Plan of salvation/Sons of Perdition/Can women be "Sons of Perdition"
This page is based on an answer to a question submitted to the FAIR web site, or a frequently asked question.
Are there women who would be among those cast into outer darkness? Are there female 'Sons of Perdition'?
Either stance is consistent with statements by leaders of the Church. It seems, however, that later leaders or authors are more likely to believe that women are capable of perdition. This perhaps owes more to changing and expanding gender roles, and a greater experience with women in all their manifestations than any revelatory change—which has never been claimed by any leader.
At least one Church leader (Melvin J. Ballard) used the expression "sons of perdition" to refer to both women and men, so there is some precedence for using the term in a generic sense. However, others (Brigham Young, Joseph F. Smith) used it in what could be interpreted as a generic sense, but made other statements which suggest that such a reading would go further than their intent.
There is a chance that daughters of perdition are fundamentally different from sons of perdition, but one could suggest that the difference is not in degree of transgression, but rather simply different as it pertains to their genders.
Most Latter-day Saints would regard this as a point of theoretical or hair-splitting interest only—surely no one aspires to be a son/daughter of perdition. This is likely the reason for which we are told so little about the matter. As the Lord told Joseph Smith about those who go to perdition,
- the end thereof, neither the place thereof, nor their torment, no man knows; Neither was it revealed, neither is, neither will be revealed unto man, except to them who are made partakers thereof;Nevertheless, I, the Lord, show it by vision unto many, but straightway shut it up again; Wherefore, the end, the width, the height, the depth, and the misery thereof, they understand not, neither any man except those who are ordained unto this condemnation (DC 76:45-48).
Perhaps the best response to this question comes from Elder Bruce R. McConkie:
- Somebody called me up on the telephone and asked if there were daughters of perdition. I said: “I don’t know” and he said, “How can I find out—I just called Spencer Kimball and he told me he didn’t know either.
FAIR is not aware of any official Church position on this issue.
Evidence against the idea
The idea that women cannot become "sons of perdition" likely comes from DC 84:40-41:
- 40 Therefore, all those who receive the priesthood, receive this oath and covenant of my Father, which he cannot break, neither can it be moved.
- 41 But whoso breaketh this covenant after he hath received it, and altogether turneth therefrom, shall not have forgiveness of sins in this world nor in the world to come.
Some interpret this to mean that to become a "son of perdition," one must first hold the priesthood. It does, in fact, state that if one receives the priesthood covenant and "altogether turneth therefrom", it is unforgivable. However, it does not explicitly say that that is the only way to become a son of perdition. (For an insightful commentary on these verses see Stephen E. Robinson and H. Dean Garrett, A Commentary on the Doctrine and Covenants [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2004], 3:44-49)
This uncertainty did not keep Brigham Young for teaching that women were not at risk of perdition:
- Man is the transgressor. Eve was the first to partake of the forbidden fruit, and the man was disposed to follow her, and did follow her; consequently, sin is in the world, and when redemption comes it must come by man. When we speak of law and the transgression of law, we refer to the law of God to man. I doubt whether it can be found, from the revelations that are given and the facts as they exist, that there is a female in all the regions of hell.
Brigham saw man as more culpable than woman for the Fall, and thus expressed his view that the revelations no where mentioned a woman in "all the regions of hell," which likely refers to perdition in this context.
The next year, Brigham again relied on his view of women's relative innocence when he said, "Woman must atone for sins committed by the volition of her own choice, but she will never become an angel to the devil, and sin so far as to place herself beyond the reach of mercy." His reasoning drew on the same view of woman's lesser culpability: "She is not accountable for the sins that are in the world. God requires obedience from man, he is lord of creation, and at his hands the sins of the world will be required. Could the female portion of the human family fully understand this they would see that they are objects of tender mercy and greatly blessed."
Brigham is a good example of the necessity of taking nothing for granted in reading such quotes. He often discussed the matter of sons of perdition when mentioning both men and women, but his earlier explicit quotes make it clear that we ought not to read anything into this ambiguity:
- The names of every son and daughter of Adam are already written in the Lamb's Book of Life. Is there ever a time when they will be taken out of it? Yes, when they become sons of perdition, and not till then. Every person has the privilege of retaining it there for ever and ever. If they neglect that privilege, then theft names will be erased, and not till then. All the names of the human family are written there, and the Lord will hold them there until they come to the knowledge of the truth, that they can rebel against him, and can sin against the Holy Ghost; then they will be thrust down to hell, and their names be blotted out from the Lamb's Book of Life (emphasis added).
