Sunday, November 11, 2012

Women in the Gospel

Each of us have been blessed by the women in our lives. Our mothers, grandmothers, sisters, wives, daughters and friends have given us their unparallelled love, their wise counsel, and their gentle care. They have given us life itself and lessons on how to live it well.

The daughters of God have a sensitivity to the spirit, a giving nature, an unrivaled sense of loyalty, and an ability to create and nurture that is unique to feminism. So grand are their gifts that God has entrusted to them the guardianship and stewardship over human life. Nothing could be more grand, more majestic, or more honorable than womanhood and motherhood.

Women are the bedrock of any society. The love of a wife or mother motivates more courageous action than a presidential decree or act of Congress ever could. Wise leaders have always sought to protect women just as they would want to protect any great treasure.

Yet, through the annuls of time there have always been those who have twisted and misrepresented the heritage and destiny of women. They have tried to stereotype women as unintelligent, however beautiful, and have convinced too many that motherhood is little more than an insignificant biological coincidence.

Trouble for women seems to come in large part because of how our first mother, Eve, has been portrayed in art, humor and dogma as, well, the First Stereotype. This couldn't be farther from the truth. Modern prophets give us a different picture of the Mother of All Living:

There is no language that can do credit to our glorious mother, Eve. Eve--a daughter of God, one of the spirit offspring of the Almighty Elohim--was among the noble and great in [premortal] existence. She ranked in spiritual statue, in faith and devotion, in conformity to eternal law with Michael (Bruce R. McConkie. "Eve and the Fall". Woman. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1979. p. 69).

Among the great and mighty ones who were assembled in this vast congregation of the righteous were Father Adam... and our glorious Mother Eve, with many of her faithful daughters who had lived through the ages (Joseph F. Smith, D&C 138:38-39).
We and all mankind are forever blessed because of Eve's great courage and wisdom. By partaking of the fruit first, she did what needed to be done. Adam was wise enough to do likewise (Russell M. Nelson, General Conference, October 1993).

It was Eve who first transgressed the limits of Eden in order to initiate the conditions of mortality. Her act, whatever its nature, was formally a transgression but eternally a glorious necessity to open the doorway toward eternal life. Adam showed his wisdom by doing the same...

Some Christians condemn Eve for her act, concluding that she and her daughters are somehow flawed by it... Informed by revelation, we celebrate Eve's act and honor her wisdom and courage in the great episode called the fall (Dallin H. Oaks, General Conference, October 1993).

Eve is, 'honored by Latter-day Saints as one of the most important, righteous, and heroic of all the human family' (Encyclopedia of Mormonism. Macmillan Publishing Company, 1992. 2:475.). Zebedee Coltrin related this insightful vision he shared with Oliver Cowdery and Joseph Smith, the prophet:

The heavens gradually opened and they saw a golden throne, on a circular foundation, something like a lighthouse, and on the throne were two aged personages, having white hair, and clothed in white garments. They were the two most beautiful and perfect specimens of mankind he ever saw. Joseph said, 'They are our first parents,' Adam and Eve (The Words of Joseph Smith. Provo: Brigham Young University. vol. 6.).

That Eve would be exalted to a throne as the lucky consequence of what is often considered a clumsy or unrighteous 'mistake' is inconsistent with the gospel of exaltation, which requires each person to exercise both self-mastery and great faith in intentionally choosing to do what is right. Clearly, popular culture has been wrong about Eve.

Misnomers about Eve, and therefore women in general, may have their origins in both the story of the Creation and the story of the Fall. Others have written more extensively on these subjects, and their works are worth our time and consideration (see 'Mother Eve' by Beverly Campbell or this article by Valerie Hudson Cassler, for example). I will make only a single point about each event here.

First, oppressors of women often point to the verses in Genesis that say Eve was created from Adam's rib to be a 'help meet' for him. They interpret this verse to suggest women exist to serve men. Understanding that the reference to Adam's rib is, 'of course, figurative' (Spencer W. Kimball. Blessings and Responsibilities. Ensign. March 1976, p. 71), we can focus our attention on what it means to be a 'help meet' for someone.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines a 'help meet' as being, 'even with or equal to'. In the article by Beverly Campbell referenced above, she reports that the Hebrew text uses the phrase to mean an equal saving power of some majesty. So President Benson confirmed, 'In the beginning, God placed a woman in a companionship role with the priesthood... She was to act in partnership with him' (To the Elect Women of the Kingdom of God. Woman. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book. 1979. p. 69.).

The Lord confirmed the equality of male and female in another misunderstood verse from Genesis. Elder Bruce C. Hafen explains, 'Genesis 3:16 states that Adam is to 'rule over' Eve, but... over in 'rule over' uses the Hebrew bet, which means ruling with, not ruling over... The concept of interdependent equal partners is well grounded in the doctrine of the restored gospel' (Crossing Thresholds and Becoming Equal Partners. Ensign, August 2007. pp. 24-29.).

