According to the theology embraced by the LDS and FLDS Churches, the spirit of every human being was begotten by a Heavenly Father and born to a Heavenly Mother in eternity before the earth was organized. Each individual human spirit is the product of procreation—not creation; the product of a sexual union between a God and a Goddess.
Above is he famous LDS Temple in Salt Lake City, Utah; below is the FLDS Temple in Texas. Though both of these Mormon denominations differ on the issue of polygamy, both churches teach that a person's spirit is the sexually produced "spiritual offspring" of a Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother.
“All human beings—male and female—are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents…”
Not only is this doctrine an essential part of the LDS and FLDS Church’s theology, it is also embraced by the majority of Mormon denominations and religious communities that have branched off of these two churches.
According to the theology of LDS, FLDS and most other Utah Mormons, the ability to procreate in eternity—that is the ability of a male and female to sexually reproduce by conceiving and giving birth to “spirit children”—is THE defining aspect of Godhood itself. Eternal beings unable to sexually produce “spirit children”—even in the highest level of glory, called “The Celestial Kingdom”—are not called Gods, but merely Angels who are unable to progress eternally.
For LDS, FLDS and other Utah Mormons, heterosexual intercourse and reproduction are the process by which an individual achieves his or her eternal salvation and exaltation. The single woman, the bachelor and the homosexual are without hope unless they are married in a Temple ceremony (according to the LDS Church), practice polygamy (according to the FLDS Church) or enter some form of heterosexual matrimony (according to most other forms of Utah Mormonism.)
JOSEPH SMITH: THE FIRST MORMON
All Mormons trace their religion and theology back to Joseph Smith—the First Mormon. LDS, FLDS and other Utah Mormons believe that Joseph was the greatest prophet who ever lived. The have canonized as scripture the following tribute to Joseph, written by John Taylor, shortly after his murder on June 27, 1844 :
“Joseph Smith, the Prophet and Seer of the Lord, has done more, save Jesus only, for the salvation of men in this world, than any other man that ever lived in it. In the short space of twenty years, he has brought forth the Book of Mormon, which he translated by the gift and power of God, and has been the means of publishing it on two continents; has sent the fullness the everlasting gospel, which it contained, to the four quarters of the earth; has brought forth the revelations and commandments which compose this book of Doctrine and Covenants, and many other wise documents and instructions for the benefit of the children of men; gathered many thousands of the Latter-day Saints, founded a great city, and left a fame and name that cannot be slain. He lived great, and he died great in the eyes of God and his people; and like most of the Lord’s anointed in ancient times, has sealed his mission and his works with his own blood…” (Doctrine & Covenants 135:3)
Given the fact that LDS, FLDS and Utah Mormons give such praise to Joseph Smith, one would assume that one would find abundant references in Joseph’s sermons and writings to the doctrine of the human spirit being sexually begotten and born to Heavenly Parents.
Above is the only known photo of Joseph Smith--the First Mormon.
LDS, FLDS and Utah Mormons claim that the doctrine of spirits being the sexually produced off-spring of a Heavenly Father and Mother constitutes an essential part of "the fullness of the everlasting gospel”—cited in the above tribute to Joseph.
But in preaching “the fullness of the everlasting gospel,” did Joseph Smith actually teach this doctrine—ever?
THE SILENCE OF JOSEPH SMITH
It may come as a shock to most LDS, FLDS and Utah Mormons to discover that Joseph Smith never taught the doctrine that the human spirit is the sexually begotten offspring of a Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother.
There is not a single reference in the Bible, “The Book of Mormon,” “The Doctrine & Covenants” or “The Pearl of Great Prince” to this central LDS, FLDS, Utah Mormon doctrine. In his last and greatest sermon, “The King Follet Discourse”—the entire subject of which was the nature of God, the origin of one's spirit and the means by which humans can progress toward Godhood—the idea is never mentioned. In fact, as we will show, the ideas that Joseph Smith introduced in this sermon actually undermine the LDS and FLDS theology regarding this subject.
Above is a 19th century painting of Joseph Smith preaching to Native Americans in Ohio in the early 1830s.
