By Eric Johnson
Posted October 7, 2021
Note: The following was originally printed in the September/October 2021 edition of the Mormonism Researched, a bimonthly periodical of MRM that is free upon request. To request a free subscription to Mormonism Researched, please visit here.
For many years, the bait and switch scam—advertising a product at an incredible bargain price but not having the ability to deliver before trying to sell the customer a different item—has played out in retail stores all over the world.
For instance, an auto dealership might advertise a brand-new truck for $12,000 to get eager customers through the door. “Sorry, we just ran out,” the salesman tells a potential buyer before pointing to the fine print in the ad (“Quantities are limited”). “But let me show you some other vehicles that are even better than what you came in for,” he adds.
We’ve all been there and done that. Whatever “deals” are extended never compare to the original offer.
In the July 2021 Liahona church magazine, LDS Apostle Ulisses Soares offered his own bait and switch in an article titled “Heavenly Father Wants Us Back.” The subhead boldly proclaims, “You are probably further along the path back to your Heavenly Father than you realize” (9).
I imagine many readers will eagerly read this article to learn more about Soares’s promise, yet many (if not most) Latter-day Saints realize how far they fall short of the many requirements set up by LDS leaders. I am reminded of a similar promise made by Apostle Jeffrey R. Holland in an April 2016 general conference talk titled “Tomorrow the Lord Will Do Wonders among You” when he claimed that Mormons can receive “credit for trying.” For those who carefully study this talk, however, no hope is offered despite an admittedly catchy pull quote. (For analysis on Holland’s talk, see mrm.org/credit-for-trying.)
The foreshadowing of Soares’s article can be seen in his first paragraph: “My parents, Aparecido and Mercedes Soares, always dreamed of serving a mission. They wanted to repay the Lord for the many blessings that had come to their family since they had joined the Church.”
Just the idea that it might be possible to “repay” God for His blessings is anathema for those Christian believers who grasp the concepts of grace and mercy. Think about it. How can any sinful human “repay” Christ for what He did on the cross?
Soares goes on to explain how “through the Savior’s Atonement, those who come forth ‘in the resurrection of the just’ (Doctrine and Covenants 76:17) will be made perfect and inherit celestial glory. Most members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints accept this doctrine. Unfortunately, some may not believe that it applies to them personally. They make mistakes. Their spiritual progress, though steady, is slow. They wonder if they’ll ever be good enough for the celestial kingdom” (9).
Why do so many Latter-day Saints wonder if they will ever be “good enough”? Perhaps they have read their LDS scriptures, listened to enough general conference talks, and taken an accurate inventory of their shortcomings to understand that nobody according to Mormonism can ever hope to qualify for celestial exaltation.
The bait is then offered at the top of the second page: “God loves us and wants all of us back in His presence. You are probably further along the path back to Him than you realize.”
Like any other ruse, a person must be convinced that an offer is legitimate to continue with the transaction. Undoubtedly many Latter-day Saints will take their apostle’s words at face value and go on their merry way. They would be wise to stay tuned and listen to what is required.
First, Soares cites D&C 76 and lists the first three requirements: belief in Jesus, baptism by immersion, and receiving of the Holy Ghost. For those Mormons keeping score, each box can be checked because they were accomplished upon joining the church. For 98% of all readers, so far, so good.
He then continues: “The other steps, however, take a lifetime of effort… We are all working on these requirements.” Saying that “the Father promises this sealing ‘to all who are just and true’ (verse 53),” Soares quotes 13th President Ezra Taft Benson who taught that this designation refers to “members of the Church who magnify their callings in the Church (see D&C 84:33), pay their tithes and offerings, live morally clean lives, sustain their Church leaders by word and action, keep the Sabbath as a holy day, and obey all the commandments of God.”
Most faithful Saints should have no problem with Benson’s first four points. But did you notice that last admonition? Easier said than done, even for those who are the most faithful. Could this be why so many Latter-day Saints in-the-know are pessimistic about their eternal future?
At the bottom of page 10, Soares writes, “We learn in the Book of Mormon that all of God’s children who keep His commandments and are faithful, regardless of the circumstances of life, will be blessed and ‘received into heaven, that thereby they may dwell with God in a state of never-ending happiness’ (Mosiah 2:41).” However, he failed to cite the middle portion of the verse, which says that this “never-ending happiness” won’t take place unless Mormons “hold out faithful to the end.”
