A Deep Dive into the Plan of Salvation (Doctrine & Covenants 76)

Monday, July 5, 2021


Special thanks to Sarah for this transcript!

TFF 2021 D&C Episode 26 D&C 76 A Deep Dive Into The Plan Of Salvation

Channing: Hi! I’m Channing.

Elise: And I’m Elise.

Channing: And this is The Faithful Feminists podcast.

Elise: [00:00:12] But this is not just any Come Follow Me podcast. We do things a little differently here. We offer approachable feminist interpretations of the Come Follow Me manual for those who want to study and understand the scriptures in a framework of equality, social justice, and sisterhood. We are here to show you all the really good ways faith and feminism work together to illuminate and deepen the gospel experience. 

Channing: We saved you a seat on the soft chairs. So join us today for a conversation about Doctrine and Covenants section 76 for the dates July 5th through the 11th. We're so super glad you're here.

Elise: [00:01:02] Welcome back everyone. Now, this episode might sound deceiving because you might think to yourself, wow, this is only one section that we're covering, but alas, it has, like, 120 verses in it. So there is a ton of stuff to talk about. And not just that, the actual content of this section is basically the entire plan of salvation laid out from start to finish.

[00:01:26] So, it's plan of salvation time. It's afterlife time. And one of the approaches that I tried to take when I was coming to this section is: for me, there's a lot of comfort and importance in stories. I think that we need stories to make sense of the world, to try and find our place in it, to give us language and a framework for our experiences.

[00:01:48] And I really think that because we are human, we are story-telling beings. We share stories about who we are and who we think other people are and how we can make it through this all together. And I'm not the only one that thinks this. In fact, one of my most favorite authors and philosophers, Richard Kearney, in his book “On Stories,” he writes, “While food makes us live, stories are what make our lives worth living.”

[00:02:17] And with this little bit of context or framing for stories, I can really understand this plan of salvation vision to be a very, very powerful story. And from my removed perspective, not in Joseph Smith's time, but in 2021, the plan of salvation story I know is one that provides comfort and hope for many people and for many of life's existential questions. Where would we be without our stories? And this really is quite a story. There's lots of main characters and multiple settings and moral dilemmas, sorrow, joy, a powerful climax, betrayal, and, I don't know, would you say a relatively happy ending? 

Channing: [00:03:00] Yeah. Yeah. I would say that, yeah. 

Elise: [00:03:03] And a relatively happy ending. So not only do I think that this is a “good story,” in the literary sense of the word, but it's also a “good story” because it gives us a framework through which we can understand one possible interpretation of life after death. But I also know that as I was born and raised in the gospel waters, this rendition of the plan of salvation story, I know it by heart.

[00:03:27] I drew so many flowcharts of it growing up, we had poster presentations and reenactments of the plan of salvation. I've seen movies and like cutesy drawings of it that it almost starts to lose some of that imaginative spark of being a good story. So I want to try and put myself in the shoes of the early Saints and think about what it was like for them to encounter this story or this plan of salvation vision for the very first time.

Channing: [00:03:58] Revelations in Context says, “The view of the afterlife laid out in ‘The Vision’ contrasted starkly with the beliefs of most Christians at the time. A majority believed in a strict heaven-and-hell theology of the world to come: those obedient to the gospel of Jesus Christ would be saved, but the wicked would be consigned to eternal punishment. However, there were a growing number who felt this view was inconsistent with other biblical teachings about God's mercy, justice, and power to save.”

Elise: [00:04:31] So we can see here that for as much as we celebrate the plan of salvation story now, it wasn't received in the same type of celebratory excitement as today.

[00:04:42] In fact, lots of people thought that it almost went too far. Revelations in Context, continues to outline how many people were upset, confused, and dismayed by this vision, because it seemed too Universalist. That is to say, God would not eternally punish sinners, but that all would be saved in the kingdom.

[00:05:02] But not a lot of people liked this. In fact, some even said that this vision was of the devil. They ask things like: why would God save everyone? What's the point of doing good on Earth if everyone will ultimately be saved in heaven? And I know, Channing, that you have some thoughts that can help us bridge this narrative change that happens from Joseph Smith's time to our time. How does this theology change or even our approach or appreciation or lack of appreciation change as the plan of salvation continues to unfold over the years?

Channing: [00:05:38] Yes. And I'm so excited to share some of these thoughts and share some of the things that I've been learning about the development of theological concepts. A lot of what I'm going to share here actually comes from a book that I've been reading. It's called “Sexism and God-Talk: Toward a Feminist Theology” written by our resident queen Rosemary Radford Ruether, who is a very prominent, well studied, well decorated, feminist theologian. Literally life goals to meet her someday.

