Sex and Gender in Creation

M82 Galaxy, Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/STScI/CXC/UofA/ESA/AURA/JHU

So the whole approach that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has with gender, and it being an eternal binary and complementary? And they say that binary is necessary because sex is necessary to creation?

Let's unpack that and throw it into the recycle bin.

So Creation involves two different creative acts at its core, which I want to discuss:

  1. Making Stuff
  2. Making People

Scripture gives us a couple different accounts of the Creation. 

In Genesis, God (understood singularly) creates everything, with the exception of "Let us make man in our image." That statement remains plural in a way that goes totally unacknowledged and unexplained in the text. 

Moses 2 then has God speaking in the first person telling this story. 

We learn during the endowment that the Creation involved a collective effort between God, Jehovah (the premortal name of Jesus), and Michael (the premortal name of Adam). 

The creation of Stuff in these depictions are non-sexual in nature, and nonsensically male. Especially since Abraham 4 calls this a collaboration between plural Gods. With God being a title that is shared, according to Mormonism, between perfected heterosexual couples, it simply makes no sense that our conceptions of Creation do not include women anywhere. That's not how they're read, understood, or taught in any official capacity. 

The label of "God" didn't yet apply to Jehovah or Michael in their premortal, unembodied, unordained, and unendowed states. But somehow, we are more comfortable with their participation in the Creation than we are with acknowledging the perfected, resurrected, empowered contributions of our own Heavenly Mother.

We're supposed to base our entire notion of divinity on the power of sealed men and women—and no other type of relationship. But our understanding and presentations of the Creation are too timid to even acknowledge that any woman was even there.

If gender matters so much in the creation of Stuff that women don't even get to participate, or approach in no way supports the need for women in these partnerships. And if women were present for and are essential to the Creation, then the way we interpret and teach the Scripture needs to change drastically to include women. One has to give away to the other.

And then there's reproduction! Surely it takes a combination of the right equipment, requiring both men and women in the gender binary to reproduce! This may be where the sidewalk ends in terms of "the known world" in Mormonism, but this is the reason we give, more than any other, for the justification of why we cling to the gender binary.

The greatest incongruence between what we believe and what we teach on this front is apparent in the endowment. In that depiction, there are no women present. Returning to Scripture, there is no need to see it this way. Abraham 4 speaks plurally about the Creation of Adam and Eve, that there are multiple participants there. Genesis 1 or Moses 2 can also read this way if we get comfortable with the voice of God including both Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother, a duet of voices instead of a solo masculine voice. That's not what we teach, but I believe it should be.

You can have a cosmology in which women are so important to a heterosexual couple, no eternal union is complete without one. Or you can contradict this notion entirely and maintain that God's children only need a Father. And these thoughts do contradict each other at their core. Yet somehow, they've existed together in the air we breathe for so long, we don't even have the language to name this contradiction unless we gather it from somewhere outside of our community. But pointing out that contradiction isn't enough for some people to challenge the gender binary as anything less than divine.

Nevermind that sex and gender are delineated separately in Scripture—male and female created first, Man and Woman named second.

Nevermind that there's no necessary connection between gender and what reproductive capabilities and equipment someone may or may not have.

Nevermind the way the flimsy eternal gender binary falls apart every time another intersex person is born neither male nor female, as if that detail somehow escaped God's perfect notice—whoops! Like God suddenly forgot their own rules.

We are at a place in scientific advancement where we can produce healthy biological offspring between same sex parents. That technology and capability is new to us, but none of it is new to God. God understands genetics, and has for the entire history of our relationship with them. The potential and ability to use genetics in this way has been there this entire time. As with all assistive reproductive technologies, creating life doesn't cease to be sacred just because a penis never entered a vagina at any point. And if that's the hill we're dying on, that battle was lost back in the 1980s when gamete donation and IVF became a normal part of reproductive healthcare. The children born from medical interventions in pregnancy aren't lesser people because of how they were conceived. There's no reason for this to be different for queer couples who use those technologies, even as it defies what we've traditionally thought as being necessary to create life.

So what makes sex holy? Is it the gender binary? The monogamy? The presence of a sealing ceremony? The ability to produce offspring? Which parts of heterosexual coupling are the necessary elements to honor and serve God?

It's not monogamy, and there are many dead polygamists who will fight you on sight for suggesting it.

Infertile couples will tell you it's not the ability or inability to produce offspring. None of us are being thrown out or blocked from full participation in the Church because of that.

"Children are entitled to a mother and a father," they say. But single parents, widows and widowers who don't remarry, don't have their sealings cancelled because their children are missing a parent of a certain gender. 

None of these justifications for maintaining the gender binary as a necessary part of our faith holds up to scrutiny. And since the sealing ceremony is being withheld from people based on their adherence to the gender binary, queer exclusion is a policy with no real valid justification other than "We've always done it that way," and "because we said so."