Joseph Smith made numerous references to God the Father having an eternal companion—a wife, who was referred to as our Heavenly Mother, or Eternal Mother. But nowhere has there been found a single instance in which he wrote or declared that She gave birth to our spirits.
Mormon scholar Dan Hale has pointed out that the origin of this particular doctrine…
“…has remained somewhat obscure…there are no clear statements of the doctrine in any of the [LDS] church’s four standard work.”
In his study, “The Origin of the Human Spirit in Early Mormon Thought,” Van Hale concludes:
“In tracing the doctrine of spirit birth backward we find hundreds of references to it throughout Mormon literature, and the teaching that spirits originated through premortal procreation seems to have been the prevailing explanation ever since the Nauvoo period. What is surprising, however, is that none of Joseph Smith‘s recorded sermons--including those delivered in Nauvoo--teach the doctrine. In fact, several seem to teach a doctrine logically at odds with the belief that spirits are the literal offspring of God through premortal birth…Smith’s own doctrinal teaching was that the human spirit as a conscious entity is eternal--as eternal as God. It has no beginning and no end. It was not created; it is self-existing. God, being more advanced than the other spirits, organized them and instituted laws to give them the privilege to advance like himself…Smith used the terms ’spirit,’ ’soul,’ intelligence,’ and ’mind’ synonymously to describe the inchoate, indestructible essence of life. This summary is drawn from eight documentary sources--dating from 6 may 1833 to 7 April 1844. None of them suggest that God presides over the spirits because they are his begotten off spring, but because he was more intelligent, more advanced, than they and because he organized them into a premortal council…In conclusion, one of the most cherished doctrines of [LDS] Mormonism, that spirits are the literal offspring of God, has been taught by virtually all [LDS] Mormon leaders. The notable exception is probably Joseph Smith, whose direct statements teach a doctrine contrary to that of his closest associates, men and women who maintain that they were simply perpetuating what he had begun.”
WHAT JOSEPH DID TEACH ON THE ORIGIN OF ONE’S SPIRIT:
THE UNCREATED SPIIRT/ THE ETERNAL INDIVIDUAL
In “The King Follet Discourse,” delivered on April 7, 1845, Joseph Smith declared:
“I have another subject to dwell upon…that is, the soul, the mind of man, the immortal spirit. All men say God created it in the beginning. The very idea lessens man in my estimation. I do not believe the doctrine; I know better. Hear it all ye ends of the world, for God has told me so. Before I get through, I will make a man appear a fool if he doesn't believe it. I am going to tell of things more noble.”
Traditional western religion has taught that all existence is the production of a divine creation; that existence had a beginning, with God as the First Cause. Towards the end of his life, Joseph Smith rejected this doctrine outright, declaring that existence was eternal and uncreated; that the world in which we lived was “organized” by the Gods from existing matter. (See “The Book of Abraham.”)
In other words, existence itself is omnipotent. God, who is also eternal, exists and can only be understood within the greater context of existence as a whole.This laid the groundwork for Joseph’s most radical and far-reaching teaching on the nature of man:
“We say that God himself is a self-existing God. Who told you so? It is correct enough, but how did it get into your heads? Who told you that man did not exist in like manner upon the same principles?….
“The mind of man is as immortal as God himself…. Is it logic to say that a spirit is immortal and yet has a beginning? Because if a spirit has a beginning, it will have an end. That is good logic. I want to reason further on the spirit of man…"
Above is a mid-19th century drawing of Joseph Smith preaching the King Follet Discourse at the April 1844 church conference in Nauvoo, Illinois.
“The first principles of man are self-existent with God. God found himself in the midst of spirits and glory, and because he was greater, he saw proper to institute laws whereby the rest could have the privilege of advancing like himself--that they might have one glory upon another and all the knowledge, power, and glory necessary to save the world of spirits. I know that when I tell you these words of eternal life that are given to me, you taste them, and I know you believe them. You say honey is sweet, and so do I. I can also taste the spirit of eternal life; I know it is good. And when I tell you of these things that were given me by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, you are bound to receive them as sweet, and I rejoice more and more.”
