The Heavenly Family: A Proclamation

January 7, 2014 | 86 comments
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ALL HUMAN BEINGS—male and female—are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of Heavenly Parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny. Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.

Heavenly Father and Mother have a solemn responsibility to love and care for each other and for their children. Heavenly Parents have a sacred duty to rear their children in love and righteousness, to provide for their physical and spiritual needs, and to teach them to love and serve one another, observe the commandments of God, and be law-abiding citizens wherever they live. Heavenly Father and Mother will be held accountable for the discharge of these obligations.

Children of God are entitled to be reared by Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother. Heavenly Father is to preside over their families in love and righteousness and provide the necessities of life and protection. Heavenly Mother is primarily responsible for the nurture of Her children. In these sacred responsibilities, Heavenly Father and Mother are obligated to help one another as equal partners.

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Do you believe that this is true? Why or why not?

Refs:

The Family: A Proclamation to the World.

86 Responses to The Heavenly Family: A Proclamation

  1. Steve Martin on January 8, 2014 at 1:39 am

    No…I don’t believe any “Heavenly Mother” exists.

    There’s no mention of it in the Bible. God is referred to as Father…so that is what we can expect. God can take on attributes of the female, “like a hen would gather her chicks…”, etc… but Jesus never mentions his “Heavenly Mother”. If he had one I’m sure he would have mentioned her…being that he was the only truly authentic human (faithful in every way) that ever lived.

    Now, I know my beliefs run counter to accepted Mormon doctrine (I am a Lutheran)…but I thought you might be interested in what an orthodox Christian thinks on the question.

    Thanks.

  2. Anonymous 123 on January 8, 2014 at 1:46 am

    The idea that “gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose” is, in my opinion, ridiculous. Whether a physical body possesses testicles or a uterus, or can grow a beard, or has an Adam’s apple is as much a determinant of eternal identity as skin color, culture, or number of limbs possessed. We don’t believe that individuals born with genetic diseases (e.g. anything from Down Syndrome to polycystic kidney disease) have fundamentally distinct eternal characteristics from those born without such diseases. We don’t prescribe distinct roles for them in mortality (although their roles may certainly be limited by their physical disability). If genetically-determined diseases aren’t part of eternal identity, then why is genetically-determined sex? (And what about the 1% of humans who are born with sexual ambiguity, due to a variety of chromosomal, endocrinologic, and other biological conditions?) Of course, gender is a much more “obvious” distinction among us than are many genetic diseases. I think our brains are hard-wired to use stereotypes to help us make sense of the world, and it’s simply too easy to use gender to stereotype the sexes and use theology to help justify our stereotypes. Fortunately, the Church and Western society eventually recognized that race was not a marker of spiritual significance, and I hope that they will eventually recognize the flaws in viewing sex as such.

  3. Anonymous 123 on January 8, 2014 at 2:04 am

    Just realized I used “sex” and “gender” interchangeably in the comment above even though I think of them differently (i.e. “sex” is biologically determined, “gender’ is socially determined). To clarify, I am referring to biological sex in the last few sentences.

  4. Steve Smith on January 8, 2014 at 2:10 am

    No, not really. My beliefs: humans are created by God through evolution. God is an essence that can be sensed in nature and in our interactions with other humans, when they are just and moral. Gender assignments are biological, developed through natural selection. A small minority of people are born in between genders. They should be able to choose with which gender they sociologically identify the most and be considered part of that gender. I don’t believe that God has a responsibility that we hold God accountable for. God is constant and unchanging. God emanates a spirit that can be felt by humans through their consciences and will lead them to true justice and morality. God doesn’t intervene directly in our affairs, so God doesn’t and can’t rear us like a parent. Or perhaps it could be accepted that God is always rearing us through our consciences. God bestowed upon us the power of reasoning to be able to grasp the complex natures of justice and morality and find an optimal balance of power in society; one that will preserve life and well-being for all to the utmost degree. God’s gift of reasoning to us helps to understand nature and prevent natural causes of death the best that we can. All humans should be regarded as equals and our leaders in society should be chosen by their merit and commitment to true justice and morality.

  5. Rebecca on January 8, 2014 at 2:53 am

    Ha ha, if that were true in Mormon circles, we would be spending MOST of our time talking with she who nurtured us… at very least, both parents about equally. The doctrine is mostly ignored in Mormonism today. I like the changes in this one!
    In reference to what Steve Martin said… when one has a pretty good grasp of Hebrew and reads the biblical texts in context, the feminine is almost always present along side the male, and often even independent of the male all together.

  6. Eric Nielson on January 8, 2014 at 7:57 am

    Yes. Unambiguously yes. It rings true to me. Same sociality..

  7. Nathaniel Givens on January 8, 2014 at 10:14 am

    What we’ve basically got is snippets from the Proclamation where “Heavenly Mother” and “Heavenly Father” are substituted for original terms like “mothers” or “wives” and “fathers” or “husbands”.

    So the question you’re asking is whether or not the gender roles asserted by the Proclamation are also true of our Heavenly Parents which is, itself, not explicitly asserted within the Proclamation.

    I’m inclined to believe that those gender roles probably are true of our Heavenly Parents. My reckoning is based on the Church’s remarkably explicit commitment to gender essentialism. It’s a pretty obscure philosophical point for the Church to take such a stark stance on, although obviously a vital one. The clarity and centrality of the proposition to Mormon theology (especially as articulated in the Proclamation) is one point in its favor, for me. I just wrote about the fallibility of leaders recently, but the more clear and central a teaching is, the more credence I give it. Obviously gender essentialism doesn’t rival a teaching as core to our beliefs as, say, the atonement (nothing does or should), but it’s pretty high up there.

    I also privately belief in gender essentialism myself, both based on the evidence as I see it and on the philosophy. For the evidence, I recommend Camille Paglia. (I really wish I had the full text–which I did read–but I can no longer find it online.) For the philosophy, I will frankly admit that I just find it appealing and compelling, perhaps at an aesthetic level. I remember being roundly mocked by my (very traditional) kung fu instructor for expressing doubts in the concept of chi. He listed a litany of examples where duality is required to create and sustain existence, everything from yin and yan to north and south magnetic polarization. Male and female was another one of his examples. That’s just one example of the universality of this concept.

    So if gender essentialism is true and if we’re created in the image of God then it stands to reason (for me) that there are core gender attributes common to Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother as well as to us.

    There’s also a lot of individual variation around the general truth, however. I think people often take an overly radical view of gender essentialism. Consider this example: it’s obviously true that women are shorter than men in general. But it’s equally obviously true that some women are taller than some men. Let’s suppose (just for fun) that this is true of Celestial bodies as well. So in the Celestial Kingdom women are shorter in general, but some women are taller than some men.

    Might our Heavenly Mother happen to be tall? And our Heavenly Father happen to be short? So that we could recognize that women are generally shorter then men and observe that our Heavenly Mother happens to be taller than her husband? Could be.

    Like Paglia, I find that opponents of gender essentialism overstate the exceptions and ignore the rule when it comes to gender roles across culture and time. And, like Paglia, I also think that the exceptional cases deserve a place of respect and love in society.

  8. Kaimi Wenger on January 8, 2014 at 10:24 am

    Anon 123, I understand that there are problems with eternal gender. I’m not convinced of the idea myself. But I do think it’s odd that the church hews so strongly to the view in the FamProc, and then basically ignores it when it comes to Heavenly Parents — we are basically being raised by a single Dad, we are not to talk with Mom, we are not to talk about Mom, but Mom is really awesome, but She has zero direct involvement in the raising of Her children.

    Rebecca, exactly!

    Nathaniel, I think there’s a reasonable case that, within the context of Mormon belief, this is correct.