[00:06:12] So I'm going to share some of the concepts that she outlines in this book, because I feel like they're really, really relevant and important as we consider both the original context that this plan of salvation vision was received in and kind of track its development over the last 200 years to how we look at it and view it now.

[00:06:37] Something that Rosemary Radford Ruether points out in the very get-go from her book is that there is a little bit of a problem with viewing scripture as definitive and authoritative, mostly because scripture originally begins in its very earliest form as human experience. And she kind of outlines this process through which a personal revelatory experience becomes canonized or authoritative scripture. And so instead of viewing the plan of salvation and Doctrine and Covenants 76, and basically scriptures as a whole, as purely authoritative, I want to talk about maybe a different way that we can look at them. And this is something that we've talked about on the podcast before that the scriptures are not necessarily a substitute for God's word. And so what I mean by that is that what we consider to be the sturdy rocks of our theology and religious traditions, like the scriptures and the Book of Mormon, are actually made up of human experiences. When we read the scriptures, we're not coming to study and memorize empirical evidence, like one would multiplication tables or scientific nomenclature.

[00:07:56] We've talked about this, like I said before: scriptures are made of writings from one person's experience with their God at one time and in one place. And that contains all of the limitations already inherent in that. And this is not a bad thing, but that is also different to what we are told. We're told that in the beginning, there was the Word and the Word was God.

[00:08:20] And we have mistaken words for God to the point that we have mistaken scripture for God's word. We even say that the scriptures are the word of God, but again, the scriptures are entirely based on the human experience. One person's experience of the Divine at one place in time. The scriptures contain evidence of divinity, but they are not Divinity itself and Divinity is not comprised of them. We have done this too with prophets in our tradition, again, mistaking human experience wrapped in language as a literal translation of God. So, like I said before, it's a temptation to consider the scriptures as the authoritative and definitive word of God. But this lens doesn't necessarily hold up when we zoom out. When we consider a wide range of religions and theologies and track them through their birth and development, we begin to see a pattern emerge and LDS theology is no different. Rosemary Radford Ruether outlines the process of theological development, and it's especially relevant, like we said, as we take a deep dive into the foundational concept of LDS theology, the plan of salvation. This theological development begins with what she calls revelatory experience. Of this she writes, “every great religious idea begins in the revelatory experience.” She goes on to say that “these regulatory experiences begin with and in an individual.” In the LDS tradition, that figure is definitely Joseph Smith.

[00:09:52] And while these revelatory experiences are powerful and important to the individual which receives them, alone they are not enough. The next step of development is what she calls communal consciousness. This is the part of the process when these experiences are collectively received and claimed by a group or community. In the LDS tradition, this happened when the earliest Saints accepted at least one of the accounts of the first vision as true.

[00:10:22] Communal acceptance is a two-step process. The community must also engage in a translation of the individual's regulatory experiences. Translation is the art of transforming a word or concept or idea from one language to another. And Elise has written a fantastic piece about translation and the responsibility that one has in the act of translation.

[00:10:49] And so I'm really excited for her to share her thoughts on what this translation process looks like and what the responsibilities of the translators are. 

Elise: [00:11:00] You set that up so nicely. And just to like, I don't know, set your expectations up, all of my understanding or approach to translation is couched in an interpretation of a painting that's called Monkey Jesus. And if you haven't seen it, you should absolutely see it because it is a translation or really, really terrible restoration of a painting of Jesus that now looks like a monkey. So the role of the translator is really one of a mediator where as a translator, you're put in this almost impossible dilemma. You're put in an impossible situation where you have to both be faithful to the original piece or the original work or the original text, and also be the same amount of faithful to the potential reader or the future viewer or the future churchgoer. So you have to be faithful to both parties and that's almost impossible.

[00:12:01] And because that's impossible, there's an element of betrayal that comes in and this is called the “faithfulness betrayal dilemma.” And we've probably all heard the phrase lost in translation, which means that it is an impossible task for us to try and translate an original text or a personal experience into a communal experience without betraying someone or something along the way, and without remaining faithful to someone or something along the way as well. So it's this paradox: I am both faithful and I am betraying in every act of translation.

Channing: [00:12:37] So perfectly said, and I'm grateful that you shared that. In order to make this translation experience as accurate, but also as relatable and receivable as possible, Reuther argues that this process of translation happens through or across what she calls “past cultural symbols or traditions.”