Joseph Smith taught that not only was our spirit/mind eternal and uncreated, it was also by nature free. In May 1833, Joseph declared:
“Man was also in the beginning with God. Intelligence or the light of truth was not created or made, neither indeed can be. All truth is independent in that sphere in which God has placed it, to act for itself, as all intelligence also; otherwise there is no existence.” (Doctrine & Covenants 93:29—30)
Clearly Joseph Smith did not teach that one’s spirit was the product of creation or pro-creation.
Instead, he taught that one’s spirit was “co-equal with God”—that it was self-existent, without beginning or end.
“Intelligence exists upon a self-existent principle; it is a spirit from age to age, and there is no creation about it,” Joseph Smith boldly declared.
THE INDIVIDUAL AND INDEPENDENCE
Reform Mormons see the virtue of Joseph Smith’s teachings regarding the eternal, uncreated nature of the human spirit, and its autonomy. They understand that this doctrine is in harmony with a philosophy that that embraces individual human rights, a philosophy that refuses to subjugate individuals to roles and stereotypes based on gender and ancient concepts regarding sex and reproductive functions.
Religious denominations such as the LDS and FLDS Churches might claim to be protecting the sanctity of marriage and family through their political activism, their embracing of polygamy and arranged marriages, and by teaching that one’s spirit is sexually produced spiritual offspring of a Heavenly Father and Mother.
But the end result is that the complex nature of individual human beings is denied, and the rights of the individual are sacrificed for the sake of preserving a particular ideas about sex and marriage--ideas that Joseph Smith neither taught. In claiming to defend the sanctity of marriage and sex, LDS and FLDS theology actually reduces human sexuality to a barn-yard mentality: the most important function of marriage and sex is achieving pregnancy and giving birth. The body, mind and spirit of the individual—male and female—is subordinated to one particular biological function of the body. Human sexuality with all of its emotional and psychological complexities, challenges and joys—along with its ability to intensify the spiritual connection between individuals—is, in the end, approached in the same way a breeder of dogs cattle or chickens would approach the sexuality of those particular animals.
Reform Mormons find that approach insulting to human nature—a nature which we believe we hold in common with Deity Itself.
Reform Mormonism embraces reality and the natural world as it is. Following the example of Joseph Smith, and building upon the new theology he introduced during his Nauvoo-era Reformation of Mormonism, we look to nature, employing reason and logic in our ongoing effort to understand human nature and human potential, to institute ordinances, and to articulate doctrines and ideas that will uplift and exalt the individual.
Joseph Smith’s radically new teaching that the individual spirit is an uncreated, eternal entitywithout beginning or end; without a creation in its past, or a complete annihilation in its future—an entity that is “co-equal with God” is one of the foundational doctrines of Reform Mormonism.
Self-described “Cultural Mormon,” William Call has noted:
“…Mormonism’s original ideas concerning the eternal, uncreated nature of the human soul are as pertinent today as they were when first given…At the heart of Joseph Smith’s teachings is the principle that that which is most sacred is the eternal, uncreated intelligence or soul of man and that no God or entity whatsoever has the power to either create, destroy or assume jurisdiction over the individual. This doctrine stands apart from Christian theology. It is the underlying and most essential doctrine of democracy. It is not only thoroughly in accord with the sentiments and attitudes of democratic societies, it provides the fundamental spiritual foundation upon which democracy is built. So long as Mormonism advocates and stands by this doctrine it will prosper…Mormonism, in its new, enlightened state, may lift itself up as the one viable religion remaining in today’s modern democratic world…A world religion…is one that provides the underlying spiritual foundation for the world’s people…A religion that provides the spiritual foundation for the forces of democracy that are spreading themselves over the whole world, which religion Mormonism alone can claim to be, could well become, in the centuries if not the decades to come, the religion of the whole world!”
A statue of Joseph Smith--the First Mormon
FROM WHENCE CAME THE LDS/FLDS DOCTRINE OF “SPIRIT CHILDREN”
From where did the LDS and FLDS Churches get their doctrine that our spirits are the literal spiritual offspring of a Heavenly Father and Mother? If Joseph Smith never taught this doctrine, who did? And why did the LDS Church embrace this doctrine? This will be the subject of our next lesson.