Toward a More Perfect Union
By Melody Newey
When I was a young mother in my twenties I attended a stake women’s conference in Provo, Utah. Sister Vivian McConkie Adams spoke about the creation story, expounding upon the poetry that is the Book of Genesis. As she described it, this was a beautiful and powerful story of creation and the introduction onto the earth of perfectly matched companions: Adam and Eve. “You know,” she said, “it’s all metaphor. It’s really a love story about a man and a woman.”
She went on to discuss the Hebrew and Latin roots of words and how varying translations might change the meanings we have traditionally given to this story. I was particularly struck by her translation of the word “sleep” in relation to Adam. As we traditionally read the story, God caused a deep sleep to come upon Adam for the purpose of divine surgical removal of a rib, which would be fashioned into a woman. However, according to Sister Adams, this word has been widely misinterpreted. An alternate translation for the word used here as sleep is a period of deep despondency and loneliness. According to Sister Adams, Adam was depressed. He was lonely. This was a normal human response to isolation. As a result, he began to understand he was incomplete. He longed for the analogous feminine human form that complimented his masculine human form.
Enter Eve–A partner, a woman, equal in strength (bone of my bone), equal in her ability to support (flesh of my flesh) and no doubt his best friend. They were among the most noble of the spirit children of our heavenly parents. And, according to Sister Adams, they were each equally involved in the process of creation.
After her presentation it took me a minute to get past the shock and consternation I felt. I was appalled that in my twenty-some years in the church I had never heard such a clear and rational explanation of the garden myth before. This fresh perspective illuminated doctrinal concepts I’d learned in young women’s, relief society and Sunday school lessons. Yet, no one in my mostly Utah County Latter-day Saint upbringing had ever framed these seemingly simple truths about Adam and Eve in this particular way. In this version of the story they were entirely equal. What a novel idea! I certainly had not heard this presented in general conference. There were passing nods to Eve, but no one had ever said she was a God, like Adam-Michael, like unto Christ, Heavenly Father or like unto Heavenly Mother.
By the way, the feminist in me could do all sorts of things with this story, not the least of which is to suggest that if ancient records had been written, preserved and translated by women rather than men, it’s quite possible the story would have placed Eve in the garden first, not Adam. After all, she is the Mother of All Living, so why shouldn’t she be first?
But, honestly, that doesn’t matter to me now. What matters is this: Man and Woman, whoever they are and whenever they were formed, are intended to be equal in all capacities in the eyes of God. Indeed, as I understand it, the very creation of God is dependent upon the successful union of a man and a woman. We two become one in God. In other words, we two become One God. Together. In Love. Celestial Godhood is, by definition, the union of man and woman, each equal in power, might, glory and light; equal in our capacity to love each other as companions and to love all our brothers and sisters in an eternal family. On this love “hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:40)
This is not to say that men and women become like each other in qualities that typify a man or a woman. That idea is certainly up for debate. But it is to say that in the qualities typical of God we become the same. For my part, I have always relished the things that make me a woman– physical parts, emotional capacity, inclination toward traditional “women’s work.” I love babies, sewing, cooking, nurturing. I equally relish the things that make men into men, including physical attributes, emotional characteristics, inclinations and drives in areas where I have less interest. I accept a sort of flowing of each gender’s innate qualities and capacities into the other as we see fit. But, personally, I do not believe in a single androgynous God, nor in a single masculine God. I believe in a form of deity that is the full expression of womanhood and manhood through the union of two individuals, successfully united to become One God. “Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, nor the woman without the man in the Lord.” (I Corinthians 1:11)
Some time after hearing that original lecture and while attending an endowment session in the temple, a compelling idea struck me: If this joining of woman to man in an equal, respectful, passionate, compassionate partnership was the key to Godhood, then perhaps this would be among the first targets for destruction by Satan and whatever other forces work against The Great Plan of Happiness. To disturb, disrupt and corrupt equality between men and women effectively destroys the seedling of Godhood.
I believe the gross inequality we observe today between men and women in the world, and consequently within the LDS church is the result of this attack. I believe this inequality and inequity was introduced as soon as our first parents left the garden and that it is, literally, as old as time. “And thus we see how great the inequality of man is because of sin and transgression, and the power of the devil which comes of the cunning plans which he hath devised to ensnare the hearts of men [and women].” (Alma 28:13)
Perhaps one challenge brought to us by the fall was the fracture of this divine union. In moving out of God’s presence, we were left with a telestial model of everything, including what it means to be a man, a woman and a couple. This telestial model often includes abuse of power and creation of hierarchy in relationships where none should exist. Remembering and restoring the celestial model of Godhood– the concept of God-given equality between the sexes shared in loving companionship– is perhaps the greatest work we have to do and integral to our individual union with Christ through his grace and atonement. This concept fits for me because I see Jesus Christ himself as the mortal embodiment of the perfect union of divine masculine and feminine qualities. As we come closer to him, we come closer to our own identities as divine men and women. I view Mosiah’s plea in a different way when applied to relationships between women and men. “And now I desire that this inequality should be no more in this land, especially among this, my people. . .” (Mosiah 29:32)
I imagine there are LDS scholars who could make good arguments against my suppositions, because I am no scholar. I am mother, Nana, nurse, neighbor and poet. I try to be a good disciple of Christ in all these roles. I love being here, learning, growing, struggling. I cherish my testimony of Christ and of his doctrine and I cherish my faith in LDS doctrine. I love God and I love truth more than anything else. And I make every effort to keep my heart and mind open to truth wherever I find it.
As such, I have come to believe that the truths of Christ’s doctrine rest upon a foundation of equality and equity in every setting, but most significantly within the divine union of woman and man. I believe Christ taught over and over in his example as a servant-leader and through his sermons that when equality is disrupted, the spirit is withdrawn.
When a man is placed in a superior position to a woman simply because he is a man, or when a woman is placed in a superior position to a man simply because she is a woman (whether by themselves or by the society or community in which they live) such a relationship departs from the divine paradigm. Godhood cannot exist here because inequality and hierarchical relationships, especially within marriage, are at odds with the spirit, nature and power of God. Indeed, “. . . to exercise control or dominion or compulsion. . . in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the spirit of the Lord is grieved and amen to the priesthood or authority [or potential godhood] of that man [or woman].” (Doctrine and Covenants 121:37)
I’m willing to believe that the model for truly divine union, a true model of Godhood, is available to us in this existence. I believe it dwells in part within our own hearts as we strive to live beyond our base, mortal state. Perhaps there are times when we come close to the divine relationship model by virtue of individual willingness and ability to understand and live higher laws as a couple. Perhaps the recent urgings in more and more men and women to share the rites and duties of godly power between both husband and wife is a result of a spiritual call to return or rather to move forward to a more perfect model.
(Recommended reading – Trevor Price’s recent thoughtful post, Baby Blessings, Feminism, and Worldviews : click here)