The Bible is filled with commandments. Mormons (a nickname for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) use the Bible, but also read additional scripture that testify of Jesus Christ. That adds up to a lot of commandments. However, in a recent conference just for women, Mormon women were advised to understand why they are supposed to do something. It’s not enough to focus on just what God wants us to do or how we are supposed to do it. We should also understand why.
Dieter F. Uchtdorf was the only male speaker at the 2011 Relief Society General Broadcast. He is a member of the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Church is led by a president and two counselors, who together make up the First Presidency. President Uchtdorf said, “While understanding the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ of the gospel is necessary, the eternal fire and majesty of the gospel springs from the ‘why.’ When we understand why our Heavenly Father has given us this pattern for living, when we remember why we committed to making it a foundational part of our lives, the gospel ceases to become a burden and, instead, becomes a joy and a delight. It becomes precious and sweet.”
Mormonism teaches an intelligent approach to religion. God gave us our intellects and expects us to use it, not just in school, but in everything. Faith is a combination of emotion, testimony, and intelligent thought. We are taught that when making a decision, we must first study it out and then make a decision. Once we’ve done that we can take our decision to God for confirmation or correction. This allows us to think through a doctrine—to compare it to what the scriptures tell us, to analyze it intelligently, and to let our hearts whisper what is true. The final step—prayer—gives us an opportunity to measure how well we really understand Gospel principles and to make course corrections.
Knowing why God wants us to do something is an important part of this process. It should be a part of our studying and also a part of our prayer. When we know why God wants us to do something, we understand its greater role in the eternal scheme of things. This makes it easier to understand, but also easier to carry out. When we know why we should do something, it’s easier to be obedient because we see how it will benefit us, others in our lives, and Heavenly Father’s plan. It gives us a better sense of being a participant in His plan.
Let’s look at a typical issue facing Mormon women. Mormon women are taught that the man presides over the home. It is what President Kimball, a past Mormon prophet, taught was the proper translation of scriptures that say the man rules over the woman. Mormon women tend to have a sense of what that means they should do. They also tend to understand how to do it. Sometimes, though, it can be hard to understand why they have to let their husbands lead.
When the “why” comes first, the how and the what are easier to understand and to do properly. Not understanding why the man leads often causes women to carry out the program incorrectly and to devalue themselves as women.
Let’s look at the whys. This involves some research, going all the way back to Adam and Eve. After all, it was that part of the Bible that caused some families to mistakenly think the man ruled and the woman did as she was told. (Genesis 3:16.) This came about because of Eve’s role in the Fall. Most of the world thinks she did something terrible and she is often attacked and hated for it. Mormon women—and Mormon men—see things differently. They think she did a wonderful thing and they honor her for it. Mormons may be the only Christians who honor Eve.
In understanding the role of women in God’s plan, we have to understand what happened in the Garden of Eden. Here’s how Mormons see it: While in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve were unable to have children. (The Mormon joke is that there is no way to raise children without trials.) This means they could have chosen to live there forever, but they’d have lived there all alone and never had children or progressed. In other words, you wouldn’t be here if they’d made that selfish choice.
Mormons believe that Eve understood this. She may have even talked with her husband about it from time to time. The Garden was their childhood, since they were created as adults. It gave them time to get used to mortality and to learn the gospel before they started a family in the harsher reality of life. When you look at it that way, Eve is a hero, voluntarily giving up an easy life for the more challenging life of mortality and family. When it comes down to it, she made the same choice mothers and fathers make every day—to bring the extra challenges of parenthood into a life that might have been fairly simple and self-centered before that decision. She did it so all of us could come into the earth and so she could become a mother.
There is even more to consider. Mormons believe, as you can see from the information above, that there was no way to keep both commandments she was given—she could either have children or avoid the fruit, but not both. For this reason, her choice is considered by Mormons to be a transgression, not a sin. Commandments often conflict and we have to choose which one to follow. (For example, a teenager might have a conflict between a commandment to obey her parents and another commandment her parents are instructing her to break.) While there are consequences for breaking commandments, we are expected to use wisdom and our understanding of gospel principles to choose which to follow.
With the knowledge that God wasn’t actually mad that they broke the rule (although hiding afterwards might not have made Him too happy) we can see that the “punishments” given to Eve weren’t meant to make her entire life miserable. Nor were they meant to make our lives miserable. They simply were the natural consequences of becoming mortal.
With that in mind, we also note that Eve was created to be a helpmeet, which is not a synonym for slave or subservient person. It suggests equality and partnership.
The Proclamation on the Family, which Mormons hold as important counsel on family life, says, ““By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families” (“The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” Ensign, Nov. 1995, 102). Note the words “love and righteousness.” These tell us that he can’t be a tyrant or dictator, because those aren’t loving methods. He also can’t insist his family violate other commandments—a woman is not required, Mormon women are told—to follow a husband when he commands disobedience to God.
Next, a Mormon woman will move to the words of various prophets. This statement from Howard W. Hunter, given in 1994, has been repeated time and again by every prophet and can be used as a guide in making a decision:
“A man who holds the priesthood accepts his wife as a partner in the leadership of the home and family with full knowledge of and full participation in all decisions relating thereto. Of necessity there must be in the Church and in the home a presiding officer (see D&C 107:21). By divine appointment, the responsibility to preside in the home rests upon the priesthood holder (see Moses 4:22). The Lord intended that the wife be a helpmeet for man (meet means equal)—that is, a companion equal and necessary in full partnership. Presiding in righteousness necessitates a shared responsibility between husband and wife; together you act with knowledge and participation in all family matters. For a man to operate independent of or without regard to the feelings and counsel of his wife in governing the family is to exercise unrighteous dominion” (Howard W. Hunter, “Being a Righteous Husband and Father,” Ensign, Nov 1994, 49).
This quote helps us understand the “why” of the commandment. We learn that every home has to have someone presiding, in the same way God has set up His own church. At the international and local levels, someone is always the leader. However, that leadership isn’t all-powerful. It’s not the same as being the boss. It simply means he presides, but that the marriage is a partnership. Knowing this helps us to understand how to respect our husband’s leadership without losing ourselves or our right to have control over our own lives. Understanding the why, and having a testimony of it, keeps us from being resentful. It is merely a priesthood responsibility and priesthood is a role, not a gender. It doesn’t make men any more important in God’s eyes because He didn’t give women the priesthood. In the same vein, men aren’t less important to God because they can’t have children. Those are simply roles we hold, not statements of importance or value.
By understanding the Why’s of the gospel, we can gain a deeper understanding of why God does what He does and improve our ability to live the gospel—not just correctly, but joyfully. It is a great gift given to both Mormon women and Mormon men by their Father in Heaven.