Guest Post: Qualifying for Exaltation
By Blaire Ostler
The Church released the new Young Women theme a couple months ago. It reads as follows:
I am a beloved daughter of Heavenly Parents, with a divine nature and eternal destiny.
As a disciple of Jesus Christ, I strive to become like Him. I seek and act upon personal revelation and minister to others in His holy name.
I will stand as a witness of God at all times and in all things and in all places.
As I strive to qualify for exaltation, I cherish the gift of repentance and seek to improve each day. With faith, I will strengthen my home and family, make and keep sacred covenants, and receive the ordinances and blessings of the holy temple.
Thought not perfect, overall, I’d say this is a significant improvement from the previous Young Women theme. I am particularly pleased about the inclusion of Heavenly Parents in the first sentence. If we are children of God who grow up to be gods ourselves, it makes sense to make the trajectory of Heavenly Parents gender inclusive.
However, a sentence receiving criticism from some Latter-day Saints is the first sentence of the last paragraph. Some are resistant to the idea of “qualifying for exaltation.” I understand to a certain extent why that might be a concern. When we apply a perfectionist lens to the idea of “qualifying for exaltation,” it could feel discouraging—like no matter what a young woman does she constantly has to please the patriarchal authority in order be qualified, valid, or legitimate. The benchmark of patriarchal law becomes her qualifying marker, thus making the idea of “qualifying” ripe for ecclesiastical abuse. The concern is real and deserves attention. However, I do not think the solution is to disregard the idea of “qualifying for exaltation,” but instead redirect our attention to how we qualify.
If I am a God with godly powers and I want my child to have those godly powers too, I’m not going to just hand them to my child without helping them qualify for those powers. It would be dangerous to both my child and to those around her. As parents, we do this already with our children.
For example, I can drive a car and that comes with considerable responsibility, freedom, and privileges. My daughter needs to qualify before she can have those privileges too. She will need to go to driver’s education classes, attain a learner’s permit, practice with a responsible adult, and demonstrate she is ready for the responsibility of having a driver’s license. Not only that, I’m not going to just give her a car, as that comes with considerable financial responsibilities. Who is going to pay for the car, gas, insurance, and upkeep? Has she demonstrated she is going to use her new powers responsibly and safely? If I were to hand my six-year-old daughter the keys to the car I would be doing her and every other person on the road a sore disservice. She needs to grow and qualify for her new responsibilities and privileges before she is given the keys to the car.
I think our Heavenly Parents look at us similarly. We are not simply meant to be like God, but to become gods ourselves. Imagine that. We have Heavenly Parents who love us so much that They want us to have all the same privileges and responsibilities They have. However, They also have some requirements for us. We need to qualify before we are handed the keys to our eternal destiny to be exalted beings like our Heavenly Parents. That’s what we are doing right now. We are demonstrating that we are ready for godhood. Qualifying for godhood is a good thing to require of your children. If not, it’s like handing the power of a loaded gun to a toddler. She simply isn’t qualified to handle a firearm.
Now, so far we should be on the same page. Qualifying for exaltation is a good thing. The bigger question is how we qualify for exaltation and godhood.
I imagine the average young woman sitting in church is not considering qualifying for exaltation in the same way I am. She might be thinking about dressing modestly by covering her body or avoiding coffee or tea to appeal to a religious social code. Neither are bad if that’s what she chooses, but the problem is those choices are far less important to her exaltation than the larger questions at hand. If she is going to become a god, how do we help her get there? What do gods really care about? Do we seriously think gods care about whether on not she wore a sleeveless dress to prom? Or a bikini to the lake? Frankly, I don’t think gods spend much of the time worrying about those things. So, what does it mean for a young woman to qualify for exaltation and her eternal destiny of godhood?
If I were God and I were trying to determine whether or not my children were qualified to be handed the keys to godly powers, these are some of the questions I would ask.
Were you kind and thoughtful? Show me the poor among you. How did you care for them? Where are the least of my children who struggle at the margins? Why did you think it was okay to take a baby away from a mother who crossed your imaginary border drawn on the earth? Why did you let my sick children die of the flu in a detainee cell? Were you racist on earth or did you work to eradicate racism from yourself and others? Were you in a position of religious authority? Did you use your religious authority and position of influence to hurt or to help others? What works did you accomplish in my name? What did you do to combat slavery, sexism, heterosexism, cissexism, poverty, sickness, hunger, racism, injustice, and oppression? How did you treat your queer siblings? Did you include the outcasts? Did you leave the ninety-nine to seek the one who was lost? How did you treat your own children? Did you cherish them and give them the time, love, care and consideration they needed to grow? How did you care for the elderly? What about the sick and afflicted? How did you heal them? Did you love your enemies and those that despise you? Did you stand for all things virtuous, lovely, of good report, or praiseworthy? Did you follow the example of your brother Jesus? Or did you twist and weaponize Jesus to injure my most vulnerable children? Tell me, love was my greatest commandment, how did you love? If you have done unto them, you did it unto me.