    So, how do we explain a current norm in which Heavenly Mother has zero involvement in the nurturing, teaching, and interaction with Her children?

  9. Sideshow on January 8, 2014 at 10:52 am

    Kaimi, are you sure that Heavenly Mother has zero involvement in the nurturing, teaching, and interaction with Her children? And is that so different from Heavenly Father, whose direct interaction has been limited to a few short instances?

  10. Nathaniel Givens on January 8, 2014 at 10:54 am

    Kaimi-

    So, how do we explain a current norm in which Heavenly Mother has zero involvement in the nurturing, teaching, and interaction with Her children?

    That’s a question I’ve thought about a lot. I haven’t read enough Margaret Barker yet to be really informed, but my impression is that Heavenly Mother played a much greater role at times in ancient Israel, but got edited out of the text. Since much of Mormonism is based on Biblical Christianity, it’s a wonder we managed to recuperate any knowledge of her existence at all, from one perspective.

    But I still think there’s lots more to learn and understand. I’m both saddened and puzzled by the dearth of additional information, although it’s not as though we’ve been getting all kinds of additional revelation on other topics. It looks like Joseph Smith either didn’t emphasize this or didn’t have time to get to it in his lifetime, and what really new, original doctrine have we had since him?

    So on the one hand, it just provokes the bigger questions: if Mormons are supposed to be getting continuing revelation, where is it? On the other hand, I think there are potential answers to both of those questions–why we don’t get more revelation in general and about Heavenly Mother in particular–but the most convincing argument I have heard on that score hasn’t been shared publicly and isn’t mine, so I’ll have to leave it at that for now. Sorry.

  11. Nathaniel Givens on January 8, 2014 at 11:01 am

    Oh, I’d also like to just point out this article by Valerie Hudson Cassler. I’m a huge fan of her work, and I think it’s possible that she’s really on to something here, and that Heavenly Mother is already much more present than we realize–and always has been–but it’s up to us to recognize her.

    Continuing that thought, it’s even possible that expecting a top-down revelation through one of the male priesthood orders about Heavenly Mother might be waiting for a train by the wrong set of tracks.

    If Heavenly Mother and Heavenly Father are co-equal (which I believe), then it’s possible her self-revelation may not come through male channels.

    This fits with my general belief that one issue in Mormonism is the top-heavy nature of our culture, and that the fix is to have more bottom-up involvement of members. My understanding is that the Church was restored as an institution by Joseph Smith, but that as a membership–as a Zion community–we’re still very much uncreated. The creative work can’t depend on leaders, but must rather depend on ordinary members.

    So thinking that future revelation about Heavenly Mother would go hand-in-hand with a general spiritual awakening of the members makes sense to me, even if it does not fully explain how we got into this predicament in the first place.

    I would even go so far as to speculate that one of the potential benefits of the current debates about gender and sexuality for the Church is that it provokes us to recognize and address these kinds of issues, and so may work to catalyze the kinds of growth I’m talking about. As a social conservative (speaking generally) I am not in favor of most of the socially liberal agenda, but I do think that the discussion is an important one and could have important benefits.

  12. mtnmarty on January 8, 2014 at 11:06 am

    What would keep them from being one flesh? How do we know what is metaphor and what literal in these things?

    Like, Nathaniel’s example, God could look very effeminate even if he is somehow male? If we are all made in his image, wouldn’t he need to be both genders in some sense.

    I’m curious what Steve and others think Jesus’s Y chromosome is like.

  13. mtnmarty on January 8, 2014 at 11:16 am

    And why are we not saying mothers, plural?

  14. wreddyornot on January 8, 2014 at 11:44 am

    Yes, but . . .

    The offspring of deity possess fatal flaws, perhaps chief and most common of which is blaming others, also known as scapegoating.

    In our narratives the stronger win out, whether it be two-thirds versus one-third, men versus women, a patriarchy of Jerusalem over against a reformer who taught patience, love, and kindness.

    We find people to blame for our sins, whether consciously on not, and then send them into the wilderness. Lepers and the mentally impaired, blacks and other ethnicities, gays and lesbians, apostates, etc.

    Jesus Christ.

    Men need to recognize their sins and to repent. They need to boldly ask themselves where Heavenly Mother is and hold both themselves and the prophets and others in charge accountable for not knowing.

    What boy raised to manhood absent a mother doesn’t inquire after her?

  15. mtnmarty on January 8, 2014 at 12:08 pm

    Weddyornot,

    Are you saying that maybe Jesus wasn’t her favorite son, or am I interpreting you wrong?

  16. Nathaniel Givens on January 8, 2014 at 12:34 pm

    mtnmarty-

    And why are we not saying mothers, plural?

    Because marriage between one man and one wife is the standard. Polygamy is an exceptional case. There’s no good reason to suppose that there are Heavenly Mothers.

  17. Dave K on January 8, 2014 at 1:02 pm

    Kaimi,

    I appreciate your post. But while your post is brief, any serious answer will take more space than a T&S comment allows. So here is my simple, but incomplete, answer: Q. Is gender essential or eternal? A. At this moment, I don’t have any reason to believe it is.

    Gender essentialism certainly is a strongly taught LDS belief (see N. Givens supra). It seems to be the fulcrum for the church’s opposition to SSM. But gender essentialism conflicts (perhaps fatally) with HM’s failure to communicate with us. Either we are being raised by a single-father (because church leaders only provide direction from HF and forbid anyone from even speaking with HM) or HM does speak, but not through the FP/Q12. Either way, it’s not a healthy position for church leadership.

    Moreover, while church leaders strongly teach gender essentialism, none can explain why it matters or what the eternal differences are. A prime example is Elder Christofferson’s talk last GC. Read the two paragraphs that begin “A third area of concern …” Elder Christofferson speaks against “eras[ing] all differences between the masculine and the feminine,” but utterly fails to explain those differences or why they matter. All of the attributes he says women should avoid – corseness, rudeness, vanity, etc. – are also attributes that men should avoid. It’s a total non-sequiter.

    At this point, the only gender difference leaders point to is an assumed, non-revealed, belief that spiritual procreation will require both sexes just as mortal procreation does. But if that’s all it is, then in my judgment gender differences have no more eternal meaning than differences in skin color, heigth, or other physical attributes. Providing sperm and egg are important functions, but they are just one type of action parents do. They are not essential for parenthood anymore than other actions parents do, such as making a sandwich or teaching a child to ride a bike. If true parenthood requires providing DNA, then Christ could not bear the title of “Father.”

    So what is parenthood? Christ is the best example. Parenthood is to condescend and sacrifice one’s time, talent, and life to help another to grow into their potential. It has nothing to do with gender.

    And where is HM? She’s always been there. We worship Elohim – which means “the Gods.” We don’t have one HF and one HM, we have thousands. The reason we call any of them “Father” or “Mother” is not because they provide spiritual DNA – if such a thing even exists – it is because they provide example and sacrifice. If we do have different anatomy in the next life, it will not determine our parenthood any more than differences in hair color or number of toes.

  18. Jax on January 8, 2014 at 1:40 pm

    At this moment, I don’t have any reason to believe it is.

    The prophets having said that gender IS essential and eternal seems to be a pretty good reason to believe it, isn’t it? Contrarily, I don’t have any reason to believe it (your position) is [correct]. Your position seems to be that you don’t believe the Apostles because you think their logic is faulty; you think it is more logical that they are wrong. I think it is wise (even if illogical) to reject ideas that sound like they come straight from Helaman 16:18 when those ideas are in direct opposition to revealed truths.

