No surprise that with the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the principle of the equality of women and men before God began to be articulated in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In a break with traditional mores, in Doctrine and Covenants 25, in a blessing given to his wife Emma in 1830, Joseph Smith debunked enshrined custom. He encouraged Emma to be a comfort and support to her husband but also gave her license to “expound scriptures, exhort the church” and give time to “writing and to learning much.” The Lord gave her the difficult task of compiling a hymnal, a commission that not only indicated the Lord’s recognition that women were capable but, as Emma succeeded, indicated to other individuals women’s capacity to accomplish difficult tasks.
In the August 1838 Elder’s Journal, Joseph described "the duty of a husband to love, cherish and nourish his wife, and cleave unto her and none else; he ought to honor her as himself, and he ought to regard her feelings with tenderness” (italics added).
One of the 19th century’s most renowned Latter-day Saint women and the second general president of the Relief Society, Eliza R. Snow, acknowledged, “The status of women is one of the questions of the day. Socially and politically it forces itself upon the attention of the world. Some refuse to concede that woman is entitled to the enjoyment of any rights other than those which the whims, fancies or justice of men may choose to grant her. The reasons (against treating women as equals) which (men) cannot meet with argument they decry and ridicule; an old refuge for those opposed to correct principles which they are unable to controvert” (“Woman’s Status,” Woman’s Exponent, 15 July 1872, 29, italics added).
In our day, this doctrine continues in place. President Bruce C. Hafen, an emeritus general authority and now a temple president, explained, “The restored gospel teaches the eternal idea that husbands and wives are interdependent with each other. They are equal. They are partners. The incorrect idea in Christian history that wives should be dependent began with the false premise that the Fall of Adam and Eve was a tragic mistake and that Eve was the primary culprit. Thus, women’s traditional submission to men was considered a fair punishment for Eve’s sin. Thankfully, the Restoration clarifies Eve’s — and Adam’s — choice as essential to the eternal progression of God’s children. We honor rather than condemn what they did, and we see Adam and Eve as equal partners” (“Crossing Thresholds and Becoming Equal Partners,” Ensign, August 2007).
Women today should be grateful for the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the truths it reveals. Only as perceptions change and humankind begins to respond to the truth that women have equal status with men in God’s eyes will women’s conditions worldwide improve.
Kristine Frederickson writes on issue-oriented topics that affect members of the LDS Church worldwide in her column “LDS World."
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