A couple weeks ago, I wrote about tension subscribing to notions about the eternal nature of sex/gender, while also recognizing that many of our cultural notions of gender attribute and role are social constructs that I reject. But deconstructing those socio-cultural constructs without devaluing gender altogether—as many in the world seems to be doing—is something of a dilemma for me. I appreciated all the comments.
To add to that discussion, I want to share a couple things I’ve read recently that got me thinking about the eternal nature of God’s gender, and also about race. I’ve spent quite a bit of time this summer studying trans-religious and trans-cultural apocalyptic and visionary experiences, including “near-death experiences,” or “death visions.” Philosophy and reason all have their day in court, but I’m particularly interested in “experiential” or “visionary” revelation, especially since in the deluge of revelation promised as part of the dispensation of the fullness of times, God has promised that “babes and sucklings” shall have revealed to them “those things which never have been revealed from the foundation of the world, but have been kept hid from the wise and prudent” (D&C 128:18).
I’ll touch on gender first. The following are a couple experiences of people who saw beyond the veil. While the descriptions are subtle, my wonderment is if they provide any insight into just what is eternal about “gender” if so many of the qualities we typically associate with gender, as described in the previous post, are qualities those of both sexes should be seeking and cultivating. The first is of a woman named Elane Durham who had what many might call a “near-death experience,” but which she terms a “death vision” since she was declared legally dead and her body was being prepared for the morgue when her spirit returned to her body. Concerning part of her vision, she states:
“I realized that I was part of a ‘family’ that had been around when this earth was formed from matter in the heavens, and I understood how this family had been organized. I knew not only that I had a Father in heaven but a Mother as well, and that every living soul, including Christ, was the offspring of eternal parents… We truly were a large eternal ‘family,’ offspring of a Heavenly Father and Mother, and we are all brothers and sisters…
“I understood perfectly my role as a woman, and felt absolutely comfortable with it. I was given to understand that men and women are co-creators with God, and that part of the role of women is to bear the mortal bodies of the premortal spirit children of our heavenly parents. But our divine role goes much farther than that, for I was shown how we were given the sacred gift of nurturing. It is no accident that women are more inclined to nurture others than are men, for this was a part of our premortal heritage.
“I was shown how vital a woman’s role is, to the exaltation of our heavenly family. It is absolutely essential, and I sensed that nothing in a woman’s life can be more important. As my grandmother used to tell my mother, the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world. This is more true than she could have known.
“I also understood the role and position of men, and while I don’t recall as much about that, I do remember being shown that while the roles of men and women are not the same and never have been, each is totally indispensable to the other. We all exist in a dynamic, eternal organizational structure called ‘priesthood,’ where men and women are meant to compliment rather than compete with each other.
“Finally, I had a perfect understanding of the necessity of both men and women respecting each others’ roles. This respect is important for our eternal growth, which is enhanced by our helping each other with these divine responsibilities. Any time a man degrades a woman, or a woman degrades a man, whether sexually, physically, emotionally or spiritually, through cruelty and abuse, posing for or viewing pornography, practicing prostitution or what have you, such an individual’s spirituality is diminished and their divine role remains unfulfilled” (I Stand All Amazed, p. 40-42).
When Elane had her death vision, she was not a member of the Church. She had grown up in a fundamentalist Christian home, so concepts related to premortality, the eternal Mother, the literal Fatherhood of God, and the eternal pattern of family were completely new to her. Fifteen or so years after this experience she became interested in Mormonism when she learned how consistent Latter-day Saint teachings were with what she experienced in her “death vision.” Once she then gained a spiritual witness of the restored gospel, she joined the Church.
Another experience is of a man named Roy Mills who isn’t LDS—he’s Southern Baptist, if I remember correctly. He was allowed to remember his premortal life (not a concept taught within SBC). Describing an experience with the Eternal Father, whom he terms “the spirit Father,” he writes:
“Then He allowed me to see into His light, and I saw Him, and he looked like a man. We are truly made in the image of our Creator.
“His appearance was one of great wisdom and strength. He was powerful-looking and very tall?much taller than the average man. The robe He wore shone with a pure white light, and He wore no shoes. There was a neat fringe of white hair around his head, and a crown of light suspended above his head. His face was very kind and loving, yet strong and marked with authority. As I stared at Him, I was filled with awe and humility, but I also felt safe and very loved” (The Soul’s Remembrance, p. 139-40).
