I Am Eve: The Temple and Gender Neutrality “in the Lord”

I Am Eve: The Temple and Gender Neutrality “in the Lord”

Neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord.1 Corinthians 11:11

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.Galatians 3:28

atlanta_templeRededication

On Sunday May 1, I participated in the Rededication Services of the Atlanta, Georgia Temple. It’s the second Temple Dedication Service I’d had the pleasure of attending since I joined the Church, the first being that of the Manhattan, New York Temple.

I found participating (loudly) in the Hosanna Shout, followed by a powerful singing of The Spirit of God to be a more moving experience than I had anticipated.

Since the Atlanta Temple closed about two years ago, I haven’t had many opportunities to attend the Temple.

And I’ve missed it.

When the Temple closed, I had been serving as an Ordinance Worker for a few months alongside my wife, spending several hours in the temple every week, and having the special opportunity to memorize the words of the ordinances, participate and officiate in them, and ponder their application and significance. My wife was able to do the same.

Shortly following the closing for renovation,  we had our first baby. Travel and logistics only permitted me and my wife to attend two Endowment Sessions since that point, all at the Orlando Florida Temple.

So going from concentrated, several-hours-long weekly sessions in the temple, to basically attending once a year for the past two years has been significantly noticeable for us.

This coming Wednesday, we plan on attending the Temple again. And once again, I’ll be bringing some new perspectives and life experiences with me to assist in my instruction, worship,  and service.

Trinity In Unity: Christ, The Church, The Temple

I finally picked up Pope Benedict XVI’s extremely thought provoking book Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week: From the Entrance Into Jerusalem To The Resurrection off my shelf and began to read it.

In particular, the last two days I’ve read the first few chapters, concerning the Cleansing of the Temple,up to through the  High Priestly Prayer.

While certainly not an idea original to himself (which he is the first to acknowledge), I was struck at this time by the image Benedict powerfully presented of Jesus announcing and demonstrating the removal of God’s presence and approbation of the Temple and the current state of worship (and worshippers)  therein, as He himself embodied what the Temple should be, and continued His final journey to the Cross, the symbolic element of suffering and atoning self-sacrifice which lifted up this New Temple and exalted it to Heaven.

I love also the connection made by Benedict of the practical symbol (and responsibility) of viewing the Church as the Body of Christ going along on this journey – with the connection of all three elements (Christ, Church, and Temple) being brought together in one in Paul’s address to the Corinthian saints as he proclaims them – communally as a Church – as making up the Temple of God (see 1 Corinthians 3:16).

This helps me to look at the Temple experience as a very symbolic introspective look at who we are supposed to be as members of a Sacred Community. If the Temple itself is personified by Christ, and we are all members of Christ’s Body, and the Body of Christ is the Temple – a look inside the goings on in the Temple is very much a look into our own souls, our own ideal journey.

Gender Neutral Introspection

When I approach the temple, I view all the patrons themselves as symbols applicable to – and part of – all participating in the experience of identifying with and striving towards Christ. I do not view men participating in the temple as Biological Males, and the women participating as Biological Females. I view them each respectively as symbolizing dual aspects of our own divine Unity, and important aspects teaching us concerning the Hope of being One in Christ.

In the dramatic Narrative of the Endowment presentation, the symbol represented by the Man (Adam? Christ? Our Divine Nature?) chooses to fall (condescend?) because of the results of a weakness of His Companion (Eve? The Church? Disciples?  Humanity?) – from that point on, the Two are One, and serve, and suffer, and are exalted together. (All the while relying on the mercy of a Greater Power as the source of their strength).

While it has been abused by many to be as such, I do not recognize this is as a story about the weak nature of females. It is not a story about how females need strong males and Priesthood Holders to save them. The history of patriarchal societies and cultures of male dominance no doubt contributed to the placement and assignment of the gendered symbols (and its continued misapplication) – but it would do us very well to look past this, and not allow cynicism to halt our abilities to learn and be humbled by what the symbols can actually represent and teach us.

Role Reversal

I think it is essential for all, male and female, despite the physical role they may play in the drama, to not allow themselves to typecast themselves, but rather look to learn something about themselves from each symbol in the drama.

For example, the last time I attended the temple, even though I was dressed for and playing the part of the Man, I viewed myself ,and sought to be taught by going through the Journey, as Eve.

In doing this, I was taught that in the course of my life, I’ve screwed up. Nevertheless, I learned that I had Someone who loved me so much that they came down and chose to hang out in the messy world I’d created for myself to help me be better, and to overcome my drive to screw up. I learned that this companion suffers many things they wouldn’t have had to suffer it weren’t for me. I learned that as I strive to grow and emulate the best of this person, and strive to sacrifice right along with them, we will both have Joy together, we will suffer together, we will have Joy together.

Perhaps “the man” figure represented Christ.

Perhaps also, it represented my own spouse – who happens to be a woman.

But does that mean we both can’t play those roles in our relationship?

Does it mean we can’t both be pilgrims on a journey who need each other to look up to, and to make us better?

Does it mean we can’t both be leaders – ‘the head’ – , taking up the mantle when the other needs to be led?

Does it mean we don’t both need to affirm that we will hearken to each other’s counsel, as we each seek to be led by God?

Does it mean we do not both each have the responsibility to apply our divine charisms – gifts of the spirit , the power of divinity, priesthood power, whatever you want to call them –  to bless the other?