Continuing to burst the bubble of those readers who are paying attention, Soares explains at the top of page 11, “Because no unclean thing can dwell in God’s presence (see Moses 6:57), we work daily on genuine spiritual transformation—in our thoughts, our desires, and our behavior. . . . This change comes line upon line as we strive to be a little better every day.”
According to his theology, “daily repentance” will fix everything. Still, Soares failed to cite D&C 58:43, which describes authentic repentance: “By this ye may know if a man repenteth of his sins—behold, he will confess them and forsake them.” According to LDS teaching, successful repentance is stopping the sin forever.
A general authority writing more than five decades earlier scoffed at the idea that “striv(ing) to be a little better every day” is what God intends for His followers. In the 1969 book The Miracle of Forgiveness, 12th President Spencer W. Kimball taught that “true repentance prods one to action” and explained how “trying is not sufficient. Nor is repentance complete when one merely tries to abandon sin. . . . To ‘try’ is weak. To ‘do the best I can’ is not strong. We must always do better than we can. This is true in every walk of life” (164, 165, italics in original). Success at keeping the commandments was Kimball’s trademark teaching; if the unique LDS scriptures are true, he is exactly right.
On the one hand, Soares tries to make it appear that only sincere effort is needed. On the other, he insists on page 11 that it is necessary to “control our desires, appetites, and passions; patiently ‘submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon’ us (Mosiah 3:19); deny ourselves of all ungodliness (see Moroni 10:32); submit our will to the will of the Father, as the Savior did.”
Soares should have cited more of Moroni 10:32, which goes on to say that “if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you.” Mormonism withholds God’s grace (if) until a person eliminates all ungodliness and loves God unconditionally (then). How this verse supports the theme of his article is anybody’s guess.
Most fascinating is how Soares keeps returning to the “bait” after he has already made the switch, even to the very end of his article. In the second to last paragraph, Soares writes, “We will strive to do our best and help others do the same. On our own, none of us will ever be good enough to be saved in the celestial kingdom, but ‘through the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah’ (2 Nephi 2:8), that blessing remains within reach.”
We’ve already discussed the inadequacy of “striving to do our best,” but Soares places a modern-day LDS interpretation on this unique LDS scripture. Second Nephi 2 is not discussing the celestial kingdom or exaltation as Soares understands it. This can be seen in the context of the passage.
For instance, verse 4 states that “salvation is free.” Verse 6 says that “redemption cometh in and through the Holy Messiah; for he is full of grace and truth.” Verse 7 adds that “he offereth himself a sacrifice for sin.” These references sound much more like the Christian version of justification, specifically the doctrine of imputation, whereas Jesus credits the believer with His righteousness a person could never earn. Then, as verse 9 adds, “they that believe in him shall be saved,” still another biblical teaching (e.g., Acts 16:31, Rom. 10:9-10, etc.).
According to LDS teaching, however, celestial exaltation involves much more than faith alone. Referring to the three kingdoms of glory never taught in the Book of Mormon, Kimball duly explained, “All good people of every nation will be saved in one of these kingdoms, but neither Paul nor Peter nor modern prophets, nor the Lord himself, has ever promised celestial life or eternal life to any soul who does not live celestial laws” (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, 69).
When it comes to the heart of Mormonism’s gospel, then, the bait (to possibly live forever with one’s earthly family) is switched. Imputation is not a doctrine in Mormonism even if it might be taught in 2 Nephi 2. In fact, the only way to gain exaltation according to traditional LDS teaching is keeping God’s commandments continually (D&C 25:15). Since nobody does this, no wonder so many continue, as Soares said, to “wonder if they’ll ever be good enough for the celestial kingdom.” Many Latter-day Saints apparently understand Mormonism much better than a current LDS apostle!
While this Liahona article was obviously intended to bring hope to the reader, the opposite ends up being true. The observant reader ought to be filled with despair and left wanting to receive what is so readily available: eternal life through faith alone through the work Jesus performed on the cross 2,000 years ago. Indeed, Mormonism’s gospel continues to fall short.