nearly so. But I’ll save that for later posts. One metric that is fairly objective is the illiteracy rates, reported in the census. The census divides the data into age groups, race, sex, and parentage. You can find the census data for the years I cover (here) at the US Census Bureau. The earlier census’ have less detail; the 1900 census has the most.

I shall compare the illiterate white population of the states of the United States with the illiterate white population of Utah.

You will find Kurtz’s assertion that “most of the territory’s children remained illiterate” is patently false. But how did it originate?

The Mormon Question
In Kurtz’s polygamy vs democracy article he mentions a book written by Sara Barringer Gordon, The Mormon Question, which apparently was an important source of information.[1] In Gordon’s book she mentions many of the issues surrounding Utah common schools during the polygamy years. Here are two quotes.

“Indeed, the majority of Mormon children did not attend school until the 1890’s” (p. 198)

“Local schools, although they did exist in many communities by the 1880’s, generally were privately financed, and understaffed” (p. 199)

Based on my own research I do find fault with what the first quote asserts. The second quote is partially correct. According to my data, from 1870 to 1899 the enrollment rates for Utah common schools were never below 50%.

From the 1890-91 COE report the average enrollment in Utah common schools was 65%. Rather low, but considering the average for the US was 68% it’s not too bad. However, even with this low number Utah had higher enrollments than the common schools of Texas, Idaho, New Jersey, District of Columbia, Maryland, Wyoming, Rhode Island, Virginia, Georgia, North Carolina, Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, New Mexico, South Carolina, and Louisiana. I don’t have private school enrollment data for 1890 Utah.[2]

For 1889-90 school year I calculated common school enrollment as a percentage of the 1890 school age population because the school age populations were not listed in the ‘88-89 COE report (so the percentages will be different). The average common school enrollment for Utah was about 52% compared to a value of 68% for the US. However, when private and common school enrollments are considered the overall enrollment for Utah school children becomes 66%, which compares more favorably to the US value of 76% for common and private enrollment. Indeed the 1888-90 COE report indicates 20.94% of Utah’s school age population were enrolled in private schools—The next highest percentage was New Jersey at 16.81%. The private school enrollment for the Western Division was around 8%, Utah omitted.[3]

In 1880 common school enrollment for Utah was 51%, and 65% for the US. In 1870 Utah was at 50% and the US 56%.[4]

I’ll eventually do a post on how Utah compares to other states in enrollment and attendance, and other stats, but for now this will have to do.

Stanley Ivins
Gordon references a paper by sociologist Stanley Ivins, Free Schools Come to Utah, published in the Utah Historical Quarterly.[5] In it Ivins lists some school statistics. For example,

By 1866 attendance had increased to 40%, and by 1876 to 44%. In the early eighties it began to drop, and by 1889, was down to 36%...for the years between 1862 and 1890, average attendance per school throughout the territory, was 44%.”

Note that Ivins lists only percent attendance, not enrollment. Ivins failed to list average US attendance, or any other like comparisons. I calculated from the COE reports and census data the average daily attendance for the United States as a percentage of the 5 to18 school age population: 29% in 1870; 39% in 1880; 44% in 1890; and 47% in 1899.[6] Ivins does not factor for private school attendance. From the 1860 Census, 58% of Utah’s white student age population attended school during the year; for the United States it was 60% of the white school age population. (The 1860 Census data seems to be if a student attended school he or she was counted.[7] So this is probably not average daily attendance.)

(*** TYPO: I rechecked my average daily attendance numbers for the US and they are 41% in 1870 and 42 % in 1880. The percentages for 1890 and 1899 are correct. I also neglected to mention that those numbers are for public schools only. ***)

Definition of “ordinary”
My contention is that Utah illiteracy rates for 1860, 70, 80, 90, and 1900 are “ordinary.” So what do I mean by ordinary? Any data point between Q1 and Q3. That is, between the 25th and 75th percentile, in the middle 50% of the data. This is tighter than a standard deviation, which covers about 68% of a normal distribution. If a data point is between Q1 and Q3, as far as I am concerned it qualifies as ordinary.

