Posts Tagged marriage

My beliefs on marriage and gender essentialism

This has got to be one of the most difficult topics to talk about, as I have a number of people I know and love who would not only disagree with me but see it as an attack on the fundamental beliefs they have on who they are. I’ve skirted around it in the past (“Who will we be when we wake?“,”Feminism and Same Sex Marriage are not compatible“,”Defining the uniqueness of men and women“), but I’ve thus far avoided trying to put down my rationales in full.

One of the poorest arguments I’ve seen against same sex marriage (SSM) is that SSM could not be legitimate because it does not have the possibility of producing children. This makes procreation the measure for legitimacy, leaving out many instances where procreation doesn’t happen or is impossible.

The better course of argument for two-gender marriage, even when no progeny is produced, is in that it provides an example of the advantages of joining together two disparate genders, male and female. Marriage is the bringing together of the greatest difference one person can have with another, creating something more than the sum of its parts. That this doesn’t always happen is immaterial. The intent in marriage is always to be a part of something greater than you can be with your own view of the world limited as it is by your gender.

Two gender marriage is better for children to grow up in as it affords them the opportunity to learn how to interact with those of each gender. Are there many ways this can be messed up, even by well meaning people? Absolutely! There are abusive marriages, families without an adult of one gender or the other, families where one or the other parent is gone for long periods of time, etc., etc., etc.. All of these, however, would be better off in a -good- marriage than in the state they are currently in. There are many kinds of families, from families of one person to families of many. All of these families, whatever their experiences and circumstances, should be celebrated and aided the best we can, even (and especially) our own family. All of these families are on a path of improvement, even those who seem to “have it all” and be perfectly happy.

Some would argue that gender should be immaterial. The problem is that there is something inherent in our gender, something nearly impossible to quantify. Our gender is the second strongest marker of our identity, the first being humanity. So much of our life is of experiences that only happen and relate to the gender we are. Changing completely from one to the other is simply not possible, as we cannot create the cache of gender based experiences we’ve not been part of, no matter how much we desire them. Those who are forced to or themselves attempt to become the other are at an extreme disadvantage, as their lived experiences will not be enough to know what it means to be that gender.

I’ll close this with a simple request. Respect the beliefs and decisions of others. You do not have to agree with their decisions, but you should respect the work, tears, prayers, and pains that they went through to arrive at their current situation. Your own experiences, progression, and faults can not make you better than them, only different in your journey.

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Neither marry nor are given in marriage

I’m going to touch on another part of our temple worship that I hope will be changed. This one applies to the LDS marriage and sealing to spouse that is done specifically in the temple. At this time, the woman is asked if she will receive her perspective husband and if she will give herself to him. The man is asked only if he will receive. There have been various reasons given for this inequality by various sealers, working from their own understanding on it. (no, none of them immediately come to mind.)

To me, this inequality can be removed by following the direction given by the Savior for the state of marriage in the afterlife:

And Jesus answering said unto them, The children of this world marry, and are given in marriage: But they which shall be accounted worthy to obtain that world, and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry, nor are given in marriage: (Luke 20:34-35, also in Mark 12:25)

Some have taken this to mean there will be no more marriage. LDS thought takes this to mean that only those that have been sealed together by God (or those given the power to seal), will remain together. I think we should not wait til the resurrection to get to this.

To marry is to take a woman and make her your wife, to give in marriage is to take your daughter and give her to another man as his wife. In neither is the will of the woman considered. She is simply the object of the transaction, to be given and taken as the men see fit. Our usage of giving and receiving (even though the woman now gives herself) is a remnant of this. A sealing for eternity should be about being together as a couple, not as master and property. Just because “this world” has started with women being objects does not mean we need to keep it that way. Rather than asking both in the couple if they give themselves and receive the other (doubling being made an object), we need to remove this part of the marriage and replace it with a simple “do you agree to be sealed to this person for time and all eternity?”

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Feminism and Same Sex Marriage are not compatible

One of the current arguments for Same Sex Marriage (SSM) is that children can be raised just as well by two men or two women as they can by a woman and a man.  It is essentially saying that in matters of parenting, gender does not matter.  This seems to me to be directly contrary to feminism, since if gender did not matter, why should it matter if women are or are not in the same leadership positions as men?  I can understand the attraction of connecting homosexual marriage and feminism; both have a desire to see that everyone is treated equally and fairly.  However, to me, the persual of gay marriage undermines the feminist ideas that women cannot be served just as well by having only male leadership.

In LDS belief, men and women have always been and always will be men and women, respectively.  Your gender, whatever it is, is eternal.  No, this does not answer the state of those who have ambiguous gender, but for the majority it is simple enough – the gender you were born with is the gender you always were and always will be.  Could we be wrong?  Absolutely.  I could get to the next life and find that I really am female, and that would take some getting used to, but I can leave that dilemma for then, rather than worrying about it now.