[00:13:00] She says that when the old ways of being and believing become stale and lifeless revelatory experiences are the necessary catalyst for translation of the old, into the new. I believe that this is one possible reason why we see so much relationship across and between our books of LDS scripture. The Book of Mormon pulls largely from the Bible. The Doctrine and Covenants pulls largely from the Book of Mormon and the Bible. And the Bible was a significant cultural symbol at the time. Revelatory experiences themselves were actually a cultural tradition during the religious revival at the time. I will always be incredibly grateful to Susan Hinckley from At Last She Said It when she pointed out in our collaborative episode, that the language and type of deity we see in the Doctrine and Covenants is very much rooted in popular ideologies of the early 19th century. So when we're looking at the early developmental stages of the LDS church, we can see that the LDS church is not immune to cultural or worldly influences and that it is not happening independently of them.

[00:14:08] I know that this realization might be alarming to some because the church has presented its birth and history as unique and set apart, definitive and authoritative. It can be alarming to learn that a church that claimed to be the one and only true church is in fact the same as everybody else working with the same materials and the same limitations as its contemporaries and its predecessors.

[00:14:33] So what do we do when this information challenges our working understandings of the church? We have two options. We can allow these worldly influences to invalidate the original revelatory experience and invalidate the communal acceptance and process of translation. Or we can view these stages of development of LDS theology as normal, and additionally view ourselves as uniquely privileged to have them so well-documented because they have occurred relatively recently. The next stage- and I wouldn't even call it the next stage, I just think it's an important part of the translation process- is what Ruether calls the “creation of a historical community.” A historical community is made up of symbols mined from the past.

[00:15:20] These might include scriptural figures, language, parables, stories, symbols or patterns. In doing this, the community creates a narrative around the revelatory experience that relies on familiar symbols to increase its understanding and acceptance. Basically it provides a translation that is relatable and accessible.

[00:15:44] We see this happening literally as the Doctrine and Covenants unfolds. There are lots of meetings about what should and should not be included in the Book of Commandments and the scriptures themselves go through a process of revision. Derek Knox illustrated this process really well in the episode we did with Beyond the Block in May, where he pulled in the analogy of Star Wars, that's actually a really great metaphor for what happens in this narrative stage of theological.

[00:16:13] As the narrative is created, it is necessary to go back and fix loopholes and errors in the origin story so that it can continue to grow and retain its relevance. Big concepts like theologies and religions and nine episode intergalactic sagas are better understood when presented cohesively, but from here on out, things get a little bit trickier.

Elise: [00:16:39] Ruether writes, “At a certain point, a group consisting of teachers and leaders emerges that seeks to channel and control the narrative process. The group can do this by defining an authoritative body of writings that is then canonized as the correct interpretation of the original revelatory experience and distinguished from other writings, which are regarded either as heretical or of secondary authority. The winning group declares itself, the privileged line of true, orthodox interpretation. Thus a canon of scripture is established.”

Channing: [00:17:11] So essentially what Ruether is saying here is that at some point during this theological development, a centralized group appears and basically strong-arms the process and either with good intentions or bad, we're not really sure, maybe they even may be neutral, they attempt to control the narrative process and kind of centralize it into one cohesive narrative. And they accomplish this by collectively deciding on the one true interpretation and then pushing down or diminishing the authority of any other alternative interpretations. And so when I'm looking at the Doctrine and Covenants and specifically the development of LDS theology, I actually see a lot of correlations here. We are not the only church in the world that claims the First Vision to be the origin story of our religion. The Community of Christ does also. We also see this process of other writings being regarded as secondary, like when we talk about the Book of Mormon is our keystone document and the Bible is kind of just secondary and sometimes incorrect. We see that even in one of our Articles of Faith that says, “We believe in the Bible… as far as it is translated correctly.” So once we arrive at a canonized and authoritative text, this acts much like a security blanket, something that the community can return to again and again, to wrap itself in, even as they change and even in some ways outgrow the text and the theology. And even though this sounds a little bit heretical, this actually is not super uncommon. A good example of a time that we have collectively outgrown some portions of our text is when we come across the Hebrew ritual law in Leviticus. Even though it continues to appear in the Old Testament, which is still very much our scriptures, it is not practiced by Christians at large, Mormons included.

[00:19:24] This is just one example of how we might hopefully outgrow the text. It does happen. Ruether continues to say, “All theologies, regardless of their claims that the Bible or the Book of Mormon is totally the work of inspiration, in fact, never consider all parts of the text as equally authoritative.” In the church, we just love to harp on those cafeteria Mormons. But I think it's a little ironic and a little bit funny that Mormons are essentially cafeteria Christians. This growth is not an indicator of failure or untruth, but rather a maturation of faith as it responds to lived experience. However much we'd like to rely on that security blanket to wrap us up in the comfort of knowing, the truth is that we are always growing and facing real life, real challenges, real changes and developments, both within our individual experience and within the community.