  19. wreddyornot on January 8, 2014 at 1:49 pm

    mtmmarty, I meant that we scapegoat Christ, our exemplar. By not loving one another — Christ’s predominant message — we reject what he taught and send him into the wilderness. If one studies outside the box going back in time one finds that men have, for instance, almost always scapegoated women, including HM. We do now. When last did we inquire after HM? When last did we ask our leaders about HM?

    When I said “. . . yes, but . . .” above, I intended to leave room for the variety of life. Pluck a leaf from a tree and study it and then another and do the same and so on. Variation exists; it’s a feature of life. It’s more complicated than we understand yet. What we should grasp is that love — being patient, kind, not envying, not boasting etc., etc. obviates scapegoating.

  20. Dave K on January 8, 2014 at 1:54 pm

    Jax, I’m very open to the prophets explaining the issue. But they aren’t doing it. Simply repeating a conclusion over and over does not lead to conversion. And more to the point, the teaching of gender essentialism does not have any practical bearing on our lives or doctrine. Ask yourself, if we stopped teaching that gender is eternal, what exactly would change?

  21. mtnmarty on January 8, 2014 at 2:44 pm

    NG: Because marriage between one man and one wife is the standard. Polygamy is an exceptional case.

    Isn’t God an exceptional case? I would say that powerful men have often taken more than one wife. Why would the most powerful man have just one?

    That’s just your opinion plain and simple.

  22. Nathaniel Givens on January 8, 2014 at 2:53 pm

    Dave K-

    Jax, I’m very open to the prophets explaining the issue. But they aren’t doing it.

    I’m a critic of blind belief, but surely the role of prophets has to have some weight, right? If you’re only willing to accept their teachings as far as they can convince you based on logic, what’s the point of having a prophet at all?

    And more to the point, the teaching of gender essentialism does not have any practical bearing on our lives or doctrine.

    I’m not sure how this is compatible with your prior statement that gender essentialism is the hinge on which opposition to SSM pivots. That’s not the only practice/doctrine. How about the teachings that men’s primary duty is to provide materially and women’s to nurture within the home? Whether you accept or reject it, it’s a definitive practice of Mormonism that would be seriously undercut if gender essentialism were discarded. Additionally, the Proclamation on the Family explicitly includes and subsequently relies on gender essentialism. Take away gender essentialism and one of the few examples of modern doctrine falls with it. Those are two high-profile, important doctrines/practices that would be severely impacted (if not outright obliterated) without gender essentialism.

    By contrast we have… what? A non-canonical belief that we worship thousands of mothers and fathers? I realize the term “God” can be confusing, but when I pray to my Heavenly Father I have in mind an individual, one with whom I hope to foster and develop a personal relationship. Not a committee of unknown deities.

    When I think of my Heavenly Mother, I similarly think of an individual. That is why I am saddened and perplexed by Her loss to our faith, because I believe I know my Father in Heaven to some degree, but my Mother not nearly as well.

    I think your view involves a much more radical departure from Mormonism than you believe. At least, it certainly would for me.

  23. mtnmarty on January 8, 2014 at 2:53 pm

    Dake K: We worship Elohim – which means “the Gods.” We don’t have one HF and one HM, we have thousands.

    I knew I was spiritually adopted! I’m not related to ANY of you people.

  24. Nathaniel Givens on January 8, 2014 at 2:56 pm

    mtnmarty-

    Isn’t God an exceptional case? I would say that powerful men have often taken more than one wife. Why would the most powerful man have just one?

    So, on the one hand we have doctrine stating that the model is one man and one woman, not to mention the example of the very first marriage of Adam (quantity: 1) and Eve (quantity: 1).

    On the other hand, we have the example of a handful of patriarchs who took more than one wife, often with disastrous consequences and with no clear and explicit evidence that what they did was in the right.

    Look, Abraham may be your highest examplar, but Christ is mine, and there’s no evidence he took more than one wife (or any wife).

    Is it possible God has multiple wives? Maybe. But the question you asked was: And why are we not saying mothers, plural?.

    And the answer is: because we have no good reason to believe they exist. Not everything that’s possible is affirmed as probable, after all.

  25. mtnmarty on January 8, 2014 at 3:02 pm

    NG: I realize the term “God” can be confusing.

    I agree with Nathaniel at long last.

    I can’t keep straight what people mean by God vs. Heavenly Father vs. Jesus and who imagines what when they pray. When you pray does Jesus here it?

  26. Lorian on January 8, 2014 at 3:03 pm

    No. I don’t believe in gender as an eternal characteristic, nor do I believe in essential or exclusive gender roles. I do believe in God as a blending of masculine and feminine principles, but not as separate beings, one of whom is female and one male. And while I believe in a blending of masculine and feminine in God’s person, I doubt that anything as limiting as “masculine” and “feminine” could remotely begin to describe the characteristics of a Divine Being. I think we err when we attempt to draw God in our own image to the point of ascribing God a set of genitalia, a beard or any other human physical configuration.

    I think we relate to God based upon our own limited human experiences — so that it is easiest for us (usually) to conceive of God as a parent, so that we can imagine our relationship to God as being similar to our relationship to our parents (though this is intensely problematic for those whose relationship with earthly parents has been less than ideal or even outright abusive). But I think this is a concession God makes to our limited human understanding, not a means by which we are actually understanding anything essential to who God is. God may function in a parental role to us, but this is probably due to *our* inability to understand God in anything which more accurately approaches the Infinity which God represents.

  27. mtnmarty on January 8, 2014 at 3:05 pm

    NG: Wouldn’t you have to admit that doctrine or not the reason that we think singular is that most of us had a non-polygamous parents.

    The improbable, but not impossible, eventually happens.

    To be charitable, I’ll admit, on average there might be one HM.

  28. Jax on January 8, 2014 at 3:30 pm

    Simply repeating a conclusion over and over does not lead to conversion.

    That street runs both ways, right?

    And more to the point, the teaching of gender essentialism does not have any practical bearing on our lives or doctrine. Ask yourself, if we stopped teaching that gender is eternal, what exactly would change?

    If it is non-essential why would it matter to you what would change? But it IS essential. So what would change? Homosexuality would be acceptable, male-only priesthood would vanish, an increase in confusion about eternity/eternal roles, an decrease in people’s ability to relate to God or understand their relationship to Him, any understanding of who we were before we came here and any understand of what we might be when we leave …

    Now there are many who visit this site, and within the church in general, who would support the first two items I listed primarily, I think, because they don’t understand/accept that gender IS eternal. If they could/would accept that truth, then those two things would not seem abhorrent and discriminatory. It is only “logical” or “reasonable” to reject “gender essentialism” (who came up with the phrase??) if you also reject that Gordon B. Hinckley was a prophet/seer/revelator and also reject every person who has cited the Proclamation as authoritative. That seems quite unreasonable to me.

  29. mtnmarty on January 8, 2014 at 3:50 pm

    NG: If you parse the proclamation carefully you’ll notice that polygamous marriage seems to be included in its scope. Its uses man and woman rather than “a man and a woman” or “one man and one woman” in most places but a father and a mother for a child.

    The family is ordained of God. Marriage between man and woman is essential to His eternal plan. Children are entitled to birth within the bonds of matrimony, and to be reared by a father and a mother who honor marital vows with complete fidelity.

    Joseph Smith and Brigham Young were certainly exceptional cases, in your eyes. It seems odd to use the example of Christ in saying why there is no good evidence for multiple heavenly mothers, when, as you cite, there is no evidence he was married but that isn’t stopping the speculation about one heavenly mother. Is there evidence that Jesus’s mother was married to more than man. What exactly was Mary’s marital status in relationship to HF and Joseph? You would seem to have to argue that Mary was Heavenly Mother, or unfaithful or that HF is polygamous, or am I missing some more complicated doctrine?

