Mormonism emphasizes that all spirit-children must live in obedience to the eternal laws and principles of ultimate reality through the moral agency of free will. LDS theology is strongly based in what Mormons call moral agency. This is how the LDS official Web site defines Mormonism's view of moral agency:
Agency is the ability and privilege God gives us to choose and to act for ourselves. Agency is essential in the plan of salvation. Without it, we would not be able to learn or progress or follow the Savior. With it, we are "free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil" (2 Nephi 2:27).
This stress on free will undergirds Mormonism's absolute commitment to a form of Arminian theology. It might even be better and more accurate to speak of Mormonism's commitment to libertarian free will as a form of Pelagianism. Mormons believe that during this premortal existence, each person developed a unique identity and increased in his or her spiritual capabilities. Through a moral free will, each spiritchild was able to make right or wrong decisions.
Somewhat similar to the teaching of reincarnation that results in Hinduism's present caste system, Mormonism advocates that the way in which preexistent spirit-children lived in their premortal existence also has a direct correlation to their condition of life on earth. For example, Mormonism teaches that many obedient spirit-children in the preexistence became members of the nation of Israel:
For Mormons, Israel is an eternal people. Members of that chosen race first gained their inheritance with the faithful in the pre-mortal life. Israel was a distinct people in pre-existence. Many of the valiant and noble spirits in that first estate were chosen, elected, and foreordained to be born into the family of Jacob, so as to be natural heirs of all the blessings of the gospel.
Mormonism has also taught that there were disobedient preexisting spirit-children. One such disobedient child was Cain, who entered earthly mortality with dark skin, as Mormon Prophet Joseph Fielding Smith made clear:
There is a reason why one man is born black and with other disadvantages, while another is born white with great advantages. The reason is that we once had an estate before we came here, and were obedient, more or less, to the laws that were given us there. Those who are faithful in all things there received greater blessings here, and those who were not faithful received less.
Although this view has not been officially denounced, many Mormons today no longer seem to emphasize or directly teach their past "curse of Cain" doctrine. Apparently on the basis of the Mormon belief that male blacks were disobedient preexistent spirit-children, they were not allowed to hold office in the LDS priesthood. A new revelation, however, was received in 1978 by LDS President and Prophet Spencer W. Kimball that changed Mormonism's official position. Latter-day Saints now allow blacks to become authorized and ordained LDS priests. But as far as I am aware, they have not rejected their early teaching that how a spirit lives in his or her preexistent life directly determines the person's condition in mortal life. Bruce McConkie summarizes this general Mormon teaching: "It is only by knowledge of pre-existence that it can be known why some persons are born in one race or caste and some in another," and "the race and nation in which men are born in this world is a direct result of their pre-existent life."
The Gospel of Eternal Progression into Godhood
As the Mormon story goes, after ages of living as one happy heavenly family, Father God called for a family gathering or council, at which time he presented to his millions of spiritchildren the gospel of eternal progression into godhood, the LDS plan of salvation. The heavenly Father's plan would enable his spirit-children to become gods exactly like him. Mormons call the heavenly Father's plan "the plan of salvation," "the great plan of happiness," or "the plan of redemption." This Mormon salvation plan is identified as the fullness of the gospel, and includes creation, the fall of Adam and Eve, the atonement of Jesus Christ, and obedience to all the laws, ordinances, and doctrines of the LDS Church. Essential to this gospel plan is human moral agency, the ability for everyone to freely choose and act. Through this salvation plan, humans through obedience are enabled to reach godhood and to have families that last forever.
At this great family council, Father God told his spiritchildren that his salvation plan required them to leave their heavenly home and take on physical mortal bodies on earth so that each of them could progress higher into a god, as he had. But the heavenly Father's son Lucifer-today's Satan-had other ideas.
In defiance of Father God's eternal plan of exaltation, his spirit-son Lucifer rebelled and rejected this plan of salvation, wanting to eliminate the law of choice and obedience. But the firstborn son, Jesus Jehovah, stood up in opposition to Lucifer in favor of Father God. Jesus declared that he would become the Savior, take on a mortal body, and live a sinless life in order that all his brothers and sisters could become gods.
As a result, a major war broke out in the preexistent heavenly family between the followers of Jesus and the followers of Lucifer. Lucifer and his followers fought against the archangel Michael-who would be born Adam on earth-and lost. In the end, all the heavenly spirit-children had to choose whether they would follow Jesus or Lucifer (Satan). All the spirit-children who followed the heavenly Father and Jesus Christ were permitted to be born on earth in order to experience mortality and progress toward eternal divine exaltation.
The spirit-children who rebelled and followed Satan were excommunicated from the heavenly family and cast down to earth without physical bodies, forfeiting their opportunity to progress into gods. Mormons teach that a third of the spiritchildren chose to become Lucifer followers. In this light, Mormons identify Satan and demons as their preexistent brothers and sisters who are now in active opposition to the eternal plan of their Father God.