[00:20:21] These changes and shifts are present and pressing and our theologies and traditions are, whether we realize it or not, whether we want it to or not, are always shifting and changing with us. 

Elise: [00:20:35] And I really think that the best theologies and traditions make these changes willingly. In fact, the willingness to respond to the lived experience of the individuals within the community is a primary determining factor of the health and longevity of a theology and its traditions.

[00:20:51] Ruether writes, “A religious tradition remains vital so long as its revelatory pattern can be reproduced generation after generation and continues to speak to individuals in the community and provide for them a redemptive meaning of individual and collective experience.” Or in other words, the religious tradition remains relevant and life-giving only if it continues the process of translation in every generation. This then completes the process of theological development. And from here we await more translations or additional revelatory experiences to begin the cycle again.

Channing: [00:21:32] So as we consider the plan of salvation to be a primary revelatory experience that really has shaped and influenced our theology, I also wanted to ask the question and I'd love to hear your thoughts on this too, Elise: what might be some more modern revelatory experiences? Are we seeing any revelatory experiences happening today? 

Elise: [00:21:58] This is a good question. And I don't want it to get confused with like revelation as something that is new, because I think for people on the margins, what they're calling these changes or revelations that they're calling the church to make are not new things.

[00:22:16] Rather, they're reminding us and knocking at the church door saying, “No, we haven't just outgrown the text. The text was never inclusive or built for us to begin with.” And so I think that there's this demand for sharing individual and even communal experiences from the margins.

Channing: [00:22:37] I think you're spot on and to name just a few of those communities who are pressing for not necessarily new change, but an acceptance of a change that has always meant to be made. I think feminism is included in that. I think LGBTQ issues are included in that and I've fallen in love with Blair Ostler’s new book “Queer Mormon Theology: an Introduction.” I feel like she does such a good job of illustrating where even from its beginning, our theology has had the potential to include LGBTQ+ persons, and hasn't. And where we still have the opportunity to expand our theology, to make space for the people who should have already been included from the start. And we also see these same issues come up when we're talking about race and colonialism as well. And so, like you said, Elise, these don't fall within the category of a novel revelatory experience or new, because none of these communities, none of these people, none of these identities are new or novel to us, but they may be received as revelation to a dominant culture that has not listened or accepted us in those identities. 

Elise: [00:23:58] So in light of all of this, in light of this theological development, and now everyone understands how we get from personal experience to something that is canonized as scripture, how might a feminist reader approach Doctrine and Covenants section 76? Well, I think first we understand that this fundamental theological concept of the plan of salvation has its own process of birth and integration. We understand the plan of salvation to be its own kind of revelatory experience for Joseph Smith.

[00:24:29] We can then understand that it has subsequently been through the process of theological development, where it might have been claimed and narrated by a community then potentially retroactively revised by a more centralized or dominant group that sought to control any type of offshoots or deviations and collect it into a cohesive and authoritative whole.

[00:24:53] From there, we know the narrative continually shifts and changes with the collective and individual lived experience. So this understanding of how this central piece of our theology developed ends up illuminating new possibilities surrounding the plan of salvation, including things like: this may be one of many narratives of a premortal earthly and afterlife story.

[00:25:20] We may encounter other slightly different or contrasting recorded narratives, maybe even from the same or contemporary sources in the future. This narrative is also limited by the social location and historical context of the individual experiencing the revelation and is therefore incomplete or maybe even partially incorrect. Portions of the original narrative may have been lost, deauthorized or rewritten entirely as the central dominant group made revisions. I think any of these things are possible and they're particularly possible because we're talking about an afterlife that we do not know, even with the best, most loving and imaginative story or vision. I think there's still always that kind of existential crisis that we don't know what comes after.

Channing: [00:26:14] Yeah. It's that factor or that element of the unknown. Like, the truth at the heart of the matter is we don't actually really know. Like, faith is the belief in something that we hope is true. Right. And I like what you said there, that any of these are possible, there really are infinite possibilities, especially when we're talking about the afterlife, just like you said.

[00:26:38] And especially when we understand that these possibilities are not even inclusive of other understandings of our premortal earthly and afterlife from other religious worldviews entirely. Seeing all of this I personally stand all amazed at the audacity with which some church members claim with such certainty that this is the way it was, is, and will be.