    Our “evidence” for what pre-mortal and post-mortal gender are seem speculative in the extreme.

  30. Kaimi Wenger on January 8, 2014 at 4:04 pm

    Good points, Nathaniel.

    To my knowledge, there are a few potential ways to incorporate Heavenly Mother within the existing framework, but each has its problems.

    The first is the plurality inherent in the word Elohim. Perhaps Elohim or God, as mentioned in scripture, should be read as a dyad.

    The biggest problem here from the LDS perspective is how little we actually use the terms Elohim or God, compared to the term Heavenly Father. From the most widely told First Vision account, to the standard forms of prayer, to the Proclamation itself, we’re very very clear that most of the time, we’re talking to and about Father.

    And while that works as a general baseline, it is — as this post points out — not at all consistent with the idea of nurturing mothers who are equal partners in child-raising.

    The second major approach is to suggest that Heavenly Mother is in fact the Holy Ghost. There are many appealing features of this approach. It turns the Godhead into a family of Father, Mother and Child. It also links Mother’s identity to the Spirit, which is called the Comforter, and which often plays a deeply personal, nurturing role.

    There are some theological quirks about this approach — it raises complicated questions about how Mother could be disembodied — but overall, it’s a very satisfying resolution. It has one major drawback that I’m aware of: It’s most vocal proponent, Janice Allred, was very visibly excommunicated for making the suggestion.

  31. New Iconoclast on January 8, 2014 at 4:14 pm

    In reference to what Steve Martin said… when one has a pretty good grasp of Hebrew and reads the biblical texts in context

    Steve said he was a Lutheran, an orthodox Christian, not that he had a good grasp of Hebrew or read the Biblical texts in context. That was a cultural answer, I think.

    That said, and the topic of HM having been bounced about in my mind quite a bit, I’d bite on another dangling worm:

    By “law-abiding,” do you mean “obedient to divine law,” or something else (physical law, legislative law, traffic law, etc.)? I ask because the phrase “law-abiding citizens wherever they live” seems to connote an obedience to the laws of earthly governments, and not neccessarily (solely) obedience to the laws of God. I, for one, would take issue with that meaning, or at least insist that it not be absolute.

  32. JKC on January 8, 2014 at 5:15 pm

    Kaimi,

    I like your comment. It’s helpful because it lays out the two major possibilities for how Heavenly Mother could be a part of the Godhead. One other possibility is that she exists, is real, is a powerful force in our lives and all that good stuff, but that she simply isn’t a part of the Godhead. In other words, she is a “divine personage” just like the three that make up the Godhead, but she is just not a part of that particular committee or presidency that we call the Godhead. In other words, being “God” is a function of being part of that particular relationship that exists between the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. So Heavenly Mother is not “God” in that sense, but that does not make her less than divine, nor does it make her less than equal in power or glory with the Father, it’s just that instead of being a part of the relationship that we call the Godhead, she is part of a relationship with him that is outside our understanding (at least for now) and transcends even the relationship that he has with the Son and the Holy Ghost.

    This concept has the advantage of explaining why she is not prayed to, and leaves the traditional understanding of the Godhead intact. It is somewhat similar to your the “dyad” approach in your comment, but it avoids the problem that you highlight through the additional nuance that the Father is a member of the Godhead all by himself.

    The obvious disadvantage is that it still leaves us with a mother that, at least based on our current understanding, seems either aloof or on a pedestal on some level. And it could suggest (though not necessarily) that she is not equal to the Father–because she doesn’t get to be part of the same club with the San and Holy Ghost. And it raises the question: why, if the Father-Son-Holy Ghost relationship is so essential for us to know, do we not know more about the Mother-Father relationship? I don’t think these are necessarily implied by the concept of her being a divine being that exists outside the Godhead, but it’s an easy leap to make. Then again, maybe she just doesn’t care that much about holding a “leadership position” or authorizing things to be done in her name. Maybe she simply transcends the concepts of authority and sovereignty that we associate with the Godhead.

  33. Nathaniel Givens on January 8, 2014 at 6:01 pm

    Kaimi-

    The first is the plurality inherent in the word Elohim. Perhaps Elohim or God, as mentioned in scripture, should be read as a dyad.

    I agree with your comments on this approach: even if we read elohim as a plural (dyad or more), it doesn’t help with all the time when we talk about Heavenly Father. It wouldn’t actually do much to bring Heavenly Mother to anything like parity.

    The second major approach is to suggest that Heavenly Mother is in fact the Holy Ghost.

    This is a non-starter for me for two additional reasons. (1) Nephi describes the Holy Ghost as unambiguously male, assuming “Spirit of the Lord” means “Holy Ghost”, which seems relatively safe:

    11 And I said unto him: To know the interpretation thereof—for I spake unto him as a man speaketh; for I beheld that he was in the form of a man; yet nevertheless, I knew that it was the Spirit of the Lord; and he spake unto me as a man speaketh with another.

    (2) I find the idea that Heavenly Mother was there all along, but nobody bothered to identify her, about as problematic as the idea that she was lost to us for some reason. Perhaps more so.

    The third option, which is compatible with my most recent post, is that the Restoration was first and foremost as restoration of priesthood rather than doctrine, and that it did not fill all the gaps. Again, I’m not an expert on this by any means, but everything I’ve read from Margaret Barker about Asherah, Sophia, and her place in the temple makes me think that the work of unearthing lost truths is far from complete, and that our answers lay in that direction.

    Why is Heavenly Mother unknown to us? Well, the Apostasy lasted roughly 1,600 years or so before the priesthood and certain key doctrines were restored. In that context, another couple of centuries doesn’t actually seem so mysterious.

    I believe the key to finding Heavenly Mother lies in restoring lost truths, not re-purposing male aspects of our faith.

  34. WalkerW on January 8, 2014 at 8:08 pm

    There is a 2013 volume out from Columbia University Press entitled ‘Gender and Parenthood: Biological and Social Scientific Perspectives’. The differences and similarities between men and women are explored as well as the effects of child-bearing/rearing of both genders.

    If marriage, parenthood, and family life is the divine model (as I believe the Family Proclamation more-or-less declares it to be), I think the research in these articles can help illuminate as to why.

  35. WalkerW on January 8, 2014 at 8:10 pm

    on both genders*

  36. WalkerW on January 8, 2014 at 8:27 pm

    Nathaniel & Kaimi –

    Joel Burnett in his ‘A Reassessment of Biblical Elohim’ (SBL, 2001) explains that the Hebrew ‘elohim’ is a concretized abstract plural, much like ‘abot’ (“fatherhood”). In Dan. 9:23, Daniel is called a ‘hamudot’ (“desirableness” – translated as “greatly beloved” in KJV). The abstract “desirableness” refers specifically to Daniel, meaning that he is an example of this quality. When we understand it in this way, ‘elohim’ is better translated as “divinity” or “deity”: an abstraction used to refer specifically to the God of Israel, who is the epitome of this attribute.

    Daniel McClellan has a useful summary on his blog: http://danielomcclellan.wordpress.com/2011/01/09/why-is-elohim-plural/

    So, yes: ‘Elohim’ or “divinity” could incorporate Heavenly Father and Mother (Michael Coogan in ‘God & Sex’ argues that the gods in whose image Adam and Eve were created was Yahweh and his wife). It could also incorporate in entire divine council.

    And some of the writings found in the Nag Hammadi library do identify the Holy Ghost as a female. Whether we want to adopt that or not is another question.

  37. ji on January 8, 2014 at 9:17 pm

    I have to align with the “no” answers. Lorian no. 26 hit is closest for me.

    Gender essentialism is a new doctrine, taught only recently in the church. I understand the doctrine, but I’m not an enthusiastic advocate for it.

