President Henry B. Eyring–LDS apostle and First Counselor in the First Presidency–participated in The Complementarity of Man and Woman: An International Interreligious Colloquium at Vatican City on Nov. 18, 2014. His presentation was entitled “To Become as One.” The video is below.
Julie Smith at Times & Seasons had an excellent insight about the following quote from President Eyring:
Her capacity to nurture others grew in me as we became one. My capacity to plan, direct, and lead in our family grew in her as we became united in marriage. I realize now that we grew together into one—slowly lifting and shaping each other, year by year. As we absorbed strength from each other, it did not diminish our personal gifts.
What I hear him saying is that men and women come to marriage with a different set of roles/characteristics,1 but one goal of marriage is for them to teach each other and to adopt each other’s roles. I sometimes hear in LDS venues a rather opposite idea–one I find theologically problematic inasmuch as it suggests that men and women should maintain separate characteristics, something I find incompatible with both the idea of the perfection of Christ and his ability to serve as an example for all both men and women, as well as the idea of men and women striving to themselves become perfected. His thinking here can be a great bridge from older teachings about gender difference to a newer vision where those differences can still be acknowledged but won’t be seen as limiting. I especially like his idea that, as he took on nurturing and his wife took on leading, it didn’t diminish either of them. (Contra language we sometimes hear bemoaning the loss of femininity and masculinity.)2
Smith’s observation reminds me of a point made by Texas A&M professor and fellow Latter-day Saint Valerie M. Hudson regarding the telos (“end,” “purpose,” “goal”) of marriage:
What we [Mormons] understand from our doctrine is that the telos of marriage is to ground every human family in real, lived, embodied gender equality. And then, as a consequence, all reproduction would occur only within that context of gender equality. If the ideal were lived, then every son and daughter of God would be born into a family that lived gender equality, and thus each would learn how to form such a relationship when they themselves came of age. Reproduction is the fruit, not the root, of what God intended in establishing marriage.
That is why it doesn’t matter who’s fertile, and whether a marriage of infertile people is a marriage is beside the point. The test of whether you have a marriage or not is whether it is gender-equal monogamy.
For Hudson, companionate heterosexual monogamous marriage is a matter of gender equality and human peace incarnate.3 I think President Eyring’s talk could lead to exciting new ways of discussing gender in the LDS Church.