From Wikipedia, “Box Plot

1860 Census
(click for larger image)
(Red dot indicates Utah)
(Better than ordinary)

In 1860 the median illiteracy rate for the United States was 5.6% for males and 9.2% for females. For Utah it was 1.2% for males and 2.7% for females.

The boxplots are made from the illiteracy data for the states of the United States, Utah omitted. The red dots indicate illiteracy rates for Utah. The heavy dark line indicates the median US value. The line above and below the median are Q3 and Q1 respectively (75th and 25th percentile). Outliers are indicated by an open circle. This pattern applies to all the graphs below.

1870 Census
(click for larger image)
(Utah is well within ordinary.)

1880 Census
(click for larger image)
(Utah is very ordinary for each sex and for every age group.)

1890 Census
(click for larger image)
(Except for one data point everything is ordinary for Utah.)

The year 1890 is important because it is the year the announcement Mormons refer to as “the Manifesto” was given. The Manifesto was a public declaration that the Mormon Church has discontinued the practice of polygamy. It is included in our scriptures as Official Declaration-1.

Green: Native white population of native parents.
Blue: Native white population of foreign parents.
Purple: Foreign white population.

Native White (NP) 10-14 M = Native white population of native parents, ages 10 to 14 Males.
Native White (FP) 10-14 F = Native white population of foreign parents, ages 10 to 14 Females.
Foreign White 10 to 14 M = Foreign born white population, ages 10 to 14 Males.

1900 Census
(click for larger image)
(As you can see, Utah is doing pretty well!)

Green: Native white population of native parents.
Blue: Native white population of foreign parents.
Purple: Foreign white population.

Native White (NP) 10-14 M = Native white population of native parents, ages 10 to 14 Males.
Native White (FP) 10-14 F = Native white population of foreign parents, ages 10 to 14 Females.
Foreign White 10 to 14 M = Foreign born white population, ages 10 to 14 Males.

End Notes____________________________
[1] For book reviews of The Mormon Question from LDS perspectives see Terryl L. Givens (here) and Nathan B. Oman (here) in BYU Studies, and Kathleen Flake (here) in Dialogue.

[2] Percentage of the 5 to 18 school age population. School age population from 1890-91 COE report.

[3] Percentage of the 5 to 18 school age population. School age population from 1890-91 COE report. For 1889-90 I calculated common school enrollment as a percent of the 1890 school age population because the school age populations were not listed in the ‘88-89 COE report, so the percentages will be different.

[4] Percentage of the 5 to 18 school age population. School age population from 1880 and 1870 US Census.

[5] Ivins, S.S., Free Schools Come to Utah, Utah Historical Quarterly, vol. 22, No. 4, p. 321, 1954.

[6] 1870 and 1880 school age populations from US Census.

[7] From the 1860 Census, “The average number of pupils attending school during the year amounted to nearly one in six for the entire population, and to almost one in five for the free white inhabitants of the Union.”

Gay Marriage: The Iowa Supreme Court

Related Posts: Gay Marriage Again; Gay Marriage; More on gay marriage

I keep going on about the gay marriage debate. And I admit, it is not always directly connected to Mormonism. But I feel this debate will become rather more heated than it already is, and religion will be closely scrutinized because of its connection and effectiveness in opposing gay marriage. This will broaden the debate. The Iowa Supreme Court in overturning Iowa's Defense of Marriage Act has in its final decision set a precedent that I believe is disturbing. Some of my arguments are mentioned below. Additionally, they inserted religion into their legal thinking. Though they admit religion was not brought up during the case, they decided to mention it anyway. Near the end of their decision they write,

We [now] consider the reason for the exclusion of gay and lesbian couples from civil marriage left unspoken by the County: religious opposition to same-sex marriage. (p. 63)
The Court’s decision need only to be based on the arguments and evidence presented. But they took the initiative and inserted religion. They believe, “While unexpressed, religious sentiment most likely motivates many, if not most, opponents of same-sex civil marriage.” Apparently, evidence alone is insufficient if a suspected religious motivation exists. The court believes more should be said, writing, “State government can have no religious views, either directly or indirectly, expressed through its legislation” (p. 66).

So I'll begin.