So, my question is: are there any elements specifically related to the concept that “gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose”? If so, what? Ideas in Mills’ description like “wisdom”, “strength”, “powerful”, “kind and loving, yet strong and marked with authority”, and the exuding of a feeling of safety and love, are certainly attributes I would ascribe to the Eternal Father, but I can also imagine ascribing them to the Eternal Mother. Any of those unique to particular gender?
The other concept I want to relate in context of this is eternality of race. While we there is a strong concept in LDS doctrine of the eternality of sex and gender role, there is, to my understanding, no concept of the eternality of race. I bring this up because the attribute and past socio-cultural conflicts over race often come up when discussing homosexuality. And yet, while race is clearly bio-genetically determined attribute—unlike homosexuality—there’s no clear idea in Mormon thought that race is eternal. In fact, though there’s nothing necessarily authoritative I’m aware of declaring such, I would suggest that Mormon thought would generally reject the idea of the eternality of race. A couple related statements I am aware of:
President David O. McKay stated:
“There were no national distinctions among those [premortal] spirits such as Americans, Europeans, Asiatics, Australians, etc. Such ‘bounds of habitation’ would have to be ‘determined’ when the spirits entered their earthly existence or second estate” (Home Memories of President David O. McKay, p. 228-30).
Joseph Smith lamented:
“While one portion of the human race is judging and condemning the other without mercy, the Great Parent of the universe looks upon the whole of the human family with a fatherly care and paternal regard; He views them as His offspring, and without any of those contracted feelings that influence the children of men, causes ‘His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.’ [Matthew 5:45.]”
Again, I’m not aware of any statement to the effect that there are no racial differences beyond mortal experience, but it makes sense to me that there wouldn’t be. A couple other visionary experiences where the individuals involved made observations relative to race included the following:
Elane Durham recorded:
“There were no races in that premortal realm, in fact, my memory of my experience is that the only skin color in that realm is ‘light,’ for every being I saw was somehow made up, to one degree or another, out of light. Yet there was substance to this light, for there was definitely substance to my own being. I knew, too, that this light was spiritual, and though I understood this perfectly while I was there, I’m at a loss to know how to explain it now. Ni ether can I explain the purpose of the various races her in mortality, save my assumption that they are all part of the divine plan to teach us how to love each other” (I Stand All Amazed, p. 41).
Another individual wrote,
“When I was in heaven, I never saw different races of people, only spirit beings who were filled with love for each other. We are all the same ‘race’ in heaven. Before we come to earth, God chooses what our earthly race will be. He makes that decision for our spiritual growth and according to His perfect plan. On earth, many people are prejudiced and sometimes even violent toward others who are different—people of color, the poor, alcoholics, and addicts, or those with physical or mental disabilities. But in heaven, it is considered a great honor for a spirit to accept such a difficult life.”
So, what are your thoughts? There are a couple different issues raised here with regard to gender, race, and even sexuality—what is eternal and what is not?
The Church has clearly outlined positions relative to family, sexual expression. With race, there has been an evolution, but nothing that involves doctrine concerning the premortal or postmortal nature of racial distinction (only folk beliefs about premortal valiance which affected mortal racial distinction and the timing of certain blessings). In my view, the changes in policy regarding priesthood were a welcome change that didn’t require any fundamental doctrinal change. We increasingly grow to see one another only as men and women, sons and daughters of the same eternal God with only our choices, not our genetics, affecting the receipt of eternal blessings.
In order for the Church to affirm homosexual relationships, as some gay men and women want them to, it would require a complete reworking of the nature of eternal family order and capacities for procreation (and we’re talking here about the nature of eternal life, not immortality; for gay and lesbian-identified men and women who do not accept the fullness of the gospel, my understanding is that they will be the same as any other man or woman who does not accept the fullness—“remain[ing] separately and singly, without exaltation, in their saved condition, to all eternity; and from henceforth are not gods, but are angels of God forever and ever” (D&C 132:17)). While some like to speculate about the possibilities of continuing revelation that could involve such a reworking, I can only say this: I’ll happily and humbly eat my words if that is ever the case, but I’m certain it won’t be.