But let's say none of this convinces you. The idea that queer people in same-sex relationships cannot bear their own children is the hill you're willing to crucify others on. Within the structure of eternal family building, this still doesn't matter because adoptive sealings exist! 

If my husband and I adopted a child and my brothers-in-law adopted a child, we are both equally shut out of those children's lives because we didn't give birth to them in the covenant, and are therefore not sealed to them. The circumstances are identical. The roll that will fix it is identical. Because sealing works for me and my husband in our relationship, there is no necessary reason why it wouldn't similarly work for queer couples of whatever configuration. 

The seating solution would exist deep into eternity, especially for the number of eternal families that will end up divided over queer rejection. According to one of the speakers at general conference last week, no one is going to be forced to remain in a familial sealing where they don't feel safe, valued, and respected. For that reason, there will be many queer people in search of families in eternity, from every age and culture in the world.

We have to start acknowledging that the formation of these families is a better solution than forcing queer people into celibacy—a state which is contrary to divine mandate, happiness itself, and the ability for anyone to receive their full inheritance in the Kingdom of God. If the only alternatives you can come up with for queer relationships are ones that God would reflect because of how they harm individuals and place their relationships on unequal footing with everyone else, it's a good indication that it's a man-made problem paired with shoddy human problem-solving. An all-knowing God wouldn't set someone up to fail from something they can't change in such an eternally unfair way. (See Genesis 2:18 and D&C 38:24-27)

What this really comes down to, the more I think about it, is the insecurity that comes to people of a certain age and status in the Church in admitting they are wrong. There is fear in having to acknowledge the holiness in all kinds of love, and all the many kinds of relationships that are born out of this love.

If anyone can fall in love with anyone and form a family, then doesn't that make MY family less special and holy?

No. Of course not. Unless your family relationships were born out of duty and obligation instead of love, and you now have to admit that there was no need to put yourself, or anyone else, through that. I've personally been left holding the bag with church policies that are disavowed only after they've done damage to me. The harm that has happened to others is no justification for ongoing harm. If the best time to have changed that approach was twenty years ago, the next best time is now.

The insistence of heterosexual supremacy in the Church is full of contradictions, which should be our first clue that it doesn't come from God. It's preventing us from taking the gospel "into all the world," according to the injunction the Savior gave to his original apostles. It's preventing the fullness of the gospel from reaching many who cannot access it because of their sexual orientation and gender expression, which have never been and never will be valid reasons to withhold access to God from anyone. (See Mark 16:15, 2 Nephi 26, and Alma 32)

Queer people deserve to participate fully in the Church. They deserve to be sealed in the temple to their partners. They deserve to know the joy that comes from being able to form eternal families. They deserve to be able to seek out valid and essential healthcare without having their positions in the Church threatened or questioned in any way. They deserve to be in the pews with us, presenting as who they truly are. Honesty is the Spirit of worship, and we need to stop asking queer people around us to build their lives on foundations of lies and deceit for the comfort of others at church.

Don't let anyone tell you this has to be difficult. It's not difficult to see the unnecessary obstacles created by policy. It's easy to recognize them for what they are and commit to getting rid of them. The love we have for God, which requires us to love ALL of God's children, should compel us to make these things right. We should want to envision the arms of God stretching out wide enough to include everyone in this world.

Being the voice of a loving God, who doesn't fail and is not a hypocrite in that love, is the easiest thing in the world. We would all know that if that was the God we worshiped.

And, as a warning that is needed by some: just because you do not worship a God who loves and honors queerness doesn't mean that version of God doesn't exist. It does mean you've prevented yourself from perceiving God that way.

In the same way those who have claimed to serve God have justified slavery, you will end up with egg on your face when you realize God does not endorse forced subjugation and exclusion of anyone. Affirmation, like abolition, is simply the right thing to do. No appeals to Scripture will ever change that.

We don't have to keep making this mistake. We can believe that when God said he loves all people, that all are welcome and none are forbidden, that God is no respecter of persons, that we are all children of God—we can believe it.

Instead of fighting the will of God, we stop making excuses and just... do it.

As Man Now Is, God Once Was: Did God the Father Ever Sin?

The Noble and Great Ones by godwinthescribe

So the idea that there is a progression from humans into gods/becoming like God came about in the day of Joseph Smith, showing a pattern that would happen often. Someone would come to Joseph with a question or suggestion, he'd embrace it, and then more of the idea would be fleshed out over time as the need for knowledge related to the subject would become necessary for the Saints as a whole. This theology is an example of that pattern.

Here's a brief chronology. And here are the source texts of the King Follett discourse from the Joseph Smith Papers.

The King Follett Discourse is where I'm going to take the core of my answer from because of the explanation Joseph Smith gives in it for how this progression works.

