Truth, Population, and Mormon Symbolism- A Mormon Essay

 

Truth, Population, and

Mormon Symbolism

 

A Mormon Essay

By Mark D. Thomas

 

In July 1843, Joseph Smith delivered a series of remarkable sermons outlining what he called the three Fundamental Principles of Mormonism. On Sunday, the 9th, he introduced the first of these three:

One of the grand fundamental principles of Mormonism is to receive truth, let it come from where it may.”1

This principle of the continuous openness to all truth compliments the Mormon ideal of continuous, ongoing revelation. This expansive Mormon ideal survives in Mormonism to this day, most notably in the speeches and actions of the accomplished Mormon chemist, Henry Eyring, and the charismatic Mormon Prophet, David O. McKay.

 

For Joseph Smith, this principle was more than an appeal for an open forum. It was for him a universal relationship to all, in a spirit of grand generosity. Joseph stated that he had “no enmity against anyone.” He had explained the secret of his success in gathering so many loyal followers: “Because I possess the principle of love.” He offered the world “a good heart and a good hand.” He flamboyantly stated that he was “as ready to die for a Presbyterian, a Baptist, or any other denomination” as “for a Mormon.”

 

In theory, the openness to receive truth from all sources seems self-evidence and fundamental to finding the truth and living in social harmony. But in practice, it is rarely embraced in any age or social setting. It is the dispossession of nearly all persons to allow power, self-interest, fear, and group loyalty to blind the eye that seeks truth. But such blindness is a luxury we can no longer afford. We face challenges unknown to Joseph Smith or to any previous age of humanity. In our troubled world we witness the clash of dysfunctional politics, the collapse of nations and ecosystems, the cry of climate change, and evidence of pending scarcity of water and other natural resources critical to modern society. All of these are related to the size and growth of human populations. The open and honest search for truth regarding human population policy is more urgent now than ever.

 

Population Policies

Despite declining birth rates in recent years, Mormons have been known for raising large families and proudly declaring that it is God’s will for us to bring as many new souls on earth as possible. 

Is this practice of large families a fundamental Mormon doctrine or just a cultural practice? Is this Frontier practice morally responsible in an age of resource constraints? Is there such a thing as a Mormon policy on family size and population control? Let us first very briefly summarize the prominent scientific and economic arguments for population policies and family size. We will then see what insights Mormonism has to offer on these subjects in our open search for truth, from whatever source.

For over a century, Frederick Jackson Turner, William Warren Sweet and others American historians have stressed the central place of the idea of an expanding Frontier in the American psyche. These scholars have asserted that the view of a moving frontier in our country has resulted in the valuing of egalitarianism, independence, a lack of interest in high culture, and violence. The Frontier also assumes a growing human population.

Well after the last American frontier settled, Americans still cling to the ideal of metaphorical Frontiers. John Kennedy, for example, utilized the metaphor of a New Frontier to characterize his political agenda. The idea of Frontier still regularly impacts community and economic planning. In the wagon trains of an expanding Frontier, communities still recite their twin and unexamined articles of faith— eternal human population expansion, and everlasting economic growth.

On the same trail as the Frontier stands a second popular metaphor— we might call it the metaphor of Ecosytem Balance. Ecosytem Balance has become more and more prominent in worldviews in recent decades. The symbolism of Ecosystem Balance is a metaphor underlying such diverse thinkers as Thomas Malthus (the famous 18th century British philosopher whose theories on the necessary limits of population growth were popular in America), Jared M. Diamond (and his work in how civilizations choose to succeed or collapse), and Lester Brown (current Director of Earth Institute). Some of the prominent concepts inherent in Ecosystem Balance are the notions of sustainability, a steady state economy, and the carrying capacity of all ecosystems.

While the notion of Frontier is still very much alive, we now live in a global community in which the metaphor of Ecosystem Balance is clearly gaining the ascendancy to explain the experiences of our world.2 A widely respected view that assumes a perspective of Ecosystem Balance is Lester Brown’s 2009 book: Plan B 4.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization. This work is based on the work on numerous scientists in varied disciplines.

