Sexuality: The Path of Unity with God
The highest liturgy in the LDS Church is that of "sealing," in which two people are sealed to each other for time and eternity in marriage by covenant that is ratified by sacred authority. Sealing is the rite by which the web of relationships is created.
This means that male-female sexual difference is at the heart of sealing, for to be sealed to another person in marriage means, in principle, to be able to reproduce sexually, to birth, foster, raise, and nourish children in a relationship that cannot be broken. It means also that we can be sealed in the relationships that have made our lives together possible, in relationships with our ancestors as well as our children.
To be sealed in marriage with another is no longer to be the individual that I began as. It is to be part of a new being, a new individual, an individual with always expanding boundaries. But what becomes of me in such an ever-growing web? Do I lose my personality and become merely a function of the web?
No. I did not lose my personality by being sealed to Janice Allen, nor did she lose hers. Instead, what I am was enlarged by the permanent presence of another person, and vice-versa. We are now, physically and metaphysically, one being. Nevertheless, we have two consciousnesses and will continue to have them. We have differences and disagreements. Seldom are our disagreements over something vital, and that becomes more the case the longer we live together. But we continue to be different from one another, and I presume that will and should always be the case.
I am not a simple being as the individual that I am. I differ from myself. Why should I presume that changes when I am joined to another person as a new being, enlarged by her presence in me? Why should I assume that being sealed to others and to God will take away whatever it is that makes me the unique person that I am? If I were to lose my identity as an individual, then the web of relationships would itself be impossible. There can be no web if every point in the web is the same. Webs require difference, and sexual difference is perhaps the most important difference in our relationships with each other and with God.
A central facet of my being that sealing recognizes and, indeed, valorizes is my sexuality, because that is what has made the continued enlargement of my being possible through the family. Each of us is a sexual being and our sexuality is essential rather than incidental to who we are eternally. But the female-male difference is too thick to be reduced to a list of properties. I know what it means to be who I am. I know what it means to be related to someone who is unlike me sexually. But I cannot say what it is that Janice's being female brings to our relationship and that my being male brings without risking nonsense.
Too often we fall into nonsense when we try to talk about that. We say things like "Men hold the priesthood and women get to be mothers" as if those were parallel things. So that's another thing I don't know: I can't say what it is that Janice brings to our relationship in virtue of her being a woman and that I bring in virtue of my being a man. But I assume that we each bring something that the other doesn't bring. And I assume that for a variety of reasons, among them that as a Mormon I'm committed to the idea that embodiment is essential and that it makes a difference. Metaphysically, it's bodies all the way up and down.
Mormons have a great deal to figure out about sexuality and gender. We have at least as much to figure out culturally and socially as theologically, and there's a great deal that we do not understand theologically. Be that as it may, though, we not only believe but ritualize the importance of sexual difference to Christian life—life before and, with God's grace, with God. Perhaps nothing is more central to Mormonism.
James Faulconer is a Richard L. Evans Professor of Religious Understanding at Brigham Young University, where he has taught philosophy since 1975.