I invite all who will be attending the Temple in the near future, for at the very least this next visit, as you participate in the liturgical worship of the Endowment, to not view the experience only through the role you have been assigned to physically play out in the Drama. There are many roles in the Temple, and I feel that an important part of the experience is coming to terms with our relationship to all of the roles therein – even those that may make us uncomfortable.

I believe that we can all stand to learn from viewing ourselves as guilty.

As weak.

As poor.

As victims.

As tempters.

As teachers.

As leaders.

As angels.

As Saviors.

As Christs.

*

Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it… That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.

So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church:

For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones.

For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.

Ephesians 5: 25–32

3 thoughts on “I Am Eve: The Temple and Gender Neutrality “in the Lord”

  1. 1. Gender Neutral Introspection. Most people that I have read that speak of gender as two aspects of divine unity, assume gender is not part of our eternal nature, but only temporary during mortality. After death, they hope to transcend gender. I don’t think you are saying that, but a gender neutral interpretation doesn’t help me here since I don’t see the fall as a result of the weakness of Eve (either historically or doctrinally).

    2. Patriarchal Societies. I agree there has been much misapplication of this, but it seems to me, that Mormons can and should view Patriarchal Society differently than the world does. My paraphrase of Moses 5:1–12 (given in 1830) follows. I call it the “they, they, them, doctrine:” “They were driven out, they labored together, they had children, they called upon God, they heard his voice, he gave them commandments, they worshiped, they offered, Adam performed the ordinance, Adam was filled with the spirit and blessed God and prophesied, Eve was also filled and prophesied, they blessed the name of God, they taught their children.”

    It seems to me that this (Moses 5:1–12) is the example of a Patriarchal Society. That is what it was like in the beginning. Deviation from that partnership and equality should not be accepted by Mormons as a definition of Patriarchal Society. I suppose we agree on this, but I don’t like calling those deviations “Patriarchal.”

    3. Role Reversal. I am not sure how to reconcile your thoughts about visualizing yourself as Eve with the Proclamation statement: “Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.” I do like thinking about different roles that are portrayed in the temple ceremony, as well as in scripture. I don’t understand how to reconcile gender role reversal with “neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 11:11). It seems to me that gender (and gender role) distinctions are critical to our unity in the Lord. Perhaps you agree, but I didn’t follow.

    In my attempt to be concise, I hope I don’t sound contentious. Perhaps I have just misunderstood. I have read your blog for over a year and have enjoyed it.

  2. First of all, thank you for your comments.

    I don’t want to give the impression that I feel there is only one interpretation, or hermeneutic, by which to approach the Liturgy of the Temple. I do, however, feel that this is one valid – and important – way of approaching it that has much to teach about what it means to be a Christian Community – a, well, Community of Christs.

    I do reject the idea that there are lessons women need that men do not, and lessons that men need that women do not.

    I also reject the concept that the Temple is giving us a history lesson about The First Two People Who Caused All Of Us To Be Born Into A Fallen World.

    The Garden Story has gone through many profound meaning changes to teach different generations. The Restoration Versions of the Story have re-contextualized it to be very much an Everyman Story about the Cosmic Plan of Salvation, not as its current appearance in Genesis as a polemic about the Loss of Jerusalem and its Kingship and Temple due to disobedience to Deuteronomic Law.

    The “Eve didn’t really make a mistake” is a very new and recent twist to the story that does appear to be designed to empower women, and to give new meaning to the symbol and story – but it goes against the clear reading of the Genesis Story – and even Paul’s interpretation of it. And even how it is currently presented in the Temple!

    Because of this, I wouldn’t be surprised if a later revision of the Endowment changed it even further to head into this direction, with perhaps an aside from Eve saying she knows what she’s doing as she does it, and removing that little bit about her being actually beguiled by the Serpent.

    But still – as currently presented – the reason Adam chooses to ‘Fall’ is, at least to me, clearly presented as being to remain with and support Eve. She went first, due to being ‘beguiled’. This is what is actually said, and shown.

    It’s only an indictment of women if it’s all about Gender Roles, and Eve only represents All Women. This is what I reject.

    Which is also why I think you miss my point when you say,

    I am not sure how to reconcile your thoughts about visualizing yourself as Eve with the Proclamation statement: “Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.”

    It’s not a matter of gender reversals. It’s just a matter of role reversals. I don’t view the characters – or symbols – in the Endowment Liturgy as necessarily and essentially teaching about our biological gender roles. One can certainly (and understandably) come away with that, but I feel there is much more profound and potentially peace-making to the story when this is viewed as secondary – or even moot.

    There becomes a problem, I think, when we emphasize how we are different. Eternal Marriage is about becoming One, United. It’s a symbol of Christ being united with His Bride. It’s about mutual service. A house divided cannot stand. I can’t believe that in any kind of Heaven, there will be a Subordinate in any Marriage Relationship.

    This doesn’t mean there may not be important Eternal differences in Gender Roles, whatever that might even mean. I just don’t think that this is the core of what is being taught in the Temple.

  3. This approach is very similar to that taken in “The Savior and the Serpent” by Alonzo Gaskill, where he notes Adam is a type of Christ, and Eve represents all of as as “The Mother of All Living”.

    Anyway, good stuff.

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