I will briefly summarize Brown’s thesis as a respected representative of Ecosystem Balance. Brown cites a 2002 study by the National Academy of Sciences which concluded that global civilization exceeded its carrying capacity in about 1980. This means that the earth’s resources are being consumed faster than they are being replenished. Some of the global issues that are related to increasing human populations include:

  • Massive habitat loss and species extinction rates worldwide. Biologists are calling the current biological moment the 6th Great Extinction in earth’s history. The last great extinction was when the dinosaurs disappeared 65 million years ago, at the end of the Cretaceous period. The most important—and gloomy—scientific discovery of the twentieth century was this current extinction crisis. The losses in species are largely caused by human population growth. Elizabeth Kolbert calls this current Sixth Great Extinction, mankind’s greatest legacy. It is Homo Sapiens’ grand war against the rest of Nature. Massive increases in human population have also contributed to the following:
  • Three fourths of fisheries globally are at or beyond capacity
  • Increased rates of desertification
  • Major aquifer depletion and lowering water tables
  • Expanding losses of topsoil
  • Expected shortages within 20 years in clean water, copper, iron, and rare earth metals used in electronics
  • Increasing rates of greenhouse gases leading to climate change
  • Numerous failed nation states as a regular feature of the community of nations
  • Increasing rates of hunger and malnutrition. Brown predicts that there will be 1.2 billion underfed people in the world by 2015
  • Every Gun in every Frontier shoots two ways. The violence inherent in the concept of Frontier becomes self-execution from the perspective of Ecosystem Balance. Yet, Brown believes that we can still avoid global societal collapse. But controlling human population must be part of that solution.

 

Mormon Perspectives

Any scientific discussion of population control and nature’s carrying capacity will likely be inadequate to save the day without the metaphysical and revelatory outlook, the ethical core, the experiential symbols, and transformative powers of religion. Throughout history, humans have used the tools of religious symbolism and depth psychology to mine nature in order to craft the meaning of their own existence. Mormon scriptures and sermons contain their own same deep symbols of nature. The persistence of this deep symbolism of nature in religious discourse suggests that there is something universal in the drive to understand nature, as a means to aid human survival. Perhaps then religious ritual and symbolism can construct the missing parts of our Ecosystem Balance, a fundamental ark to navigate the current crisis. It is in these core competencies that we can hope to find Mormonism as an Helpmate, and as an agent of Rescue upon many waters.

In Mormonism, as in depth psychology, revelation does not come as abstract theology from heaven. Rather it comes as a response to crisis. Mormonism is based on a theology of continuous revelation appropriate for the needs of each age. All of the major revelations of Joseph Smith, the founding Prophet of Mormonism, came in response to a concrete existential threat. In his First Vision and the Vision of Moroni, it was guilt (“Thy sins are forgiven thee”). In the 1832 revelation of the Three Degrees of Glory, it was the concrete threat of destruction of the institutional Mormon church by its turncoat enemies, doubt, lack of social power, social inequality, and guilt (D&C 76:9, 22-23, 31-33, 52, 55-60, 75). In the revelation on health known as the Word of Wisdom, it was the concrete crises of sickness and death caused by modern marketing of unhealthy products (“health in their navel and marrow in their bones; And . . . the destroying angel shall pass them by, as the children of Israel, and not slay them”). There are many more examples. The symbolism of Mormon revelation is human transformation in the face of concrete crisis.

Mormonism has a history of addressing population issues, family planning and environmentalism. Mormon leaders have expressed a wide variety of opinions regarding science and population. But those symbols and sermons which promote the ideal of Frontier, must be abandoned since they apply only to older dispensations and circumstances. Likewise, the Mormon symbols and sermons base upon Ecosystem Balance must be explored for their usefulness in the environmental and population challenges that are upon us. We need not look to Mormonism to interpret the geological strata along the Wasatch Front nor describe the science behind the fate of the Golden Toad. That is not the core strength of Mormonism. The core competency of Mormonism lies in its revelatory symbolism that changes world views and transforms how people live their lives. The revelations of Mormonism are transformative and experiential symbols, the deep expression of the concrete problems of existence as we seek Ecosystem Balance. Let us briefly explore examples of the variety of Mormon thought based on both the Frontier and Ecosystem Balance.

Mormonism started its life as a countercultural religion, born of the Radical Reformation. As such, its first official statements on population policy were radical statements reflecting the thinking of Malthus. Over several years in the 1830’s, the official LDS Church publication, known as the Evening and Morning Star, reprinted population tables reflecting correlating births and deaths with the price of corn. The March, 1837 issue carried a short article entitled “Preventive Check” advocated family planning customs in Germany and Moravia as “the best Malthusian plan . . . being founded on prudence,” and served as a limited deterrent to population growth.