    I’m still stuck in John ch. 14 — I’m satisfied looking to Jesus Christ and Him only.

  38. Ziff on January 8, 2014 at 10:35 pm

    Re: being raised by a single Dad, perhaps Dad and Mom broke up, and what’s going to happen at the Second Coming is that we’ll get to visit Mom’s place for a while (i.e., the Millennium). :)

  39. Hedgehog on January 9, 2014 at 3:17 am

    Also in the no camp for gender essentialism. As a woman I view Valerie Hudson Cassler’s work on the subject with serious alarm, precisely because it seems to be gaining so much traction in the church.

  40. Nathaniel Givens on January 9, 2014 at 4:11 pm

    I view Valerie Hudson Cassler’s work on the subject with serious alarm, precisely because it seems to be gaining so much traction in the church.

    The gaining traction comment would explain the severity of your alarm, but not the actual reason for alarm in the first place. Would you be willing to elaborate?

  41. WalkerW on January 9, 2014 at 8:56 pm

    I have no problem with gender essentialism. What I have a problem with is an impoverished view of gender. I think both advocates and critics of gender essentialism tend to cling to a Leave It To Beaver-like idea of “traditional gender roles.” Advocates can be sexist; critics can be absurd. There is certainly a lot of flexibility and fluidity between gender roles, but there are also some deep-rooted traits developed by our evolutionary past via the division of labor. This is not to say that there is no anthropological evidence of “gender neutral” roles (or something similar) in various cultures, but these seem to be the exception, not the rule (and much better examples of “social constructs” than male and female genders). The whole “sex is biology, gender is (only) a social construct” reminds me of something Michael Shermer wrote in Scientific American:

    “[C]onsider “cognitive creationists”—whom I define as those who accept the theory of evolution for the human body but not the brain. As Harvard University psychologist Steven Pinker documents in his 2002 book The Blank Slate (Viking), belief in the mind as a tabula rasa shaped almost entirely by culture has been mostly the mantra of liberal intellectuals, who in the 1980s and 1990s led an all-out assault against evolutionary psychology via such Orwellian-named far-left groups as Science for the People, for proffering the now uncontroversial idea that human thought and behavior are at least partially the result of our evolutionary past.”

    Pinker in fact dedicates a portion of his book to gender. He explains, “There is, in fact, no incompatibility between the principles of feminism and the possibility that men and women are not psychologically identical. To repeat: equality is not the empirical claim that all groups of humans are interchangeable; it is the moral principle that individuals should not be judged or constrained by the average properties of their group…If we recognize this principle, no one has to spin myths about the indistinguishability of the sexes to justify equality. Nor should anyone invoke sex differences to justify discriminatory policies or to hector women into doing what they don’t want to do” (pg. 340).

    Pinker goes on to list numerous differences. Gender is not nature *or* nurture, but nature *and* nurture (as is the case with most things). Now, how this operates in the pre-mortal realm, I haven’t a clue. It is difficult for me to imagine, say, male spirits with penises. However, Mormonism does have a materialist metaphysics and spirit is seen as a finer type of matter. Sex differences I suppose could exist in the pre-mortal life as well.

  42. Nathaniel Givens on January 9, 2014 at 9:00 pm

    To repeat: equality is not the empirical claim that all groups of humans are interchangeable; it is the moral principle that individuals should not be judged or constrained by the average properties of their group…If we recognize this principle, no one has to spin myths about the indistinguishability of the sexes to justify equality. Nor should anyone invoke sex differences to justify discriminatory policies or to hector women into doing what they don’t want to do

    Yes.

  43. Lorian on January 9, 2014 at 9:33 pm

    Walker, the main problem that I see here is not so much that there might be gender-related differences in the human brain, but that the concepts, as you describe them, seem to completely ignore the fact that science suggests, in greater and greater detail, that both sex (physical manifestation) and gender (self-perceived and expressed masculinity/femininity) are on a continuum, such that someone whose sex is unambiguously male may experience him/herself as completely female in gender, and vice versa. And also that there are individuals who fall along the intermediate portions of both of those spectra — whose physical sex is neither unambiguously male or female, and/or whose self-identification or experience of their own gender is neither unambiguously male nor female (not to mention the third continuum of sexual orientation, which can be directed, independently of the other two factors of sex and gender, towards exclusively men, exclusively women, some combination of the two, or towards those whose physical sex or gender identity is somewhere in between).

    To suggest that gender essentialism can be anything *other* than massively reductionist borders on absurdity. That a woman’s psychological make-up should be able to be described with anything approaching accuracy based solely upon the configuration of her genitalia (or a man’s by his) overlooks a complexity which we are only beginning to grasp.

  44. WalkerW on January 10, 2014 at 12:53 am

    I pointed out that nature and nurture are both at work and that “gender” may not be as rigid as we sometimes suppose. I agree that there is “a complexity which we are only beginning to grasp.” However, you state at the beginning that “there might be gender-related differences in the human brain.” This seems to be very close to what I said (nature and nurture), even if you emphasize extreme exceptions (e.g. males self-identifying as females and vice versa). I suppose one could argue that nothing is fixed and there is no human nature (“blank slate”), though this position does not have scientific backing. I am convinced that gender will be expressed in a much grander fashion with a celestial nature and heavenly nurture. I guess the question is whether or not there are inherent gender differences and if these differences are thus essential to human identity. Does nature provide—to borrow from psychologist Gary Marcus—a first draft that is later revised by experience? Does this first draft apply to gender?

    I’d be interested in any reading suggestions you might have. You said that “science suggests, in greater and greater detail…” and I’d like to read more about these details. Thanks in advance!

  45. Hedgehog on January 10, 2014 at 3:27 am

    Nathaniel: “The gaining traction comment would explain the severity of your alarm, but not the actual reason for alarm in the first place. Would you be willing to elaborate?”

    Well I also stated I was in the no camp for gender essentialism, and her work is very much in the yes camp. To me it seems however one tries to sacralise or romanticise, as she appears to me to do, it nevertheless reduces women to their biological function. The sacralisation/romanticisation of it makes my skin crawl. If you are further interested in my point of view on gender essentialism you can find it in my post here:http://www.wheatandtares.org/12717/why-talk-of-the-divine-feminine-isnt-helping-or-i-want-to-scream/

  46. Lorian on January 10, 2014 at 4:04 am

    Walker, I don’t by any means believe that gender identity or sexual orientation is particularly fluid, any more so than physical sex, itself (and are probably a good deal less malleable through external influence!). We may not be as far off in our viewpoints as I originally supposed, however, I remain opposed to the idea of “gender essentialism” mostly because of its extreme binary nature. Gender is not a binary; therefore a binary model of gender essentialism (“this is how women think and behave, and this is how men think and behave”) of necessity will widely miss the mark for a goodly number, if not the vast majority of people, at one level or another. And for such a model to be *ever* used as prescriptive (which is not, I believe, what you are suggesting should be the case) is a travesty. If someone whose biological sex is, for instance, female, can have physically “masculine” characteristics, such as lower vocal range or heavier musculature, or could have gender self-perception which causes the individual to identify as “male,” or could have a sexual orientation such that she is attracted to other women, rather than to men, or some combination of these characteristics, or their opposites, then to suggest that there is anything about her gender which is “essential” to align with her physical sex seems patently ludicrous. Clearly, for some women, there are characteristics with which more identify than not, and the same for men, but there is simply no such thing as a universal gender essential.

    A place to start re biological etiology of sex and gender – http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0149763404001642

    Another good resource – Intersex Society of North America:
    http://www.isna.org/

  47. Nathaniel Givens on January 10, 2014 at 9:11 am

    Hedgehog-

    Well I also stated I was in the no camp for gender essentialism

    Yeah, my question was basically “why?”