Brigham would later say that "All the sons and daughters of men will be saved, except the sons of perdition," and "Jesus will bring forth, by his own redemption, every son and daughter of Adam, except the sons of perdition, who will be cast into hell." Again, we have the mention of men and women being saved, but his reference to "sons of perdition" should apparently not be read in a generic, non-gendered sense.
Brigham elsewhere lumped all traitors to Christ with the sons of perdition:
- The Lord is merciful, but, when He comes to His Kingdom on the earth, He will banish traitors from His presence, and they will be sons of perdition. Every apostate who ever received this gospel in faith, and had the Spirit of it, will have to repent in sackcloth and ashes, and sacrifice all he possesses, or be a son of perdition, go down to hell, and there dwell with the damned; and those who persecute and destroy the people of God, and shed the blood of innocence, will be judged accordingly.
Brigham's argument seems to implicitly require that no woman can be an apostate in the same sense as a man—this may reflect his experience of most violent apostates being men, and was also doubtless influenced by his view of women as less inherently corrupt and culpable for the world's sin.
Joseph F. Smith
In 1895, Joseph F. Smith addressed both men and women in a manner which might suggest that "sons of perdition" was a generic term for males or females:
- Hence I warn you, my brethren and sisters, especially my brethren, against trifling with your Bishopric, because if you do, as God lives He will withdraw His Spirit from you, and the time will come when you will be found kicking against the light and knowledge which you have received, and you may become sons of perdition (emphasis added).
The plausibility of this reading, however, is undercut by an informal discussion in 1903, Joseph F. Smith's views were expressed:
- There was some informal talk regarding the question as to whether there are, or would be, any women in hell. It was conceded that some women by their acts—namely, abortion, child murder after birth, and the poisoning of their husbands, and other criminal acts—merited a place in the lower regions. President Smith expressed the view that women who commit such crimes as those mentioned would receive punishment to the uttermost farthing, but that there would be no daughters of perdition. This, he said, was his view in regard to the matter, which also seemed to meet the minds of the brethren.
To muddy the waters further, President Smith's remarks in 1916 struck a slightly different tone:
- "The devil knows the Father much better than we. Lucifer, the son of the morning, knows Jesus Christ, the Son of God, much better than we, but in him it is not and will not redound to eternal life; for knowing, he yet rebels; knowing he yet is disobedient; he will not receive the truth; he will not abide in the truth; hence he is Perdition, and there is no salvation for him. The same doctrine applies to me and to you and to all the sons and daughters of God who have judgment and knowledge and are able to reason between cause and effect, and determine the right from the wrong and the good from the evil and who are capable of seeing the light and distinguishing it from the darkness."
Here President Smith says that "the same doctrine applies" to "all the sons and daughters of God,"—perhaps his emphasis was on the need for obedience and to forgo rebellion, rather than the risk of perdition.
Joseph Fielding Smith
In 1958, Joseph Fielding Smith suggested to many readers that he shared his father's view that only priesthood holders risked becoming be sons of perdition:
- I think I am safe in saying that no man can become a Son of Perdition until he has known the light. Those who have never received the light are not to become Sons of Perdition. They will be punished if they rebel against God They will have to pay the price of their sinning, but it is only those who have the light through the priesthood and through the power of God and through their membership in the Church who will be banished forever from his influence into outer darkness to dwell with the devil and his angels. That is a punishment that will not come to those who have never known the truth. Bad as they may suffer, and awful as their punishment may be, they are not among that group which is to suffer the eternal death and banishment from all influence concerning the power of God (emphasis added).
The next day, during Priesthood Session, President Stephen L Richards said:
- It is a tremendous responsibility to bear the Holy Priesthood. I wish all of you -- perhaps all did not -- had heard what President Joseph Fielding Smith told us yesterday, something I have long believed, and I was glad to have sanction for my belief. He said in substance that there will be no Sons of Perdition who do not hold the Priesthood. I have believed that for years because I do not think that the Lord in his mercy would ever condemn a man to that indescribable penalty of being put out entirely from the Kingdom and from all grace unless that man knew that Jesus was the Christ, unless he knew the power of the Christ, and he could only know that, I think by holding the Priesthood. I believe that in the main that can be said to be true -- that only men who hold the Priesthood of God stand in danger of that terrible penalty of being classed as outcasts (emphasis added) .
It should be noted, however, that the quote seems to only be referring to men to begin with, and President Richards was speaking to a congregation of men, going on to emphasize the necessity of being worthy of the priesthood—he may have therefore spoken exclusively to the men (i.e., the only men who can reach perdition are priesthood holders) rather than exclusively of men (i.e., only men with the priesthood risk perdition). However, the views expressed by Joseph F. Smith and Brigham Young suggest that Joseph Fielding Smith was probably of the same mind on this point, as was President Richards.
