When Beatrice and I were serving together as missionaries, we were lucky enough to be in a district that included the mission offices. The APs and office Elders were in our district, so more often than not we held district meetings in a cozy conference room in the main mission office building, giving us frequent occasion to see the Mission President and his wife.
Throughout our companionship, Beatrice mentioned to me that she had questions about the role of women as depicted in the temple endowment. We discussed it a few times in companionship study, and then – taking advantage of our proximity to the mission leaders – one day we decided to take the issue to the wife of the MP. To be clear, we didn’t openly dissect elements of the endowment that are considered private or sacred. We talked about the sorts of things that are commonly parsed on fMh, Exponent II, and here at ZD: the hearken covenant; women veiling their faces; the almost complete silence of Eve and lack of other female characters in the pre-mortal realm; and other, similar issues.
The MP’s wife responded to our questions with more candor than I would have expected from a woman serving in her position. (This was before fMh, back before the bloggernacle even existed, so neither Beatrice nor I was accustomed to hearing doubt or confusion expressed by the devout.) The MP’s wife said that for years as a young mother she couldn’t bear to go to the temple because of its depiction of women. It had been too upsetting. But, after time and reflection, her view changed and she went back.
And then she said: “You have to ask yourself, what is God really like?”
For her, the answer was that God does not intentionally hurt his daughters. Yet, somehow, there is an incongruity between LDS teachings about sharply demarcated gender and sex roles and the doctrine that all human beings are children of God – a just God – with infinite potential. The only way she could put the two together was by believing that the “real” God was not behind the things that continue to cause faithful women in the Church such anxiety and despair.
It was a rationale that speaks to the cognitive dissonance that so many LDS women feel, of the mental legerdemain necessary for so many women (not all, I know) to find and keep their moorings in the church. I wonder how common it is. How often, in the face of things that appear wrong or uneven or contradictory, do women and men of faith appeal to a God that sits just beyond the doctrine in a place of equanimity, a real God?