One of my blog mates recently called my attention to this quote from President Nelson in the Sunday morning session of General Conference:
We know that the culminating act of all Creation was the creation of woman!11
11 “All the purposes of the world and all that was in the world would be brought to naught without woman—a keystone in the priesthood arch of creation.” (Russell M. Nelson, “Lessons from Eve,” Ensign, Nov. 1987, 87.) “Eve became God’s final creation, the grand summation of all the marvelous work that had gone before.” (Gordon B. Hinckley, “The Women in our lives,” Ensign, Oct. 2004, 83.)
I found this statement quite fascinating. Let me try to explain why.
Many of you know my friend Bridget Jack Jeffries. She’s an evangelical Christian who graduated from BYU in classics (the same school and program I went through many years ago), and she has been active in online discussions of Mormonism. It was from her that I learned about the Christian concepts of egalitarianism v. complementarianism. (If this is a new topic to you, here is a good overview of both positions.) Basically, egalitarians believe that God created male and female equal in all respects (and thus allow female pastors, etc.), while complementarians believe that although God created male and female as equal in dignity, He created them distinct in role, with male having the role of leadership and women being subservient to men.
Jack just a few days ago posted the first in a four-part series of posts at her blog, Weighted Glory, explaining why she is an egalitarian. When she first moved to northern Illinois and was looking for a church, I remember that she hoped to find one that was egalitarian in orientation. Anyway, I recently read her post, and would like to highlight the following passage:
When people want to argue that women were created inferior to men, they usually turn to the second Creation narrative, where they argue that things like Adam’s naming of Eve (2:23, 3:20) or his having been created first (2:7) signal that he was meant to be in authority over Eve, but the text doesn’t actually say that. Rather, these interpretations ignore the weight of the remainder of the biblical evidence as well as the evidence from antiquity. The Mesopotamians, for example, had a creation narrative where men were created last, yet they still regarded men as superior to women, demonstrating the subjectivity of such interpretations (indeed, I have no doubt that had the biblical narrative had men being created last, hierarchists would be arguing that men were God’s “crowning jewel” of Creation, rather than the other way around!).
So Genesis 2 is a dominant text in complementarian thinking, and things such as Adam naming the animals (as naming is considered an act of domination) are taken to mean the man is given the role to lead. Another aspect of the chapter that is interpreted that way is the fact that according to that text God created the man first and the woman subsequently.
I had only recently read that when my attention was called to the snippet from President Nelson’s talk I quote at the beginning of this post, so it was fresh in my memory. And I found President Nelsons’ (and President Hinckley’s) take on the creation order quite fascinating.
We don’t use the terminology of complementarianism v. egalitarianism in the LDS Church. Presumably if we were to superimpose that vocabulary on Mormon thought and practice, we would be considered complementarian, since we do not ordain women to the priesthood and reserve the highest leadership roles to men. But President Nelson’s commentary on the creation order goes exactly the opposite direction of the complementarian argument. Rather than pointing to the man being created first as evidence of his primacy, he points to the woman being created last as the crown of creation, its culminating act: a “keystone in the priesthood arch of creation” and “the grand summation of all the marvelous work that had gone before.”
I’m not sure what to make of that. I imagine it in part is a reflection of the Mormon reading of Eve in very positive terms, against the grain of most historic takes on the account. But framing the creation order of the woman coming last in not only positive but positively effusive terms seems to remove that passage from one’s complementarian tool kit