Wednesday, March 19, 2014

A Novel Understanding Of Gender Roles in The Proclamation on the Family

I was reluctant to write this blog post but I have been encouraged to do so by certain individuals because they find my reading of the Proclamation on the Family (PoF) fascinating and original.  So, I am taking the plunge and adding this blog article to the current and ongoing discussion about equality and gender roles within the LDS Church.
My intent and hope in writing this post is not to provide a solution to issues revolving around equality and gender roles in the Church. This isn't meant to support the conservative or progressive view on these issues. It isn't intended to increase tension among men, women and Church leaders. This is only to get people to see this issue in a new light (hopefully) and to open up a new avenue of discussion on these matters. Finally, what I am about to share is NOT the official doctrine of the LDS Church nor should it ever be taken as such. It is strictly and absolutely MY opinion and reading of the Proclamation of the Family.
With that being said, here's how I read the Proclamation on the Family. In my eyes, the basic and simple point of the PoF is that men and women don't have any gender roles until they are married and have children. That's what I believe the essential message of the Proclamation on the Family to be. 
Let me walk you through how I came to that perspective on the Proclamation on the Family. 
The Proclamation on the Family starts out with a statement that gender is eternal. 
"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.
In the premortal realm, spirit sons and daughters knew and worshipped God as their Eternal Father and accepted His plan by which His children could obtain a physical body and gain earthly experience to progress toward perfection and ultimately realize their divine destiny as heirs of eternal life."
Not only do we learn that gender is eternal, but that we were not genderless in the preexistence. We were male and female before we came to earth. Although God created gender, creating gender is not the same as creating roles. These two concepts are separate and should not be conflated together. 
Unfortunately, LDS culture and society society have been commingled with LDS doctrine to such a degree that LDS practices are assumed to be LDS doctrine despite no doctrinal foundation or justification for such beliefs and it is now almost difficult to tease these two concepts apart because they are so embedded in LDS thinking and behavior because people have mingled these two things together as if they are LDS doctrine.
A careful reading of the PoF and other sources does not and cannot support that when God  spiritually and physically created men and women, He also created the roles that would accompany each gender. God merely created gender, humans created most of the roles. Almost all gender roles are arbitrary because they were created by society and culture with the exception that men and women don't have any gender roles until they are married and have children.
"The first commandment that God gave to Adam and Eve pertained to their potential for parenthood as husband and wife. We declare that God’s commandment for His children to multiply and replenish the earth remains in force. We further declare that God has commanded that the sacred powers of procreation are to be employed only between man and woman, lawfully wedded as husband and wife.
We declare the means by which mortal life is created to be divinely appointed. We affirm the sanctity of life and of its importance in God’s eternal plan."
In my reading of the PoF, we learn a few things. First, the first commandment to get married is an obligation that falls equally on both genders. The obligation must be fulfilled by men and women. It appears from the PoF (as well as other scriptural sources) that the Lord’s doctrine that men and women are to both be active players in finding a spouse.
Secondly, we also learn there is something unique about the "First Commandment" that is different from almost all the other commandments the Lord has given. In order for the commandment to get married to be satisfied, it requires a man and a woman to come together in marriage. In other words, it takes two people to obey this one commandment whereas almost all other commandments require each individual to obey them on their own. Men and women are both needed to create a marriage. A man can't be married unto himself and a woman can't do that either. Men and women need each other to satisfy that obligation. That's why if you read the entire PoF, there's no mention of gender roles when it comes to dating. It isn't a man's job to find a spouse and it isn't a woman's job to find a spouse. Its an equal obligation. 
Additionally, we learn that God actually gave two distinct and separate commandments to men and women instead of one. If you read the PoF carefully and read the scriptures carefully, you realize that men and women must satisfy the "First Commandment" (marriage) to satisfy the "Second Commandment" (be fruitful and multiply/procreate).  In other words, God intended that men and women must be husband and wife before (condition precedent) they can be fathers and mothers. This concept is affirmed in the passage below:
"Husband and wife have a solemn responsibility to love and care for each other and for their children. “Children are an heritage of the Lord” (Psalm 127:3). Parents have a sacred duty to rear their children in love and righteousness, to provide for their physical and spiritual needs, and to teach them to love and serve one another, observe the commandments of God, and be law-abiding citizens wherever they live. Husbands and wives—mothers and fathers—will be held accountable before God for the discharge of these obligations.
The family is ordained of God. Marriage between man and woman is essential to His eternal plan. Children are entitled to birth within the bonds of matrimony, and to be reared by a father and a mother who honor marital vows with complete fidelity."
From the paragraph above we learn that men and woman as husband and wives are both under the same obligation to have children. Again, the commandment to have children is another one of those rare instances where it takes two people (men and women) to obey a single commandment. It is an obligation that both men and women are equally required to obey although women carry the heavier burden than men do in this instance. 
It is worth pointing out that men and women can become mothers and fathers without having to be husband and wife. Thus, the PoF recognizes that " Husbands and wives—mothers and fathers"  will "be held accountable before God for the discharge of these obligations" of rearing "their children in love and righteousness, to provide for their physical and spiritual needs, and to teach them to love and serve one another, observe the commandments of God, and be law-abiding citizens wherever they live." Thus, even if you haven't satisfied the first commandment of getting married, you are still under the commandment as fathers and mothers to raise and provide for their children.
We also learned that children are "entitled" to having parents. This is the first and only time in the PoF where any "right" is mentioned.
Finally, we learn that marriage is essential to God's plan for His Children. Children can only be created within the confines or parameters of marriage so that they can relocate from the preexistence to earth and arrive in a safe and healthy environment for them to begin their life on earth.
