Gospel Doctrine Lesson 10: Birthright Blessings; Marriage in the Covenant
It is not the contingencies that human beings rely on to rank and rate one another that matter in the eternal scheme of things, but faith and loyalty to God
by John Gustav-Wrathall
This lesson has a worthy purpose: encouraging individuals to live “worthy of their birthright blessings and of eternal marriage.” I understand all efforts to be worthy as fundamentally an expression of gratitude. We desire to live in a certain way, not because we’re trying to earn blessings which, as King Benjamin taught, we can never earn, but to live our lives in a way that is consistent with our divine potential and in honor of the sacrifice it took to make eternal life – the kind of life God lives – possible for us.
The lesson manual states, “Be sensitive to the feelings of class members who have not been married in the temple or whose parents have not been married in the temple.” Any discussion about marriage (whether it be eternal marriage or any other kind) needs to begin with the acknowledgment that for very, very many people marriage is simply not an option. And the Gospel makes it exceedingly clear that all people, regardless of whatever marital status they attain or do not attain in this life, are children of God and are inherently worthy of all the blessings that God has to offer. All are worthy of all the highest and best blessings.
A fundamental principle of the restored Gospel is that God does not deny us blessings based on the contingencies of life. For instance, Mormons have it as an article of faith that children who die without baptism or individuals who die without receiving the Gospel are not condemned to hell. So we should never, in any discussion of marriage, imply that those who are unable to attain a certain marital ideal are somehow less worthy than others or will be less blessed by God in this life or the next. Most individuals in our Church yearn for marriage, and when they are not able to achieve it they experience tremendous disappointment. Any reasonable understanding of the Gospel would emphatically reject the notion that God would punish such individuals with a lesser reward in the hereafter.
Marriage plays such an important role in this life — apart from whatever role it might play in the life hereafter — because of the context family provides for teaching and practicing gospel principles. Marriage in the covenant, as described in this lesson in relation to the marriages of Isaac and Jacob, was important not because one race or lineage was inherently better than others, but because family was the primary vehicle through which loyalty to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob would be inculcated. In these chapters of Genesis, we don’t see much evidence of extra-familial structures such as the Mosaic Law and priesthood organization or such as the Church established by Christ. The primary, perhaps only, vehicle of establishing the Gospel was lineage and family, thus making it particularly important within this context.
At key moments in the story of the Abrahamic lineage, God expressed readiness to reject members of the Abrahamic lineage because of their wickedness and disobedience, such as when God spoke to Moses and said, “Let me alone, that my wrath may wax hot against them, and that I may consume them: and I will make of thee a great nation” (Exodus 32:10), or when Christ said, “And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham” (Matthew 3:9).
The lesson acknowledges this important principle by pointing out even though custom favored elder brothers as primary heirs in ancient lineages, younger brothers, such as Isaac, Jacob, Joseph and Ephraim, were chosen by the Lord over their elder brothers because of their righteousness and faith.
Finally, the lesson materials include a poignant acknowledgment of the importance of personal revelation as we wrestle to come to terms with the particular contingencies we face. As an example the lesson cites the story (told in Genesis 25:22-23) of Rebekah feeling two twins struggling against each other in her womb. Rebekah was extremely troubled by this, and asked the Lord in prayer, “Why am I thus?” and in response received personal revelation.
Most LGBT Mormons have at one time or another cried out to God, “Why am I thus?” As children of God we are entitled to turn to God and to seek and then follow guidance that we receive from him when we turn to him in faith. It is not the superficial contingencies that human beings often rely on to rank and rate one another that matter in the eternal scheme of things. Rather, the kind of faithfulness and loyalty that leads us to seek God’s will for our lives and then to follow and apply that will in the unique situations we all face is what makes us worthy and qualifies us for all the blessings God has to offer us.