(Disclaimer: In this post I resort to stark stereotypes in order to make a case for the gender hierarchy in the temple. But please read in conjunction with this post,where I explain how I believe men and women are also equal. I am not as chauvinistic as it might appear from a casual reading of this post.)
When the new temple movies came out, I heard complaints from some women that offensive text regarding the place of women in the hierarchy had not been changed or modified. The new films added some cinematic interpretations which showed Eve in a stronger light, but her doctrinal role within the endowment did not change. The church today tries to soften this hierarchy by saying women and men are “equal but different” and that men merely “preside, not rule.” But new phrasing doesn’t change the core hierarchical doctrine in the temple, and the unmistakable implications it has for the roles men and women are expected to take in today’s church. Why does the church hang on to what seems to be an “outdated” hierarchy, and should it change?
The following theory is my attempt to understand the nature of the hierarchy: Woman to Man, Man to God. I believe God uses gender roles as ways to tame and subdue the natural instincts of the Man and the Woman. My theory relies upon recognizing stereotypical, but self-evident gender differences, which I believe are biological in origin, not cultural. There are many exceptions to these stereotypes, but that does not mean we should ignore them. A biological stereotype says something very important about the core identity of the majority of men and women.
Women Superior to Men in Domestic and Spiritual Matters
Women are often praised for their unselfishness towards their children, but they cannot really take full credit for this, as much of it is a biological gift of Mother Nature. The woman finds herself genetically endowed with a powerful instinctive urge to sacrifice herself for her child, willingly renouncing her freedom for years to come. Even formerly ambitious business women are often surprised to find themselves willingly embracing the SAHM path once the hormones start flowing with the birth of their first child. Family is the natural, genetically defined domain of the woman. She has an instinctual passion for it, which far exceeds the passion of the man for family. The woman is instinctually conscientious, nurturing, sacrificial, and enterprising all matters regarding the home. If any person should be elected the head of the household, it should be the woman. The man is a pathetic second class candidate for such a job.
In religion, we can see that women are more inclined to service and devotion, because they bring their natural domestic gifts to bear. They happen to belong to a religion that values the “feminine” traits of domestic responsibility, conscientiousness, and self-sacrifice. They have a great spiritual advantage to the man in this regard. By all accounts, they should be the spiritual rulers and exemplars for the inferior spirituality of the man. This is evidenced on any given Sunday in any ward, where it is clearly seen that the Relief Society take all their duties much more seriously than the Elders or High Priest’s Quorums.
Men Inferior to Women in Domestic and Spiritual Matters
With regards to sex, the Man is the opposite of the Woman. After giving into his sexual urges with the Woman, he feels no innate responsibility towards her afterwards. His genetic desires are to have sex with multiple women without regard to consequence. His passions are not focused on the family, but upon the outside world, ambition, success, power, warfare. This is not “evil.” It is rather his nature. Unfortunately, his nature doesn’t correspond very well to the commandments of God, unlike the woman.
This is more than simply a stereotypical exaggeration. Centuries of civilizing culture have subdued the promiscuous instinct in the Man, but his core nature is clearly evidenced by the pornographic urge which runs rampant among men today, even in LDS culture. And even though culture has dictated that men have a responsibility towards to their wives and children, they are usually not up to the job. Instead of learning to become conscientious, sacrificial and nurturing, they apply their worldly desires for power to their familial duties, becoming unrighteous dominators, ruling their family as they would rule and dominate other men.
Thus in the religious and domestic realm, men have a clear disadvantage to women. It’s bad luck for men that in our particular religion, God doesn’t value warfare and promiscuity, but rather fidelity and unselfishness.
God Curses the Man with Responsibility, and the Woman With Submission to the Man
God sets us at war with our natures. “The natural man is an enemy to God.” For the man, He gives domestic responsibility: to be the head of the house, a duty for which he is not naturally inclined or gifted. But if he submits to this responsibility, he will find himself tamed and civilized. In religion, he is given the priesthood. Priesthood however, is not given to him because of his natural instinct to rule. Rather, priesthood is about unselfish service, conscientiousness, and responsibility, not dominion and power, so it is still out of his comfort zone. Rather his true nature is to exercise unrighteous dominion, as Joseph Smith declared. “We have seen that it is the nature of almost all men to immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.”
The woman would be far superior in exercising this priesthood, but it is given to the man to subdue and bridle him. Instead, God removes the woman from her natural place as the gifted and conscientious head of the home, and puts her under the Man, thereby humbling her in her superior gifts, and giving her an opportunity to challenge and refine both the Man and herself in a lifelong battle of the sexes.
I’ve blogged about the under-appreciated virtue of submission here. I believe gender roles are all about giving men and women something to submit to. For a man, it is a greater sacrifice to submit to God, thus he is specifically put under God’s thumb. For the woman, it is not as great of a sacrifice to submit to God, as many of his commandments are already focused upon things domestic and conscientious. But to submit to a man? That is a great sacrifice for the woman. In the end, both genders have to submit to an equal trial of submission, although that submission is placed in different things.
Men and Women as Cursed Equals
While I might have defined men and women according to these prejudicial generalities, I don’t see them as unequal with regards to their innate goodness or talent. Men may be cursed with wanderlust, and women with mother-bear instincts, but without these, I see them as equals. Rather than women being “under” or inferior to man, I see both men and women as part of a strange game played out by the Gods. I don’t consider women innately “more spiritual,” but rather simply given unfair advantages that will all be evened out in the next life. That’s why I dislike the theory of polygamy which states that there will be more men than women in heaven. In heaven I believe there will be an equal number of men and women, as there are in life.
I agree with many of the points feminists make about equality in the abstract. Their view is the ideal in a society of equals. Perhaps it is the order of heaven. I’m personally partial to an androgynous view of heaven, the one from the Gnostic gospel of Thomas:
They said to him, “When shall we then enter the kingdom?” Jesus said to them, “When you make the two one, and when you make the inside like the outside and the outside like the inside… so that the male be not male nor the female female…then will you enter the kingdom.”
But we don’t live in heaven. We live in a fallen world where men and women have been given different natures, different curses, and different commandments. There must therefore be compromises and contradictions. I don’t know what would happen if women were given the priesthood, or if they were pronounced equal before God in the doctrinal hierarchy. Maybe it would be fine, maybe it would be better. But I think that the current order reflects realities as lived by humanity throughout the ages. It is true that humanity has changed the rules with the advent of birth-control and such, but I think there is a danger in rewriting those rules with regards to the church, which represents a more transcendent and universal response to the nature and plight of mankind throughout the ages.
- Should we appeal to self-evident biological stereotypes to understand gender roles in the church?
- Does the curse of male submission to God, and the curse of female submission to man constitute an equally onerous curse to their respective biological natures?
- Are there other ways of understanding the God-Man-Woman heirarchy?
- Do you believe the heirarchy is divine or manmade, and should it be changed?
- What advantages or disadvantages are there to the heirarchy?
- What would be the advantages or disadvantages would eliminating the heirarchy?