Lou Dobbs
I was watching Lou Dobbs on CNN the other night. A debate about gay marriage was going on and the person on the opposing side made the point that gay marriage would further divide marriage from the idea that children should be raised by their biological parents. The pro side made the point that gay marriage is discriminatory and should be ended on that basis; gay marriage was the moral thing to do.

My own thoughts
When the Iowa Supreme Court decided unanimously, unilaterally to disregard the will of the people of Iowa, overturn the Defense of Marriage Act, and institute their own definition of marriage to replace the one enacted by the state legislature, it was done from the view of equal protection before the law. (See Iowa Supreme Court Decision No. 07–1499, April 3, 2009). However, as every lawyer knows, the purpose of the law is to make discriminations, that is, to make distinctions between people and classes of people: criminals from non-criminals; felons from non-felons, minors from adults; legal citizens from illegal aliens, etc. The discrimination created by law speaks to the purpose of those laws. If one were to argue that because minors are often given special consideration when found guilty of a crime that adults should be given the same treatment one would be arguing those laws have no essential function. If it were argued that people have a right to claim social security benefits at any age they would be arguing there is no important rational behind retirement laws. If one were to argue that laws granting special privileges to married couples should be given to all persons, regardless of marital status, one would be arguing there is no special purpose to those laws. So if discrimination is the question how does one decide what is bad discrimination when the very purpose of the law is to create classes of people to which laws and privileges do and do not apply? The Iowa Supreme Court has addressed this question.

Equal protection demands that laws treat alike all people who are similarly situated with respect to the legitimate purposes of the law. (p. 25)

Therefore, “to truly ensure equality before the law, the equal protection guarantee requires that laws treat all those who are similarly situated with respect to the purposes of the law alike” (p. 27; italics original). Thus, to use my own examples, the blind cannot be barred from marrying because they are similarly situated with respect to the purpose of the law; people from different socioeconomic backgrounds cannot be barred from marrying because they are similarly situated with respect to the purpose of the law; a man and woman of different races cannot be barred from marrying for the same reason, they are similarly situated with respect to the purpose of the law.

But what does similarly situated mean? The Court points out that no two people, or groups of people, are identical. Therefore, similarly situated cannot be taken to mean identical—some latitude must be permissible. But in order to address the meaning of “similarly situated” one must first determine the purpose of the law.

So what are the purposes of marriage laws? The Iowa Court has listed several which they believe outline the purpose of marriage.

1) Iowa’s marriage laws “are rooted in the necessity of providing an institutional basis for defining the fundamental relational rights and responsibilities of persons in organized society.”
2) Civil marriage is “a partnership to which both partners bring their financial resources as well as their individual energies and efforts.”
3) “These laws also serve to recognize the status of the parties’ committed relationship.”
4) “The marriage state is not one entered into for the purpose of labor and support alone, but also includes the comfort and happiness of the parties to the marriage contract.”
5) “[Marriage] is not a mere contract, but is a status.”
6) “Marriage changes the parties’ legal and social status.”
(p. 27-28)

Earlier in their decision the Court mentioned several difficulties mentioned by the plaintiffs, difficulties that accompany not being permitted to marry. They are

1) Life and death decisions affecting their partner.
2) Health care, burial arrangements, autopsy, disposition of remains following death.
3) Denial for partner’s state-provided health insurance and pension benefits; as well as private-employer-provided benefits and protections.
4) Spousal health club memberships.
(p. 9)

Following this the Court writes,

Yet, perhaps the ultimate disadvantage expressed in the testimony of the plaintiffs is the inability to obtain for themselves and for their children the personal and public affirmation that accompanies marriage. (p. 9)

The Court concludes, “Therefore, with respect to the subject and purposes of Iowa’s marriage laws, we find that the plaintiffs are similarly situated compared to heterosexual persons” (p. 28).