[00:27:06] So to circle back again to that question of how might a feminist reader approach the plan of salvation in Doctrine and Covenants section 76, we also understand the responsibility of a feminist reader. That responsibility is to embrace the principle of a loving liberation that is inherent in scripture. And if you follow us on Instagram, you'll know that we just posted a pretty, I mean, I don't want to, like, toot my own horn, but it was pretty fantastic. A pretty fantastic Instagram post talking about what the responsibility of a feminist reader is. And ultimately the responsibility of a feminist reader is always to return to the concepts of love and liberation. And so this mantle of feminist interpretation requires us to hold the text accountable to its intended purpose of liberation.

[00:28:06] So when we arrive to a canonized text, like the Doctrine and Covenants, that claims to contain the “firm yet loving voice of the Lord,” we are required to critique it and point out when it does not live up to those expectations. And, everyone take a deep breath here, unfortunately, the plan of salvation as written in Doctrine and Covenants section 76, does not withstand the lens of liberation.

[00:28:33] This is where things kind of start to get uncomfortable because the plan of salvation is such an integral and foundational part of our theology. It's our golden answer to life's big questions. So much in our theology depends on this plan of happiness. But when we take a closer look at it, we discover some limitations and problematic elements.

[00:28:55] And before I go into what those are, I want to just stress and reinforce that this, that the critique that follows this is coming so strongly for me from a place of love. Like I hold a deep reverence for this creation story that we have in our theology. And I don't pretend that I am able to offer another alternative that is as creative or imaginative.

[00:29:26] But instead I am trying really hard to lean into my responsibility as a feminist reader to hold the text accountable when it does not uphold love and liberation. And so some people might feel that this critique is too strong or inaccurate, but I hope that that doesn't diminish the fact that this is being delivered with love and a hope for a future that really can be truly inclusive.

[00:29:57] So with all that being said, I want to share what's on my heart about the plan of salvation. The first problem that I come up against when talking about the plan of salvation is that it's built on a system of assumptions that align with socially accepted norms. The first assumption that the plan of salvation makes is that humankind is a literal progeny of a cis-gender yet asexually productive male diety. We find evidence of this in section 76, verses 23 through 24, which reads “for we saw Him [meaning Christ], even on the right hand of God. And we heard the voice bearing record that he is the Only Begotten of the Father, that by Him and through Him and of Him, the worlds are and were created and the inhabitants thereof are begotten sons and daughters.” So this certainly makes for some tricky theological loopholes. If God the Father or Jesus, or some combination of the two creates and births children, him/theirself, are they cis? Are they cis-gender? Unless, of course we do make allowances for a Heavenly Mother.

[00:31:07] In that case, the central God is a cis-gender heterosexual male in sexual relationship with a supportive yet peripheral female deity whose primary function and purpose is the channel through which the male God acquires His (with a capital H) children and nothing more. In truth, Heavenly Mother is also a translated element of our theology, with ancient Genesis symbols being accepted into the collective early Saints historical community and narrative. LDS members have no more unique claim to Heavenly Mother than Jews, Catholics or mainstream Christians. Our modern and popular understanding of Heavenly Mother is a translation, and a limited one at that, of a symbol that is found at the intersections of faith. So we're two verses into the plan of salvation and already we have encountered cis heteronormativity, assigned and compartmentalized gender roles and the erasure and objectification of women.

[00:32:07] The second problematic element of the plan of salvation we encounter is hierarchy. We see this in a few places, so I will go in order of significance. First, we encounter ethnocentrism. Cambridge Dictionary defines ethnocentrism as, “the belief that the people, customs and traditions of your own race, country-” and I would include religion here- “are better than those of others.” We see this ethnocentrism show up in two places. First, in the spheres of spirit paradise and spirit prison, which is mostly alluded to in verse 73, but never explicitly mentioned. And second, in the three kingdoms of the eternities. So for these three kingdoms, we have first the Celestial, and this is the highest kingdom that is likened unto the brightness of the sun, and this is where all the good boys and girls go. The text describes these people's good acts as: receiving a testimony of Jesus Christ, being baptized, having received the ordination of the Holy Ghost, those who have overcome with faith, who are members of the LDS church, priests and kings, and all those who have the priesthood. And their reward is living in the presence of God.

[00:33:20] Then there is the Terrestrial kingdom, which is described in verse 71 as “they who are of the Terrestrial, whose glory differs from that of the church of the Firstborn, who have received the fullness of the Father, even as that of the moon differs from the sun in the firmament.” So we understand the Terrestrial kingdom to be lesser than the Celestial and therefore the people in them to be lesser also.

