A week has passed since Pioneer Day. I was moved by the memorials here and in my sacrament meeting, where the speakers called us to reflect on, in President Hinckley’s words, the “long shadow” the pioneers cast in which we still find some shelter from the heat of the times.
The shadow is real, I think. Some of us are here because of them. In law school I met a girl whose ancestors had joined the kingdom in England and crossed the ocean. Like many, they lingered for a few years at the eastern terminus of the trail to raise money. But somehow they never made it across the plains, they never became pioneer. Now generations of that family have passed in the full light of the world, faith has dried up and withered away, and this daughter of theirs is a Catholic with the usual obscure notions of the Church.
The pioneers meant to cast the shadow, I think. They weren’t toiling for their own times. The speaker in my sacrament meeting made this point by again quoting President Hinckley. He said that when his wife Marjorie Hinckley’s great-great grandmother set out to cross the plains, she told her daughter, Polly, that she did it because “I want to go to Zion, while my children are small, so they can be raised in the gospel of Jesus Christ.” Leaving a legacy for her children was consciously her aim.
The pioneers had to pay a price for that legacy. Marjorie Hinckley’s great-great-grandmother died on the plains. So did many others. And two groups died disproportionately (if I recall correctly. My books are packed away at the moment). The first group were the elderly. The second group were the children. What a paradox, an almost- Dominical paradox! Because of the pioneers’ efforts to reach a place where they could raise their children in the faith, some of their children died and passed beyond all raising.
The irony must have been bitter. Their efforts were worth while, of course, for the children who lived and for the children yet to come. But I can’t believe that any amount of success elsewhere would ever quite balm a parent’s heart for this child, wrapped in this cloth, buried by this swale, and left behind.
Joseph Fielding Smith told the Saints that in his view parents and dead children would pick up again in the Millennium where they’d left off at death. I’ve heard this a lot in the last few months. As much as I would have liked to believe it, for my sake and for the sake of others, I couldn’t bring myself to, though I didn’t say anything. But just recently, thinking about children in the millennium in a different context, and then thinking about the pioneers, I’ve started to wonder if there isn’t something to it. It may explain something that’s puzzled me awhile.
Here’s what we know: We don’t baptize living children before the age of eight because they are sinless. Children who die before the age of eight are saved through Christ without the need for repentance. See Moroni 8:8-12.
And we don’t perform baptisms on behalf of children who died before the age of eight at any time, even after they reach that age. Here’s what else we know. Christ, though sinless, was baptized (see 2 Nephi 31):
the Lamb of God, he being holy, [has] need to be baptized by water, to fulfil all righteousness
Here’s my quandary: Once Christ chose to be baptized, why would anyone want to enter the kingdom through any other gate? No one would. So why would God deny it to children who died young? Especially since, as Christ showed by doing it, baptism is more than the cleansing of sins. Sinless and sinners alike to show their obedience and make covenants through baptism.
We won’t know for sure until God reveals it, but parents raising children in the millennium might make sense of all this. Suppose that pioneer children and all the other children aren’t resurrected right off, but merely brought back to life—like Lazarus—, to be raised by their parents. What does that mean? It means that vicarious baptisms on their behalf need not be done—they can be baptized in the flesh. It means that the children get to be obedient, make covenants, and follow Christ’s example—again, by being baptized in the flesh. The only difficulty is that Moroni apparently believed that all children dead before the age of 8 would be saved. How can this be true, if their mortal probation isn’t over yet? But perhaps this isn’t really a difficulty. Perhaps the Millennium, when Satan is bound, isn’t much of a mortal probation and people don’t fall away during it.
The truth is that I don’t know. But its been comforting to me as a parent to see the hopes that Mormonism has to offer me and how well its teachings reward investigation and thought.