“We believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam’s transgression.”
-Articles of Faith, 2
The second article of faith allegedly makes a bold and clear statement of doctrine. It is a doctrine Mormons are pretty proud of and has never been (unlike some of our doctrine) subject to any kind of official repudiation or debate. You may be surprised to learn then, that this is the declaration that most bothers me in all of the contemporary church…
It’s not that I think that men ought to be punished for their own sins. It’s that in light of the temple endowment, it might be more accurate to say,
“We believe that men will be punished for their own sins and not for Adam’s transgression. And that women will be punished for their own sins in addition to Eve’s transgression.”
The transgression of Eve is the oldest excuse invented by Patriarchal societies of the Abrahamic tradition to justify their systematic subjugation and objectification of women. Worse, it has been used to justify violence, abuse, misogyny, and every kind of unrighteous dominion imaginable.
Ignoring the semi-obvious fact that the creation myth and Eden narrative are chiefly allegorical and probably not the subjects of a physical reality, the placement of women in eternal subjection to men on the basis of one woman’s act makes as little sense as the idea of punishing all humans for the transgression of one man. How we can embrace the logic of the latter and deny the logic of the former, truly boggles my mind.
As a tradition that claims the supreme gift of continuing revelation and prophecy you might expect better from us. And indeed, I do. But I know we are also a product of the Abrahamic tradition. The entirety of temple worship centers around the Lord’s covenant with Abraham and the promises of the patriarchs. The legacy of millennia of injustice to women is in part, our legacy too. And it is a shameful one. In both the Torah and the Q’uran, women are explicitly designated as the property of their fathers and husbands. Their “lords” are given absolute authority over them, and a codified system of renumeration explains how one man can recompense another in the case of property damage like, oh… a rape.
Mormons, of course, do not endorse any such nonsense. Except in that one place that we do.
The inclusion of Abrahamic concepts of inheritances involving numberless posterity has given plural marriage an incredibly large presence within the ordinances of the temple. An especially large presence given the tenacity with which church has emphasized the considerable distance we’ve made with polygamy. The church even wishes to be on record in the federal judiciary with its contemporary view that “marriage between one man and one woman” is the only pattern of marriage ordained by God. And yet within the ordinances of the new and everlasting covenant, we perpetuate incorrect and harmful teachings about women’s eternal roles that make our 1950s-era ideas about their earthly roles, seem downright charming by comparison.
The church handbook of instruction states plainly that “A living woman may be sealed to only one husband”, but in the case of living men, “If a husband and wife have been sealed and the wife dies, the man may have another woman sealed to him if she is not already sealed”. (C.H.I. p.72) As succinctly as we could ever hope for church policy to put it, we still believe in polygamy… The system that yielded decades of inspired gems like these from Apostles and Prophets of God:
“What would a man of God say, who felt aright, when Joseph asked him for his money? He would say, “Yes, and I wish I had more to help to build up the kingdom of God.” Or if he came and said, “I want your wife?” “O yes,” he would say, “here she is, there are plenty more.” -Jedediah M. Grant (JoD, vol. 2, p. 14)
“I have no wife whom I love so well that I would not put a javelin through her heart, and I would do it with clean hands.” -Brigham Young (JoD, vol. 3, p. 247)
“The only men who become Gods, even the Sons of God, are those who enter into polygamy.” -Brigham Young (JoD, vol. 11, p. 269)
“This monogamic order of marriage, so esteemed by modern Christians as a holy sacrament and divine institution, is nothing but a system established by a set of robbers… Why do we believe in and practice polygamy? Because the Lord introduced it to his servants in a revelation given to Joseph Smith, and the Lord’s servants have always practiced it. ‘And is that religion popular in heaven?’ It is the only popular religion there.” -Brigham Young (Deseret News, August 6, 1862)
“Brother Cannon remarked that people wondered how many wives and children I had. He may inform them that I shall have wives and children by the million, and glory, and riches, and power, and dominion, and Kingdom after Kingdom, and reign triumphantly.” -Brigham Young (JoD, vol. 8, pp. 178-179)
“… [Joseph Smith taught] the doctrine of plural and celestial marriage is the most holy and important doctrine ever revealed to man on the earth, and that without obedience to that principle no man can ever attain to the fullness of exaltation in the celestial glory.” -William Clayton (Historical Record, vol. 6, p. 226)
“It is the duty of a woman to be obedient to her husband, and unless she is, I would not give a damn for all her queenly right and authority, nor for her either, if she will quarrel and lie about the work of God and the principles of plurality.”-Heber C. Kimball (JoD, vol. 4, p. 82; also Deseret News, v. 6, p. 291)
“The holy practice [of polygamy] will commence again after the Second Coming of the Son of Man and the ushering in of the millennium.”
– Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 1958, p. 578
“In the spirit world there is an increase of males and females, there are millions of them, and if I am faithful all the time, and continue right along with brother Brigham, we will go to brother Joseph [Smith] and say, ‘Here we are brother Joesph’…. He will say to us,…. ‘Where are you wives?’ ‘They are back yonder; they would not follow us.’ ‘Never mind,’ says Joseph, ‘here are thousands, have all you want.’ Perhaps some do not believe that, but I am just simple enough to believe it.” -Heber C. Kimball (JoD, vol. 4, p. 209)
It’s a wonder to me how this modern church, trying its damnedest to shake the stigma of polygamy, and losing young women in high numbers, continues to send faithful sisters into an endowment and a sealing that continues to endorse plural marriage as an eternal principle. Perhaps they hope the believer will rationalize away the way she is treated differently. Maybe they expect that we’ll all take it on faith. But I know I’ll never forget the moment it became clear to me, that the women in the room were vowing their obedience to an earthy “lord” while men were vowing theirs directly to the Lord. In a beautiful and rich ceremony that has repeatedly taught me profound and earnest truths about my mortal and eternal life, that moment now sticks out like a very, very sore thumb.
All of this awful nonsense is routinely justified in the name of what Eve did in Eden. It’s the closest thing to an explanation given in the liturgy of the endowment itself. But the intolerable irony is that we know better. Mormons know that Eve made a choice. We know that she applied her mind and there is some indication that she sought revelation. We know that she wasn’t duped or hoodwinked, but that she made a courageous and brave decision to eat because it was her only path to greater light. We’ve been taught this by modern prophets since and including Joseph Smith.
And yet, in the language of our holy endowment, in the most sacred place on Earth, she is condemned afresh before our eyes, and all of her daughters are placed in silenced subjugation to “lords” no more innocent or guilty, no more wise or capable, and no more righteous or wicked than they.
Christ is the rightful center of the temple. Anything that carries us away from the redeemer is a tangential principle. Paul taught that there is no male or female in Christ.
“For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”
Receiving the promises of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is really a simple matter of whom you belong to. If you are Christ’s then you are an heir. He descended below all things so that he could rise above them all. Sister Cheiko Okazaki taught,
Jesus experienced the totality of mortal existence in Gethsemane. It’s our faith that he experienced everything- absolutely everything. Sometimes we don’t think through the implications of that belief. We talk in great generalities about the sins of all humankind, about the suffering of the entire human family. But we don’t experience pain in generalities. We experience it individually. That means he knows what it felt like when your mother died of cancer- how it was for your mother, how it still is for you. He knows what it felt like to lose the student body election. He knows that moment when the brakes locked and the car started to skid. He experienced the slave ship sailing from Ghana toward Virginia. He experienced the gas chambers at Dachau. He experienced Napalm in Vietnam. He knows about drug addiction and alcoholism.
Let me go further. There is nothing you have experienced as a woman that he does not also know and recognize. On a profound level, he understands the hunger to hold your baby that sustains you through pregnancy. He understands both the physical pain of giving birth and the immense joy. He knows about PMS and cramps and menopause. He understands about rape and infertility and abortion. His last recorded words to his disciples were, “And, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.” (Matthew 28:20) He understands your mother-pain when your five-year-old leaves for kindergarten, when a bully picks on your fifth-grader, when your daughter calls to say that the new baby has Down syndrome. He knows your mother-rage when a trusted babysitter sexually abuses your two-year-old, when someone gives your thirteen-year-old drugs, when someone seduces your seventeen-year-old. He knows the pain you live with when you come home to a quiet apartment where the only children are visitors, when you hear that your former husband and his new wife were sealed in the temple last week, when your fiftieth wedding anniversary rolls around and your husband has been dead for two years. He knows all that. He’s been there. He’s been lower than all that. He’s not waiting for us to be perfect. Perfect people don’t need a Savior. He came to save his people in their imperfections. He is the Lord of the living, and the living make mistakes. He’s not embarrassed by us, angry at us, or shocked. He wants us in our brokenness, in our unhappiness, in our guilt and our grief.
The Lord Jesus Christ can be a perfect redeemer because he has been below it all. He transcended gender in our behalf. It is impossible for me to believe that he intends us to fail to transcend it ourselves. The question begged by our endowment is “Are men and women the same creation or different creations?”
“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. And God blessed them.”
If we are the same creation, then why would the fulfillment of the measure of our creation, look so different?
I know that we are the same creature. We are both of the dust. And the shoddy dominions we build against each other in mortality are empires of dirt. That the day may come when this revelatory church both collectively and individually, can let the scales of these false traditions fall from our eyes, is my prayer to my God, who is both woman and man. Both Mother and Father. Both Priest and Priestess.