In the early decades of the 20th century, very different official Mormon family planning and birth control statements were made. In the official Church Relief Society Magazine, Church President Joseph F. Smith (the nephew of the Prophet Joseph Smith) made the following influential statement:

. . . I regret, I think it is a crying evil, that there should exist a sentiment or a feeling among any members of the Church to curtail the birth of their children. I think that is a crime whenever it occurs, where husband and wife are in possession of health and vigor and are free from impurities that would be entailed upon their posterity. I believe that where people undertake to curtail or prevent the birth of their children that they are going to reap disappointment by and by. I have no hesitancy in saying that I believe this is one of the greatest crimes in the world today, this evil practice. . . .”

RSM, 4:317-318 (June, 1917).


His son, President Joseph Fielding Smith stated that those “who attempt to pervert the ways of the Lord, and to prevent their offspring from coming into the world . . . are guilty of one of the most heinous crimes in the category. There is no promise of eternal salvation and exaltation for such as they. . .” Mormon General Authority B.H. Roberts released a much more moderate statement which advocated sex education, contraception, and a common sense approach to family planning which accommodates income, health and other family circumstances.3 More recently, the current LDS website approves of a statement by a Mormon physician, Homer Ellsworth, MD, reminiscent of Elder Roberts:

One of the cornerstones of the gospel is agency or choice. . . .Church members are taught to study the question of family planning, including such important aspects as the physical and mental health of the mother and father and their capacity to provide the basic necessities of life. If, for personal reasons, a couple prayerfully decides that having another child immediately is unwise, birth control may be appropriate. . .

Decisions regarding the number and spacing of children are to be made by husband and wife together, in righteousness, and through empathetic communication, and with prayer for the Lord’s inspiration. Latter-day Saints believe that persons are accountable not only for what they do but for why they do it. Thus, regarding family size and attendant questions, members should desire to multiply and replenish the earth as the Lord has commanded. In that process, God intends that his children use the agency that he has given them in charting a wise course for themselves and their families.

At present, Mormon opinions vary widely on these topics. But this current, officially sanctioned statement, above, reflects one apparently common perspective: family planning is to be left to the choice and inspiration of each couple. We must also note that several Mormon Church officials in recent decades have stated that global population policy is of no concern to the official church.

What are we to make of this confusion on family planning and population policy? Again, official Mormonism has two underlying metaphors that have competed since the founding of the Church: the Frontier, and Ecosytem Balance. We look for the day when Mormon Prophets more thoroughly emphasize the spiritual symbolism of the age of Ecosystem Balance. In these symbols we can experience the ritual of survival and the transformation of New Being. We believe that these resurrected revelations will be most welcome as a moral compass for our new age. Until that time arrives, we are content to rely on the existing metaphorical expressions of stewardship of the earth from Mormon revelations and scripture. Below are a very few samples for the reader’s examination:


Book of Mormon, Ether 6:8a

(On the terrifying ocean journey by the Jaredite to the Promised Land of America, which was protected by God from overpopulation by divinely selected migrations—See 2 Nephi 1:8-11):

And it came to pass that the wind did never cease to blow towards the Promised Land”  Genesis 9:8 (NEV)

(After the Ark saved all life from the mythical Flood, God establishes his universal covenant, not only with humans, but with all living things)

God said to Noah and his sons: I am now establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you, all birds and cattle, all the animals with you on earth, all that come out of the ark.”


Utah Pioneers

Mural in the dome of the Utah State Capital Building: Brigham Young arriving with the Mormon pioneers in the Great Salt Lake Valley to start a new life in the wilderness.

The earth and all things on it should be used responsibly to sustain the human family.” “When all is said and done, if the world is going to be saved, we have to do it. There is no escaping from that.”

LDS President Gordon B. Hinckley


Pearl of Great Price, Joseph Smith History 1:37-39

(The angel Moroni quotes Malachi 3-4 and tells Joseph Smith in a vision that the Restoration of the lost gospel of Jesus Christ was intended to save the earth from utter destruction.) 

For behold, the day cometh that shall burn as an oven, and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly shall burn as stubble; for they that come shall burn them, saith the Lord of Hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch.

And again, he [the Angel Moroni] quoted the fifth verse thus: Behold, I will reveal unto you the Priesthood, by the hand of Elijah the prophet, before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.

