Editors' Note: This article is part of the Public Square 2014 Summer Series: Conversations on Religious Trends. Read other perspectives from the Mormon community here.
In central Utah where I lived and worked for many years, the curse of gardeners is field bindweed. It grows explosively, twining and binding the most beautiful flowers, and will literally take over a garden, covering everything in sight. It's utterly tenacious: on average, it takes three solid years of dedicated vigilance to blunt its attack. And bindweed often gets the last laugh—its seeds can lie dormant for a full fifty years before germinating to invade once more.
False conceptions about women in LDS culture are much like field bindweed. They serve to obscure doctrine and strangle our hopes of becoming a Zion society. They are intensely discouraging to all who labor in the garden, and just when you think they are gone, they reappear in subtly different form to threaten our progress once more.
My thesis is quite simple: We must eradicate these weeds in our midst. A season of intensive yard work in the Kingdom of God is required, and we are all enlisted in that challenging labor.
The stakes in this case are high—as high and as wide as eternity itself. Indeed, we would offer that since the male-female relationship is at the heart of divinity and simultaneously at the heart of every mortal family (D&C 132), weeding out these false perspectives will be a transformation that will refine us to the very core. Just as Eve was first in wisely and courageously initiating the Plan of Happiness, so resolving and clarifying how Eve's daughters stand before God and men is foundational to the final ushering in of a society patterned after heaven. No society in which women are viewed as inferior to men can possibly effect that transition, for our Heavenly Father and our Heavenly Mother could never countenance such a belief to be held in their presence.
We stand at that threshold as a faith community, and it is an exciting time. Perhaps most exciting are the halting first steps toward a new language for speaking of these things, for that permits the articulation of truths that we "seeing, see not" (Mt. 13:13).
For example, over the last several years, we have come to understand that "the priesthood is the eternal power and authority of our Heavenly Father," suggesting that there is another eternal power and authority on the earth, that of our Heavenly Mother, wielded by Her daughters. We are a faith community of priests and priestesses, then, and when united in the new and everlasting covenant of marriage, men and women together hold the fullness of the Priesthood, its capital "P" signifying more than the male-only priesthood.
This conceptual turn has permitted our leaders to teach us more about these things than perhaps was possible in previous years. We have been recently taught by Elder M. Russell Ballard, that, when endowed, both men and women are given power in the Priesthood, and by Elder Dallin H. Oaks that women may possess Priesthood authority. It is no longer women alone who "hold the Priesthood" when embracing their spouse; we realize now that their husbands do the very same. Coming into clearer view is the vision of the "co-presidency" of men and woman anticipated by Elder L. Tom Perry (see L. Tom Perry, "Fatherhood—An Eternal Calling," Church News, 10 April 2004:15, hard copy version only; the original wording is in the audio version of the 2004 April General Conference address), wherein, as President James E. Faust expressed it, "Every father is to his family a patriarch and every mother a matriarch as coequals in their distinctive parental roles."
Only now has it become possible to comprehend and articulate that women have always been beings of divine power and authority. Women have their own apprenticeship to the divine that is not identical to that of men's apprenticeship, but is equally powerful and equally authoritative. This power and authority is not given to women by men, for men are literally incapable of giving what they themselves do not possess. Thus it is ultimately misogynist to insist that women can only be equal to men if men deign to share godly power with women through ordination. Men cannot give us what we already have, and that insistence reveals an erroneous view of how women stand before men. We do not stand as supplicants; we stand as co-presidents.