[00:33:44] The text describes the residents of the Terrestrial kingdom as those who died without law or the gospel, those who were in spirit prison, those who received not the testimony of Jesus in the flesh, but afterwards received it, those who are not valiant in their testimony and those who are honorable, but were deceived, those who received God's glory through Christ, but did not accept God Himself. And finally, we have the Telestial kingdom, which is described in verse 81 as “which glory is that of the lesser, even as the glory of the stars differs from the glory of the moon.” These inhabitants did not receive the gospel or covenants or a testimony of Jesus Christ, and even though they may deny not the Holy Ghost, they are “thrust down to hell” in verse 84, which is funny to me because I thought Mormons don't believe in hell. Anywho, these people are also liars, sorcerers, adulterers, whoremongers and whosoever loves and makes a lie. The inhabitants of this Telestial kingdom are as innumerable as the stars.

[00:34:50] And so here we have these three eternal kingdoms that are ranked by the level of light, the level of righteousness and the level of connection and access to God. We have discussed before on the podcast, the sexism contained in the metaphor of light with greater light being aligned with masculinized concepts of enlightenment, power, clarity, logic, and thought, and lesser light and darkness being tied to confusion, wildness, disorganization, dysfunction and the unknown, all concepts that have been applied to women to justify their oppression.

[00:35:26] Secondly that concept of ethnocentrism or the belief that the people, customs and traditions of your own race, country or religion are better than those of others shows itself in the way righteousness is measured in the framework of the plan of salvation. Acceptance, or disqualification from the Celestial kingdom relies almost entirely on the acceptance of a certain type of God, the acceptance of a certain kind of Jesus, the acquisition of a certain kind of testimony, living of a certain kind of life and obtaining certain and specific ordinances that are secretly sacred to a certain and specific religion. By these certain and specific standards, Mother Teresa does not make it into the Celestial kingdom. Neither does the Buddha, the Dalai Lama, and most importantly, none of the millions of good average people who have ever lived and who have never been exposed to LDS theology.

[00:36:25] The text is explicit in verse 74 in saying that even if they are exposed to these teachings in the afterlife, they will still go to the Terrestrial kingdom. This exclusivity of the Celestial kingdom relies on the ethnocentric hierarchy of the plan of salvation. Next, the idea that God's presence can be piecemealed out to us according to our location in the universe is an absolutely foreign concept that does not mesh with the accepted LDS understanding of unconditional divine love. Another meaning of unconditional is unreserved. A God of unconditional love by definition cannot reserve their love. Not ever. That love is already ever present in our lives.

[00:37:12] It is in constant flow and the invitation to step into it is unceasing and demonstrated explicitly throughout scripture. If God's love is infinite, bigger and greater and grander than our human understanding, then it makes sense that it surpasses all bounds and limitations our human minds can place on it, including those inherent in the plan of salvation. A feminist understanding of hierarchy is that any elevation of one person over another is not the cause, but the effect of a system of domination.

[00:37:45] We come across language of domination in section 76, where in verse 95, it says that God makes the inhabitants of the Celestial kingdom equal in power and might, and in dominion. Dominion and domination means the same thing, and the two words are formed from the same Latin word dominus, which means lord or master.

[00:38:09] Lord or master implies that there is someone or something to be over, whatever benevolent twist we try to place on the meaning, it is still domination. Rosemary Radford Ruether writes, “In God's kingdom the corrupting principles of domination and subjugation will be overcome. People will no longer model social or religious relationships, or even relationships to God, after the sort of power that reduces others to servility. Jesus’ image of God and Christ as servant transforms all relations, including relations to God. All power and domination relations in society are overcome by overcoming the root metaphor of relationship to God modeled on king-servant relations.” What this means to me is that it is impossible to create and establish the kind of equal, balanced and mutually beneficial relationship with others that Christ intended for us by merely overlaying a limited human model of relationship onto the Divine.

[00:39:13] In no uncertain terms, I am saying that the plan of salvation as contained in the Doctrine and Covenants section 76 is limited in imagination and in purpose. And since it is founded on stereotypical assumptions of God and an ethnocentric hierarchy with implied elements of domination, it cannot serve as a sufficient, let alone globally authoritative narrative of pre-, present- and post- mortality.

[00:39:40] The plan of salvation is a contradictory anomaly in a globally applied theology, which honors agency and the unconditional love of God, as deeply as our LDS theology does. And bringing it full circle all the way up to our modern understanding of the plan of salvation, another compelling understanding of it comes as we acknowledge that it has been through all the stages of Ruether's outlined process of theological development.

[00:40:08] This includes continued and future translations of the plan of salvation to reinforce its relevance for the current generation. Something unique about the LDS church is its emphasis on continued prophetic revelation. This part of our theology is something to celebrate because it provides a clear and authoritative channel for the process of translation to continue through the growth of its community.