He also quoted the next verse differently . . .’And he shall plant in the hearts of the children the promises made to the fathers, and the hearts of the children shall turn to their fathers. If it were not so, the whole earth would be utterly wasted at [Christ’s future apocalyptic] coming.”

 

Pearl of Great Price, Book of Moses 7: 48-49

And it came to pass that Enoch looked upon the earth; and he heard a voice from the bowels thereof, saying:

Wo, wo is me, the mother of men; I am pained, I am weary, because of the wickedness of my children. When shall I rest, and be cleansed from the filthiness which is gone forth out of me? When will my Creator sanctify me, that I may rest, and righteousness for a season abide upon my face?

And when Enoch heard the earth mourn, he wept, and cried unto the Lord, saying: O Lord, wilt thou not have compassion upon the earth? Wilt thou not bless the children of Noah?”

The author, Mark Thomas, is a lifelong Mormon who has served in various management and editorial capacities at Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Studies, Sunstone Magazine, and The Association for Mormon Letters. He has taught at Brigham Young University and Utah State University. He has published and spoken extensively on the Book of Mormon as a literary text.

1 For a treatment of Smith’s three grand principles of Mormonism, see Don Bradley, “’The Grand Fundamental Principles of Mormonism’: Joseph Smith’s Unfinished Reformation,” Sunstone 141 (April, 2006) pp 32-41.

2 An example of a work whose Frontier premise is the base in the global economy, see Stephan Heck and Matt Rogers, Resource Revolution: How to Capture the Biggest Business Opportunity in a Century (Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014). Heck is a Stanford economist and Rogers a Director at McKinsey and Company. This book contains some very interesting insights and perspectives. But in the end, I find this work disappointing. I had hoped for a more convincing treatment of the thesis. The book, like the title, comes across like a cheap sales pitch for a preconceived Frontier thesis.

3 For a history of statements on family planning in Mormonism see Lester E. Bush, Jr., “Birth Control Among Mormons: Introduction to an Insistent Question,” Dialogue: Journal of Mormon Thought, vol. 10 no. 2, 12-44.

 

 Tim B. Heaton and Sandra Calkins, “Contraceptive Use Among Mormons: 1965-1975,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, 16 (Fall, 1983), 106-109.

 

 

 

 

 

 

by Mark Thomas

 

In July 1843, Joseph Smith delivered a series of remarkable sermons outlining what he called the three Fundamental Principles of Mormonism. On Sunday, the 9th, he introduced the first of these three:

“One of the grand fundamental principles of Mormonism is to receive truth, let it come from where it may.”1

This principle of the continuous openness to all truth compliments the Mormon ideal of continuous, ongoing revelation. This expansive Mormon ideal survives in Mormonism to this day, most notably in the speeches and actions of the accomplished Mormon chemist, Henry Eyring, and the charismatic Mormon Prophet, David O. McKay.

 For Joseph Smith, this principle was more than an appeal for an open forum. It was for him a universal relationship to all, in a spirit of grand generosity. Joseph stated that he had “no enmity against anyone.” He had explained the secret of his success in gathering so many loyal followers: “Because I possess the principle of love.” He offered the world “a good heart and a good hand.” He flamboyantly stated that he was “as ready to die for a Presbyterian, a Baptist, or any other denomination” as “for a Mormon.”

 

In theory, the openness to receive truth from all sources, seems self-evidence and fundamental to finding the truth and living in social harmony. But in practice, it is rarely embraced in any age or social setting. It is the dispossession of nearly all persons to allow power, self-interest, fear and group loyalty to blind the eye that seeks truth. But such blindness is a luxury we can no longer afford. We face challenges unknown to Joseph Smith or to any previous age of humanity. In our troubled world we witness the clash of dysfunctional politics, the collapse of nations and ecosystems, the shriek cry of climate change, and of the evidence of pending scarcity of water and other natural resources critical to modern society. All of these are related to the size and growth of human populations. The open and honest search for truth regarding human population policy is more urgent now than ever.

Population Policies

Despite declining birth rates in recent years, Mormons have been known for raising large families and proudly declaring that it is God’s will for us to bring as many new souls on earth as possible. Is this practice of large families a fundamental Mormon doctrine or just a cultural practice? Is this Frontier practice morally responsible in an age of resource constraints? Is there such a thing as a Mormon policy on family size and population control? Let us first very briefly summarize the prominent scientific and economic arguments for population policies and family size. We will then see what insights Mormonism has to offer on these subjects in our open search for truth, from whatever source.

