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Following Faith
Peggy Fletcher Stack
Peggy Fletcher Stack has been producing stories for The Salt Lake Tribune's award-winning Faith section for nearly two decades. Writing about contemporary faith, rituals, and spirituality as well as religion's conflicts and cohesion has always been Stack's passion. Follow her at facebook.com/peggy.fletcherstack, Twitter @religiongal

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Under Mormon doctrine, will Josh Powell be in hell?

Some horrified observers of Josh Powell's fiery murder of his sons are already proclaiming that Powell is in hell, while his wife and children have landed in heaven.

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Though understandable, that sentiment seems somewhat presumptuous and premature — even for believers in an afterlife.

It is impossible, of course, for any human to make such a judgment, and it isn't 100 percent certain that Susan Powell is dead.

And even if the critics are right in their overall assessment of Josh Powell, their vocabulary is slightly off — at least according to the family's faith tradition.

The Powells were members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and that church has a unique view of heaven and hell.

Mormons believe that the dead are "not placed into a monolithic state called heaven," wrote Larry E. Dahl in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, but are "assigned to different degrees of glory commensurate with the law they have obeyed."

The highest reward is in the Celestial Kingdom, which is reserved for those who "have faith in Jesus Christ, repent of their sins, are baptized by immersion by one having authority, receive the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands," Dahl wrote, "and endure in righteousness."

Next in order is the Terrestrial Kingdom, which will be the home of the "honorable people of the Earth who received a testimony of Jesus," he wrote, "but were not sufficiently valiant in that testimony."

The lowest glory is in the Telestial Kingdom, where "liars, sorcerers, whoremongers, and adulterers" — and presumably murderers like Powell — will go.

The only real hell, under Mormonism, is where the devil, his angels, and the "sons of perdition" will reside. It is a place without glory, but not many people are bad enough to be there. It is primarily for those who have "sinned against the Holy Ghost," like Lucifer and the biblical Cain. One has to be fully aware of God and his teachings to be consigned to this place.

"Sons of perdition are not merely wicked; they are incorrigibly evil," Rodney Turner wrote in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism. "In sinning against the revelations of the Holy Ghost, they have sinned against the greater light and knowledge of God."

The good news about the Mormon hereafter is that people are placed in the kingdom where they feel the most comfortable, and, the encyclopedia says, "even the lowest glory surpasses all mortal understanding."

Wherever Josh Powell is, Mormons believe it will be the best place for him.

As for the boys — 7-year-old Charlie and 5-year-old Braden — they automatically qualify for the highest Mormon heaven: the Celestial Kingdom.

Peggy Fletcher Stack

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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