Lorenzo Snow was the first one to approach Joseph with this idea that "As man now is, God once was; as God is now, man may become."

Joseph then went on to teach in the King Follett sermon (which was at a funeral) this same idea, and that it could be reasoned out with Scripture.

There's nothing else beyond those limited comments that have ever been revealed since then. So what I'm giving is pure speculation, but it's based on the comments Joseph made.

Joseph said that in everything Jesus did, he was doing what he had seen the Father do. Joseph then pointed to the council in Heaven and revealed what has become our beliefs about the preexistence. So in the very act of becoming the Messiah, atoning for humanity and bridging them to God by being the demands of divine law, Joseph is suggesting that Jesus was doing something in the act of atonement that has been done before.

If we take this as truth, it suggests one of two origins for God the Father:

  1. He was an imperfect human in need of atonement, same as us, and that atonement was provided for by someone else who was the equivalent of Jesus to him.
  2.  God our Father WAS a previous Messiah/Christ who atoned for his brothers and sisters, and Jesus was chosen to follow that pattern for us. This would mean that God the Father had to meet the same perfect standards that Jesus did in being sinless to perform this sacrifice. In which case, he would've been capable of sin but resisted all temptation for his entire mortal life. 

Based on what Joseph explains in the King Follett Discourse, I personally lean towards the second. I could see this pattern of the Firstborn atoning for the siblings in the divine family being the order that Godhood follows, that Christ is a priesthood office and atonement is an ordinance that has redeemed many before us and will be the pattern of how redemption works into all eternity.

But all of that is pure speculation. We could end up with an answer to this that says something else entirely. I will point out that I've only ever had one other conversation about this with anyone in the Church in almost 18 years. It was with one of the nephews of D. Todd Christofferson when we were in the same student ward together at BYU. I walked into the middle of a very intense conversation between him and some other guys in my ward about this. They got to the notion of "Grandfather God" and he could see the 404 Error screen all over my face. He was very kind in telling me none of this was important for me to worry about and they were just messing around and speculating. You have to be a theology and Religious Deep Lore nerd to even end up here. 

"I can barely handle worshiping one God. I don't need another," is what I said then. And in the end, I think I stand by that.

Christ-like Empathy: The Art of Treading Lightly

Someone was trying to encourage people in my circle online to prepare for General Conference by reposting this post from Hayley Clark from Instagram in full. It starts off by telling people there are no valid reasons not to tune into General Conference as it's happening, and deteriorates from there. And it reminded me so much of what I used to think when I was younger. It felt like looking at something I might've written and posted in my twenties. I've learned and grown a lot since then, and rather than pointing out how reductive and harmful that messaging is, I wanted to respond by explaining how I learned that lesson. And since it's a season of my life that's difficult to talk about, I wanted to preserve my response here so I can reach for it in the future if I need to.

Many years ago now when I was a young teenage convert, while studying my patriarchal blessing and worrying about the future, I found out from God that I would never have my own children. I also found out that if I ever got pregnant, I would end up having severe complications and end up dying in childbirth.

This scared me when I heard it the first time. And the second time. And the third time. And every time I thought and prayed about it afterwards. The answer never changed, for years afterwards, no matter how much I tried to change the will of God afterwards. Not when I went to BYU. Not when I went on my mission. Not when I got married and was sealed in the temple. Not when my husband and I tried to have a family. Not when I got diagnosed with the cause of my infertility. Not when the depression related to my infertility got so bad, I couldn't stand the sight of children anymore because it caused me so much pain. And not in any of the years that passed as I continued to age, year after year, watching everyone else have the blessing I so desperately wanted.

I tried to throw my life away for the sake of giving my husband a child. Just one. And that was the only time God has ever truly scolded me in my life, as gentle as it was. I valued myself and my life so little, I would've traded it away because I thought that's what was expected of me. And even then, God wouldn't give me the thing I was asking for.

Anyone who hasn't been in that situation cannot know the pain I carried month after month, year after year, calculating the ages of the children I would have as I aged, what their names would be, what they'd be doing now. The other kids at church who would be their same age. The milestones they'd be passing. If I had gotten pregnant when we first got married, they would be 10 now. They'd be in fifth grade, getting ready to go to middle school next year.

So when I tell you there was a time when everything about being in church, including General Conference, caused me a tremendous amount of pain, that there was no peace for me there, you don't have to question me about that. I was there for talks in General Conference that were so hideous and spiritually violent to infertile and childless women like me, it made me nearly suicidal to think about them for years afterwards. But I did exactly what this post is telling people to do. I put my nose to that grindstone and did so much harm to myself because this was the expectation—not from God, mind you. From the people in the pews next to me. From leaders in General Conference who painted families with such broad strokes, it made me question what my purpose was in life if I couldn't have children and form the kind of family they were always talking about. What value did my life have, if not to do this?