    I read your post, and that was pretty illuminating. I guess if I thought gender roles were so restrictive, I’d be alarmed at gender essentialism as well. But I’m perplexed at the attitude that if there is some essential aspect of gender in our identity, that this must imply we have to all be cookie-cutter models of the exact same gender template. That all men must be exactly like this and all women must be exactly like that.

    I am a gender essentialist because I like the idea of a divided humanity constantly seeking each other in understanding, of reaching across a divide to embrace the other, and for many other reasons. (Also: because Church doctrine appears to clearly support it.) But I think it’s radical and, frankly, weird to have such an extreme view of the principle in mind. The fact that I’m a gender essentialist doesn’t in any way conflict with the fact that I’m more of a nurturing caregiver than the stereotypical father figure or that I have taken on more housekeeping duties as my wife is currently getting her PhD in a technical, male-dominated subject (computer science).

    From my point of view, gender essentialism provides a template for our roles, but then we are free to define ourselves against that template. We find pieces that work, and pieces that don’t, and we construct our individual identities in relation to the norms, but not in slavish obedience to them.

    I guess it’s a lot like language. You could argue that it’s horribly constricting that “apple” refers to the fruit that grows on trees and “blue” is the color of the sky. Maybe you want to use different sounds for different concepts, but you are unable to do so. You could try, sure, but you’d be going against the cultural expectations of those sounds, and thus defeating the whole purpose of language, which is to communicate.

    However, that doesn’t mean that everyone has to use language in exactly the same way. Clearly, we don’t. Sarcasm, for example, is all about words meaning one thing and the meaning being more or less the opposite. But sarcasm–the exact opposite of simplistic meaning–only works because we understand what the words are supposed to mean.

    Your view of gender essentialism is so brutally simplistic that it’s no wonder you find it repugnant, but I don’t think it bears much resemblance to the concept in practice.

  48. Nathaniel Givens on January 10, 2014 at 9:14 am

    Lorian-

    Clearly, for some women, there are characteristics with which more identify than not, and the same for men, but there is simply no such thing as a universal gender essential.

    I won’t repeat my entire reply to Hedgehog because most of it applies here as well, just point it out for you. Gender essentialism, as I read it, just means that gender is an intrinsic part of human identity. But gender itself is a nebulous concept. It’s less like a bullet list of traits and more like a constellation. There’s all kinds of room for nuance, deviation, and individuality against the backdrop of gender essentialism.

    I’d go even farther and say (once again: like language) that gender is the substrate that allows us to provide more meaning. If gender is truly artificially or socially constructed and totally independent of nature, than I think it just fades into meaningless, chaotic, ambiguous androgyny. Not exactly my idea of progress, nor a fitting parallel for the richness and diversity of human experience.

  49. mtnmarty on January 10, 2014 at 10:26 am

    NG: Your view of gender essentialism is so brutally simplistic that it’s no wonder you find it repugnant, but I don’t think it bears much resemblance to the concept in practice.

    For good or for bad, the LDS requirement that the law of chastity requires that sexual relations be constrained to husband and wife is brutally simplistic.

    The root of the different views expressed here I think is related to the different ways people prioritize mind, body, identity, concepts of the good life and concepts of religious or spiritual requirements.

    Some of the opponents of gender essentialism view our bodies, and the connection of our bodies to identity as a distraction, as fallen as something to be transcended. They feel that taking the biological contingencies and back-casting them onto pre-mortal identities and forward to post-mortal identities is unfortunate. At a minimum proponents of pre-mortal identity seem to have some explaining to do about how pre-mortal gender is connected to the biological determinants of sex. Not that its impossible, but in your terms it seems “weird”.

    We are quite conflicted about what to makes of bodies. We view them as temples and made in God’s image, but also as fallen and the source of much grief. I don’t know that the LDS church unlike the catholic church has a view of how much we can tamper with our bodies without it being a sin.

    The other main source of controversy seems to be the way some terms that in LDS tradition are correlated with gender but don’t seem to have any clear mapping to biological sex. Such a term would seem to be “preside”. It seems to me to be very culturally specific term related to certain cultural practices. Those practices may be based on some eternal principle or cross cultural template, but if we imagined how we would tell if people in different cultures were doing “presiding” correctly it seems like we would have a tough time without certain corresponding practices.

    I guess this is where the tension comes in with understanding the chain of correlation of biological sex being related to a gender role like presiding. If one looks at the constellation of traits that may be correlated with presiding (size, dominance, decision making. etc) there doesn’t seem at all to be a reason for one biological sex to be excluded from presiding.

    But, to make the argument that women should be allowed to preside because there is no principled reason for them not to, is to give one biological and environmental property (trait determination) a higher place than another biological and social property (sex) because it makes sense to us as people.

    This is a very slippery slope for people who believe in God. If we are determining what God wants based on our natures then we seem to be putting the lower (ourselves and our bodies) above the higher, a transcendent God.

    I don’t think we have any way of knowing, absent some revelation, how much we should treat different sexes and different genders differently. So I guess its a fair fight from my point of view how both sides and I don’t much care how it turns out because gender isn’t that essential to what is essential to me.

    Even in Nathaniel’s terms we don’t know whether meaning is to be preferred to non-meaning or being to non-being. I think the idea of two genders creating meaning could equally be applied to a dualistic good and evil framework also. But that doesn’t tell us just how evil is a necessary or valuable thing.

  50. mtnmarty on January 10, 2014 at 11:18 am

    NG: If gender is truly artificially or socially constructed and totally independent of nature, than I think it just fades into meaningless, chaotic, ambiguous androgyny.

    What does this sentence mean, exactly? Are you saying that a natural source is required to maintain a socially constructed concept of gender? Are you saying that intellectually it fades into androgyny?

    I’m not sure what “it” in the sentence is and over what time period the “fades” occurs. Is it a conceptual “fading” in the present or a cultural “fading” over time.

  51. mtnmarty on January 10, 2014 at 11:48 am

    Does anyone have an opinion of whether under the Law of Moses belief in a Heavenly Mother would have violated the first of the ten commandments?

  52. Jared vdH on January 10, 2014 at 1:35 pm

    I would say that I believe in eternal sex and gender characteristics. Based on reading the comments I would say I lean towards Nathaniel’s point of view. I however also admit that I’m relatively new to thinking about the concept and all of it’s ramifications, and so am generally in just an “explore and ask questions” mode.

  53. Cameron N on January 10, 2014 at 1:39 pm

    Popular Spencer W. Kimball quote that I think pertains:

    “God does notice us, and he watches over us. But it is usually through another person that he meets our needs”

    So, to continue the thought experiment:

    “Our Heavenly Mother and Father do notice us, and they both watch over us. But it is usually through another person that they meets our needs”

  54. Lorian on January 10, 2014 at 1:55 pm

    Nathaniel:

    Gender essentialism, as I read it, just means that gender is an intrinsic part of human identity. But gender itself is a nebulous concept.

    Then I think you and I are reading two different definitions of “gender essentialism,” because the one that I read doesn’t allow for much in the way of nebulousness where gender, itself, is concerned. Gender essentialism, as typically applied by those who advocate for relatively rigid gender roles, as does the church, defines individuals as male or female, and as masculine or feminine, in terms of the roles which are assigned to them. There is no room for spectrum or continuum. There is no room for personal experience of one’s own gender as being different from one’s physically manifested sex. The roles are defined: Priesthood or Motherhood, Presider or Follower, Provider or Nurturer.

    The fact that some LDS couples choose to step outside this framework and share available roles doesn’t change the fact that these are the roles outlined by the church, and strongly (at times even forcefully) promulgated by church leadership.