Evidence for the idea
In addition, 2 Nephi 2:11 states clearly that there is opposition in all things.
- For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so, my first-born in the wilderness, righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad. Wherefore, all things must needs be a compound in one; wherefore, if it should be one body it must needs remain as dead, having no life neither death, nor corruption nor incorruption, happiness nor misery, neither sense nor insensibility.
For every evil, there is an equal and opposite good and vice versa. It seems logical that if women are capable of exaltation, they are also capable of perdition. Indeed, Joseph Smith's father (Joseph Smith Sr.)—in his capacity as Patriarch of the Church—warned against becoming a "daughter of perdition" through apostasy.
While Joseph F. Smith was expressing his view that there would be no daughters of perdition, Wilford Woodruff and George Q. Cannon saw things in a different light: "That there will also be daughters of perdition there is no doubt in the minds of the brethren."
President Charles W. Penrose described those who go to perdition in similar terms as Joseph F. Smith and others, but did not make holding the priesthood a requirement, but merely having and rejecting all the blessings of the gospel:
- The "sons of perdition" are those who have received the Gospel, those to whom the Father has revealed the Son; those who know something concerning the plan of salvation; those who have had keys placed in their hands by which they could unlock the mysteries of eternity; those who received power to ascend to the highest pinnacle of the celestial glory; those who received power sufficient to overcome all things, and who, instead of using it for their own salvation, and in the interest of the salvation of others, prostituted that power and turned away from that which they knew to be true, denying the Son of God and putting Him to an open shame. All such live in the spirit of error, and they love it and roll it under the tongue as a sweet morsel; they are governed by Satan, becoming servants to him whom they list to obey, they become the sons of perdition, doomed to suffer the wrath of God reserved for the devil and his angels. And for them, having sinned against the Holy Ghost, there is no forgiveness either in this world or the world to come. But all the rest Christ will save, through the plan of human redemption prepared in the beginning before the world was (emphasis added).
Elder Melvin J. Ballard was explicit in labeling both "sons and daughters" as "sons of perdition":
- "[God] has other sons and daughters who do not even attain unto the telestial kingdom. They are sons of perdition out with the devil and his angels, and though the Father has grieved over them, he still has not the power to rescue and save them because He gave them free agency, and they used that in such a manner that they have shut themselves out from His presence. But He is justified. He has performed His full duty by them."
Rodney Turner, a former professor of Church History and Doctrine at Brigham Young University, made perdition open to both genders:
- "Satan is called perdition. (D&C 76:26.) Therefore, all who yield to his enticings and die in their sins are sons (or daughters) of perdition and will have to suffer in hell for a given length of time. (Moses 7:37-39.) The risen Christ compared Nephite apostates to Judas: 'For they are led away captive by him [Satan] even as was the son of perdition; for they will sell me for silver.' (3 Ne. 27:32.) Those Gentiles who deny Christ 'shall become like unto the son of perdition, for whom there was no mercy.' (3 Ne. 29:7.) 'No mercy' means they must bear the full weight of divine justice (the wrath of God or hell) before being saved. They are temporary sons or daughters of perdition as opposed to those who, failing to ever repent, are termed the "filthy still" (D&C 88:35, 102) and are consigned to the fullness of the second death (D&C 29:27-30, 41)."
- "Between now and the last judgment, billions of men and women will be transferring their memberships from one church to the other! Those who repent, bow the knee, and confess that Jesus is the Christ will be numbered with the church of the Lamb of God (Mosiah 27:31; D&C 76:110-11).
- Those who absolutely refuse to repent will remain 'filthy still'; they will retain their memberships in the church of the devil. They are sons and daughters of Perdition, suffering the damnation of the second death. (Alma 12:12-18; D&C 88:35.)"
It should be noted that no church leader has made his stance on this matter a matter of doctrine—from Brigham Young onward, the remark is often couched in language suggesting it is their view or opinion. This is likely why various leaders have not hesitated to express varying points of view.
Thoughts and reflections
DC 76:31-32 lays out the criteria for being a son of perdition:
- 31 Thus saith the Lord concerning all those who know my power, and have been made partakers thereof, and suffered themselves through the power of the devil to be overcome, and to deny the truth and defy my power—
- 32 They are they who are the sons of perdition, of whom I say that it had been better for them never to have been born;
Therefore, the criteria for becoming a "son of perdition" are:
- Know God's power
- Deny that power
If we argue that women are not capable of this, which of these two things are we saying that women are not capable of? Obviously they are capable of the first and if they aren't capable of the second, then that completely flies in the face of agency.