The inability to put it all down, take a deep breath, and get some logical perspective apart and away from the social pressures church leadership was putting on me to be someone I would never be, was compounding my problem. Not solving it.

If the messages in General Conference are becoming tangled up in toxicity and social pressures that are destroying someone from the inside out, finding healthier ways of engaging is EXACTLY what they should do. If that means disengaging from General Conference, either in part or in full, then so be it. Their blessings and comfort from God can and will come from other places—including all of the talks and lessons at church over the next six months where everything that was said will be reexamined and contextualized through the lenses and voices of faith of their own community around them.

There was a woman in one of my wards, a real Mother in Israel, who carried me through so much of this pain in a way no one else could. She would see me run away from church during Mother's Day and knew what it meant. She followed me outside one day and told me her story. She and her husband had a child who had died young.

"For a long time, I hated Mother's Day and I hated babies."

She made me feel seen and understood. She provided the recognition of my struggle when I felt so totally isolated in it. She was a living example of the kinds of burdens people in the Church carry that never end, that can't be fully resolved through some miraculous act of God. When I think of "Relief" the way Sister Camille Johnson invited me to a couple weeks ago at the Relief Society devotional, that sister who helped me is the one I think of instantly. She was the stand-in for the Savior in that season of my life. Her hands were his hands.

I understand why people put social pressure on others to participate in absolutely everything the Church produces the moment it happens. They have a narrow sense of what it means to access God's blessings right then and there, with no sense of his compassion and timing. If that person isn't there, they'll miss it! Don't they see that?

No, they won't.

Have faith in our Heavenly Parents to know and love their children. Have faith in their perfect compassion. They know exactly where each and every one of us are on the journey of life. None of us are lost to them. There is a way forward through every trial, but it doesn't always look like being at Church and listening to other people. Sometimes, it looks like Jesus going up alone on the mount to pray. Other times, it looks like a very specific person, who is not you or anyone whose names you will ever know, reaching out to them because they have what that person needs.

What I don't like about this post above is it is tone deaf and lacking in compassion. It's purposefully leaving out the context that is going on right behind the words: that those who are struggling are only doing so because they're doing something wrong, and it would all just be resolved if they started doing the right thing.

It doesn't take into account the times when bad things happen to people that cannot be changed or minimized by anything that anyone can say or do. The pain just has to be felt, and the careless, compassionless, and reductive things that people say are making it worse.

If you want to love others like the Savior does, you can't always ask them to come to you. Sometimes, you have to go to them where they are. And if where they are means they make some accommodations and are doing the best they can, you accept that and celebrate with them that they found a way to the Savior, no matter what it looks like. You thank God that you've been fortunate enough that you've never experienced what they have to need those accommodations, knowing that some day that might change. And if you are wise, you learn from their example of how to keep their faith alive when the harsh realities of life try to extinguish that faith.

No one is obligated to perform their faith in the ways you want them to. You don't know what is best for everyone. You can't cajole anyone to heaven, no matter how much you may want to. And if you try, you're in a lane you don't belong in. That space belongs to Jesus Christ alone, and you have much to learn about his methodologies if this is how you approach him.

You have the privilege to witness the miracles that God will do in your presence. He is the source of that healing and those miracles. Not you. And when you truly believe that, your words won't gloss over the feelings and pain of other people you don't know like this. You'll take them seriously and not offer weak and feeble solutions to their pain.

If you want the skill set to relieve pain, to be the kind of person others trust with their most profound struggles in life, there are many right ways to do that and only one wrong way. Invalidating others through the oversimplification of their needs is easy. Earning trust by listening long enough to believe people about their own experiences, learning from them, and fixing what is broken in yourself before you try to help others is hard.

There's no confusing the difference between the two, of who has done that work and who has not. Once you see the difference, you can't unsee it.

The Youth Fundraiser—Then and Now


It's that time of year when various congregations are doing their annual youth fundraisers to raise money for their youth camps this summer. The emails went out last week setting the date for our silent auction and asking other members of the ward to volunteer items and services for the youth auction. I've decided to make a crocheted blanket (maybe two) for it. We did a dessert auction in my last ward and people paid $200 for cake pops that the Young Women made, so I'm imagining some version of that will also happen here.

That was one of the last years girl's camp was a thing before they made a lot of changes to the youth program. From what I see now, the single fundraiser pays for a co-ed overnight trip that all the youth go on to the same place, and have the chance to do the same activities. It's wildly different from what my experience was as a youth, where the Young Women would raise most of the money and the lion's share of it would end up paying for the Young Men to go to Scout Camp because it was more expensive. I went to Church in Delaware when I was in Young Women and there was an enormous discrepancy between Camp Rodney (the expensive and very nice facilities owned by the Boy Scouts) and the cabins we went to, all of which were in poor conditions and didn't have a fraction of the amenities and offerings that Scouting did.

