Dear 100 Hour Board,
A recent question about conference made me think of this. What are your thoughts on the place of women in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and your beliefs/hopes on the place of women in the eternities?
In the Church, we say the restoration is ongoing and we will keep receiving more revelation about God, ourselves, and the eternities. And I really hope so, because the way it currently stands, women are mostly silent and powerless today and in the eternities in the Church. No woman has any authority to lead or speak without a man. There is no woman at the top of any of our power hierarchies - a woman always answers to a man. Female speakers in General Conference are largely ignored, speak far less than men, and are the subject of many jokes (such as people getting up to use the bathroom or get snacks during their talks, because they aren't important). For over a hundred years, women covenanted to obey their husbands in the temple. If all men suddenly left the Church, it could not continue, but if all women suddenly left the Church it could. Heavenly Mother is a figure spoken of and yearned after by feminists, but is largely unknown. We cannot pray to her, we cannot talk to her, many believe she is too sacred to talk about, we don't know her name, and many joke that she is one among many.
It may be hard to view this as a problem - for many of us, we were raised in this, and it seems normal. I think the best thing I've read that can help us understand this better is Dear Mormon Man. This article reverses the roles and positions of men and women and writes from a Mormon man's point of view in this world:
The most important contribution of the prophetesses is teaching you about the nature of God. This God is not the amorphous non-entity of other faiths, but an actual human being, with a real body “as tangible as woman’s.” This God is your Mother in Heaven, and She knows and loves you. The Godhead consists of three distinct beings: This Mother, who is omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient, Her Daughter, who came to earth to demonstrate a perfect life and embody all perfect attributes (both those considered female qualities and those considered male qualities), and a bodiless Holy Ghost, who possesses the spirit of a woman, but does not have a body so that she can dwell in our hearts. You study this holy trinity and love them with all your might, trying always to be like them.
Paintings of God the Mother and Her Beloved Daughter, as well as the prophetesses and apostelles adorn the walls of your church and your home. You study their kind faces, smooth and beautiful, like your mother’s. Sometimes you notice boys and men among the crowds in the paintings; rarely, you see a painting of a man from the scriptures, like the man at the well, or the man taken in adultery.
At some point you learn one of the glorious truths of the gospel, not found in other religions: You have a Heavenly Father. He is mentioned in a hymn, written by one of the Prophetess’ plural husbands, and a later prophetess validated the doctrine by claiming, “that hymn is a revelation, even though it was given unto us through a man.” You are told never to pray to Heavenly Father, and as far as you know, He doesn’t talk to you. When you ask to know more about Him, you are told no one knows, but it doesn’t really matter because you have a Heavenly Mother and an Elder Sister who love you. You find that you don’t like it when people mention Heavenly Father: having a Father who doesn’t talk to you and doesn’t want you to talk to Him makes you sadder than not having one.
What are my beliefs on women's role in the afterlife? Free and equal to follow their hearts and souls and do whatever the heck they want.
-guppy of doom
I regret to inform that I don't have a formal treatise worked out on this topic...but given that I'm the only male writer opining, perhaps some caution is for the best. I do have a few thoughts I wanted to add, whatever they may be worth. Much has already been said about your first question, so I'd like to focus a little more on the second.
Personally, I feel that the concept of "priesthood" goes far beyond the more practical notion of ecclesiastical office; the two may overlap, but they are not the same. Any dialogue that confuses or conflates the two, as much of the Church's early dialogue on priesthood did, is both unfortunate and wrong.
I believe the purpose of the institutional Church is to administer the ordinances of salvation and teach mankind how to live after the manner of Zion exemplified in 4 Nephi and the Book of Moses. I don't think any meaningful difference between man and woman persists in such a society, and while priesthood ordinances are essential to our salvation, so too is learning how to live in Zion, which requires both the sealing power to bind communities together as well as perfect unity brought about by willful righteous living (see Doctrine and Covenants 38, verse 27). Man and woman cannot be separated in any way without both being lost. Both must learn how to love God and, in so doing, learn to love one another--all this in order to emulate the kind of sealed, exalted community that we hope to achieve in the next life.
Because of that, it is my opinion that the current inequality in the Church is an artifact of the mortal institution, and that when we become members of a perfected Zion community, ecclesiastical positions will dissolve, as will any meaningful distinctions based on them. I don't think we will need the scaffolding, so to speak, of a mortal church when we've returned to the presence of our heavenly parents.
Just as with questions raised by the Church's positions on LGBTQ+ questions both past and present, I think it's terribly tragic, if ultimately understandable, that so many people struggle to find a sense of worth or belonging in the church because of questions about feminine meaning and identity.