It is possible that the idea that women are not capable of perdition is part of a phenomenon of so-called "woman worship" that sometimes goes on at church—we may see elements of this in Brigham Young's conviction that women are more pure, and less tainted by the sins of the world, and thus do not risk utter damnation in quite the same way. Social factors also doubtless played a role, since the dangerous enemies of the Church in the 19th century were virtually all men. Social factors should also be considered, since Victorian thought tended to speak of women in exalted, angelic terms—the view was that women were responsible to civilize men and help them control their baser instincts, and their domestic domain was thereby a refuge from the corruption and competition the man's workaday world.
In a modern manifestation of "woman worship," men in the Church often put themselves down, praising the sisters, saying their wives are more righteous than they are, that there are "more women in heaven," mothers are all angels, and so on. It's a nice sentiment, but:
- it may be incorrect–how can we know?
- it can come across as condescending, even if intended sincerely; and
- it does not do justice to the variety of the female mortal experience.
Men who think that women are, as a whole, better may not know enough women or perhaps don't know the women they do know well enough. Women are generally socialized to be social networkers and are on average more concerned with the social consequences to their actions (e.g., hurting someone's feelings, betraying someone, being embarrassed, etc.).
The reality is that women are just as human and flawed as men, and capable of good and evil to the same capacity as men. They are simply different and therefore prone to different behaviors. But, on the other hand, perhaps some of this difference in style protects them from the type of behaviors that merit perdition. If so, one can hardly complain.
One other possible reason for the idea that women may be excluded from perdition comes to mind. Motherhood is often set up as the female parallel of male priesthood. The scriptures teach that a man's priesthood comes to an end when he does not live worthily of it D&C 121:37. As far as we know, there is no such limit placed on a woman's access to her motherhood. Even women who have never physically borne children are still considered mothers. Mos 4:26 A man's priesthood can be taken from him but maybe a woman's analogous power, her motherhood, is differently -- and perhaps more permanently -- attached to her.
The Church does not take an official position on this issue
This is one of many issues about which the Church has no official position. As President J. Reuben Clark taught under assignment from the First Presidency:
- Here we must have in mind—must know—that only the President of the Church, the Presiding High Priest, is sustained as Prophet, Seer, and Revelator for the Church, and he alone has the right to receive revelations for the Church, either new or amendatory, or to give authoritative interpretations of scriptures that shall be binding on the Church....
- When any man, except the President of the Church, undertakes to proclaim one unsettled doctrine, as among two or more doctrines in dispute, as the settled doctrine of the Church, we may know that he is not "moved upon by the Holy Ghost," unless he is acting under the direction and by the authority of the President.
- Of these things we may have a confident assurance without chance for doubt or quibbling.
- —J. Reuben Clark, Jr., "Church Leaders and the Scriptures," [original title "When Are the Writings or Sermons of Church Leaders Entitled to the Claim of Scripture?"] Immortality and Eternal Life: Reflections from the Writings and Messages of President J. Reuben Clark, Jr., Vol, 2, (1969-70): 221; address to Seminary and Institute Teachers, BYU (7 July 1954); reproduced in Church News (31 July 1954); also reprinted in Dialogue 12/2 (Summer 1979): 68–81.
Harold B. Lee was emphatic that only one person can speak for the Church:
- All over the Church you're being asked this: "What does the Church think about this or that?" Have you ever heard anybody ask that question? "What does the Church think about the civil rights legislation?" "What do they think about the war?" "What do they think about drinking Coca-Cola or Sanka coffee?" Did you ever hear that? "What do they think about the Democratic Party or ticket or the Republican ticket?" Did you ever hear that? "How should we vote in this forthcoming election?" Now, with most all of those questions, if you answer them, you're going to be in trouble. Most all of them. Now, it's the smart man that will say, "There's only one man in this church that speaks for the Church, and I'm not that one man."
- I think nothing could get you into deep water quicker than to answer people on these things, when they say, "What does the Church think?" and you want to be smart, so you try to answer what the Church's policy is. Well, you're not the one to make the policies for the Church. You just remember what the Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians. He said, "For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified" (1 Corinthians 2:2). Well now, as teachers of our youth, you're not supposed to know anything except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. On that subject you're expected to be an expert. You're expected to know your subject. You're expected to have a testimony. And in that you'll have great strength. If the President of the Church has not declared the position of the Church, then you shouldn't go shopping for the answer. (Harold B. Lee, Teachings of Harold B. Lee (Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1996), 445. GospeLink (requires subscrip.))