 

For over a century, Frederick Jackson Turner, William Warren Sweet and others American historians have stressed the central place of the idea of an expanding Frontier in the American psyche. These scholars have asserted that the view of a moving frontier in our country has resulted in the valuing of egalitarianism, independence, a lack of interest in high culture, and violence. The Frontier is also assumes a growing human population.

Well after the last American frontier settled, Americans still cling to the ideal of metaphorical Frontiers. John Kennedy, for example, utilized the metaphor of a New Frontier to characterize his political agenda. The idea of Frontier still regularly impacts community and economic planning. In the wagon trains of an expanding Frontier, communities still recite their twin and unexamined articles of faith— eternal human population expansion, and everlasting economic growth.

 

On the same trail of the Frontier, stands a second popular metaphor— we might call it the metaphor of Ecosytem Balance. Ecosytem Balance has become more and more prominent in worldviews in recent decades. The symbolism of Ecosystem Balance is a metaphor underlying such diverse thinkers as Thomas Malthus (the famous 18th century British philosopher whose theories on the necessary limits of population growth were popular in America), Jared M. Diamond (and his work in how civilizations choose to succeed or collapse), and Lester Brown (current Director of Earth Institute). Some of the prominent concepts inherent in Ecosystem Balance are the notions of sustainability, a steady state economy, and the carrying capacity of all ecosystems.

 

While the notion of Frontier is still very much alive, we now live in a global economy in which the metaphor of Ecosystem Balance is clearly gaining the ascendancy to explain the experiences of our world.2  A widely respected view that assumes a perspective of Ecosystem Balance is “Plan b 4.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization” by Lester Brown (2009). This work is based on the work on numerous scientists in varied disciplines. I will briefly summarize Brown’s thesis as a respected representative of Ecosystem Balance. Brown cites a 2002 study by the National Academy of Sciences which concluded that global civilization exceeded its carrying capacity in about 1980. This means that the earth’s resources are being consumed faster than they are being replenished. Some of the global issues that are related to of increasing human populations include:

  • Massive habitat loss and species extinction rates worldwide. Biologists are calling the current biological moment the 6th Great Extinction in earth’s history. The last great extinction was when the dinosaurs disappeared 65 million years ago, at the end of the Cretaceous period. The most important—and gloomy—scientific discovery of the twentieth century was this current extinction crisis. During the 1970s, field biologists discovered what is all too familiar now— staggering losses in species in oceans and on mountain peaks; in deserts and in rivers, in tropical rainforests and Arctic tundra alike. Michael Soulè (later the founder of the Society for Conservation Biology) and Harvard’s E. O. Wilson—put these worrisome bits of data together. The losses in species are largely caused by human population growth. Elizabeth Kolbert calls this current Sixth Great Extinction, mankind’s greatest legacy. It is Homo Sapiens’ grand war against the rest of Nature. Massive increases in human population have also contributed to the following:
  • Three fourths of fisheries globally are at or beyond capacity
  • Increased rates of desertification
  • Major aquifer depletion and lowering water tables
  • Expanding losses of topsoil
  • Expected shortages within 20 years in clean water, copper, iron, and rare earth metals used in electronics
  • Increasing rates of greenhouse gases leading to climate change
  • Numerous failed nation states as a regular feature of the community of nations
  • Increasing rates of hunger and malnutrition. Brown predicts that there will be 1.2 billion underfed people in the world by 2015
  • Every gun in every Frontier shoots two ways. The violence inherent in the concept of Frontier becomes self-execution from the Perspective of Ecosystem Balance. Yet, Brown believes that we can still avoid global societal collapse. But controlling human population must be part of that solution.

 

Mormon Perspectives

Any scientific discussion of population control and nature’s carrying capacity will likely be inadequate to save the day without the metaphysics and religious revelatory outlook, the ethical core, the experiential symbols, and transformative powers of religion. Throughout history, humans have mined nature to grasp the meaning of their own existence with the tools of religious symbolism and depth psychology. Mormon scriptures and sermons contain their own same deep symbolism of nature. The persistence of this deep symbolism of nature in religious discourse suggests that there is something universal in the drive to understand “nature” as a means for human survival. Perhaps then religious ritual and symbolism can construct the missing parts of our Ecosystem Balance, a fundamental ark to navigate the current crisis of our survival. It is in these core competencies that we can hope to find Mormonism as an Helpmate, and as an agent of Rescue upon many waters.

