Truth and the Plan – Conference Notes Oct. 2018

Nov 10, 2018
10 min read

I really loved this talk. I like most talks from Dallin H. Oaks because he doesn’t share a lot of touchy-feely stories, he sticks to the doctrine. One of my favorite quotes is “great leaders kill ambiguity” from Scott Belsky the founder of Behance and Oaks is a great leader.

“Modern revelation defines truth as a “knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come” (Doctrine and Covenants 93:24). That is a perfect definition for the plan of salvation and “The Family: A Proclamation to the World.”

This is such a powerhouse statement and it is worth reading in reverse; the Proclamation is part of the plan of salvation and the truth of how things are, were, and are to come. On the contrary, the world is wrong about a lot of things; they are, they were, and they will be in the future.

“We live in a time of greatly expanded and disseminated information. But not all of this information is true. We need to be cautious as we seek truth and choose sources for that search. We should not consider secular prominence or authority as qualified sources of truth. We should be cautious about relying on information or advice offered by entertainment stars, prominent athletes, or anonymous internet sources. Expertise in one field should not be taken as expertise on truth in other subjects.”

Amen. That goes for this blog too, don’t believe everything you read here. I try my best to get to the truth but if anything I say or write cannot be supported by doctrine or scripture then set it aside.

When we seek the truth about religion, we should use spiritual methods appropriate for that search: prayer, the witness of the Holy Ghost, and study of the scriptures and the words of modern prophets. I am always sad when I hear of one who reports a loss of religious faith because of secular teachings. Those who once had spiritual vision can suffer from self-inflicted spiritual blindness. As President Henry B. Eyring said, “Their problem does not lie in what they think they see; it lies in what they cannot yet see.”

This is really well said, especially the Eyring quote. All these years that I have been studying the gospel, I have also studied material critical of the church’s teachings and doctrine. I’m pretty sure that I’ve come across just about everything you can imagine. Time has gone by and I’ve spent less and less time in that arena because after a while it gets repetitive and I found answers that were sufficient.

I’ve never made hasty decisions on spiritual matters one way or the other. I’ve learned that things are always far more complex and nuanced than they first seem and you really need to do a lot of thinking, studying, and prayerful pondering. It also helps tremendously to know in advance that there is a God and that the course I am pursuing is agreeable to his will.

Man, I’ve just seen far too many people recklessly abandon the precious gifts of truth and light because of what they “cannot yet see.” Tragic all around.

“Those who do not learn “by study and also by faith” limit their understanding of truth to what they can verify by scientific means. That puts artificial limits on their pursuit of truth.”

He’s right, by not remaining open to revelation we place artificial limits on ourselves and that only makes it harder. Scientific means are great for answering what but are not that useful for understanding the greater why. Science is wonderful for revealing objective truths but meaning is not objective, it is entirely subjective. We need to understand what God understands about what things mean.

“Gender is eternal. Before we were born on this earth, we all lived as male or female spirits in the presence of God.”

It doesn’t surprise me that this doctrine is under attack. While we have taught these things very consistently, the world around us is in a continual state of invention, coming up with endless new categories, flags, and acronyms to describe any kind of idea that can be thought of. There’s no foundation, no doctrinal basis to any of it yet the fingers of scorn point from the pride of the world demanding changes while their own views shift and change by the day.

“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is properly known as a family-centered Church. But what is not well understood is that our family-centeredness is focused on more than mortal relationships. Eternal relationships are also fundamental to our theology.”

In our theology procreation between male and female beings fuels creation and God’s eternal posterity for worlds without end. We don’t just honor God by being good people, but by honoring his design of man cleaving unto his wife to become one flesh. First to bring his children to this earth so they can achieve their potential but also by forming a marriage that can continue his work in the next life and achieve the greatest happiness by following in the footsteps of our heavenly parents.

“We affirm the Lord’s teachings that ‘gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose’ and that ‘marriage between man and woman is essential to His eternal plan.'”

This is the great gift our heavenly Father and Mother have for us and why should we turn our backs on that for the ideas and language that foolish mortals have just barely come up with and are constantly changing.

“First, we honor individual agency. Most are aware of the restored Church’s great efforts to promote religious freedom in the United States and across the world. These efforts do not promote just our own interests but, according to His plan, seek to help all of God’s children enjoy freedom to choose.”

I used to think that the whole religious freedom thing was just the Church trying to protect its interests, as it should. However, I really think that if we truly value agency, we’ll make this a priority to protect everyone’s freedom, not just our own. I think that these efforts are genuine and so critically important because this is the same age-old battle.