We do not react to men and women in the same manner, no matter who we are.  If we are in a situation where the gender is ambiguous, we automatically assign one gender or the other until we can determine otherwise.  If we discover we were wrong in our assignment of gender, our reactions to and perceptions of that person change with some difficulty, because we have so closely connected that particular gender to that particular person.  Even in reading this post, you are making different judgements based on both my gender and yours.  Men and women are different.  They have physical, mental, and spiritual attributes that <i>in general</i> conform to their specified gender.  Can these attributes be found outside of the given gender?  Certainly, but as an exception, not as a rule.  Do we know what these differences are?  Very, very rarely.  Even with our instinctual knowledge of the differences between men and women, these differences are very difficult to quantify and define.

Studies show (forgive my lack of links) that there is a difference in the general outcome of raising children in homes with both a mother and father committed to marriage, as opposed to a mother or father alone, two fathers, two mothers, or a mother and father with an unstable marriage.  As children, we look to our fathers and mothers to see how we should react to others of that same gender, which cannot be accomplished as well as a single or same sex parent.  It certainly <i>can</i> be done, but it is not accomplished as easily as it would be in a stable two-parent, two-gender home.

Some of the pains often pointed out by feminists are that it would be more preferable for women to be able to confess to other women (rather than male-only Bishops), pray to their Mother in Heaven who would be able to empathize with women better, and that women leaders would be more sensitive to womens issues.  Men and women are not the same, but they should be treated equally, have equal opportunity for advancement even in those areas where men and women are seperated by those physical, mental, and spiritual differences.  Even though equality of treatment is an important aspect of both feminism and advocating for the LGBTQ amoung us, the loss of gender roles in marriage and parenthood desired in same sex marriage are in direct opposition to feminism – that even though women and men are different, they should both be treated and respected equally.

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My thoughts on polygamy

In the early decades of the Church, one of the practices that came from questions about some of the ancient prophets having more than one wife was the practice of polygyny (one man having more than one wife).  Instruction was received by revelation, and it was practiced by a number of the leaders and others in the Church.  This caused some divisions and also had some strong supporters, both of those within and without the practice.  The Church officially discontinued the practice (leaving those marriages already entered into intact) in 1890.  The Church had to further crack down on those entering into these marriages since then by excommunicating those within polygynous marriages, and continues to do so today.  This is not only to remain compliant with US law, since even in countries where polygynous marriage is acceptable and allowed, the Church does not allow its members to marry polygynously to more than one living woman at a time.

The “living” part is the one catch that still bothers some now.  Since we believe that marriage is eternal, it is possible to be married to more than one person at a time, which is polygamy (one person having more than one spouse).  While there have been scriptures that can be interpreted as saying that polygyny is an absolute must for anyone desiring the highest order of Heaven, as well as statements from Prophets that it must be so, we also have statements from all the modern-day Prophets and scriptures that say that is not so.

 

For me, one of the big definitions of the Celestial Kingdom (the highest level of Heaven) is that you won’t be stuck with someone you don’t want to spend forever with.  That means whatever marriages are entered into here, even those sealed in the Temple, will not be enforced not only if either party has not lived up to their covenants required for this level of Heaven, but if any of the parties involved does not want to be part of it.  People will not be “stuck” with their abusers, nor will they be forced to stay in a polygamous marriage (men or women) if they cannot wholeheartedly love every other person in that marriage.  When the time for the ultimate decision comes (of which there may be many), we will all have the clarity of mind to know exactly who these other people are and how we feel in ourselves about being with them forever.  Also, those who decide to break from their Earthly sealings because of sin (not their own) or other reasons will not be without hope of finding the marriage they can be in for Eternity.  There will not be an “odd man (or woman) out” because they couldn’t find someone.  Being alone, and the path where that leads, will be that person’s choice, without lack of knowledge or need for excuse.

I don’t find polygamy to be inherently problematic in this age.  In the past, it has been used to control women, but it has also been used to give women more freedom.  That was a side effect of marriage in general in the past, there the woman was considered the property of the man, either her husband or father.  I don’t think that is the optimal way to view a marriage, or has ever been, and we are still working to move to a more egalitarian and balanced approach to men and women in general.  I believe that we are capable of polygamous marriage, but only if is directed toward that Celestial ideal.

 

My wife and I actually talked about polygamy on our first date.  (We talked for a number of hours, so it was one of many things we talked about, the list of which would show how odd we are.)  Our take is that we could accept it if it were asked of us, but we would each need individual confirmation of it and specific direction on it from the Prophet.  That personal direction is important to us, and we’ve had many experiences where we’ve done things as a family that we each got individual direction on.  I imagine a number of LDS couples have had to discuss it at some point, because of the possibility of death and remarriage, since we do believe in marriage for Eternity, rather than “til death do you part”.  Could I ever find someone I love as much as I love my beautiful wife?  I don’t know.  I’d rather not find out.  I would hope, however, that if my wife ever passed away (perish the thought) that I would only accept as another wife someone who my wife could also love with all her heart.