Mormonism, as in depth psychology, revelation does not come as abstract theology from heaven. Rather it comes it comes as a response to crisis. Mormonism is based on a theology of continuous revelation appropriate for the needs of each age. All of the major revelations of Joseph Smith, the founding Prophet of Mormonism, came in response to a concrete existential threat. In his First Vision and the Vision of Moroni, it was guilt (“Thy sins are forgiven thee”). In the 1832 revelation of the Three Degrees of Glory, it was the concrete threat of destruction of the institutional Mormon church by its turncoat enemies, doubt, lack of social power, social inequality, and guilt (D&C 76:9, 22-23, 31-33, 52, 55-60, 75). In the health revelation called the Word of Wisdom, it was the concrete crises of sickness and death caused by modern marketing of unhealthy products (“health in their navel and marrow in their bones; And . . . the destroying angel shall pass them by, as the children of Israel, and not slay them”). There are many more examples. The symbolism of Mormon revelation is human transformation in the face of concrete crisis.


Mormonism has a history of addressing population issues, family planning and environmentalism. Mormon leaders have expressed a wide variety of opinions regarding science and population. Those symbols and sermons which promote the ideal of Frontier, must be abandoned as applying only to older dispensations and circumstances. Likewise, the Mormon symbols and sermons base upon Ecosystem Balance must be explored for their usefulness in the environmental and population challenges that are upon us. We need not look to Mormonism to interpret the geological strata along the Wasatch Front nor describe the science behind the fate of the Golden Toad. That is not the core strength of Mormonism. The core competency of Mormonism lies in its revelatory symbolism that changes world views and transforms how people live their lives. Revelations of Mormonism are transformative and experiential symbols, the deep expression of the concrete problems of existence as we seek Ecosystem Balance. Let us briefly explore examples of Mormon thought based on both the Frontier and Ecosystem Balance.

Mormonism started as a radical, countercultural religion born of the Radical Reformation. As such its first official statement on population policy was radical statement reflecting the thinking of Malthus. Over several years in the 1830’s, the official LDS Church publication called the Evening and Morning Star reprinted a population tables reflecting correlating births and deaths with the price of corn. The March, 1837 issue carried a short article entitled “Preventive Check” advocated family planning customs in Germany and Moravia as “the best Malthusian plan . . . being founded on prudence,” and served as a limited deterrent to population growth.

In the early decades of the 20th century, very different official Mormon family planning and birth control statements were made. In the official Church Relief Society Magazine . President Joseph F. Smith made the following influential statement:

“. . . I regret, I think it is a crying evil, that there should exist a sentiment or a feeling among any members of the Church to curtail the birth of their children. I think that is a crime whenever it occurs, where husband and wife are in possession of health and vigor and are free from impurities that would be entailed upon their posterity. I believe that where people undertake to curtail or prevent the birth of their children that they are going to reap disappointment by and by.  I have no hesitancy in saying that I believe this is one of the greatest crimes in the world today, this evil practice. . . .”

RSM, 4:317-318 (June, 1917).


President Joseph Fielding Smith stated that those “who attempt to pervert the ways of the Lord, and to prevent their offspring from coming into the world . . . are guilty of one of the most heinous crimes in the category. There is no promise of eternal salvation and exaltation for such as they. . .” Mormon General Authority B.H. Roberts had a much more moderate statement on family planning which advocated sex education, contraception, and a common sense approach to family planning which accommodates income, health and other family circumstances.3

More recently, the current LDS website approves of a statement by a Mormon physician, Homer Ellsworth, MD, reminiscent Elder Roberts:

“One of the cornerstones of the gospel is agency or choice. . . .Church members are taught to study the question of family planning, including such important aspects as the physical and mental health of the mother and father and their capacity to provide the basic necessities of life. If, for personal reasons, a couple prayerfully decides that having another child immediately is unwise, birth control may be appropriate. . .

Decisions regarding the number and spacing of children are to be made by husband and wife together, in righteousness, and through empathetic communication, and with prayer for the Lord’s inspiration. Latter-day Saints believe that persons are accountable not only for what they do but for why they do it. Thus, regarding family size and attendant questions, members should desire to multiply and replenish the earth as the Lord has commanded. In that process, God intends that his children use the agency that he has given them in charting a wise course for themselves and their families.”

Opinions among Mormons on these topics vary widely at present. But this officially sanctioned statement, above, reflects one apparently common perspective: family planning is to be left to the choice and inspiration of each couple. We must also note that several Mormon Church officials have stated that global population policy is of no concern to the official church.