I hope those days are gone for good. I would not wish them back. And now that I know the stuff I donate isn't being allocated in ridiculously gendered ways, I'm happy to support in whatever way I can to give the youth a fun experience in the outdoors together. Especially if it means I don't have to come along because these Idaho people feel the need to climb up vertical surfaces to the tops of things, and I do not enjoy it. If I'm going to pop a lung, I can think of better places to do it than in the middle of nowhere down the dirt roads of Idaho.

All this to say: if you're so inclined, start thinking and planning the goodies you want to offer up for your youth fundraiser.

And if you were in Young Men as a youth, know that more likely than not, the other youth in Young Women you went to church with probably paid (at least in part) for you to go to Scout Camp. You can thank them by making sure the Young Men and their leaders in your congregations pull their own weight during these fundraisers instead of making the Young Women do all the work and raise all of the money.

Holy Week: Resurrection

Touch Me Not, Minerva K. Teichert

Mary Magdalene is among my favorite women in all of scripture. She is blessed with a personal interaction with the resurrected Christ that any disciple would love to have, as told in John 20:

 11 ¶ But Mary stood without at the sepulchre weeping: and as she wept, she stooped down, and looked into the sepulchre,

12 And seeth two angels in white sitting, the one at the head, and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain.

13 And they say unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? She saith unto them, Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him.

14 And when she had thus said, she turned herself back, and saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus.

15 Jesus saith unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou? She, supposing him to be the gardener, saith unto him, Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away.

16 Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She turned herself, and saith unto him, Rabboni; which is to say, Master.

17 Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.

18 Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and that he had spoken these things unto her.

The Greek in verse 17 properly translated from Greek doesn't mean to refrain from touching me yet. It is better rendered as "Hold me not," to refrain from holding me, which you are already doing. Mary Magdalene threw her arms around the Savior, greeted him enthusiastically and without restraint. She had received an undeniable witness of the Resurrection not just with her eyes, but with her own hands. She was the first person after the death of Christ to have such a witness.

She was not the only one to receive such a witness ahead of the apostles. There were multiple women who then saw Jesus after their interactions with the angels at the garden tomb. From Matthew 28:

5 And the angel answered and said unto the women, Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified.

6 He is not here: for he is arisen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay.

7 And go quickly, and tell his disciples that he is risen from the dead; and, behold, he goeth before you into Galilee; there shall ye see him: lo, I have told you.

8 And they departed quickly from the sepulchre with fear and great joy; and did run to bring his disciples word.

9 And as they went to tell his disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, All hail. And they came and held him by the feet, and worshipped him.

10 Then said Jesus unto them, Be not afraid: go tell my brethren that they go into Galilee, and there shall they see me.

These women also received an undeniable witness by touching Christ. They could not know with a greater certainty that Jesus had risen from the dead.

When they did as they were instructed by the angels, to tell the Twelve what they had seen and experienced, the Twelve didn't believe them. They did not trust the women as reliable sources of truth.

From Mark:

 9 Now when Jesus was arisen early the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had cast seven devils.

10 And she went and told them that had been with him, as they mourned and wept.

11 And they, when they had heard that he was alive, and had been seen of her, believed not.

From Luke:

10 It was Mary Magdalene, and Joanna, and Mary the mother of James, and other women that were with them, which told these things unto the apostles.

11 And their words seemed to them as idle tales, and they believed them not.

And because of that refusal to listen to the women in their lives, the women who were closest to Christ and who had received that witness before them, they had to wait until they got all the way to Galilee to see him. Which really is incomprehensible when you consider that he walked with them to on the road to Emmaus and none of them recognized him. He had to baby step them into being able to see him, then cajole them by eating something in front of them, and eventually break down what they were seeing for them in scriptural terms for them to finally receive the witness, the truth the women already had. (See Luke 24:12-48)

In almost two thousand years, this has not changed as much as it should have by now.

Believe women. Believe our words. Believe in the power of our faith. Believe in the gifts and talents God has given to us. Believe in our potential. Believe in our ministries. Believe our leadership. Believe in us the same way Christ believes in and trusts us.

What happens to church that dishonor and disgrace their women by withholding this love and trust from them?

They have the fullness of truth and power withheld from them, their access to Christ curtailed, the same way the Twelve did. And in the Book of Mormon, Ether 12 explains why:

12 For if there be no faith among the children of men God can do no miracle among them; wherefore, he showed not himself until after their faith.

It's not just faith in God that matters. It's also the faith we have in ourselves and in each other. When that faith falters, no one can help us, not even the perfected and resurrected Christ. If we want to be in a condition where Jesus Christ CAN help us, it requires us to confront and dismantle our own unconscious biases, the disrespect and prejudice we hold for other people. There is no room for any of that in the kingdom of God, and that spiritual deprivation begins here and now, on Earth. It will last as long as it takes us to do the work to overcome that way of thinking.

