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Mormonism and disability/Statements from Latter-day Saint leaders regarding disability
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Statements from Latter-day Saint leaders regarding disability
Summary: This page compiles answers to questions that have been raised regarding statements from past Church leaders on disability.
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- Question: Did Harold B. Lee state that a person’s economic status or disability were the result of less valiance in the premortal existence?
Question: Did Harold B. Lee state that a person’s economic status or disability were the result of less valiance in the premortal existence?
This is a doctrinal or theological topic about which there is no official Church doctrine of which FAIR is aware and/or about which we may learn more "line upon line; precept upon precept" (2 Nephi 28:30; Isaiah 28:10). Leaders and members may have expressed a variety of opinions or positions. Like all material in FAIR Answers, it reflects the best efforts of FAIR volunteers, not an official Church position.
Introduction to Question
In a series of radio lectures given from January 1 to June 24, 1945 and republished in 1973 under the title of Decisions for Successful Living, Elder Harold B. Lee stated the following about economic status, race, and disability in relation to valiance in the premortal battle against Satan. Hyperlinks to the cited scriptures are included for convenience:
Remember the days of old, consider the years of many generations: . . . When the Most High divided to the nations their inheritance, when he separated the sons of Adam, he set the bounds of the people according to the number of the children of Israel. For the Lord's portion is his people; Jacob is the lot of his inheritance." (Deut. 32:7–9.)
Here several truths are clearly suggested. In the first place, the extent of God's temporal creations was determined by the number of spirits to come into mortality; the earth was to be divided into nations according to the number of the children of Jacob, or Israel, before she became a nation and a chosen lineage was to come through Jacob's posterity. Logically then we also must conclude that the end of this earth will not come until all these spirits who were designated as worthy of mortal bodies shall have been born into this world. In the Apostle Paul's sermon to the Athenians, he declared also that God "hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation." (Acts 17:26.) It was no doubt the prospect of coming into mortal bodies and thus being "added upon" that caused the stars of morning, or the spirit children of God, as we are told in the scriptures, to sing together and all the sons of God to shout for joy. (Job 38:4–7.)
There is no truth more plainly taught in the Gospel than that our condition in the next world will depend upon the kind of lives we live here. "All that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation." (John 5:28-29.) Is it not just as reasonable to suppose that the conditions in which we now live have been determined by the kind of lives we lived in the pre-existent world of spirits? That the apostles understood this principle is indicated by their question to the Master when the man who was blind from his birth was healed of his blindness, "Master, who did sin, this man or his parents that he was born blind?" (John 9:2.) Now perhaps you will have a partial answer to some of your questions as to why, if God is a just Father, that some of his children are born of an enlightened race and in a time when the Gospel is upon the earth, while others are born of a heathen parentage in a benighted, backward country; and still others are born to parents who have the mark of a black skin with which the seed of Cain were cursed and whose descendants were to be denied the rights of the priesthood of God.
A Priceless Privilege
The privilege of obtaining a mortal body on this earth is seemingly so priceless that those in the spirit world, even though unfaithful or not valiant, were undoubtedly permitted to take mortal bodies although under penalty of racial or physical or nationalistic limitations. Between the extremes of the "noble and the great" spirits, whom God would make his rulers, and the disobedient and the rebellious, who were cast out with Satan, there were obviously many spirits with varying degrees of faithfulness. May we not assume from these teachings that the progress and development we made as spirits have brought privileges and blessings here according to our faithfulness in the spirit world? Now don't be too hasty in your conclusions as to what conditions in mortality constitute the greater privileges. That condition in life which gives the greatest experience and opportunity for development is the one to be most desired and any one so privileged is most favored of God. It has been said that "a smooth sea never made a skillful mariner, neither do uninterrupted prosperity and success qualify for usefulness and happiness. The storms of adversity, like those of the ocean, rouse the faculties and excite the invention, prudence, skill and fortitude of the voyager. The mariners of ancient times, in bracing their minds to outward calamaties, acquired a loftiness of purpose and a moral heroism worth a lifetime of softness and security."
All Are EqualAll are equal in that they are the spirit children of God, and also equal in their right to free agency, as well as in the fact that all are made innocent of previous wrongs committed as they enter this world through the atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Lord has told us that "Every spirit of man was innocent in the beginning; and God having redeemed man from the fall, men became again, in their infant state, innocent before God." (Doc. and Cov. 93:38.) Who knows but that many of those with seeming inequalities in this life, if they do everything possible with their limited opportunities, may not receive greater blessings than some of those rewarded by having been born to a noble lineage and to superior social and spiritual opportunities who fail to live up to their great privileges! The history of the Lord's dealings with his children is filled with incidents that indicate that many of those who are the "elect according to the covenant," or that are of the "chosen" of God to be born through the chosen lineage of the House of Israel or the Lord's "portion" in the pre-existent world, will fail of their callings because of their sins. The descendants of Jacob or Israel, through his twelve sons, have been scattered far and wide among the nations as a punishment because of their transgressions, but in this instance the punishment of Israel has been a blessing to the nations who have thereby received the rights belonging to Israel. It was through the lineage of Judah, one of the sons of Jacob, that the Savior was born. Most of the prophets of every dispensation since the days of Israel have been of the chosen lineage of Jacob through his twelve sons, and we are led to believe by the prophets of our own day that the vast majority of those who have received the Gospel are of the tribe of Ephraim. The Indians on the American continent are descendants of the tribes of Ephraim, Judah, and Manasseh, we are told by the Book of Mormon. (Omni 1:5–19; 1 Nephi 5:14–16.) Their dark skin was a curse put upon them because of their transgression, which in a day to come in their descendants will be lifted and they will become white and delightsome as they accept the Gospel and turn to the Lord.