If I were a God I would NOT ask, did you put your right arm in the correct position at the temple? Did you repeat the exact rote phrases at the veil? Did you tie your sash correctly? No. Instead I would ask, how did your religious tradition and rituals help you care for your fellow siblings? How did your rituals inspire you to create tangible eternal families? Did you use your temples to strengthen familial bonds and seal them up in the eternities, or did you weaponize your temple as a way to divide families? If your temples didn’t keep mixed-faith families together, what were your temples really about?
If I were a God I would NOT ask, did you wear your temple garments night and day? Did you wear a white shirt when you passed the sacrament? Did you wear a yarmulke, hijab, or turban? No. Instead, I would ask, how did your clothing help or hinder you from being a better human being? Did you use your religious clothing and expressions as a weapon against those who don’t dress like you? Did you look down on others for what they wore? Did you give coats to the cold and homes to the homeless? Did you judge people according to their name brands, apparel, or economic standing? If your garments were meant to help you be a better person, tell me, how did they make you a godly being?
If I were a God I would NOT ask, did you masturbate or have sex before marriage? No. Instead I would ask, how did your sexual activity affect your partner(s)? Were you thinking about what’s best for them, or only what you wanted for yourself? Have you ever physically, emotionally, or socially manipulated a person into having sex against their will? Did you use sex as a weapon to hurt others? When you did have sex, did you have sex responsibly? Did you care for your partner and consider their needs? Have you ever sexually harassed, assaulted, or coerced another? Have you ever hurt a child sexually? If you did make such a grave error as hurting a child, how did you repent and seek to be worthy of godhood? Those who misuse the powers of sex are not worthy of my powers.
If I were a God I would NOT ask, were you queer, straight, bi, cisgender, monogamous, polygamous, divorced, single, or transgender? No. Instead I would ask, how did you love those around you? Were your family relationships built on love and inclusion? How did you care for your partner(s) and/or spouse(s)? Did you take responsibility for any children you may have had, and did you love them with care, kindness, and devotion? How did you treat your family? Did you ever hit, hurt, or belittle them? Did you apologize for your mistakes and seek to do better?
If I were God I would NOT ask, did you consume coffee, tea, caffeine, or alcohol? No. Instead I would ask, how did your beverage selections affect those around you? Did your beverages help or hinder you from being a kinder, loving, more compassionate being? Did you hurt someone while under the influence of a beverage? How did your beverage selections affect the economics of your community? Did you think about how you eat and its effect on both the economy and environment? How did your consumption habits help or hurt the earth from being renewed to its paradisiacal glory? Did you think I was going to do that for you? Whose test did you think this was?
If I were God I would NOT ask, were you obedient to a religious authoritarian or tyrant? No. Instead I would ask, I gave you agency, how did you use it? I asked you to love one another. Did you do it? Did you think critically about your decisions and how they may or may not coincide with my law to love? Did you relinquish your responsibility to think for yourself? How were you a prophet? How did you use my priesthood power? How did you bless the lives of others? I didn’t ask if you were ordained by a patriarch, I asked how did you act in my name? Did you use priesthood power to exclude or put yourself above others? Or did you share my priesthood power and encourage others to do godly things in my name? Compliance to tyrannical authority was never my law. I gave you agency, how did you use it?
Again, I don’t think the problem is that we need to qualify for exaltation. If God is going to hand us the keys to the car, what do we need to do to demonstrate we are ready for all that our Heavenly Parents have in store for us? What do we think we should be doing to qualify for exaltation and the divine destiny of godhood?
We are gods in embryo—the seeds of divinity are within us. If we are to become exalted, we must start acting like it. We must practice, practice, practice. Line upon line, precept on precept. Eventually, we may find ourselves qualifying for the godlike powers our Heavenly Parents have promised us. I have no doubt that godly exaltation and power is something we must work to qualify for. However, we need to strongly consider, what kind of gods do we want to be and how do we make that happen?
Blaire Ostler is a philosopher specialized in queer studies and is a leading voice at the intersection of queer, Mormon, and transhumanist thought. She is an author publishing her first book, “Queer Mormon Theology: An Introduction.” She is a board member of the Mormon Transhumanist Association, the Christian Transhumanist Association, and Sunstone. You can reach her at her website, BlaireOstler.com.