What have they done?
The Court has confused things important to marriage and which accompany it with the very purpose of the institution. They have reduced marriage to a collection of relational rights, financial resources, relationship validation, health club benefits, and social status. These things do accompany marriage; most are important for a successful marriage. But things that are essential to marriage are not the same thing as its purpose. By analogy, automobiles are useless without tires, engine, and gasoline but do not exist for the sake of having those things. Arguing they exist for the sake of tires, engine, and gasoline is an empty analysis: automobiles exist for the sake of their parts. Most of the items in the two above lists are given to married couples to help them have a successful marriage, not to define the purpose of the institution. But the Iowa Supreme Court has decided that things intended to help marriages succeed are the fundamental purpose of the institution. Marriage now becomes a morally vacuous institution. The purpose of the marriage becomes the things that accompany it.

Moreover, if the reasons listed above are the purposes of marriage then what rational basis is there for denying groups of people from marrying: say, four men and six women. If marriage exists for the purpose of defining relational rights, combining financial resources and individual energies, recognizing the parties’ committed relationship, comfort and happiness, status, and personal and public affirmation then it appears groups of people wanting “group marriage” are also similarly situated with respect to the purpose of the law.

This only illustrates that the reasons the Court gave for establishing the purpose of marriage are fundamentally perverse.

Question: What is the purpose of the marriage institution? Answer: To acquire the personal and public affirmation that accompanies marriage. Question: Why should same-sex couples be granted that affirmation? Answer: So they are not discriminated against; the law should apply equally to all.

The problem with the above line of reasoning is that if the purpose of the institution is to change one’s status to grant personal and public affirmation then the objective purpose of the law becomes obscured. After all, most people desire public affirmation and monetary advantages. Discrimination is reduced to not having privileges and no longer speaks to the objective purpose of marriage.

As the Iowa Supreme Court mentioned, “classification is the essence of all legislation” (p. 32).

So arguing that same-sex couples should be permitted to marry because denying them such a right is discriminatory is a phony argument. The purpose of law is to make such-like discriminations. I sometimes feel that people who use the “marriage equality” mantra are making a rather very weak argument: people like marriage; people like equality; so who would say no to “marriage equality”?

But if taken to task on this argument they must state how same-sex couples are similarly situated with respect to the purpose of the law. And if they argue as the Iowa Supreme Court did—that gays are similarly situated because of their desire for relational rights, financial resources, relationship validation, health club benefits, and social status—their argument isn’t a strong one. Marriage is reduced to the material considerations that accompany it.

Is the purpose of marriage to grand benefits? Or are the purposes of benefits to assist marriage? What then is the purpose of marriage? Those questions tend to be avoided.

Reducing marriage to material benefits accords a weak argument. Arguing marriage is a fundamental right is subjective, as a fundamental can’t be reduced further. Arguing that same-sex civil marriage should be permitted because of the public affirmation it brings to the couple is a rather touchy-feely argument which doesn’t address the fundamental question, “Why does marriage exist?”

Their position is not as strong as it often appears.

Faith and Justification

Faith and Justification, Part II
Justification and Salvation

Though we may “attain unto faith” (Mor. 7:40), we are not yet saved. Once we have attained unto faith we must add “to faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity” (2 Peter 1:5-7). This is the diligence that Peter taught is necessary “to make your calling and election sure” (2 Peter 1:10).

Paul wrote that we are “justified by faith” (Rom. 5:1-2) and also “a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ…for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified” (Gal. 2:16). But Paul also taught that “[the] doers of the law shall be justified” (Rom. 2:13). Justification does not come by means of obedience. It is by faith. Nevertheless, the doers or the law shall be justified. In other words justification is by faith, but obedience to the commandments is necessary. Faith entails obedience, and we know that the wicked “shall not inherit the kingdom of God.” (Gal. 5:20-21; Rom. 2:8). But what is the relationship between justification and obedience.

There are several ways in which the word justification is used. I shall focus on one.


Faith and Charity

Faith and Justification Part I:
Faith and Charity
We have definitions of faith such as, “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1) and, “Faith is things which are hoped for and not seen” (Ether 12:6), and “Faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true” (Alma 32:21). The Bible Dictionary says, “To have faith is to have confidence in something or someone” (“Faith,” Bible Dictionary). We know that it was by faith that “Noah…prepared an ark” (Heb. 11:7), “Abraham…obeyed; and he went out…[and] sojourned in the land of promise” (Heb. 11:8-9). By faith “Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau” (Heb. 11:20), and “Moses…refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter…[and] forsook Egypt (Heb. 11:24-27). Their faith was a motivating force. Because of their firm conviction that God would honor his promises Noah prepared, Abraham obeyed, Isaac blessed, and Moses forsook.