Where is the power of Jesus Christ on this earth today? It's in many places. Wherever there is love, wherever there is compassion, wherever there is faith in the future, wherever there are sincere souls who see wrongs and are trying to make them right, there is Christ. And it stands to reason, and shouldn't go without saying, that the power of Jesus Christ is in the hands and hearts of women.

What does learning the lessons of the past, the lessons in the ministry of Jesus Christ this Easter?

Among many of the valuable lessons that others will teach today, let this one be included: Believe, and believe in, the women who serve him.

Holy Week: The Tomb

Image of the Garden Tomb in Jerusalem

The Biblical record tells of what happened to the body of Christ after the Crucifixion. The most relevant details from that night come from Matthew 27.

57 When the even was come, there came a rich man of Arimathæa, named Joseph, who also himself was Jesus’ disciple:

58 He went to Pilate, and begged the body of Jesus. Then Pilate commanded the body to be delivered.

59 And when Joseph had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth,

60 And laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn out in the rock: and he rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulchre, and departed.

61 And there was Mary Magdalene, and the other Mary, sitting over against the sepulchre.

62 Now the next day, that followed the day of the preparation, the chief priests and Pharisees came together unto Pilate,

63 Saying, Sir, we remember that that deceiver said, while he was yet alive, After three days I will rise again.

64 Command therefore that the sepulchre be made sure until the third day, lest his disciples come by night, and steal him away, and say unto the people, He is risen from the dead: so the last error shall be worse than the first.

65 Pilate said unto them, Ye have a watch: go your way, make it as sure as ye can.

66 So they went, and made the sepulchre sure, sealing the stone, and setting a watch.

The disciples of Jesus sought to make the burial of Jesus as dignified as possible. Joseph of Arimathea donated his own tomb, newly dug, to hold the body. From John 19:39, we learn that Nicodemus brought myrrh and aloes for the preparation of Jesus's body. His body was hurriedly wrapped and laid to rest because the Sabbath was nigh. The full Jewish customs for burial gave way to their haste, as indicated by the fact that the women closest to him would later try to bring additional spices for anointing the body. By then, they were unable to enter the tomb because it was sealed. To break a Roman seal was against the law, the punishment for which was death. These women, in their grief, devotion, and courage, disregarded that threat.

The Gospels don't reveal where the spirit of Christ would've been in this moment, what he was doing, or who he was with. Peter spoke to these questions in 1 Peter 3:18-120 and 4:6, but not in the kind of detail that we now possess. For Latter-day Saints, these questions were answered more fully on the 4th of October, 1918. This was the date when President Joseph F. Smith revealed section 138 of the  Doctrine and Covenants for the first time. 

25 I marveled, for I understood that the Savior spent about three years in his ministry among the Jews and those of the house of Israel, endeavoring to teach them the everlasting gospel and call them unto repentance;

26 And yet, notwithstanding his mighty works, and miracles, and proclamation of the truth, in great power and authority, there were but few who hearkened to his voice, and rejoiced in his presence, and received salvation at his hands.

27 But his ministry among those who were dead was limited to the brief time intervening between the crucifixion and his resurrection;

28 And I wondered at the words of Peter—wherein he said that the Son of God preached unto the spirits in prison, who sometime were disobedient, when once the long-suffering of God waited in the days of Noah—and how it was possible for him to preach to those spirits and perform the necessary labor among them in so short a time.

29 And as I wondered, my eyes were opened, and my understanding quickened, and I perceived that the Lord went not in person among the wicked and the disobedient who had rejected the truth, to teach them;

30 But behold, from among the righteous, he organized his forces and appointed messengers, clothed with power and authority, and commissioned them to go forth and carry the light of the gospel to them that were in darkness, even to all the spirits of men; and thus was the gospel preached to the dead.

We didn't have the details of how Jesus Christ organized the spirits in Spirit Paradise and Spirit Prison to teach/be taught the gospel so their souls could be redeemed until section 138 was revealed. The whole mechanism of performing vicarious ordinances on behalf of the dead in temples relies on the work Jesus Christ did in the Spirit World in the brief space of time between his death and resurrection.

It's here that we learn that those who assist Jesus with this work among the dead are called "the noble and great ones." Those who are redeemed go on to redeem others, including our own family members who receive their vicarious ordinances in the temple. They are also among the noble and great ones.

This is what it means for Jesus to have conquered death. It's not just because he possessed to power to bring himself and others back from the dead. It's because he organized the ability to minister to the dead and to reclaim their souls from hell. They may have died without receiving the gospel of Jesus Christ, but that doesn't automatically damn their souls to hell. Those with the power to redeem the dead, granted by Jesus Christ, can give those spirits another chance to accept his gospel.