“…mortal life is sacred to us. Our commitment to God’s plan requires us to oppose abortion and euthanasia.”

Such heartbreaking and difficult topics, but life is either sacred or it isn’t. If your basis is that life is sacred, then abortion and euthanasia aren’t the answers. I’m sure you can make some kind of super-rare anecdotal case for each of these but that is not reflective of the norm. Abortion has almost killed as many as Mao and has left Hitler and Stalin in the dust. As of this writing, 60,859,456 babies have been killed since 1973. Since 1980, 1,514,096,092 have been killed. (source)

A billion and a half people worldwide. 60 million Americans killed not in war, or by some evil dictator, but at the request of their own mothers. It’s really mind-blowing to consider the vast scope of deaths and how it is characterized as a good and necessary thing.

Reminds me of the words of the king of Assyria in Isaiah’s writings who boasted, “I have vastly reduced the inhabitants.” (Isaiah 10:13) Isaiah may have seen not only our modern wars but our abortions that far surpass the deaths of those wars. The ideology of the Assyrian archtyrant is alive and well in our day, no wonder Jesus commanded us to read Isaiah.

“…some are troubled by some of our Church’s positions on marriage and children. Our knowledge of God’s revealed plan of salvation requires us to oppose current social and legal pressures to retreat from traditional marriage and to make changes that confuse or alter gender or homogenize the differences between men and women. We know that the relationships, identities, and functions of men and women are essential to accomplish God’s great plan.”

There is quite a bit here you could dig into but I’m very grateful for how clear this is. This is not a cruel statement, it is a clear statement. Sure, many people will struggle with reconciling their feelings with the plan, but this is the case for all of us.

The gospel at almost every point requires us to do the opposite of what the “natural man” desires. When someone offends us, we don’t indulge our anger, we overcome it with love and forgiveness. When we are fasting and hungry, we don’t eat. When we desire to lust after someone we are not married to, we keep our passions within the bounds God has set.

This is why we came to earth, to wrestle with this stuff. We all struggle with something, many things, all throughout our lives and many of them are gut-wrenching, heart-breaking, and take us down sorrowful paths. This is all part of the experience though, we don’t give up, we don’t try to change the plan, we find a way through, we sacrifice our own desires and align them with God’s. The world doesn’t understand and what’s more, they mock and point a finger of scorn.

What they call “love” and “tolerance” isn’t what they think it is. It’s a tough thing though, but truth is going to get us through, not the ideologies and precepts of men.

“Finally, we are beloved children of a Heavenly Father, who has taught us that maleness and femaleness, marriage between a man and a woman, and the bearing and nurturing of children are all essential to His great plan of happiness. Our positions on these fundamentals frequently provoke opposition to the Church. We consider that inevitable. Opposition is part of the plan, and Satan’s most strenuous opposition is directed at whatever is most important to God’s plan. He seeks to destroy God’s work. His prime methods are to discredit the Savior and His divine authority, to erase the effects of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, to discourage repentance, to counterfeit revelation, and to contradict individual accountability. He also seeks to confuse gender, to distort marriage, and to discourage childbearing—especially by parents who will raise children in truth.”

Very well said on all points. I like what he said about the opposition, yeah, we expect it, not a surprise at all. The most strenuous opposition is directed at what is most important; this is such an important thing to understand and it is so clear to see it today. The “discourage repentance” part really hit me because I think this is exactly what most well-meaning people are doing today.

Repentance isn’t a state where you beat yourself up with guilt for being bad, no it is seeking a change of mind, a fresh view inspired by doctrine, principles, and revelation. That is how repentance works and you can’t get there if you simply accept where you are and refuse to change.

“For those who falter under that opposition, I offer these suggestions.

Remember the principle of repentance made possible by the power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. As Elder Neal A. Maxwell urged, don’t be among those ‘who would rather try to change the Church than to change themselves.’”

This was a call to repentance and a fairly direct one. Again, you need to see this as it is, a call to repentance isn’t a negative thing nor should we feel negative about it if we are being told that we are on the wrong side of things. It is a call to see things in a new way, a fresh way that is accompanied by the light of truth, not to suppress feelings and grumble along unhappily but to truly see with clearer vision.

“I solemnly testify that the things I have said are true…”

I agree. This was a very important talk and will be a great resource to refer to and hopefully be a turning point for a lot of people. This isn’t about winning an argument it is about what is true and how we bring honor to God, not in our own ways, but in the way our heavenly parents have revealed and the solid patterns that have persisted throughout the scriptures that lay before us.


  1. Particle Man

    “[I]f anything I say or write cannot be supported by doctrine or scripture then set it aside.”

