Mormon women have just gotten a new heaven. Or, rather, have gotten a new temple ceremony that proclaims a different heaven.
And while church leadership has asked that members not talk about it, they haven’t asked nonmembers not to talk about it, so I will.
The old temple ceremony set women beneath their husbands, positioning the latter as mediators between their wives and God. I understand that some Latter-day Saint women never felt that way about their experiences in the temple. But equality isn’t a feeling, and the old temple ceremony — through its symbolism, through its liturgy, through its rituals — undeniably portended a heavenly hierarchy of eternal subordination for women.
Given the temple’s vaunted status as the pinnacle of the Mormon worship experience, it behooves the compassionate among us to try to understand why the former ceremony unsettled so many of the women who endured it. Its treatment of women served as the subject of many an agonized article, essay and testimonial. I critiqued it in my master’s thesis on Mormon women’s exaltation, noting that its dogged insistence on placing the man between his wife and God belied its otherwise lofty aspirations of transforming women into queens and priestesses.
But no more. While reports of specific changes continue to roll in, and questions remain unanswered (Can a living woman now be sealed to more than one man? Are men still expected to resurrect their wives?), it seems that most of the liturgy and symbolism that specifically subjected women to men has gone the way of the priesthood ban on blacks.
Now women covenant with God directly, speak with him face-to-face, and are queens and priestesses with their husbands unto God, rather than unto their husbands. I’ve argued elsewhere that Alma 13 provides the basis for a Mormon priesthood of all believers; now, it seems, so does the temple liturgy. The message is no longer, “Women will be subordinate to their husbands for eternity,” but at best, “Women, you are equals with men,” and at worst, “Women, your subordination has an end.” Whatever Mormon women’s status in this life, the temple now proclaims that there will be parity of some kind in the next one — or comes much closer to proclaiming it.
Perhaps the most significant victory belongs to those who agitated faithfully for these changes. They can now say that either their leaders heard their pleas, or their holy discontent was in tune with the divine. It is those who tried to silence them and shut them down who have been put to shame.
Make no mistake: Mormon women are still subordinate to Mormon men. If you disagree with me, by all means, show me your Deborah (Judges 4:4), your Phoebe (Romans 16:1-2), your Junia (Romans 16:7). Show me that your daughters prophesy as well as your sons (Joel 2:28). You can’t, because they don’t. You say that you restored the ancient church; I say that your “restoration” lacked some of the plainest and most precious things.
But Mormon theology has just embraced equality on a whole new level, has evolved into something that aligns more closely with how many members have felt about their marriages for decades. It may be that this new, more egalitarian temple theology will support egalitarian polity changes elsewhere in the church. The ones agitating faithfully (and successfully) can only hope.
Bridget Jack Jeffries is a graduate of Brigham Young University and a member of the Evangelical Covenant Church. Her memoir, “So I Married a Mormon,” is forthcoming.