Why do Latter-day Saints have temples? What are they for? For redeeming the dead with vicarious ordinances we perform for those in our own families who have died. We do for them what they cannot do for themselves. And our ability to do that was put into place when Jesus was in the tomb. His body was there, but his spirit was not. And thanks to him, the world is forever changed because of it.

Holy Week: Atonement

A section of the modern garden in Gethsemane

I've been in interfaith spaces enough to know that Latter-day Saints have a different relationship with the Atonement of Jesus Christ than the rest of Christianity. While the idea that Jesus sacrificed himself to meet the demands of the Law of Moses, what the Book of Mormon calls "the great and last sacrifice," we have a different understanding from the rest of Christianity of when that happened. (See Alma 34:13-16)

In every other Christian tradition I've seen and interacted with, the belief is that Jesus died on the Cross for our sins. In Latter-day Saint tradition, we believe that this act of intercession and our Savior's achievement of perfected compassion in the Garden of Gethsemane. Note these verses from Luke 22:

41 And he was withdrawn from them about a stone’s cast, and kneeled down, and prayed,

42 Saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.

43 And there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him.

44 And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground.

For us, this is the Atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ. This is what it meant for him to be the Messiah. It wasn't a physical rescuing, although he did that for many throughout his mortal ministry. It was the defeat of loneliness, the conquering of sin, and deliverance from evil that defined Jesus Christ as our Savior. The blood he shed during that moment of intercession for the entire human family—past, present, and future—that would crown his ministry as the Only Begotten Son of the Father.

For me, this dual emphasis on Gethsemane and the de-emphasis of the Crucifixion is one of my favorite aspects of my faith. It allows me to have a more expansive view of Atonement that transcends sin. Our scriptures teach of the intercession of Jesus as an act that grants him perfect access to perfect empathy with each of us, in every experience I will ever face.

Some examples of that perspective from the Book of Mormon: 

  • 1 Nephi 19:9
  • 1 Nephi 21:16
  • Mosiah 14:10
  • Alma 7:11-13

In contrast, the Crucifixion to us is a tragic miscarriage of justice, a product of Roman brutality in capital punishment. That Christ was willing to suffer that is significant, but the Crucifixion itself has no inherent holiness to us—let alone being the focal point. That is why Latter-day Saints, for the most part, don't give emphasis to the Crucifixion in our iconography with crosses. Having spent my early years going to Catholic Mass with my mother and seeing the large Crucifix with an emaciated Christ carved and hanging from it at the front of the room, I do prefer my current traditions over the fear and guilt that inspired in me as a child

When people have asked me about why the pain and anguish of Jesus Christ was necessary, it has usually come from people in other Abrahamic faiths outside of Christianity. Why is that level of suffering required to appease God and to meet the demands of divine law?

When the Atonement of Jesus Christ is reduced to the legalistic demands of sin and its consequences, I can understand the confusion. It's not a satisfying explanation to point to the depravity of human kind and say "It was necessary to fix that." I’ve particularly had wise Muslims ask me how a totally innocent person suffering the consequences for a guilty person could ever possibly be just. And when your understanding of the Atonement of Jesus Christ begins and ends with sin, it's hard to know how to respond.

Latter-day Saints have an understanding that would say instead that Jesus offered himself as a sacrifice simply because he wanted to. He didn't want any of us to be alone in all the struggles we would ever face. It's not just for sin—it's for every heartache we will ever experience, including those we haven't even come to yet. The total defeat of evil and its power over our lives. He has a perfect knowledge of every need we will ever have, and has received that knowledge into himself so he knows how to comfort and guide us. He was the only one who could do that for the human family. Such access requires "an infinite and eternal sacrifice," and Jesus Christ was the only one who was willing and able to pay the price on our behalf. (See Alma 34:9-12)

That's what makes Jesus Christ special to me: he can see the worst of what humans can do to each other, bearing the collective burden of all of our pain, and survive it without succumbing to hopelessness and despair. He isn't a convenient scapegoat, or (even worse) an enabler. He is a friend to the friendless, the hope to the hopeless, and the last resort to someone who would otherwise be left totally alone and defeated in this world.

I have never been to Gethsemane. I wasn't there when Jesus did this for me. I can't prove to anyone else that it was real or that it happened. All I can do is be the living witness of that kind of love, health, healing, and wholeness in my own life because that's who Jesus Christ has been to me.

Everyone needs that kind of friend in their lives, especially when they don't deserve it. Each and every one of us, no matter who we are or what we've done, have that kind of friend in Jesus of Nazareth.

Holy Week: The Sacrament

Where is the exact moment Jesus Christ stopped being a Jew and became the founder of a new and separate religion?

Was it when the Sanhedrin rejected him? When enough other Jews decided he was a heretic, rather than a teacher? Was it the first time he claimed to be the Son of God? When he called his Twelve Apostles, and called Peter the rock upon which he would build his church?