    May I attempt to somewhat unpack this caveat one finds occasionally uttered? Not all doctrine has been, will be, or can be revealed in mortality. As such, not all doctrine is to be found in canonized scripture, the Standard Works.

    The Standard Works contain the doctrines that they contain. However, scripture is also that which is communicated by the power of the Holy Ghost (D&C 68:4), which can include doctrines not found in the canon.

    The brethren today seem to teach more according to the canon, which is not to imply that they do not teach by the Spirit. However, the early brethren seem to have taught according to the canon as well as by the Spirit more freely such that their teaching were sometimes more fluid between canonized and uncanonized scripture, and perhaps they did wander into speculation on occasion.

    Whether the teachings of the brethren then or now are doctrinal or not, regardless of whether their teachings can be found in the canon or not, is up to the individual to determine by the Spirit.

    Innumerable questions arise. But as we accept light, we can be given more. As we do not accept light, we may lose light we have received.

    • Yes, of course, all thoughtful and respectful comments are welcome here. I agree with you that there are things yet to be revealed, we even have an article of faith that says as much.

      I think it is important to clarify what we mean when we say doctrine. Personally, I have found Elder Bednar’s definitions to be useful; he explained: “A gospel doctrine is a truth – a truth of salvation revealed by a loving Heavenly Father. Gospel doctrines are eternal, do not change, and pertain to the eternal progression and exaltation of Heavenly Father’s sons and daughters. … Gospel doctrines answer the question of why?”

      Personally, I do not believe in the idea of a ‘canon’ were we instead speak of ‘standard’ works. Searching the scriptures, we find the servants of the Lord quoting scripture quite often. When there is revelation we don’t see new doctrines appearing that often, typically the revelation is for situation-specific moments like interpreting a dream, obtaining an object, constructing something, surviving in the wilderness, traveling to a particular place, exposing someone’s sins, etc.

      When we do see completely new ideas about the eternal progression of man, it seems that this occurs mostly at the initiation of a dispensation perhaps because apostasy wrested the doctrines or in the case of the latter-days, certain things were revealed only in this particular time. I think we will see more revealed in the Millennium.

      Between now and then though, the standard works operate as a check against false doctrine much like our constitution is supposed to be a check against tyranny.

      If a particular teaching is not found in the standard works then it must undergo much more scrutiny to see whether it is supported by prior revelations or has some kind of doctrinal foundation there.

      I cannot think off the top of my head of any specific teachings that are not found in scripture that are taught by the brethren, do you have any in mind?

      I agree about accepting light, but I think that this is one of those areas where we need to be particularly careful. I’ve known many who in seeking what they perceive to be light, let go of the iron rod and wander into strange roads.

      I’m thinking now of the teaching concerning the mouth of two or three witnesses. The people were more impressed with Alma when Amulek rose up confirming his testimony with his own.

      Personally, when I do get direction from the Spirit, it will often be (at least in part) in the language or ideas that I recognize from scripture and when those promptings align with the scriptures then I am confident in following them.

      Here is a possible example, I wrote a post about it:

      Nephi approaches Laban who is drunk and unconscious, the Spirit constrains him to kill Laban. Nephi initially objects knowing that it is against the commandments of God to murder.

      The Spirit then says these words: “Behold the Lord hath delivered him into thy hands.” Now this is purely a theory of mine but I think it has some weight to it. Something about this communication convinces Nephi and he kills Laban in a very specific manner. The Spirit said to slay him but it didn’t say how. Nephi seems convinced at the end that they need those scriptures to be able to keep the commandments of God, but the words of the Spirit were nearly identical to the words David spoke to Goliath: “This day will the Lord deliver thee into mine hand” (1 Samuel 17:46)

      Nephi clearly knew the scriptures, he was always referencing them and quoting the stories to his brothers. He would often turn to Moses to find strength in the wilderness.

      Personally I believe that the Spirit was using the words David spoke because Nephi would have known them and understood his situation to be a kind of David/Goliath situation. David also beheaded an unconscious foe with his own sword and since that was justified in the eyes of the Lord, Nephi drew the strength to do what he needed to and he killed Laban in the exact same manner as David killed Goliath.

      I bring up this particular case because I’ve often seen people criticize Nephi and accuse him of murder and speculate about other ways he could have obtained the plates without killing a guy. There are a number of reasons that I believe what he did was justified and they can all be backed up by scripture.

      Most “new” light that comes our way seems to be in the form of simply seeing differently what was already in front of us but revealed by the context of our particular situations rather than completely new doctrines.

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