[00:40:33] But it is impossible to embrace the concept of continuing prophetic revelation when it's translations of concepts and symbols do not take into the account the lived experience of individuals within its communities. The plan of salvation has already undergone a translation with “The Family: a Proclamation to the World” in the 1990s. I use the word translate loosely and almost sarcastically here, because again, the process of translation like Elise outlined, implies a respect and care for both the original and the translation final. “The Family: a Proclamation to the World” co-ops elements of the already faulty plan of salvation rhetoric and reimagines them further into a box rather than translate them outside of it with love, expansion and acceptance. The resulting translation is now one that upholds sexism and homophobia. So in truth, we have not only kept the original, faint and peeling imagining of the plan of salvation that does not withstand the test of time.

[00:41:41] Maybe it's done with a certain and specific kind of misguided love, but it is still ugly as sin. God is always more than we expect God to be. God is always expansive. If a translation of one human experience of a certain type of life with God proves to be insufficient, like the plan of salvation is, this means that either a novel revelatory experience of a life in and of love must be created anew or it means that we must return again to our contemplative and humble roots found in the radical example of a gospel of Jesus Christ, that is, a gospel of love as liberation. And so I know that that's a lot to take in, and I know that that was a really heavy critique of one of the parts of our theology that we hold really sacred, but we're not done here and this is not the end.

Elise: [00:42:37] I really appreciate you taking the time to break down, kind of scene by scene, some of the really difficult and murky and tricky parts about the story of the plan of salvation. And as I was listening to you and just reflecting on my own experience rereading this section, I have a couple of things that are coming up for me.

[00:42:56] And one is this idea about how with such a strong afterlife presence in our theology, it starts to kind of take us on a path that sounds a lot like: earth-life isn't really about this life here and now, but rather it's about living a particular life so that we can earn a specific reward, glory or gift in heaven.

[00:43:23] And I just want to say: can we understand how this is different from living on Earth, here and now, focused on the present? Do we understand how, if I'm only ever looking forward to the story of heaven, that I might miss the divinity and opportunity to grow in my current earthly life right now? If I'm only ever oriented toward life after death, I can really easily skip over the life part because I'm so eager to get to the after part.

[00:43:55] And we've talked about this idea in previous episodes, we talk about apocalypticism, which is this kind of doomsday mentality where we only ever are thinking about what's at the end, like what our fate is and not about the earth life. And we're not really alone in this critique. In fact, as I was preparing for this episode, I was looking for some type of feminist heaven or like feminist afterlife sketch or commentary, and I couldn't really find anything. And I realized that yes, this search in preparation for the episode was not exhaustive and it was quite narrow to search feminist heaven or feminist afterlife. But one thing I did notice was this recurring theme of feminist theology rooted really deeply in the body, in the earth and in our present current day life.

[00:44:46] And this really is quite different than many of the general teachings of Christianity, specifically that Eve sinned and she basically, like, cursed us to come to Earth, that our bodies are really what separates us from God, that earth life is a time of carnality and temptation and sin. And that it's only by and through the death of Jesus that we are saved, and only after we die, are we ready for divinity. Rosemary Radford Ruether talks about or rather asks us rhetorically: is it really possible for us to hope for an eternal life without despising or pushing aside the body? Does feminist theology need to actually reject this strict focus on afterlife and instead focus our attention in cultivating these earthly life processes that are about renewal and regeneration and rebirth?

[00:45:45] So from these things, can you hear this kind of, like, constant redirecting away from the present and only ever toward a future that we can't see coming, this unknown future or unknown afterlife? But this is the hangup for me, or this is one of the really tricky parts for me that we even talked about before the episode.

[00:46:02] I know that thinking about an afterlife and having an important story that gives me hope for life after death, I know that that's a really healing and important piece of many people's spirituality. And I don't want to take that away or deny, especially for those who have experienced great loss on this earthly life and who hope for something more in an afterlife?

Channing: [00:46:31] I think here I am reminded of, I don't know exactly where it is, but there are sections in the Doctrine and Covenants that specifically relate to children being lost before they're born. And I know that for mothers who have miscarried or for mothers of young children that have died, those have been a huge balm of comfort and it has been such an important part of their understanding of what's happened in their life. And I think that you point out how important it is to still retain those messages of hope, because they are an important part. And before we even hopped on here to record, I remember you saying, like, maybe a part of like a feminist afterlife isn't necessarily just about the life that we're experiencing here on earth, because part of women's experiences here on earth is loss. And women need a way to frame that and understand that and fill the gap or not even fill the gap, but reach across that divide between what they've experienced and the loss that they've experienced and the unknown.