What are we to make of this confusion? Again, official Mormonism has two underlying metaphors that have competed since the founding of the Church: the Frontier, and Ecosytem Balance. We look for the day when Mormon Prophets more thoroughly emphasize the spiritual symbolism of the age of Ecosystem Balance. In these symbols we can experience the ritual of survival and the transformation of New Being. We believe that these resurrected revelations will be most welcome as a moral compass for our new age. Until that time arrives, we are content to rely on the existing metaphorical expressions of stewardship of the earth from Mormon revelations and scripture. Below are a very few samples for the reader’s examination:

Book of Mormon, Ether 6:8

(On the terrifying ocean journey by the Jaredite to the Promised Land of America, which was protected by God from overpopulation by divinely selected migrations—See 2 Nephi 1:8-11):“And it came to pass that the wind did never cease to blow towards the Promised Land. . .”

Genesis 9:8 (NEV)

(After the mythical Flood and saving of all life on earth, God establishes his universal covenant not only with humans, but all living things)

“God said to Noah and his sons: I am now establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you, all birds and cattle, all the animals with you on earth, all that come out of the ark.”

Pearl of Great Price, Joseph Smith History 1:37-39

(The angel Moroni quotes Malachi 3-4 and tells Joseph Smith in vision that the Restoration of the lost gospel of Jesus Christ was intended to save the earth from utter destruction.)

“For behold, the day cometh that shall burn as an oven, and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly shall burn as stubble; for they that come shall burn them, saith the Lord of Hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch.

“And again, he [the Angel Moroni] quoted the fifth verse thus: Behold, I will reveal unto you the Priesthood, by the hand of Elijah the prophet, before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.

“He also quoted the next verse differently . . .’And he shall plant in the hearts of the children the promises made to the fathers, and the hearts of the children shall turn to their fathers. If it were not so, the whole earth would be utterly wasted at his [,Christ’s future apocalyptic] coming.”


Isaiah 35

(The song of an anonymous Jewish poet in Babylon longing for his home):

“The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them;

and the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose.

It shall blossom abundantly,

and rejoice even with joy and singing:

the glory of Lebanon shall be given unto it,

the excellency of Carmel and Sharon,

they shall see the glory of the Lord,

and the excellency of our God.


Strengthen ye the weak hands,

and confirm the feeble knees.

Say to them that are of a fearful heart, Be strong, fear not:

behold, your God will come with vengeance,

even God with a recompense; he will come and save you.


Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,

and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped.


Then shall the lame man leap as an hart,

and the tongue of the dumb sing:

for in the wilderness shall waters break out,

and streams in the desert.


And the parched ground shall become a pool,

and the thirsty land springs of water:

in the habitation of dragons, where each lay,

shall be grass with reeds and rushes.


And an highway shall be there, and a way,

and it shall be called The way of holiness;

the unclean shall not pass over it;

but it shall be for those: the wayfaring men,

though fools, shall not err therein.


No lion shall be there,

nor any ravenous beast shall go up thereon,

it shall not be found there;

but the redeemed shall walk there:


And the ransomed of the Lord shall return,

and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads:

they shall obtain joy and gladness,

and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.”

 

 

1 For a treatment of Smith’s three grand principles of Mormonism, see Don Bradley, “’The Grand Fundamental Principles of Mormonism’: Joseph Smith’s Unfinished Reformation,” Sunstone 141 (April, 2006) pp 32-41.

2 An example of a work whose Frontier premise is the base in the global economy, see Stephan Heck and Matt Rogers, Resource Revolution: How to Capture the Biggest Business Opportunity in a Century (Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014). Heck is a Stanford economist and Rogers a Director at McKinsey and Company. This book contains some very interesting insights and perspectives. But in the end, I find this work disappointing. I had hoped for a more convincing treatment of the thesis. The book, like the title, comes across like a cheap sales pitch for a preconceived Frontier thesis.

3 For a history of statements on family planning in Mormonism see Lester E. Bush, Jr., “Birth Control Among Mormons: Introduction to an Insistent Question,” Dialogue: Journal of Mormon Thought ____( ) 12-44.

 

Tim B. Heaton and Sandra Calkins, “Contraceptive Use Among Mormons: 1965-1975,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 16 (Fall, 1983), 106-109.

 

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Mark Thomas
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