The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is built upon the idea that we can seek answers to fundamental questions about ourselves and our relationship with God. Many celebrate the peace they find in the church through having answers to life’s deepest questions. However, I would contend, that many of the essential doctrines of the church are much more clear when they are applied to men than when they are applied to women. Subsequently, among members of the church, there appears to be a wider variety of opinions about how these doctrines apply to women, while the application of these doctrines for men is much less contended. Below, I have listed three essential areas of doctrine in which I think this is the case.
1-The Nature of God and Divine Roles: Gender roles are strongly emphasized in the church and church leaders teach that it is important to have both a mother and a father in the home so children can learn from same-gender models. Furthermore, according to The Proclamation on the Family, gender continues throughout the eternities. Men are provided with both earthly as well as divine role models. Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ are spoken of and worshiped every Sunday during church services and are represented in our most sacred rituals. Men are taught that if they are righteous, they will inherit all the Father has, and take on a role very similar to the one He demonstrates. Women are provided with a model in Heavenly Mother, but members are exhorted not to speak to Her and She is rarely spoken about in church settings. Furthermore, She is not represented in either artwork or in sacred rituals. Because of this silence surrounding Her, we know very little about Her characteristics or current role. Is She all knowing, all powerful, and all loving like the Father? What does She actually do? In the King Follett Discourses, Joseph Smith taught that “If men do not comprehend the character of God, they do not comprehend themselves.” Or in more contemporary words “You can’t be what you can’t see.” I would argue that within current church doctrine, women’s divine destiny is much more of a mystery than men’s, sparking a wider variety of opinions surrounding this topic. At one end of the spectrum, Heavenly Mother is thought to be a strong Goddess, equal in power and wisdom to Heavenly Father, and women are thought to be able to inherit all the wisdom and power of Heavenly Mother. At the other end of the spectrum, you have statements like the one made by former BYU professor Rodney Turner “Women are queens and priestesses but not gods. The Godhead, the ‘Presidency of Heaven,’ is a presidency of three male deities, similar to a stake presidency whose members each have wives who are responsible for domestic religious education but not ecclesiastical functions.” I worked with a fellow male student at BYU that was convinced the Heavenly Mother didn’t exist because She is not represented in the temple or any of our scriptural cannon. Unfortunately, there are plenty of members of the LDS church who aren’t on the spectrum at all, because they rarely think or talk about the characteristics or divine role of Heavenly Mother. Overall, the divine role and destiny of women remains largely an open question.
2-Priesthood: Within LDS doctrine, Priesthood is defined as “the power and authority of God” and “the power and authority that God gives to man to act in all things necessary for the salvation of God’s children.” Within the church structure, it is pretty clear which men hold that power and authority as they have had hands laid on their heads and were ordained to the Priesthood. What is not clear, is whether women currently hold some form of the priesthood, whether they will hold the priesthood in the afterlife, or by what power they are able to “act in all things necessary for the salvation of God’s children.” The ambiguity surrounding this question has been discussed eloquently by others. Some questions that I have is whether women have to be married to a worthy priesthood holder or have to be set apart as a temple worker to hold some form of Priesthood or whether they hold some form of Priesthood through virtue of being baptized or receiving their Endowments. Additionally, I have heard leaders of the church discuss how Deacon Quorum Leaders lead their Quorums through exercising Priesthood Keys, and I have wondered whether the Laurel President also uses Priesthood Keys to receive inspiration about her class or whether she works through some other power. We are taught that the Priesthood is the power through which God the Father does everything, and we know that men exercise that power to serve in God’s church, but many questions remain about women’s use of that power.
3-Scriptures: The LDS cannon of scriptures is largely written by and about men. Thus, men can be fairly confident that most scriptures are addressed to them. However, given the ambiguous language (when does “men” refer to both men and women?) and the promises that may or may not apply exclusively to Priesthood holders, women must determine for themselves how the scriptures apply to them. I won’t cover this issue in detail here, because it has been discussed throughly elsewhere. However, I will say that this can lead to a lot of doctrinal ambiguity for women as they must figure out for themselves whether certain scriptures apply to them or not.
Overall, I contend that the nature of God, the nature of Priesthood, and the promises and doctrines as presented in the scriptures are core elements of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. However, the doctrines surrounding each of these issues are much more vague when they are applied to women than when they are applied to men. If the gospel of Jesus Christ is about seeking and finding answers about ourselves and our relationship with God, why do so many questions about women remain unanswered? Here is where I turn the discussion over to you: Do you think that essential doctrines are more vague when they are applied to women than when they are applied to men?, Why do you think this is?, and Do you think there is anything that can be done to change this?
- 25 August 2013