I call this mortal disparity an artifact, but I don't want to overstate my opinion. I can't say whether women should or should not be ordained to ecclesiastical office, or authorized to perform ordinances that they currently do not. No reasoning of any kind has been provided as to why we don't, and it wouldn't surprise me to learn that God has simply been waiting to pour out additional knowledge in a time when we, as a worldwide church, are sufficiently prepared to ask the right questions and listen to the answers. But it is not for me to say more than that. How much of the male-dominant lens of ancient scripture has colored our practice, and how much of it is genuinely supposed to? How much does the weight of age-old tradition shape and mold our genuine revelation? Was some of that molding unintended, a consequence of uncritical acceptance of tradition? Perhaps. But perhaps not. These are questions I don't have ready answers to.
The ingenuous reader may wonder, if men and women are to be equal in the eternities with no notion of authority or position to separate them, why it is that Heavenly Mother plays such a minimal role in our current understanding of the plan of salvation. To that I can only suggest that perhaps we ought to start thinking more seriously about that question, rather than building hedges around it with the patronizing nonsense that she's "too sacred" to be discussed. I personally feel that our cultural propensity to fill the gaps in our revealed knowledge with rather dubious ad hoc theological explanations (tea is bad because of caffeine; women are not ordained to priesthood office because they can be mothers instead; we don't discuss Heavenly Mother because she's so sacred that God is protecting Her; etc., etc) is both the largest symptom and cause of our inability to get more knowledge. None of the italicized reasons I mentioned are "official doctrine" as such, and none of them can be labeled proper explanations for why things are the way they are. But each one of them, at one time or another in the Church, has held such sway that we simply stop asking questions. That, I feel, is our biggest mistake. If we aren't comfortable admitting that we don't know, and we prefer to substitute in our own explanations at every opportunity, we will never ask God to teach us more.
Ultimately, I don't have the kind of definitive, satisfying answer that I would like--particularly as it relates to our current practice in the church. But I will state unequivocally that I feel very strongly about the promises and the infinite loving-kindness of God. A salvation in which I rise to find that I have been exalted to powers, thrones, and principalities while my wife and mother and sisters all play subservient, secondary roles in silence is no salvation at all. When I think about the meaning of exaltation in the next life, two images always come to mind: returning home to the joyful embrace of a loving Mother and Father, and looking forward into the expanse of eternity together with a loving spouse without whom I would be hopelessly and helplessly incomplete.
Why are those images still obscured after so long an absence from our current knowledge? Why do we not yet understand more when so many dearly wish to? I don't know. I wish that I did, because it's unbearably sad to me that so many struggle to feel the divine love which ought to guide them home. But I firmly believe that there is an indispensable place for women in this life and in the next. Those words may well be easy for me to say, as someone who doesn't bear the brunt of such doubts as a woman in the church, but that is my conviction. All I can do is echo Nephi in affirming that despite my incomplete knowledge, I know that God loves His children.
I have a lot of thoughts, but for the sake of brevity will limit it to a few things that have specifically been on my mind lately.
Progress is evident and imminent. Lessons about Chastity and Chewed Gum are becoming unacceptable and less common, Relief Society Presidents hold more weight in ward decision making, and there is no longer a different youth program for YM and YW. That's good news to me. I'm hearing more of "Heavenly Parents" rather than just "Heavenly Father." Girls can be witnesses! People are talking, at least a little bit more, about the role of women, without it turning into a talk about keeping quiet and staying in your place.
While we have made progress, it also seems like we've strayed from the original destiny of women. The 1800s were far from good for women, obviously. But Joseph Smith talked about Prophetesses and Priestesses and Deaconesses. The Early Relief Society sisters gave each other healing blessings (laying on of hands, people). The first witness of a baptism for the dead was a woman. The first person to be baptized for a dead relative was a woman. Why were all of these things lost? The strength of the patriarchy and the pride that comes with power changed how the Church functioned. Sexism brought us further away from women's eternal destiny of strength and significance in the Church.
We have a long way to go, clearly. I have a lot of questions but hope they'll be sorted out in the future.
I think we can't tout claims of "equal partnership" when we don't talk about the role of Heavenly Mother. We talk about the role of women, but in terms of actual Church doctrine, we have surrounded the most important woman of all in secrecy. If women are of equal value and equal importance, then women need to be instructed and connected with their Divine Mother, and we need to include Her in our teachings about the Plan of Salvation. It's not just Heavenly Father's plan. It's Their plan. We are Their children. I am a child of God, and *They* have sent me here. Do you see how big of a difference that makes for women and girls? Right now it seems like our divine destiny is shrouded in confusion because we don't know anything about our female deity.
I look forward to the future because change is coming and will keep coming. Thank heavens for that.
Women in the Church have been called equal for decades and some may even say since Genesis. Can I hear you say "helpmeet"? However, I'm sympathetic to the many women who don't feel equal because the Church hasn't and doesn't treat women as equals. I'm grateful for my wife showing me some of the inequities. I don't pretend to know what the answers are or why they haven't come sooner. Should women be able to hold the priesthood? I don't have a good argument for why they shouldn't. Why can men get sealed to multiple women (after a wife dies) and women can't? Why is it that women ultimately have to report to a man in the Church?
I still believe that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is led by Jesus Christ and His prophets, but I also believe that prophets are fallible and haven't created a perfect institution.
-Sunday Night Banter