So faith does influence decisions, and scripture clearly teaches that faith and obedience are connected. From the apostle James we learn, “Faith without works is dead” (
James 2:20). And the Lectures on Faith teach “[faith] is the principle of action in all intelligent beings” (LoF 1:9). True, but rather nonspecific. A businessman invests his money with the faith he will receive a return. An athlete trains with the faith that she will win the prize. But even that is vague. Perhaps it would be better to use this kind of analogy: A businessman invests his money on the hope he will earn a profit, and when a performance analysis of his investment shows that he is likely to make a profit then he has faith in his investment. An athlete trains with the hope she will win the prize. When she begins to see the results of her hard work, those results coupled with her hope give her faith. Faith is an assurance of things hoped for. Or rather, faith is the assurance one feels when something assures or reassures one that their hope is not in vain.

Faith begins with belief

But faith doesn’t begin with hope. The path to faith begins with belief, or a desire to believe, or as Alma put it, “a particle of faith.” The path to faith is this: belief → effort and hope → assurance and faith.[1] A businessman believes an investment will pay off. After making the investment he hopes he made a good investment. As far as the gospel is concerned, God fills us with “peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope” (
Rom. 15:13). From another perspective, if someone whom you believe makes you a promise you have something to hope for. You hope that person will keep his promise.[2] And what follows hope? Hopefully it’s an assurance your hope is not vain. “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for” (Heb. 11:1). And the strongest assurance comes from the Holy Ghost.[3] “For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance” (1 Thes. 1:5; Heb. 6:11).[4]

We first believe. Then we take a risk. Then we hope. And finally with some kind of assurance we attain faith.

But once faith is attained, the belief-hope-faith sequence can also work in reverse. After a business man believes an investment is worthwhile and hopes his invested money produces a profit, a favorable analysis of the investment vindicates his hope and reifies his belief. Our faith in Christ is the assurance we receive from the Holy Ghost that our hope in Christ is not in vain and that our belief is true. Once we have faith in Christ, we believe with faith, hope with faith, pray with faith, and act with faith.

If we don’t have hope our “faith” is not truly faith: Faith comes from the spiritual witness of our hope; “How is it that you can attain unto faith, save ye shall have hope?” (Moroni 7:40). But without a feeling of assurance (i.e. without faith) we eventually abandon hope. A businessman invests his money on the hope that his investment will pay off. As more time goes by without favorable results he begins to loose hope and eventually gets out. Though we can hope our efforts will pay off, if we never attain unto faith, or if we loose faith and never regain it, eventually we abandon hope: “For without faith there cannot be any hope” (Moroni 7:42); “and thus they did retain a hope through faith” (Alma 25:16). And finally, if there is no hope then we eventually abandon belief.
The importance of charity
Charity is necessary for maintaining belief/faith/hope cycle. If we act uncharitably towards others then our “faith and hope is vain, for none is acceptable before God, save the meek and lowly in heart” (
Moroni 7:44); “the hope of unjust men perisheth” (Prov. 11:7). The Spirit will never sustain faith and hope if we are vicious, thus if we are unkind our faith and hope is like a house built on the sand. [5],[6]

True faith in Christ leads us to greater acts of charity. Thus Holy Ghost operates with greater power, strengthening faith and hope.[7] Stronger faith justifies greater hope.[8] And our hope in Christ leads us to live a holier life. Faith, hope, and charity are necessary for maintaining spiritual growth. “Faith, hope and charity bringeth unto me—the fountain of all righteousness” (
Ether 12:28).