[00:47:53] So I'm really grateful that you illustrated that here, because I do think that that's a really key and tender point when we're talking about understandings of the afterlife. 

Elise: [00:48:05] And so that’s just kind of where I find myself. Like I always find myself somewhere in between. I want to remain present and work for love, justice, mercy, and liberation here and now in my present life. I want to be able to experience this world as divine or work for a world where I can see divinity in myself and others, always already around me.

[00:48:28] And yet I find a lot of comfort in thinking about a future that looks loving, even if I don't have the exact blueprint for what that's going to look like. So I just find myself in this space, maybe where my present life is informed by a hopefulness of a future that I dream of, right, this type of utopia that I dream of, but that dream for a future turns back around and motivates or inspires me, or calls me to act here and now to bring about the future that I want today.

Channing: [00:49:01] Something that Elise and I kept returning to in a conversation that we had before pressing record is how incredibly grateful we are for the concept of a plan of salvation, for a creation story within our theology. For a way to frame our life, for a way to frame what happened for us before we came here and where we're going after, because those are beautiful and necessary elements of our theological understanding. And it's from this honor and reverence of this origin or creation story of the plan of salvation that we move into a critique of it because it's only through a critique of a system that is limited or an understanding that is not inclusive of all of the people that it could be, it's only through a critique of that, that we can move into a space that allows us to reimagine or translate or create something new that is truly expansive and welcoming. And so it's through this process of gratitude, of critique and reimagination that we can arrive to a utopian understanding of the afterlife. And we've talked about this on the podcast before. It's not just like a wishy-washy dream of something that we hope can happen. Dreaming and creating is an important part of what it means to work toward a world and work toward an afterlife that is worth being a part of.

[00:50:46] And so we want to kind of explore what a reimagination of the plan of salvation might look like.

Elise: [00:50:57] Yes, here's my shot at it. And this is open for interpretation, it's open-ended, it is a fantastic jumping off point for those of you who want to try your own hand at dreaming big, dreaming better about the plan of salvation. And mostly this focuses on some of the issues with the hierarchy that we find in the three degrees of glory. So I wanted to imagine the afterlife as like a big house that we all share. Everyone shares this house. And instead of these degrees of glory being separated by, I don't know, a specific checklist of things that you did or didn't do or behaviors you did or didn't do, instead, it's a really large house where we all can be. And each of the different degrees of glory is really just a different room in the house. And all of the rooms has a door that's always left open, which means that people who want to move between rooms and who are ready to leave or move between rooms, always have the opportunity to do so.

[00:52:06] And perhaps in each room they offer us something new to learn or something to work out or different ways that we can grow and continue to progress and change. Maybe the moon room asks us to look beneath the surface of all of the pieces of our life that we wish could stay in the shadows, escaping the illumination of the moon. Maybe the moon room calls us to tap into our wildness and all of the aspects of ourselves that are untamed. Maybe the star room is the first room that we get to arrive to after passing through the dark night of death and judgment, maybe the star room reminds us that healing is possible and that hope is on the horizon.

[00:52:49] And maybe in the sun room, we can experience joy and illumination, but it can also challenge us to stay present without getting burned. Now, these are just a few renditions of what these rooms might look like. But I really wanted to try to dream something different while still working within the framework of the plan of salvation.

Channing: [00:53:11] I think you did a really good job. And I also like this metaphor because it retained some of the elements that are really sacred and central to our religion, like family being all together in a home. Accessibility, love and learning and eternal and continual growth, like I love that this metaphor fits them all in.

[00:53:34] And I also love the caveat that you put at the beginning: this is one way, not The Way to interpret the plan of salvation. And I think inherent in that are limitless possibilities of what things could be. And ultimately, this is something that Elise points out really well: we don't really know what comes in the afterlife, but a God who is expansive and a God who might potentially offer us limitless possibilities of what an afterlife can look like. I think that there are a lot of threads of hope to hold on to, and that imaginative creations of the afterlife are reaching for those threads, a hope to hold on to, that the Divine cares about us and continually will make a space for us here, now and later too.

Elise: [00:54:40] Friends. Thanks so much for joining us for a longer episode today, about a very long chapter in the Doctrine and Covenants about a really important piece of our theology. We're really, really glad that you were able to join us on this conversation about theological development, critique of the plan of salvation and also new imaginings of what a more expansive, dreamy plan of salvation might look like.

Channing: [00:55:03] We love you so much, and we can't wait to talk with you more this week. We'll see you soon. Bye.

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