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 of the introduction into 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. (Adam, for instance, simply means “the human.”) I was particularly struck by what she said about the word “sleep” in relation to Adam. As we typically read the story, God caused a deep sleep to come upon Adam for the purpose of divine surgical removal of a rib– which rib was then fashioned into a woman. However, according to Sister Adams, this word has been widely misinterpreted. Another translation for the word might refer to 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 (The Humans) 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. In LDS doctrine 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 religious scholars could make good arguments against my suppositions, because I am no scholar. I am mother, Nana, nurse, neighbor. I try to be a good disciple of Christ in all these roles. I love being here, learning, growing, struggling. 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)
I like how this post’s opening story brings to light again the ironic situation of how our smug culture looks down on other religions for being less enlightened yet we naively propagate antiquated understandings because we conflate scriptural stories and cultural understandings/interpretations. How awesome would it be to get interpretations like this of Adam and Eve in church or conference?!
Hey Carson, she was at Church, at a conference. Some really great stuff occurs at all of our conferences we should all attend more, not just the world ones.
We’ve come a long way in the last few decades. But I agree, Carson, it would be an incredible blessing to have more mainstream LDS scholars and general authorities articulating even more clearly some of our very unique doctrines -including doctines that help define the nature of God-both male and female.
Thank you, Garrett.
I’m interested to see how you feel our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters fit into this narrative.
I appreciate this perspective. I’ve viewed the Creation story as a metaphor about how our mortal bodies are joined to our spirits, rather than a story about gender and subjugation.
Jerilyn -my reply is below. I hit the wrong button.
Hi Jerilyn, I’m Melody’s little sister Twila. I like your comment. Religion, ritual and story are imperfect efforts to understand and reach for truth but inevitably limited, as are we. The Adam and Eve story is a binary story, so there isn’t really room in this story for LBGT people. However, this interpretation is more expansive than traditional LDS readings of the story and brings in some of JSmith’s ideas about God as male and female. It moves the LDS idea of God being only male and Father to an equal Mother and Father in a concrete way and nudges current interpretation of the doctrine of Celestial Marriage away from patriarchy and toward equality, and addresses the historical and ongoing oppression of women within and without the church. Those are the reasons I really like this reading of the story.
My personal belief is that you can read LDS doctrine to be even more expansive, which Melody touched on when she wrote about equality being essential to the essence of God. So, the sealing, as I understand it is not just to join husband and wife, but to seal everyone back to God. My own experience is that God is more than male and female joined. God is the joining of the entirety of existence. God is the expression of love between every living thing and our own recognition of our connectedness to each other. Granted, I am well outside of traditional Mormon thought, but, nonetheless that is my personal spiritual experience.
As well as a broader reading of both ancient and more current scripture.
(sorry add that to the last sentence of my long reply:)
Twila – Thank you. This is beautiful. Perfect.
Thank you for posing that question, Jerilyn. I thought about our LGBT brothers and sisters when I wrote this. I thought about the potential for an other’s pain or anger or possible perception of me as having a narrow view. I genuinely wish I had an answer for myself and for my lesbian and gay friends about what my interpretation of this story might mean for them. I don’t have an answer. I would like very much to hear a perspective from a lesbian or gay brother or sister about how they perceive God and godhood.
Interestingly, I write this essay as a single/divorced woman. So, in some ways, as I am now, I don’t even fit into this narrative. But it still speaks to me, fits for me.
I think the beauty of poetry, including much of the poetry in scripture, is that it leaves room for the reader to assign meaning in the context of one’s own life experience. Your image of spirit and mortal body joining is a wonderful image. I feel the garden myth has multiple layers and meanings, any and all of which can bring us closer to understanding God and ourselves.
I feel this is among the most beautiful gifts from God — that S/he speaks our language — and I don’t just mean English, German or French; I mean that God speaks to me in Melody and to you in Jerilyn.
This essay, this narrative of the garden myth, is shared here in the language I speak and understand. And if others understand it, well, then that’s a double blessing.
Loved this. I have a similar view of the creation story but I could never have articulated it so beautifully. To me it is more powerful when viewed symbolically and it makes more sense why it has such a strong emphasis in the endowment. Thank you for sharing this.
Good perspective…really this is the mainstream lds doctrine as far as the value of women that I have been taught. My coworker asked if we keep our women down?….I laughed out loud because to meet my wife she might ask her the question in reverse…soon she had the opportunity to pick pears at the church farm as service and was surrounded by college educated dynamic women some who stay home some who pursue their careers.
One base line assumption I did feel like could be taken too far was the concept of no inequality…the book of Abraham made it clear for about everyone there is some greater or lesser until Jesus who is the greatest of all…. Most of the scriptures were citing poverty vs wealth —–meaning its okay for a ward council to have a bishop preside he is the head…as Paul taught every part is just as valuable but all parts cannot be the exact same (equality taken too far) or you would not have a complete and functioning body
Good point, Jeremy. And you are fortunate to have what sounds like a very healthy companionship and good understanding of doctrine. I agree, the concept of absolute equality is tricky. I love the part of Abraham you referenced. I agree with the need to work in our various capacities to get things done. However, when it comes to hierarchy in terms of mortal relationships, I feel it would be hard to take equality too far. There is a reason the LDS church is perceived as oppressive to women.