The truth that Eve was Adam's equal-- in intelligence, in spirituality, and in potential-- adds clarity to the account of the Fall. Gospel scholar Hugh Nibley explained that, '[Eve took] the initiative, pursuing the search for ever greater light and knowledge while Adam cautiously holds back... It is she who perceives and points out to Adam that they have done the right thing after all' (Patriarchy and Matriarchy. Old Testament and Related Studies. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book. 1986. p. 92). Eve acted in courage and in faith to complete her mission on earth. This could only have happened as it did if Eve were both capable and involved in the process all along. The blessings given to her from God on account of her righteousness and courage are explained more thoroughly in the writings listed above.

The reality is that while many have used the events of the Creation and the Fall to subject women, these events justify instead a reverence, honor, and yes, a respect for the daughters of Eve who share the divine heritage and spiritual blessings of that great matriarch. This has always been the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ; it is the message of God's prophets to us today.

In the ministry of Jesus Christ, gospel scholars write that the term 'woman' as used by our Savior was 'highly respectful and affectionate', a usual way of speaking with the Jews when they showed the greatest respect to the person spoken to', and 'implying no severity nor disrespect'. Christ used this term tenderly when he spoke to his mother on the cross or when he appeared following his resurrection to Mary Magdalene before showing himself to the apostles.

Elder Quentin L. Cook confirmed in the April 2011 General Conference that 'the errand of angels is given to women'. He said:

Our doctrine is clear: Women are daughters of our Heavenly Father, who loves them. Wives are equal to their husbands. Marriage requires a full partnership where wives and husbands work side by side to meet the needs of the family... Sisters have key roles in the Church, in family life, and as individuals that are essential in Heavenly Father's plan.

Elder L. Tom Perry taught, 'There is not a president and a 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' (General Conference, April 2004).

The Family: A Proclamation to the World teaches:

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....

By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners.

With our gender comes specific, equal roles within the family and society. Some have argued that these roles undermine the equality of men and women. Two principles apply here: first, it is important to understand that 'equal' does not necessarily mean 'same'. Two men may have many differences from the other, yet they may stand on equal ground. Second, we drastically undervalue human life when we suggest that a woman is only a mother. There is no more important role in any organization than being a righteous mother. No CEO or political leader or academic genius can influence society or perform so hallowed a work as a mother with her children.

Elder Cook admonished: 'No woman should ever feel the need to apologize or feel that her contribution is less significant because she is devoting her primary efforts to raising and nurturing children. Nothing could be more significant in our Father in Heaven's plan.' At the same time, 'we should all be careful not to be judgmental or assume that sisters are less valiant if the decision is made to work outside the home. We rarely understand or fully appreciate people's circumstances. Husbands and wives should prayerfully counsel together, understanding they are accountable to God for their decisions.'

Elder Ballard affirms, 'Sisters, we, your brethren, cannot do what you were divinely designated to do from before the foundation of the world. We may try, but we cannot ever hope to replicate your unique gifts. There is nothing in this world as personal, as nurturing, or as life changing as the influence of a righteous woman.'

In this light, we begin to see that 'in the restored gospel of Jesus Christ, a woman... occupies a majesty all her own in the divine design of the Creator' (Jeffrey R. Holland). We see the intent of her creation to be a power equal to that of men, her spiritual vitality in responding to God's law and moving His plan forward, the respect she has earned from the Savior himself, and her infinite potential. We also see the so-called 'battle of the sexes' as the work of the same devil who was outwitted in the Garden of Eden and seeks to cause oppression and misery on the earth.

No wonder it is the women's organization of the Church that so often leads the way in reaching out to friends and neighbors. No wonder we are commanded and given opportunity to marry, pairing priesthood and womanhood as the perfectly matched parents of God's spirit offspring. As we revere our own mothers for their selfless sacrifice in our birth, so the Spirit has taught prophets in every dispensation the reverence owed to Mother Eve and her daughters. The young women of the Church are reminded as they recite their theme each week; societies around the world would benefit from a similar education.

In the meantime, we can unite our prayers with those of Elder Ballard:

I pray that God will continually bless the women of the Church to find joy and happiness in their sacred roles as daughters of God. My dear sisters, we believe in you. We believe in and are counting on your goodness and your strength, your propensity for virtue and valor, your kindness and courage, your strength and resilience. We believe in your mission as women of God.


  1. could we have the painter's credit, who mae the first picture with the woman layin down on the earth?

    1. Of course! The first picture is called "Eve's First Harvest" by Megan Rieker.