Gender Roles in the Plan of Salvation
This is a theory, a try at understanding. It is my way of connecting existing truths with new truths within my own mind. I believe in faithful obedience first, through which I gain access to deeper understanding. These are my thoughts and feelings; please don’t take them as doctrine. They came to me after viewing M. Russell Ballard’s recent Education Week devotional. If there are gaping holes in the explanation of this theory it is likely that they are filled by Elder Ballard’s prophetic wisdom (included at the end of this post).
We know from the Proclamation on the Family that, “Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.” Our gender is an aspect of our eternal spirit, one which I understand to be fixed and immutable.
What is not fixed is the interpretation of gender, what it represents or determines about us. This is known as our gender role: “A set of social and behavioral norms that, within a specific culture, are widely considered to be socially appropriate for individuals of a specific sex.”1
Like most things observed in culture, our gender role is made up of both our environment and our biology. Biology came from God, we are created in his image. Our cultural environment is largely a creation of man, a phenomenon of this terrestrial world. Our gender identity is made up of both of what God has deemed for us and what mankind (culture) has deemed for us. In the same way it is impossible to fully tease apart the effect of biology and environment upon us, it is impossible to fully delineate what parts of gender identity are pronounced by God and what are pronounced by culture. Recent attention (meaning the last few decades of human history) has focused on gender roles, so our prophets have responded by illuminating some aspects of our gender role which are from God. Motherhood for women and priesthood keys for men are two examples. Motherhood is determined by biology, as well as by God as a spiritual calling of great importance. Priesthood keys are determined by biology only in so much as mortal physical characteristics indicate the gender of a spirit. Priesthood keys are more fully determined by God, wherein he takes into account worthiness and circumstances. These two examples show how aspects of gender roles are God given.
An example of culturally given aspects of gender roles are dresses for women and shirt and tie for men. These things are important in a cultural context, but are not part of the mortal gender roles imparted by God. (Yes, I’m saying God does not wear a tie. I muddy the waters with this example as our mode of dress is a factor in faithful observances, sorry about that. I’m not really interested in a discussion of what mode of dress is appropriate for church.)
Our gender roles as God sees them were part of what we accepted when we agreed to mortality. For this life God determined that the gender role of women would mean bearing children and nurturing them (both physically and emotionally). God likewise determined that the gender role of men would mean holding priesthood keys and contributing as a necessary partner to bearing children, and providing for their welfare. When we accepted mortality, we accepted our gender role from God. This does not mean that we accepted, or in any way bore allegiance to culture’s determination of gender roles.
In some ways the gender roles created by culture are the same as God’s, in other ways they are quite different. No one knows fully which is which but God, because Satan, the ruler of this world, delights in half truths. He allows some part of God’s gender role to linger in culture’s gender role, even though it is truth and Satan abhors it, because it confuses us. The more we attempt to tease apart God’s gender roles and culture’s gender roles the more we seem to tangle in its bindings. These are truly ties that bind, holding together society and family, while at the same time holding in abuses, subjection, and denial of basic rights. The ideals of God are mixed with the ideals of mankind. Much like the wheat and the tares, God allows this mixing of gender roles to continue.
Elder Richard G. Scott addressed the importance and difficulty of sorting through these mixed ideals: “Customs and traditions become an inherent part of us. They are not easy to evaluate objectively. Carefully study the scriptures and counsel of the prophets to understand how the Lord wants you to live.”
Now that gender roles are fully explained I’ll get to how this pertains to the plan of salvation. Let’s start with Adam and Eve, the parents of us all at the beginning of time. When they chose to eat of the fruit, they chose to experience mortality. We believe that as spirit children of God we knew the choice that Adam and Eve must make for each of us to experience mortality. That choice was not made by one gender, it was a choice made by a man and by a woman. They acted as a proxy for us, men and women, making the choice on our behalf. Because we are here on earth we know that we chose to follow God’s plan, allowing Adam and Eve to be our proxies because we wanted to experience mortality.
This package of mortality which Adam and Eve chose for us includes experiences: to be born, to breathe, to eat, to work, to learn, and to die. There is another experience which we don’t often associate with our choice to be mortal but which I believe we knew would be part of the mortality package – gender roles. The importance of the gender of Adam and Eve, and their different roles in the fall, resulted in different consequences for each gender. In Moses 4:22-23 we read about those consequences:
Unto the woman, I, the Lord God, said: I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception. In sorrow thou shalt bring forth children, and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.
And unto Adam, I, the Lord God, said: Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the fruit of the tree of which I commanded thee, saying –Thou shalt not eat of it, cursed shall be the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life.
God is allowing us the opportunity to follow him in faith, and to trust in prophets when they tell us that gender roles are not all bad. In this process of obedience we are also experiencing another vital part of the package of mortality, learning to discern the good from the evil. In a sense we are each partaking of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil throughout our lives. In living we truly come to understand the nuances of gender roles and righteousness, such as when a priesthood holder crosses over to unrighteous dominion and when a mother’s over-nurturing does the same. (There is such a thing as too much nurturing and it seems appropriate to call it unrighteous dominion.) We come to know for ourselves the sometimes subtle differences between God’s infinitely empowering gender roles, and Satan’s damning and contentious gender roles.
Moving on, towards the end of time, what happens to our gender roles at death? My bishop points out often that in the eternities families will be made up of husbands and wives, not babies who need diaper changes and teenagers who need meals. Will priesthood keys still be needed the way they are now when we are living in the presence of God? What happens to feeding and clothing when children are in perfected bodies? In the celestial kingdom fulfilling our gender roles will not be the intense temporal undertaking it is now.
In the same way Christ redeems us from mortality and death through the resurrection, he will also redeem us from earthly gender roles – both those placed upon us by man and those placed upon us by God. We don’t know much about what the eternities will be like, but our gender roles, the responsibilities assigned to us by God, will be different after mortality. Although they won’t be like the gender roles we had in premortal life either. We are progressing, and part of that progression takes place in gender roles. Because of our sojourn on earth, we will forever be fathers and mothers as part of our eternal gender roles, but what that looks like after mortality will be different from what it looks like on earth. Again, trying to tease these things apart to determine what eternal gender roles will look like is nigh unto impossible with our limited knowledge.
As I ponder the Plan of Salvation with a focus on gender roles I find it beautiful to think of Adam and Eve as our gender proxies, leading us righteously into motherhood and fatherhood. I also find a certain amount of satisfaction in knowing that I will not be held back by mankind’s determination of my gender role for eternity, but instead liberated and exalted by the gender role given to me by God the Father. These are only my thoughts at play, sorting and stacking these blocks of good and evil to see how they fit into God’s grand design for our exaltation. The part of this that is sure is Jesus Christ, who will redeem us from the Fall, which could include redemption from earthly gender roles and introduction into the next phase of our development with new gender roles which include our honorable earthly titles of mother and father – the same titles our perfected heavenly parents hold.
Let us never forget that we are the sons and daughters of God, equal in his sight, with differing responsibilities and capabilities, assigned by him and given access to his priesthood power as we make and keep sacred covenants and counsel together. Be careful that you continually strive to live and sustain the plan of happiness, which is our Father’s revealed plan of salvation for his sons and his daughters. M. Russell Ballard, Aug 2013
Photo Credits: lds.org, The Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise by Benjamin West
About jendoopJen writes, reads, paints, walks, prays, eats and sleeps. Paul is her co-conspirator in teaching these skills to 4 children.
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