Howdy, everyone. It’s been a blisteringly busy week at AMG, with a ba-jillion comments on last week’s column about polygamy. Plus, The Book of Mormon Girl just became available in print on Amazon.com. Thank you to everyone who has written to tell me what the book means to you. I’ll be speaking in NYC this weekend at Columbia University and Trinity Wall Street. (More details here.) If you’re in town, please drop by and say hi. Now—this week’s query!
Our daughter has joined the Mormon Church and married a wonderful young man. Her dad and I are not Mormon and are very happy with our own faith. What will our grandchildren be told about Heaven and us? What will they think about us? Of course, if they ask me, I believe we will all be together.
Thank you for your insights,
A Future Non-Mormon Grandmother
Thanks so much for writing. Have you heard the joke about Mormons and heaven? St. Peter is leading a newcomers’ tour of heaven and takes his group down a hallway of rooms with open doors. “There are the Lutherans,” he says, gesturing towards one room on his left. “And there are the Episcopalians,” he says, pointing right. “The Buddhists.” “The Jews.” Finally, the group reaches the end of the hallway to one room with a closed door. “Who’s in there?” asks one of the newcomers in the tour group. “Shhh!” says St. Peter. “It’s the Mormons. We don’t want to disturb them. They think they’re up here by themselves!”
All kidding aside, your question is very important to me because my children have grandparents who are not Mormon. Truly excellent human beings, my parents-in-law are. I love them to pieces.
And your question is important to me because I grew up with a non-Mormon grandfather. Also an excellent human being, and also loved to pieces.
Being a very devout and studious kid, it used to weigh on me that if my grandfather didn’t join the Church, he might not go to heaven with the rest of the family. I don’t think that anyone at Church ever suggested so much to me, but being the serious type, this is a worry I came to all by myself.
One morning when I was 8 or 9 years old, I went into my grandfather’s office and sat down in front of the desk where he used to sit and watch the stock market ticker on television all day.
“Grandpa,” I said, haltingly, then started to do what Mormons call “bearing our testimonies”–telling him that I knew the Church was true and that Joseph Smith was a prophet—before I broke into tears.
My grandfather took pity on me. He leaned across the desk, took my hand, and told me, “Honey, don’t you worry. Your mother will have it all worked out after I’m dead.”
He was referring to the Mormon practice of baptism for the dead, of course. That’s not an answer that would be comfortable to everyone—I’m especially sensitive to my Jewish in-laws’ feelings on this subject, and my husband and I agree that there will be no baptizing of his ancestors.
But the real genius of his answer was its mercy: my grandfather answered in a way that relieved his grandchild of the worry, the burden of feeling that she might not be with her whole family in the eternities.
Mormon doctrine teaches that God loves all people equally and that there is no hell. There are various levels of heaven, and it is orthodox doctrine that only people who are baptized into the Church and married in a Mormon temple will make it into the highest levels of heaven as eternal families.
But especially in the sacred domain of Primary, where LDS children are taught, messages of love and family togetherness trump everything else.
If you’d like to read the Primary curriculum, you can review the manuals yourself here—they’re all on-line. And in poring over some sample lessons on eternal families to answer your question, I came across the following explicit instruction to teachers:
“Be sensitive to children who have parents or siblings who are not members of the Church.”
Even if they have caring teachers who follow Church instructions to be generous and sensitive on issues of exclusion, there is no way to guarantee that your grandchildren will not worry about you, as I did about my own grandfather.
But that’s where you will come in, and with your grandmotherly authority—which is just about the most powerful kind of authority there is—you will take them in your arms and say, “Don’t worry, honey. I know we will all be together someday.” And they will listen. Because no matter what religion they belong to they are your grandchildren. Even if just by your example, you have a major role to play in shaping what they think and believe. Don’t ever let that go.