If a man have faith he must needs have hope; for without faith there cannot be any hope. And again, behold I say unto you that he cannot have faith and hope, save he shall be meek, and lowly of heart…for none is acceptable before God, save the meek and lowly in heart; and if a man be meek and lowly in heart, and confesses by the power of the Holy Ghost that Jesus is the Christ, he must needs have charity; for if he have not charity he is nothing; wherefore he must needs have charity.
(Moroni 7:41-44)

Are we saved by faith? In a way, yes. If we have faith then hope and good works inextricably accompany it. “[We are] saved by faith in his name” (
Moroni 7:26). Are good works necessary for salvation? Yes. If we have a spiritual witness of the gospel of Jesus Christ then good works entail faith and hope in Christ. Thus, “all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel” (AoF 1:3), and “whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected” (1 John 2:5). Are we saved by hope? In a way, yes. Once we attain mature faith, that faith sustains our hope and motivates good works; “How is it that you can attain unto faith, save ye shall have hope?” (Moroni 7:40); “For we are saved by hope” (Rom. 8:24). Basically, to be saved we must be righteous. And “faith is counted for righteousness” (JST, Rom. 4:5); “faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness” (Rom. 4:9).

Faith, hope, and good works are inseparable from righteousness. If we “have faith, hope, and charity, and then [we] will always abound in good works” (
Alma 7:24). And “except ye have charity ye can in nowise be saved in the kingdom of God; neither can ye be saved in the kingdom of God if ye have not faith; neither can ye if ye have no hope” (Moroni 10:21).[9]

End Notes_______________________________________

[1] “[Through Christ we] believe in God, that raised him up from the dead, and gave him glory; that your faith and hope might be in God” (1 Peter 1:21).

[2] Hope also produces patience, “But hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for? But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it” (
Rom. 8:24-25).

[3] President Joseph Fielding Smith said,

When a man has the manifestation from the Holy Ghost, it leaves an indelible impression on his soul, one that is not easily erased. It is Spirit speaking to spirit, and it comes with convincing force. A manifestation of an angel, or even the Son of God himself, would impress the eye and mind, and eventually become dimmed, but the impressions of the Holy Ghost sink deeper into the soul and are more difficult to erase.
(Answers to Gospel Questions, 2:151; qtd. in Gospel Principles, 36).

[4] Hope can also be confirmed through angelic visitation: “Consolation by holding forth that which is to come, confirming our hope!” (
D&C 128:21).

[5] “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also” (
James 2:26). Just as the body is not the spirit, and the spirit is not the body, works and faith are also different things. But without works faith dies.

[6] Out of faith, hope, and charity, charity is the most important. And it is possible for a person to have charity without believing the gospel of Jesus Christ. There are charitable organizations run by Muslims, Buddists, Jews who are exceedingly charitable people. Charity “suffereth long, and is kind, and envieth not, and is not puffed up, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, and rejoiceth not in iniquity but rejoiceth in the truth, beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things” (Moroni 7:45). A person who is possesses those qualities is in perfect readiness to receive the gospel of Jesus Christ—either in this life or the next. “Charity never faileth. Wherefore, cleave unto charity, which is the greatest of all” (Moroni 7:46); “And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity” (1 Cor. 13:13).

[7] The “Comforter filleth with hope and perfect love” (
Moroni 8:26).

[8] There is “a more excellent hope” (
Ether 12:32) and “a sufficient hope” (Moroni 7:3). Likewise there is “strong faith and a firm mind” (Moroni 7:30), and a “particle of faith” (Alma 32:27).

[9] But of the three, charity is the greatest: “And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness” (
Col. 3:14).

Omnibenevolence of God

Related posts: Omnipotence and the Problem of Evil ; Grace

According to Mormon beliefs God’s work and glory is “to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39). And we share, along with out Christian cousins, the belief that “God is love.” But Mormons are extremely bothered by some of the tenants of Calvinism. For example the Westminster Confession says,

By the decree of God, for the manifestation of His glory, some men and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life, and others fore-ordained to everlasting death. These angels and men, thus predestinated and fore-ordained, are particularly and unchangeably designed, and their number is so certain and definite, that it cannot be either increased or diminished…The rest of mankind God was pleased, according to the unsearchable counsel of His own will…to pass by; and to ordain them to dishonour and wrath, for their sin, to the praise of His glorious justice. (Chapter 3)