Personally, I think it was the last time he celebrated Passover with his disciples. I'm switching over to Luke 22 for this one.

The celebration of Passover included the eating of unleavened bread and drinking wine. But what Jesus does with them here is where I think the break between Judaism and Christianity begins:

19 And he took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them, saying, This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me.

20 Likewise also the cup after supper, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you.

To have a new testament signifies the formation of a new covenant. This is the moment where Jesus uses the authority he has from God to form a new community with a religious identity separate and distinct from Judaism. While Jesus was a Jew, followed Jewish law, observed Jewish customs and holidays, and worshiped the same God as the Jews, he intended to create a church and a community that would break from Jewish traditions. The institution of the Sacrament (our terminology for Holy Communion or the Eucharist in other traditions) was the initiation of this break.

Because Latter-day Saints haven’t celebrated Holy Week historically, and this is something our currently leadership is inviting us to change, it’s been really special to see what other Christians do to make this time special. It has been a great reminder that Easter is the opportunity for all Christians, including us, to celebrate the relationships we've personally developed with Jesus Christ. We have more in common with other Christians than we might think we do, and it’s because we all have this common belief in how much Jesus Christ and his ministry changed the world.

I’m still contemplating what it means for me to celebrate Holy Week. I’ve thought about the choice I made at Easter time many years ago to be baptized. I went to the temple yesterday. I’ve been studying scriptures for these daily meditations, which I’ve enjoyed very much. And tomorrow, my husband and I are going to an orchestral performance of Rob Gardner's Lamb of God. There isn’t really an established program for any of this for our people now, and we’re each contemplating how to do this and make it personally meaningful.

My favorite part of sharing these has been the ways you all have shared how my thoughts are helping you to develop your own Holy Week messages and traditions with your own families. I’ve deeply enjoyed those messages, and I think this was the wisdom in having us begin participating in these traditions: the way we would help each other and celebrate our faith in Christ together. 

It truly doesn’t get better than that. And I hope that becomes a key feature of what Latter-day Saints celebrating Holy Week looks like going forward.

Holy Week: The Anointing

Mary of Bethany, who came to anoint Christ for his burial in Matthew 26, performed an act of faith and devotion that even his chosen Twelve were unable to perform for him.

She understood that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah, the Son of God. She also knew, and had the courage to confront, that Jesus was going to die. She wasn't in denial of this fact. She didn't attempt to change this reality through violence or vengeance. She accepted it and came to perform the anointing for his body.

What she knew to be true, Jesus was still fighting with the Twelve to get them to understand and accept. They resisted the truth they didn't want to hear. As a result, they were unprepared to help him in the coming days the way he needed them to.

What we can gather about the struggle here is one we still see in the Church today: women will have access to divine truths that men will not have the faith to discern. And when the source of that truth is a woman, they will not believe it because women are not reliable sources of truth to them. Even when Jesus corrected them for criticizing her, saying the ointment she brought to him wasn't wasteful because it was for his burial, they were still in denial that he was actually going to die.

The Church has done a great deal of work to bring women, their voices and perspectives, into the administrative circles of the Church. There has been over a decade of training on the importance of councils with women on them, delegating assignments to women, making women and their contributions more visible. The mileage may vary, but a significant portion of church membership knows this is how things are supposed to work, even if they are poor at implementing it into practice.

What I still see, however, is that men in leadership still struggle to accept women as sources of truth they themselves do not possess. There is an attitude still that women are only trustworthy as long as they're repeating back to men the things they already believe. When it comes to the kind of revelation that serves God in innovative or difficult ways, in their minds, those answers shouldn't be coming to women first.

Jesus Christ trusted women. He found willing, capable disciples among them. They exceeded the faith of his chosen Twelve many times, and Jesus used their faith as examples to these men to challenge their entrenched gender bias. Jesus Christ didn't subscribe to the rigid gender binary that men subscribed to in that day, and it's a struggle he is still having with men to this day.

Jesus was the perfect teacher and advocate for women. He did not tolerate the disrespect that so often defined being a woman then. He doesn't tolerate it now. And as we contemplate the spirit of Easter, celebrating the liberation of the captive, this is the liberation I still find myself praying for.

The hope I have for the future of the Church is the one where we finally achieve the equality Jesus spent his entire life teaching about. Where the preferences and ignorance of men in leadership is no longer a stumbling block to me on my pathway home to my Heavenly Parents.

I've never prayed about this where the answer has ever changed.

"What are you going to do about it?"

Answer: Never stop telling the truth. Never stop reaching for what Jesus taught is my right to receive. Reach out and take what is mine, regardless of how men try to obstruct me. And most importantly, make sure I keep the way open for others who come after me. I'm not the only one hurt by the gender binary. I'm not free until we're all free. And like Jesus, I will stick with it for as long as it takes, even if it takes another two thousand years.

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