Let me say up front that I’m a big fan of the Church’s new Gospel Topics section. And the most recent entry “Becoming Like God” is perhaps my favorite. I thought the author contextualized the topic well, and I especially liked the section entitled “How do Latter-day Saints envision exaltation?”
In part because of the nature of the topic, and in part because the author courageously included two full paragraphs on our Heavenly Parents, however, this article manifests our incongruent, sometimes incoherent, and at the least wholly awkward way of discussing all things women in the Church. There’s nothing special about this awkwardness showing up in this particular article – as I just mentioned, the author was courageous in candidly discussing Heavenly Mother. Unfortunately, this awkwardness seems to show up in nearly everything we say as a Church.
To be specific: I find directly analogous the way we talk about and treat women generally and the way “Becoming Like God” conspicuously switches back and forth from noting how significant it is that “we have heavenly parents” to speaking only of Heavenly Father, referring to Him as if a single parent involved in our eternal progression.
It’s certainly enough to make reason stare.
We awkwardly go from heralding the RS and how active and worthwhile our sisters are to upholding patently unequal governance and practices of ritual participation. Just as we go awkwardly from exalting the critical importance of the priesthood and lauding our young men for being worthy of this divine privilege to utterly downplaying it as a burden and nothing the women should want. Just as we go awkwardly from pointing out new female leadership roles in the mission to staring stupidly in response to questions about titles and actual authority. Just as we go awkwardly from claiming that married couples are equal partners who need to determine their own family’s dynamics to championing notions of strongly bifurcated and socially reinforced gender roles.
It’s hard not to see ourselves as deeply, awkwardly conflicted in numerous ways all stemming from our inability to acknowledge and practice true equality without jettisoning our tradition and what we find valuable in it. And this, I think, really is what’s at issue. How do we retain the overwhelming good of our tradition while moving uncompromisingly to embrace full and substantive equality? What would this demand, and what would it look like?
I don’t see this same struggle on the individual level; rather, I see several viable (and different) family re-interpretations that manage tradition and equality quite well and that many families I know (of different political stripes) gracefully implement. I know active members all along the spectrum from stay-at-home Mom with single income Dad to stay-at-home Dad with single income Mom. We all do. We also all know of barbaric situations along that spectrum. The model seems far less important than the genuine faith, real partnership at every level, and total commitment to family in each laudatory case.
Given how simple it seems at the individual level, I can’t figure out why we struggle so much at the institutional level. Once again, there are a number of viable models being discussed. There’s certainly no conceptual barrier to exalting our traditions while reforming our rhetoric and practice.
Unfortunately, we’re not even rhetorically good at this reconciliation. Our general discourse continues to reinforce rather than ameliorate the problem. And no one I know misses this fact (though obviously opinions vary widely on how important it is or what to do about it).
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 Alison Moore Smith has posted on some of these topics before; for example, see here.
 I mean for the various models of both parents working to lie somewhere in the middle of the spectrum.