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Connecting the family

In the Doctrine & Covenants, an explanation is given to the verse in Malachi about “turning the hearts of children to the fathers”:

Foreshadowing the great work to be done in the temples of the Lord in the dispensation of the fullness of times, for the redemption of the dead, and the sealing of the children to their parents, lest the whole earth be smitten with a curse and utterly wasted at his coming. (D&C 138:48)

This is the reason for the work for the dead, baptism and sealings, that we do in the Temples. All the descendants of Adam will need to be bound together in family relationships. This brings up a variety of issues:

1. Forcing others to become Mormon
While we do baptize as proxy for all of our deceased relatives, whether or not they accept the baptism is their own choice. It is felt that it is better to do the work with the possibility of their rejecting it than to not do the work and have them remain clamoring for it. There was a time when the zeal for getting everyone baptized included random (and not so random) names from various lists, including places like death camps, but it has been repeatedly stressed that you should only do the work for your family, not strangers. Even for immediate family, it should be recommended to talk to those who are living about it before proceeding. If there are objections, then it may have to wait.

2. Sealings to parents or spouses you cannot accept
I’ve seen people worried that they are going to remain sealed to an abusive parent or spouse in the next life because of the sealings that were done at an earlier time. I am sure this is not the case. The Celestial Kingdom will be a place of ultimate joys, not of fear, hostility, or resentment. No matter what sealings were done, no matter what other ordinances were done, they cannot supersede the desire of the people involved. You will not spend forever with a person you cannot stand to be near.

3. Spiritual orphaning
We know that not everyone will accept the Gospel and desire to be sealed for eternity. This creates a minor problem for the others in the relationship. Since these sealings are necessary, it may be needed from time to time for people to be sealed as children to parents who were not their birth parents. I do not believe this will be done lightly, any more than the decision on your placement in your mortal family was done lightly. This should not be anticipated in mortality without all parties alive and in agreement, as we do not know the feelings of those who have passed on, no matter what documents they may have left behind.

Without a great number of records that do not exist or the personal recollections of those who are already dead, we will only be able to scratch the surface of all of the baptism and sealing work that needs to be done. It is, however, important that we do what we can now. It all needs to be done, or as it says in the scripture, the entirety of this world would be a waste.

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Waiting for the "next life"

One of the common complaints about any article or talk given about marriage or families is that those who are not in that category are ignored or pushed aside with the platitude “If you do not have this now, you will in the next life”. The feeling can be that those outside the ideal of having a temple marriage and children right now are ignored or reviled by those within the ideal.

Consider the following variations on the platitude:
Don’t worry if you don’t have children by the time you are 15, you will at some point afterward.
Don’t worry if you aren’t married by the time you are 20, you will at some point afterward.
Don’t worry if you don’t have children by the time you are 30, you will at some point afterward.
Don’t worry if you have not reached the ideal of your Heavenly Parents before you die, be it at 5, 50, or 100, you will at some point afterward.

How different is the platitudes’ request for patience in adulthood than when we tell children that they cannot have babies or get married until they are adults? The solution I see to this is the same, to place ourselves in submission to the timing given our lives by God, in the same way that children submit to adults.

Yes, waiting can be difficult. It can be full of heartaches from times where you thought you had reached the goal but found that it had moved to a seemingly impossible distance. However, because of the Plan of Salvation, because we know that life goes well beyond the limited number of years we have had so far, we can have hope that our attainment of the ideal, becoming like our Heavenly Mother and Father, will always be ahead of us and fully attainable, so long as we continue to pursue it.

On a related note, to reiterate what has been said many times, we should not judge the righteousness of others based on their progress in obtaining marriage, children, the Temple endowment, or any other point of their eternal progression. All of these points are commitments between that person and their Heavenly Parents, for the specific growth of that person in that manner. Your judgments, especially in these eternal issues, can injure others, but will also stunt your own growth, no matter what blessings you have previously attained.

Encourage, strengthen, weep with those who weep, mourn with those who mourn, comfort those who stand in need of comfort, and rejoice with those who have joy.

No matter what you do or do not have now, have patience with your own progress, and remember your Royal potential that lay ahead.

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Helpmeet vs Help Meet

One of the Biblical teachings that always gets to me is the misquoting of a verse in Genesis, where God creates Eve.

Genesis 2:18
And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him.

Often, when I hear this quoted, its put as a single word – helpmeet. The definition taken from this is something like a maidservant. This is used to show that God made women as subservient to men. Unfortunately, this is not the meaning of the pairing of words.

Meet, on its own, means equal. In this, God is saying that He will make Adam someone equal to him, that can be a help to him. This does not place one above the other any more than my helping you do something makes me your servant.

As with Adam and Eve, marriage between a man and a woman is a companionate relationship. They must work together to get the greatest accomplished. The later comparison of marriage to being “equally yoked” is very apt, as one is not pushing or pulling the other and neither is leading, but both are working together to go where the master (God) desires them to go.

And, if you are looking for someone to share your life with, just remember you are looking for an help – meet for you, not an helpmeet to be owned by you.

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