  55. Nathaniel Givens on January 10, 2014 at 3:32 pm

    Lorian-

    Then I think you and I are reading two different definitions of “gender essentialism,”

    Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying. I also happen to think your view of gender essentialism is a very radical and extreme position that is neither required by the basic definition nor recognizable to most folks who are gender essentialists.

    It’s always a bit sad for me when someone fixes an absolutist view of something they oppose in their mind.

  56. Lorian on January 10, 2014 at 5:35 pm

    Nathaniel, I can only base my opinions on the reading I’ve done and the understanding I’ve gained. I, likewise, find your views of gender essentialism, in so far as I understand them, quite radical. I actually think they may be closer to what I would call uniessentialism than to the church’s teachings of gender essentialism as I understand them.

  57. Frank Pellett on January 10, 2014 at 6:50 pm

    mtnmarty (51) – Does anyone have an opinion of whether under the Law of Moses belief in a Heavenly Mother would have violated the first of the ten commandments?

    Considering we believe that the Law of Moses was given by Christ as God, and we worship HF as God (since that is who Christ said to worship), it would seem that we’re currently breaking the first commandment by not worshipping Christ. I don’t think a simple belief in HM would be a violation of the first commandment, any more than a belief in Lucifer is a violation. The first commandment (of the ten) is about following God(plural), who could be of beings we know nothing about, but who are all of the same purpose. Deciding to follow another God (no matter what the origin of that God, spiritual, mortal, or man-made) is where this Law becomes an issue. I also think the people at the time had a hard time with following whatever god they felt did what they wanted, using their gods as an excuse, a trump card, to prove they were right.

  58. mtnmarty on January 10, 2014 at 7:11 pm

    Frank,

    That is very helpful and pretty similar to what I might have guessed, but I’m not that familiar with the law of Moses (other than through the breaking of it, of course).

    The key for me is what it means to worship or “have no other gods before me”. I don’t really know, but I have a feeling that if a priest sacrificed something to a heavenly mother it might have caused some consternation but I’m just projecting current observations back in time.

    I mean if someone started closing all their prayers with “In the name of Jesus Christ and Heavenly Mother, amen.” would there be issues?

  59. mtnmarty on January 10, 2014 at 7:19 pm

    Typically essentialism has meant that certain properties are essential to something be that something. They are necessary properties that is what makes them essential.

    Lorian seems to be thinking that gender essentialism means that certain properties of gender are essential to be a specific gender. Nathaniel seems to mean that gender is essential to an identity but gender does not require specific properties.

    For me, sex is essential but gender not so much.

  60. mtnmarty on January 10, 2014 at 7:49 pm

    One of the reasons people are gender essentialists is to justify certain roles being gender being restricted. For example, same sex marriage prohibitions or gender specific roles such as priesthood or participating in the Olympics as a woman.

    I think Lorian might have a less absolutist view of gender essentialism if no one used it as an explanation of why genders should be treated differently.

    I don’t think that follower is not the opposite of preside, however. I don’t know what is though. The presided upon?

  61. Frank Pellett on January 10, 2014 at 8:01 pm

    mtnmarty (58) – “I mean if someone started closing all their prayers with “In the name of Jesus Christ and Heavenly Mother, amen.” would there be issues?”

    Publicly, probably, since Jesus was pretty specific on how we should pray. I tend to leave people to themselves on their feelings on praying to HM, rather than HM, especially in private. Some have felt a stronger connection doing so, and I’m in no position to say them nay.

  62. Lorian on January 10, 2014 at 8:44 pm

    Mtnmarty, yeah, not sure what the opposite of “presider” would be, particularly since the word, itself, has been so warped out of all recognition by church leaders who insist that it doesn’t mean what the dictionary would suggest it means.

    As far as I can see, “presider” is simply a different configuration of the word, “president.” And in view of the church’s frequent use of “president” for various levels of leadership, it’s hard to imagine that the one who “presides” in the home, would not also be the “president” of the home. The clear implication, then, is that the other residents of the home who are not “presidents” are those over whom the president “presides.” Based upon how the “president-presidee” relationship works in other spheres, inside and outside of the church, I can only imagine that those over whom the president presides are…followers? citizens? the governed-ones? You tell me. What they are *not*, though, clearly, is “the person in charge.”

  63. Jared vdH on January 11, 2014 at 9:38 am

    Lorian, this is not meant in a snarky way, but since I’m worried it might come off that way, I’m prefacing it now that I’m not meaning it that way.

    For whatever reason your post made me think of the Vice President. According to the constitution the VP “presides” over the Senate, but I think as we’ve seen is usually functionally useless, at least as far as the Senate goes. Maybe that’s the sense of “preside” the church is going for? God’s the President and father/parents are just VPs “presiding” over a group where their role is more ceremonial than one of real power? Thinking about it, I guess you could use the British Commonwealth’s constitutional monarchy as a model as well? I mean technically according to written law, Queen Elizabeth still “presides” over Canada and Australia, but obviously is functionally powerless.

    Once again, I actually agree with your sentiments concerning the Church’s problematic use of “preside” language. Your post just happened to spark these thoughts, I thought they were interesting, so I shared them.

  64. Mtnmarty on January 11, 2014 at 10:14 am

    Lorian,

    I think the church’s word for nonpresiders is member, as in family member, church member and committee member. They are not in charge but not precisely followers either.

    Jared, I have read some recent conference talks that state that presiding means a more than ceremonial retention of ultimate decisions king power.

    An interesting test case would be the role of spouses in callings. Do husbands have some veto power on callings to wives that wives do not have over husbands callings?

  65. Mtnmarty on January 11, 2014 at 10:17 am

    Wasn’t that great typo substituting king for making? I guess I’m suggestible to monarchy analogies!

  66. Jared vdH on January 11, 2014 at 10:32 am

    Mtnmarty,

    Anecdotally, I’ve read many women’s accounts that showed that their husbands have had veto power on callings that they don’t have over their husbands. I’ve read many stories of husbands being consulted on callings for their wives before the calling was even extended to the wife. I’m certain if we wait long enough we’ll get a first hand account rather than my own second hand accounts.

    I will add that I’ve actually seen a few instances of women having something similar to veto power over their husbands for certain callings, but that might have actually been the husband consulting his wife and refusing the calling after that consultation. Not exactly the same as veto power since veto power implies the church leader approaching the one with veto power first.

  67. Chris on January 11, 2014 at 10:42 am

    The temple is symbolic, as we all understand. But I tend to feel we’ve been shown all the evidences of Heavenly Mother if we want want to receive revelation on our eternal destiny. I think these answers come after much seeking in the temple, looking with an eye of faith, not relying on our pet philosophy in the meantime and praying over the thoughts that come to us. I believe there are some things god will only directly reveal for now to us individually but that doesn’t mean many in the past in the restoration were ignorant of Heavenly Mother even though its not well documented.

  68. Mtnmarty on January 11, 2014 at 11:43 am

    Chris,

    Speaking of pet philosophy, can all dog breeds go to heaven or only goldendoodles?

  69. Lorian on January 11, 2014 at 12:56 pm

    Jared and Mtnmarty, interesting thoughts. Marty, yes, “member” might work, but it’s not what we call those in the country who are presided over by a president. Still, it’s not incorrect, either, and members still do not have the same power as their president to make decisions, and are, at least in the church, expected to support the decisions made by their leaders and to accept their leaders’ authority over them and abide by decisions their leaders make.

