Lately we have seen the emergence of a “gentle dissent” among some of the membership of the LDS Church concerning Church doctrine on marriage, complete with a peaceful march on Temple Square in June. [1] Sometimes likened to the same types of gentle dissent that preceded the 1978 revelation offering priesthood ordination to worthy black males, some members believe that a similar revelation on the nature of marriage is in the offing.

Of course, marriage is a harder row to hoe than the issue of race, as Church members are sealed in the temple only by heterosexual parentage. No sealing means no exaltation, and so what has been missing from the gentle dissent movement is some idea of how one would re-work LDS doctrine to permit sealings in other family forms. That task has been finally taken up in a recent Dialogue article by Taylor Petrey, an assistant professor of religion at Kalamazoo College and director of that institution’s Women, Gender, and Sexuality program. A thoughtful and thought-provoking article, it deserves wide reading and commentary.

Interestingly, the commentary on Petrey’s article has overwhelmingly been penned by men. Searching for response on Dialogue’s website for the Petrey article, I can find no letters to the editor written by women. [2] Similarly, at By Common Consent, the commentators are almost all male, though there are a few blogs where the issue has been enjoined by women. I find this noteworthy, because I believe that Petrey’s vision is a veiled attempt at the erasure of women in LDS theology, reminiscent of what French philosopher Sylviane Agacinski (2001:11) calls the “nostalgia for the one” in philosophy.

No doubt Petrey would argue that what he is advocating is the construction of or, alternatively, the realization of, a plethora of genders, not one gender. No doubt he would also argue that his vision is meant to be emancipatory for women, constrained as they truly are by unjustifiably narrow cultural gender roles across the world. However, as a woman, I believe Petrey deceives himself and his readers. When I read Petrey’s essay, I see a different bottom line: Women are no longer necessary for the Plan of Happiness to obtain. Women are no longer necessary for temple sealings to take place. Women are no longer necessary for the work of the gods in the eternities, or for there to be brought forth spirit children: indeed, there need not be a Heavenly Mother, or, for that matter, earthly mothers. Women are dispensable in Petrey’s rethinking of LDS doctrine.

Of course, Petrey would retort that the same could be said of men in his worldview. But, alas, the fact of the matter is that Petrey is a man. We women are rightfully suspicious of men’s “nostalgia for the one,” a paternity unsullied by maternity, a love unsullied by the need to interact with female anatomy or psychology. After all, it is women, not men, who are being erased on a global scale by the tens of millions, as if the presence of two XX chromosomes constituted the worst possible genetic defect (Hudson and Den Boer, 2004). A 2005 UNFPA estimate suggests that over 163 million women are missing due to such causes as sex-selective abortion, female infanticide, and passive neglect of female children. That women are not only dispensable globally in the fallen world, but also in an “LDS” theology reimagined by a purportedly LDS man is deeply ironic, for this viewpoint is a marker of the most radical form of patriarchy. Petrey is indeed the son of Plato and the heir of Augustine, wrapping misogyny in a beautiful cloak, this time of post-genderism. He makes our General Authorities look like raving feminists next to him (and I am prepared to argue that our General Authorities are indeed feminists, though they don’t do much raving)—because to our General Authorities, women are indispensable to all that is or aspires to be divine.

Let us see the workings of this occult misogyny in the details of Petrey’s theological thought experiment.

I. The Absurdity of Women’s Bodies and Women’s Ordinances

Does reproduction in the afterlife require male and female parents? Petrey’s take on this is that the organization of intelligences does not necessarily require “reproductive organs” (109). He asks, “must we imagine that male gods deposit sperm in the bodies of female gods (who menstruate monthly when they are not pregnant), that the pregnant female god gestates spirit embryos for nine months and then gives birth to spirit bodies?” (109) Maternity, you see, is absurd. Menstruation is absurd; pregnancy is absurd; birth is absurd. Why, we are asked to consider, would gods choose to do any of these things? Petrey’s unspoken assumption here is that there is no value in these things; indeed, these bodily activities are in some way contemptible and “beneath” what it means to be a god. This, of course, is the classic fallen masculinist view of women’s bodies: they are dirty, they are polluting; they are inconvenient; they are messy; they are constraining. Why would anyone in their right mind want the physical experience of female anatomy? Certainly no man would want that experience, and by male extrapolation, that means no one would--not even females themselves if given a choice, in Petrey’s perspective. An artificial womb would be a far better path, it seems. [3] In this regard, Agacinski notes,