The highlighted portion is the one most often cited by critics. There is no question that Harold B. Lee stated that premortal valiance affects our mortal racial, economic, and physical circumstances. The deeper questions being asked by those that have sent this quote or a portion of it into FAIR are about whether the Church affirms this same idea today, what support there may be for or against the idea, and so forth.
Joseph Fielding Smith made similar comments on this issue in his Doctrines of Salvation: "There is a reason why one man is born black and with other disadvantages, while another is born white with great advantages. The reason is that we once had an estate before we came here, and were obedient, more or less, to the laws that were given us there. Those who were faithful in all things there received greater blessings here, and those who were not faithful received less."
This article seeks to gather what we know and don't know about this topic from official and authoritative Church sources.
Responses to Question
Does the Church affirm this same idea today?
One does not hear Church leaders today speculating about how premortal valiance affects our mortal circumstances. Thus they certainly don't affirm it, but they haven't outright denied it either. Speculation about this topic was more common in Harold B. Lee's and Joseph Fielding Smith's time given the Church's then-commitment to the priesthood and temple restrictions placed on men and women of African descent.
The Church has specifically disavowed the idea "that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse, or that it reflects unrighteous actions in a premortal life".
What Support is There For or Against the Idea?
It's interesting to note that Harold B. Lee thought that his belief was a matter of reason. As he said: "Is it not just as reasonable to suppose that the conditions in which we now live have been determined by the kind of lives we lived in the pre-existent world of spirits?" Thus, Harold B. Lee's opinion on this was not a matter of revelation, but reason. The same can be said of Joseph Fielding Smith's position. There are no scriptures that explicitly comment on how our premortal valiance may affect our mortal circumstances. However, there are a couple that are strongly suggestive.
Harold B. Lee quotes one of them above: John 9:1–3. Jesus is recorded as passing by a man who was blind from birth and his disciples ask whether the man or his parents sinned that he was born blind. The verse has been used many times by Latter-day Saint leaders to provide support for the idea that there was a premortal existence of human spirits and that premortal valiance affects our mortal circumstances.
Harold B. Lee doesn't quote/cite verse 3 of that chapter:
- 3 Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.
Some might take this to mean that there are no people who are born into the circumstances they're born into because of actions in the premortal life. That's a valid interpretation. It certainly isn't the only possible one.
We learn in Doctrine & Covenants 76:79 that whether or not we are valiant in the testimony of Jesus in mortality affects whether or not we receive either Celestial or Terrestrial glory in the post-mortal life. Couldn't the same be true of pre-mortality affecting our mortal circumstances? Alma 13 and Jesus' own foreordination to be our Savior (Moses 4:1–2) show that premortal, disembodied spirits progressed to certain points that they were given certain assignments here in mortality (See also Abraham 3:15–16). Why couldn't spirits be less valiant and receive some sort of punishment? Those who support or are at least open to this position don't necessarily have to disagree with Jesus' words above. They might say that some people are born into the circumstances they're born into because of actions in a premortal life and others not. Thus, for those that would hold this position, it's at least possible that some people's unfortunate circumstances were the result of less premortal valiance and others' unfortunate circumstances not. Correlatively, someone else's more fortunate circumstances may or may not be an indication of their greater premortal valiance.
Ultimately, we don't know. It's not wise to get ahead of either the Church or the Lord on issues where we haven't had much explicit revelation nor is it wise to speculate about things that we simply don't know and can't know without further revelation from God (which is unlikely to come on such a peripheral issue).
We can trust that God is a perfect judge, that all people are of infinite, intrinsic worth and our spiritual brothers and sisters, and that as we are righteous here in our mortal lives, we can obtain a celestial reward in the life to come. Hopefully issues like this do not distract us from the much more important goal, and one supported by infinite scriptural references, of learning the law of love as the Savior taught and using it to become "one heart and one mind" with our neighbor so as to establish Zion and take on the loving nature of God. We can do that in part by recognizing that, just as the Savior taught us in John 9:3 cited above, no matter what someone's limitations in this life, they present an invaluable opportunity to us to learn something important about the meaning of love and all of love's operations.
- ↑ Harold B. Lee, Decisions for Successful Living (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1972), 164–67.
- ↑ Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation: Sermons and Writings of Joseph Fielding Smith, comp. Bruce R. McConkie, 3 vols. (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954), 1:61.
- ↑ "Race and the Priesthood," Gospel Topics Essays, accessed October 11, 2022, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/manual/gospel-topics-essays/race-and-the-priesthood?lang=eng.
- ↑ Matthew 22:34–40; John 14:15; Philippians 2:2; 1 Peter 3:15; 1 John 4:8; Moses 7:18.