    Jared, I realize that some presidents/presiders have symbolic posts with little real power (though even the VP, as president of the senate, *does* have the power to break ties, which, when one considers how important the votes of the senate can be to the operation of the country, and what it means when there is a vote so close that the VP has to break the tie, is not an inconsiderable amount of power). Still, I have a hard time seeing why the church leadership would push the idea of the male as the “presider” in the home so strongly if it were merely a symbolic or “ceremonial” post. Not to mention that the church backs up this conferring of power to the “presider” by ensuring that he is the only one in the home (at least until any sons have reached their teens) with “priesthood authority,” which the church *clearly* does not view as meaningless or strictly ceremonial in any way.

  70. Mtnmarty on January 11, 2014 at 3:04 pm

    WalkerW and Nathaniel,

    I don’t think the equality point really cuts it completely. As I understand it under that definition one could grant higher status to a characteristic of one gender as long as one did it on a gender neutral basis.

    So one could say upper body strength of a certain level and exclude say 80 percent of women and 20 percent of men and say you are treating people equally. Most feminists go further towards the valuation of the average characteristics themselves and not just the tying of the individuals to an average.

    It would be like saying we could privilege actual skin color and not race and still be treating them equally. The characteristics themselves matter also to what people mean by equality.

    The American disability act is another example, there is a positive requirement to accommodate real differences in order to move toward an “equal ” treatment.
    What we mean by equality is complex and fluid.

  71. Lorian on January 11, 2014 at 3:14 pm

    Marty, great point re privileging skin *shade* rather than race. Equally prejudiced, just on the basis of a slightly different physical determiner.

  72. WalkerW on January 11, 2014 at 6:22 pm

    Mtnmarty,

    Are you referring to the Pinker quote? If so, I don’t really understand what your comment (#70) has to do with it. The point Pinker is making is that in the quest for equality, some have made the claim that there are no differences between the genders. He’s saying (1) that claim is scientifically unjustifiable and (2) equality is a moral concept. He doesn’t spend a lot of time on the moral question of gender equality. The book is on innate human traits, so that is what he focuses on.

  73. Mtnmarty on January 11, 2014 at 7:30 pm

    Walker,

    Look at the quote Nathaniel says “yes” to. It does not just say equality is a moral concept and leave it at that. There is a sentence with the word “should” in it. By using the word should he is making moral commentary. That is what I’m referring to.

  74. Mtnmarty on January 11, 2014 at 7:55 pm

    The problem with evolutionary psychology is that it explains everything including why people disagree are mistaken. Everyone can claim that evolutionary psychology supports their argument because they wouldn’t be making it otherwise.

    Also, evolution adapts us to specific niches so every change in environment should shift our moral senses over time. A person could always claim they are making a useful adaptation to a new environment.

  75. Hedgehog on January 12, 2014 at 9:56 am

    Nathaniel,
    My best wishes to your wife in her research and studies. I completed and was awarded my own PhD in science/engineering 20 years ago this year.

    “I’m perplexed at the attitude that if there is some essential aspect of gender in our identity, that this must imply we have to all be cookie-cutter models of the exact same gender template… Your view of gender essentialism is so brutally simplistic that it’s no wonder you find it repugnant, but I don’t think it bears much resemblance to the concept in practice.”

    Well, I’m going by my experience of having been a child in the 70s, a teenager in the 80s, raised in the church. Things were presented to us in precisely that form. There has perhaps been some movement towards variety since, but I still find the roles as generally described to be too prescriptive and restrictive. And throughout time and across cultures gender essentialist views have been used to restrict and confine women.

    Your views seem to me, to be one of wanting to maintain a connection to some form of gender essentialism, whilst at the same time wanting the benefits that come with discarding gender essentialism. Having your cake and eating it, in other words.

  76. Mtnmarty on January 12, 2014 at 12:49 pm

    Hedgehog,

    Very we’ll put. However, to be fair to Nathaniel, we are all wanting to have our cake and eat it too in terms of keeping what we want from tradition and discarding the rest. For example, by retaining a view of God based on historical manifestations but excusing everything we don’t like as caused by fallible humans.

  77. Lorian on January 12, 2014 at 2:58 pm

    Yes, Hedgehog, exactly. Like the church’s continued use of the phrase, “presides in the home,” by the church, while obfuscating the meaning of “presides” by gaslighting women and claiming that “presides” doesn’t mean what the dictionary says it means, Nathaniel’s definition of “gender essentialism” seems to be a way to try to retain outmoded terminology (in order to claim it was never actually “wrong”) while redefining it in an attempt to make its meaning less offensive. I thing “gender stereotypes” is a far more correct term, particularly as far as a description of abilities, interests and similar characteristics go.

  78. chris on January 12, 2014 at 11:00 pm

    Lorian, out of curiosity, googled define preside and I get, “be in the position of authority”. So you’re saying the church is not saying that’s what presides means?

    I thought that was expressly what it means… priesthood authority presides.

  79. Lorian on January 12, 2014 at 11:35 pm

    Chris, I’ve heard many defenses of the idea that having the husband “preside” in the home does not mean that he is “in charge” or “in authority over” his wife — that there is nothing conflicted about the husband “presiding” and the husband and wife being equal partners in their marriage.

  80. SilverRain on January 13, 2014 at 7:46 am

    It is not a matter of redefining the word “preside.” As a survivor of a marriage where authority in the home was wildly misunderstood, I would have been tearfully grateful for my then-husband to exercise authority in the home in the way he was called to do.

    The father presides, yes. He has authority, yes. But he is charged to use that authority to ensure equality between himself and his wife. The moment he tries to use the presiding authority to elevate himself and his opinions above his wife’s, he voids his authority. The authority he has been given by God is not one of exercising personal power, but is an authority to use the power he has been given by nature and society to ensure the safety and wellbeing of his family.

    It is quite simple to understand, but complex to perform. Righteous authority is nothing to be feared.

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  82. chris on January 13, 2014 at 9:25 am

    I agree SilverRain, that’s the context that all priesthood leadership is to be exercised. I guess the problem is that some feminists take it in a way that presupposes men will use that authority unrighteous (by sad experience…). So because we know it’s the tendency of all men to act a certain way, we should apparently not acknowledge what God has established — rather than to exhort and remind and persuade and point to the truth of the way proper authority ought to be exercised.

    I completely agree that presiding in a way to ensure equality is a fine balancing act that can easily be described as unequal. But many gospel contradictions exist if we want to look at it in a way that I view as uncharitable.

  83. mtnmarty on January 13, 2014 at 11:28 am

    So, SilverRain and Chris,

    Would you agree that if we moved away from the word preside toward “duty” and just said that a husband has a duty to ensure the safety and wellbeing of his family and a duty to be sure husband and wife are equal that we would have lost nothing?

    If so, then it would seem best to drop the term preside because its confusing. If not, then we should just own up to being a church that believes genders should be treated differently and tell everyone that doesn’t like it that they aren’t required to be LDS.

    I just have a hard time understanding a non-patriarchal LDS church, I mean we have Patriarchs, right?

  84. SilverRain on January 13, 2014 at 12:14 pm

    No. I think there is something valuable to be learned in adjusting our perceptions of presiding and authority to more closely match the eternal and divine perception. That opportunity would certainly be lost by “moving away” from the word “preside.”

  85. chris on January 13, 2014 at 1:04 pm

    Agree with #84. We might as well drop the part of Genesis and the temple ceremony that says, “nevertheless I forbid it…”

    I think there is a lot of growth in the contradictions. That’s where our faith can blossom and we can come to know God on a personal level. Not in re-writing all the “answers” so they can’t possibly be misunderstood.

  86. A.T. Gates on February 27, 2014 at 1:19 am

    “There is not a president and vice president in a family. We have co-presidents working together eternally for the good of their family . . . They are on equal footing. They plan and organize the affairs of the family jointly and unanimously as they move forward.” (Elder L. Tom Perry, April 2004)