Honoring different roles and responding in cooperative ways within an organization (or marriage) is always a good idea. And it sounds like you get that. But, unfortunately, we have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion. Or something like that.
For me, the challenge of overcoming “the natural man or woman” is less about bodily desires and more about hierarchical relationship models and the challenge of infusing this coarse mortal coil with refined light, truth and the natural spiritual equality carried within us from heaven. [And by extension, infusing the body of the church with the same]. That’s why I emphasised complete equality so strongly in this post.
But, again, you make a good point and it sounds like you and your wife are further along the road than many good LDS men and women I know.
Melody your article is intelligently written and touches upon many of my own sentiments. I have one question about your statement concerning the “gross inequality” found in the world and consequently within the LDS Church. Could you clarify this please? Are you leaning more towards a gross inequality that can be found within “church social cultures” that have developed from the frailties and in-capabilities that people/members innately have? Or a gross inequality from the impositions of church doctrines weighted against what people think would be better, i.e. only men have the Priesthood etc. I guess my question really is, did you mean “the LDS Church as it stands in doctrine” or “some of the members within the LDS Church and what they sometimes do”?
Many people in and out of the church seem to struggle in differentiating or separating the “church” from “the members”. In a very simplistic light its sort of like Adam and Eve. If Gods commands and counsel to them would be representative of “the Church” and what they did, or didn’t do, would be representative of “the members”. Do you get what I’m trying to ask? Again, your insight and depth of reason is appreciated, thanks.
John, thanks for taking time to read and ask this question. And if I understand you, then my answer would be I mean both the LDS church/doctrine and its members, to varying degrees. We are all swimming in the soup of Mortality. The fall up-ended of all sorts of celestial principles. So there is great potential for the church, including good, intelligent leaders, to be imperfect in their interpretation and application of doctrine and/or eternal principles. (I realize this sentiment is at odds with the idea that prophets and leaders are infallible. But I believe they are fallible. I sustain them, not only in spite of this belief, but because of it. They need our prayers, faith and support precisely because we are all imperfect and we need each other.)
The issue of gender inequality feels like a global issue to me. It seems to infuse every aspect of life in most societies so far as I can tell. Our own doctrine, good and true as it is, is subject to the same limitations – as are our fallen selves or culture. No I’m being redundant.
Anyway, the way I understand eternal progression is that we, through our spiritual connection to God, bring greater and greater degrees of light and truth into our individual lives as we are able to understand and live higher doctrine and principles. As this happens, I believe God reveals additional truth both via living prophets and via the holy spirit within our hearts. This sometimes results in doctrinal or policy changes within the church i.e. blacks and the priesthood.
I am not suggesting that women need to formally hold the priesthood as it is currently understood via LDS doctrine. I fully and completely trust that Christ is in charge of his church and that things are precisely as they should be at this moment in time. I also feel that if there is personal discomfort or unease with things as they are, it can be a call from the spirit to pay attention and to begin opening our hearts and minds to additional knowledge. This is the kind of call Joseph Smith felt at age 14 when he offered that prayer for greater understanding.
Thanks for asking the question. I’m in process myself, so I appreciate the opportunity to clarify the murky spots. Wow. That was a long response, but I hope it helps.
Well done Melody. Love your writing.
I can understand Adam being depressed & lonely in the garden, but the phrase “He longed for the analogous feminine human form that complimented his masculine human form” ??? (those may have been sister Adams’ words). I am not so sure about this supposition. How would Adam have known the difference between a man and a woman and/or the implication of a “feminine” human form at this stage? I don’t believe he longed for a feminine form, I think he longed for another human being, period.
“And no doubt she was his best friend” made me smile, kind of a no-brainer since there was no one else at the time…
In the book of Abraham (4:27), it says: “So the Gods went down to organize man in their own image, in the image of the Gods to form they him, male and female to form they them.” Therefore male & female Gods created the earth.
I support what your are saying.
And we should always remember the words in Christ’s sermon: “when equality is disrupted, the spirit is withdrawn”, it is true and profound and it goes beyond gender.
Thanks, Gigi. I like your ideas- thoughtful, expansive beyond the meanings I understood from the story. And I agree with you. . . it goes way beyond gender.
Bit late to the party, but this is lovely. Thoughtful and beautifully written. Thank you for taking the time to share and respond.
Thanks for reading, Kate. Latecomers welcome!
Melody,I loved this. It made me think of one of my favorite Hugh Nibley talks, Patriarchy Matriarchy. It can be found here, http://maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/publications/transcripts/?id=151. I think he would have loved your article.