“The incorrect idea in Christian history that wives should be dependent began with the false premise that the fall of Adam and Eve was a tragic mistake and that Eve was the primary culprit. Thus women’s traditional submission to men was considered a fair punishment for Eve’s sin. Thankfully, the Restoration clarifies Eve’s — and Adam’s — choice as essential to the eternal progression of God’s children. We honor rather than condemn what they did, and we see Adam and Eve as equal partners.” — Elder Bruce C. and Marie K. Hafen, “Crossing Thresholds and Becoming Equal Partners,” August 2007 Ensign
“So we stand, if you want to talk about things on which Mormons stand across the river, if you will, from other Christian faiths, this is one of the most important—that Eve was not an airhead, she was not a murderess. She was, in fact, wise and courageous, and what she did pleased God.” — Valerie Hudson Cassler, “The Two Trees”
“Some Christians condemn Eve for her act, concluding that she and her daughters are somehow flawed by it. Not the Latter-day Saints! Informed by revelation, we celebrate Eve’s act and honor her wisdom and courage in the great episode called the Fall.” — Elder Dallin H. Oaks, “The Great Plan of Happiness,” October Conference 1993
The above quotations are only a few of many that make the case that because of the Restoration view of Eve and the Fall, Latter-day Saints have a respect for Eve and women generally which is lacking in (many) other churches. There are aspects of this statement with which I do not disagree, but I also think this is far from the whole story, and I’m simply tired of seeing this cited as evidence of LDS gender egalitarianism. In the contemporary world, Latter-day Saints, I would argue, are not more progressive because of our doctrine surrounding Eve; if anything, we are frequently more regressive.
I would like to go over three points which I see made frequently:
1) In seeing it as positive, we have a more enlightened view of the Fall (and therefore Eve) than other traditions.
First of all, it is worth noting that the idea that the Fall has positive effects is not unique to Mormonism, not even in the history of Christianity. One might note the idea of the felix culpa, the “happy fault,” in which the Fall is ultimately positive in that it brings about the possibility of Christ’s redemption. Adam and Eve, in this line of thought, were limited in how much they could develop, and Christ’s grace which came about as a result of the Fall opened up a much greater human destiny. Or one might look at the writings of Irenaeus, an early Church father, who proposed that Adam was in a childlike state and it was no surprise that he fell. In fact, says Irenaeus, had he not fallen, he would not have been able to understood the experience of good.
Of course, the fact that the Fall is positive does not necessarily exonerate Eve. And I certainly do not wish to deny that the dominant strain in Christian history has in fact been to see the Fall as a disastrous mistake, and to blame Eve for bringing about our unhappy condition. That this has been cited as evidence of women’s inherent weakness, and used as justification for women’s subordination, is indisputable. And in contrast to this, the LDS view is indeed a progressive one. However, I would be hesitant to be too quick to pat ourselves on the back for having a more positive view of women than say, Thomas Aquinas.
A more fair comparison, I think, is with contemporary Christian thought. And what is going on there? The advent of second-wave feminism beginning in the 1960s influenced theology as well as other fields, and over the past few decades theologians have been acutely aware of feminist issues. The conception of women found in Christian history has come under close scrutiny. In contemporary mainstream Christian theology, feminism cannot be lightly ignored; and while there are still arguments about a variety of issues, virtually no one is asserting that women should be subordinate based on the Fall. The idea has simply been dismissed as a historical artifact. In fact, Genesis is rarely read literally in the first place; a historical Adam and Eve are widely rejected. This means that for many, the issue of Eve’s guilt has simply become irrelevant.
Obviously, I am talking about theology and not popular religion–and theology in a particular context, at that. There are indeed more conservative churches, and more conservative strands of Christian thought. So I am certainly not saying that more conservative ideas about Eve and the subordination of women do not persist; they obviously do. I am simply challenging the idea that the entire Big Bad Christian World has a negative view of Eve and the Fall and subordinates women because of it.
2) We see Eve as a person in her own right, fully equal to Adam.
One of the most disturbing aspects of our view of Eve, in my view, actually precedes the Fall. In the March Ensign’s article on Eve, Russell M. Nelson is quoted as saying that Eve is the “keystone in the priesthood arch of salvation.” Though I have no doubt that this is meant as a genuine statement of appreciation, it is assertions like this that trouble me. Eve, notably, is not a subject here; she is an object.
This is a notion which is repeated over and over in our praise of Eve. She is not described as a person in her own right. Her value lies in what she contributes to the plan of salvation–in other words, what she contributes to men’s ability to achieve their potential. Women are important, we hear again and again, because men could not be saved without them. Eve shows up because of Adam’s needs (it is not good for Adam to be alone). Adam is not created for Eve; Eve is created for Adam. Her role is fundamentally a supporting one. And as soon as she steps outside of that role, she is punished—which leads me to point number three.
3) We honor Eve for her for her decision.
I find this assertion particularly confusing. For one thing, as I mentioned in my first point, believing that the Fall is good does not necessarily equate to seeing Eve’s act in positive terms. The question of whether Eve is deceived or not is a open one in LDS discussion. While in the scriptural text she is clearly deceived (and indeed she explains her own action in terms of being “beguiled”), some have proposed that she in fact made a deliberate and honorable decision.1 But this question is at least up for debate; it is by no means clear that the act itself is praiseworthy. By contrast, Adam’s act is generally described as wise and the right thing to do (if not as flashy as Eve’s choice).
Much of our understanding of the Fall as necessary and good is based on 2 Nephi 2. Strikingly, Eve gets mentioned in v. 18 in the context of being tempted of the devil, and in v. 19 of being driven out of the garden with Adam. After that, it’s all Adam. “And now, behold, if Adam had not transgressed . . . ” (v. 21). “Adam fell that men might be . . ” (v. 25). Obviously, in these instances, “Adam” is being used to denote Adam and Eve as a couple. But why is it that so often that when we talk about the Fall, if it’s in positive terms—look what good things the Fall brought about!—it’s the Fall of Adam (not the Fall of Adam and Eve)?
The most jarring bit about this assertion, however, lies in the fact that far from ritually honoring Eve, we ritually punish her. The curse of Genesis 3:16 (“thy desire shall be to thy husband and he shall rule over thee”) is alive and well, even if we have softened the language. When I hear that we honor Eve, I want to ask, where? In what concrete way? Where do the scriptures honor her, even? In our most sacred spaces, do we pause a moment to honor her for her insight–or do we immediately relegate her to a silent and secondary role?
In a nutshell, the idea that the LDS view of Eve has lead to more egalitarian practice than other churches simply boggles the imagination, given how many mainstream Christian churches not only do not subordinate women (no language of “preside” or “hearken”), but actually go so far as to ordain them. It is true that this is not the case for more conservative Christians, but to only compare ourselves to these traditions is disingenuous at best. In the end, it turns out that our view of Eve does in fact neatly parallel our view of women more generally: we ambiguously praise her, and then ensure that she is not able to make any more rash decisions.
- See, for example, Beverly Campbell’s read of the Fall: “Eve faced the choice between selfish ease and unselfishly facing tribulation and death (Widtsoe, p. 193). As befit her calling, she realized that there was no other way and deliberately chose mortal life so as to further the purpose of God and bring children into the world.” (“Eve,” The Encyclopedia of Mormonism. [↩]