Some of Calvin’s positions were so disturbing to Jacobus Arminius (1560-1609) that he formulated a Remonstrance espousing a more liberal view. Among other things his Remonstrance states that man must persevere in faith and obedience, and through the assistance of the Holy Spirit those who have accepted Christ have “full power to strive against Satan, sin, the world, and their own flesh, and to win the victory.” He also stated that Christ died for all persons, not for the elect only. John Wesley, an immensely powerful figure in the spread of Methodism, was strongly influenced by Arminianism. “This,” Wesley says, “is the blasphemy clearly contained in the horrible decree of predestination, and for this I abhor it…the soul that chooseth life shall live, as the soul that chooseth death shall die.” Joseph Smith wrote that as a young boy he was “somewhat partial to the Methodist sect,” and, “felt some desire to be united with them” (JS-H 1:8). The similarities between Mormonism and Arminianism have been noted by several writers.[1] According to the non-Mormon sociologist Thomas O’Dea, “Mormonism had early embraced an extreme Arminianism” (The Mormons, p. 120), and “The doctrine of the book [of Mormon] is wholeheartedly and completely Arminian” (Ibid., p. 28).

The Book of Mormon teaches that “the way is prepared for all men from the foundation of the world” (1 Nephi 10:18), “the Lord doth grant unto all nations, of their own nation and tongue, to teach his word, yea, in wisdom, all that he seeth fit that they should have” (Alma 29:8). We believe that “every thing which inviteth and enticeth to do good, and to love God, and to serve him, is inspired of God” (Moroni 7:13). And, “If their works be good, then they are good also” (Moroni 7:5). These teachings are not explicitly stated in the Bible. If a good person has no interest in Mormonism, or Christianity, I needn’t worry about their eternal salvation. If their works are good then they are good. Their good works are a manifestation of God’s love working in them, whether they know it or not. Also, the hope for salvation exists beyond the grave. (See Spirit World.)

Final thoughts
The uniqueness of our beliefs is apparent. Though some LDS thinkers are worried that we might be loosing our uniqueness. (See Kent Robson, “Omnis on the Horizon,” Sunstone, 1979; Sterling McMurren, “Some Distinguishing Characteristic of Mormon Philosophy,” Sunstone, 1993). But many LDS philosophers and thinkers are committed to our uniqueness, so I don’t believe it is in danger of disappearing.

The Encyclopedia of Mormonism says, “God, is omnipotent, omniscient, and, through his spirit, omnipresent” (“God”). Though we do believe in these omnis their meaning is not explicitly prescribed. We believe in spiritual omnipresence, that God is corporeal and had advanced to his present state. For us the word omnipotent leans more toward almighty. Because we deny creation ex nihilo we do not see God as first cause. Rather, he is the “framer of heaven and earth” (D&C 20:17) who “organized and formed the heavens and the earth” (Abr. 4:1).

Naturally, false beliefs have no saving power; but I don’t believe every false belief leads to damnation. In this life totally understanding God is beyond human ken anyway; so at least some wrong conceptions don’t deprive us of heaven. A good person who dies holding a false belief is not barred from God’s saving grace. And this is a good thing. The belief, “If you don’t believe as I do you will go to hell,” is pernicious. Too often adherents of a religious prescription feel obligated to marginalize other belief systems. Hence the recent controversy over Mitt Romney’s run for the Republican presidential nominee; many of our Christian cousins were afraid his being a Mormon would lead to conversions to Mormonism; hence a Mormon in the White House could end up sending people to hell.[2]

End Notes______________
[1] Blake T. Ostler, “The Development of the Mormon Concept of Grace,” Dialogue, vol. 24, no. 1, 1991; Thomas O’Dea, The Mormons, 1957, p. 28; Sterling M. McMurrin, The Theological Foundations of the Mormon Religion, 1965, p. 81; Klaus J. Hansen, Mormonism and the American Experience, 1981.

[2] The late Father Neuhaus (editor of First Things) writes, “The questions are: Would a Mormon as president of the United States give greater credibility and prestige to Mormonism? The answer is almost certainly yes. Would it therefore help advance the missionary goals of what many view as a false religion? The answer is almost certainly yes…Anxiety about the strengthening of Mormonism by virtue of there being a Mormon president is not unreasonable. One may or may not share that anxiety, but it is not unreasonable” (A Mormon in the White House, First Things, June 29, 2007).