So far, we haven't seen any gender roles described or proscribed to men and women. We have only seen that gender is eternal, that both genders must be married before they can be parents. That's what the PoF teaches so far. 
But if you read the PoF carefully, you will find that there the gender roles for both men and woman are very simple and there is only one role for men and women. 
"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. Disability, death, or other circumstances may necessitate individual adaptation. Extended families should lend support when needed."
In the way I read the LDS Church's Proclamation on the Family, there is on only one gender role that men and women each have. For men, "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." For women, "Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children." We also learn that men and women are to help each other in the one roles that each gender has. Men and women are to assist each other in these roles as equal partners.
I don't see any other assigned gender role for men and women in the PoF. That's all there is.
If you notice, there is no gender roles when it comes to house hold chores, dating, employment, church callings. Its not there. Also notice that the gender roles for men and women aren't trigged until they have been (1) married and (2) have children. Gender roles don't happen until both requirements are satisfied. That means that according to the PoF, there are no gender roles for men and women prior to marriage. It also implies that there are no gender roles for married couples either. Only when they have children do the the simple gender roles assigned to men and women kick in.
The Proclamation on the Family (PoF) doesn't mention the gender roles and the Priesthood either. (an omission I find fascinating). You would have to look else where for why women can't or shouldn't (or why they can or should) hold the Priesthood (an argument I am intentionally avoiding here). But if you are looking strictly at the PoF, it does seem to imply that the unmarried women (or women with full-grown children) could hold the priesthood. However, you are free to have that debate in the comments section of this article although I encourage (and prefer) you talk about gender roles in the Church.
That, dear readers, is how came to the idea that the only gender role men and women have according to the Proclamation. These roles are only triggered upon the event of lawful marriage and procreation of children within that marriage. Men and women simly don't have any gender roles until they are married and have children.  Society through various means get boys and girls to do certain things in preparation as husband and wives and mother and fathers. However, they should not be assumed that they are the inherent and permanent gender roles for men and women. Women and men like to do certain things but again, these things should not be conflated with actual gender roles of women. They are merely preferences.
Biology and genetics are the only natural limitations on men and women. However, again, they are not to be conflated with gender roles. They are merely to be understood as natural and normal physical limitations just as being Deaf or blind are natural physical limitations. Sometimes my Deafness will naturally limit me to doing certain things and other times it won't. Or I can get around these physical barriers through technology and/or pure determination.
I understand that for some people, they may find my interpretation of the PoF to be patriarchal. I don't think it is and it was never intended to be that way. It was simply to challenge the current understanding of gender roles and to present a novel and unique way of understanding gender roles as outlined in the PoF.
To me, I find the PoF to be traditional/conservative and progressive at the same time. LDS Doctrines can be viewed as being the most liberal theology in the world and it applies here on the issue of gender roles. 
The gender roles as I read in the PoF are realistic and simple. The only gender roles men and women have occur only in marriage and it only relates to the raising of children in the home. That's it. That means all other gender roles are not eternal, doctrinal or important or essential. Anything outside of that is rather subjective and arbitrary which are based on unsound justifications.
I think that's fairly liberating for both men and women because it escapes the inherent double standards and double binds that men and women place on one other and amongst each other (as in internal and external pressures) while having a more simpler (and less stifling) roles for both men and women.
To me it implies that God is only concerned with the eternal truths and obligations that transcend time, geography, culture, tradition and society and that at the end of the day, we find the truth to be simple in its concept and execution. Only humans can muck up a concept so simple and elegant.
It was humans who added unnecessary layers of complexity onto a simple doctrine through media, entertainment, culture, society, tradition, history and (yes) religion. Also, we have made unwarranted connections, assumptions and leaps in logic about gender roles merely because a person does "A" it necessarily follows that they do "X, Y, or Z." 
But at the same time, humans created these additional roles because of survival or because it was practical or because it saved time and energy.  There was some need for it, for some reason, in the past that was useful for men and women. Many of these roles weren't done to oppress but out of some necessity. However, some roles eventually became a tool for oppression.  Finally, we can’t assume that all past social practice is beneficial in the future. It is good for society and in the Church to reevaluate these things from time to time. 
This brings me to the current discussion on gender roles. The additional gender roles that humans have placed on top of the one, single, assigned role for men and women as outlined in the PoF, can be stifling and choking at times. There are lots of things that men and women have to do because they are culturally or societally or religiously induced rigid expectations. Women aren't the only ones who have issues with gender roles. Men do too.  Both have men and women legitimate complaints about the roles and duties the Church places on us and whether or not they are equal
But there is one scriptural passage that I gives me hope for both men and women with regards to gender roles in the future. The prophet Isaiah explained that during the millennial reign of Christ, the roles and behaviors of animals will radically change:
“The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. 
“And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together: and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
“And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice’ den.
“They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.” (Isa. 11:6–9.)
If the natural behaviors and roles of animals (predator and prey) can be radically changed, there is a strong but subtle implication that the behavior of humans beings will radically change as well. I don't think that the roles that men and women have within the parameters of a lawful marriage and procreation of children within that marriage will change. I think that the behaviors of men and women will change which will affect how the genders interact with one another.
I hope this article was enlightening as well as entertaining and thought provoking. 

I look forward to hearing your insights and ideas on this subject in the comments section.

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