This was recently reiterated by the First Presidency (who now approves all statements published on the Church's official website):
- Not every statement made by a Church leader, past or present, necessarily constitutes doctrine. A single statement made by a single leader on a single occasion often represents a personal, though well-considered, opinion, but is not meant to be officially binding for the whole Church. With divine inspiration, the First Presidency...and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles...counsel together to establish doctrine that is consistently proclaimed in official Church publications. This doctrine resides in the four “standard works” of scripture (the Holy Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price), official declarations and proclamations, and the Articles of Faith. Isolated statements are often taken out of context, leaving their original meaning distorted.
- —LDS Newsroom, "Approaching Mormon Doctrine," lds.org (4 May 2007) off-site]
In response to a letter "received at the office of the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints" in 1912, Charles W. Penrose of the First Presidency wrote:
- Question 14: Do you believe that the President of the Church, when speaking to the Church in his official capacity is infallible?
- Answer: We do not believe in the infallibility of man. When God reveals anything it is truth, and truth is infallible. No President of the Church has claimed infallibility. — Charles W. Penrose, "Peculiar Questions Briefly Answered," Improvement Era 15 no. 11 (September 1912).
- [note] Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 8:222.
- [note] Brigham Young, "A Few Words on Doctrine," speech in Tabernacle, recorded by George D. Watt, (10:30 am, 8 October 1861), 6–7; see also Brigham Young Addresses, 1860-1864, Vol. 4, by Elden J. Watson, sheet 134 (in chronological order), Historical Dept. Church, Ms d 1234, Box 49 fd 8), p. 140.
- [note] Brigham Young, "Extensive Character of the Gospel—Comprehensiveness of Divine Revelation, Etc.," (15 August 1852) Journal of Discourses 6:297.
- [note] Brigham Young, "Union, etc.," (7 October 1859) Journal of Discourses 7:281.
- [note] Brigham Young, "The Three Glories," (26 August 1860) Journal of Discourses 8:154. See also Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 11:238.; Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 17:55.; Wilford Woodruff, Journal of Discourses 18:39.; Joseph F. Smith, Journal of Discourses 19:264. All these discuss God saving all his sons and daughters, save the sons of perdition.
- [note] Brigham Young, "The Priesthood to Dictate in Temporal As Well As Spiritual Things—Inconsistency of An Equal Division of Property—Let Apostates Alone," (16 June 1867) Journal of Discourses 12:63.
- [note] Joseph F. Smith quoted in Stan Larson (editor), A Ministry of Meetings: The Apostolic Diaries of Rudgar Clawson (Salt Lake City, Utah: Signature Books in association with Smith Research Associates, 1993), 560 (entry for 26 March 1903).
- [note] Joseph F. Smith, "The Second Death," in Brian H. Stuy (editor), Collected Discourses: Delivered by Wilford Woodruff, his two counselors, the twelve apostles, and others, 1868–1898, 5 vols., (Woodland Hills, Utah: B.H.S. Publishing, 1987–1989), 4:230. [Discourse given on 20 January 1895.]
- [note] Joseph F. Smith, Conference Report (April 1916), 3.
- [note] Joseph Fielding Smith, Conference Report (October 1958), 21.
- [note] Stephen L Richards, Conference Report (October 1958), 86.
- [note] D. Michael Quinn, The Mormon Hierarchy: Extensions of Power (Signature Books, 1997), 795 ( Index of claims )
- [note] H. Michael Marquardt, comp., Early Patriarchal Blessings of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints [Salt Lake City: The Smith-Pettit Foundation, 2007), 106.
- [note] Charles W. Penrose, "The Church of Christ,....," (4 March 1883) Journal of Discourses 24:93.
- [note] Melvin J. Ballard, Sermons and Missionary Services of Melvin J. Ballard (Salt Lake City, Deseret Book Co., 1949), 255–257. Also in Melvin J. Ballard, Three Degrees of Glory (Independence, Mo: Missions of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1922), 32.
- [note] Rodney Turner, "The Farewell of Jesus," in Studies in Scripture: Vol. 5, The Gospels, edited by Kent P. Jackson, (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Co., 1986), endnote #20. ISBN 087579064X
- [note] Rodney Turner, "The Prophet Nephi," in Monte S. Nyman and Charles D. Tate, Jr., eds., First Nephi: The Doctrinal Foundation: papers from the Second Annual Book of Mormon Symposium (Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1988), 90. ISBN 0884946479.
- [note] Bruce R. McConkie, "Mormon Doctrine Lecture, #2," Brigham Young University, 1967.