Philosophy has always been uneasy with birth. With few exceptions . . . the philosopher sees himself as pure thought—he seems never to have been born . . . Masculine humanity always affirms its own power—to know or to be able, to think or to act—and rejects feminine fecundity as the impotence and passivity of materiality and flesh with the same gesture . . . the heirs of Platonism can continue to see in sexual difference and generation only the irrational, animal part of the human, as if this part ought to remain foreign to the higher preoccupations of a philosophic or political order. ” (2001:58/9, xxi)

Furthermore, riffs Petrey, this vision of body-less procreation in the afterlife is emancipatory for females because the “reason for divine female figures” in the Plan of Happiness is that men do not have wombs and would need access to such if there were embodied procreation in the afterlife (109). (Of course, men wouldn’t want wombs, because in Petrey’s view the whole embodied proceration business is absurd, and women’s anatomy is messy and polluting.) If one buys into embodied procreation in the afterlife, Petrey says, then women are merely necessary instruments, not full and equal partners, in the Plan of Happiness. If one gets rid of the assumed need for a womb through rejection of embodied procreation in the afterlife, asserts Petrey, one then bypasses the instrumental need for women in the Plan of Happiness. It is important for the reader to understand that Petrey feels that this view is liberating for women because now women are no longer merely instruments. No, now they are merely . . . dispensable. (The idea that women could be simultaneously indispensable but not dehumanized as instruments does not appear as an alternative in Petrey’s essay.)

This convolution is really a backhanded endorsement of the instrumentalist view of women, when one looks into the matter more closely. This view of the female body, so powerful and yet so disgusting. so necessary and yet so contemptible, is the foundation of thousands of years of misogynist thought right up to this very day. The classic alchemist’s solution to the whole problem was to simply dream up a mode of reproduction in which women did not participate at all. (One method included doing something with semen and earth in moonlight, as I recall. See Allen and Hubbs, 1987 [4].) Voila, men are then liberated from their humiliating need for women, who, in the end, remain in men’s view only good as instruments. And because men now no longer need them, women can just . . . go away. To see this “dream” recycled by a highly educated LDS man in the early twenty-first century is nothing less than stunning.

Equally stunning is that Petrey appears absolutely convinced that women will view his vision as a giant step forward for their sex. Petrey seems—for a director of a Women, Gender, and Sexuality Program—strangely ignorant of the fact that an overwhelming majority of women see the embodied production of children as something full of meaning, something to be freely chosen, even freely preferred. As Agacinski puts it,

If women are free human beings, why would they not be able to give meaning to their fecundity and answer for being mothers in their own way? . . . You’d have to have no experience of maternity, and no imagination, to reduce childbearing to [its] biological aspects.” (2001:48-49)

Just so. Pace Petrey, women are capable of seeing meaning in all of their bodily rhythms, and have celebrated these female life cycle events and those of their daughters for millennia. Female children of God in the premortal existence strove to be found worthy in the sight of God to have the right to menstruate, to lactate, to be pregnant, to give birth. Indeed, these are not just physical events—they are spiritual ordinances of the highest order and the greatest power, presided over by women apprenticed to their Heavenly Mother. The most beautiful evocation of this is a recent essay in SquareTwo by Analiesa Leonhardt, which I recommend to all our readers. [5] That Petrey sees the workings of the female body as utterly devoid of meaning and thus completely dispensable is an age-old masculinist perspective of profound contempt for all things female. But LDS theology teaches that the female body is no curse, but rather the greatest blessing that could be bestowed upon the daughters of God. To carry a spirit, or a spirit and body, under one’s heart, to nourish it from one’s own breast, to have one’s baby’s cells coursing through one’s veins as well as one’s own, is no simple physical activity, but the representation and incarnation of the most exquisite understanding of divine love. And that love bears a distinctly female cast as a result.

Indeed, we could go further and assert that the body-less procreation of which Petrey dreams is an obviously androcentric project, even if some women have chosen to be involved:

[T]here would not be anything very new, from the male perspective, in the technological externalization of procreation, since, in fact, the man (as father) had always procreated out side of his own body, and since paternity has always basically been of a legal order for him. Thus, in some way, he has always had the ‘right to do without his body to procreate.’ Thus arises the question of knowing if, by claiming to free humanity from bodily constraints, biotechnologies are not obeying a new androcentric programming, even if remedies for female sterility are sometimes found there. Because, by allowing the two sexes to be technologically emancipated from their interdependence and physical constraints, they also make more widespread a masculine model of procreation, that is, one of reproduction outside the body. The old male/female controversy over control of descendancy may take the new form of a rivalry between embodied procreation and technical procreation. (Agacinski, 2001:xxii, xxiii)

To remain logically consistent with his desired vision of body-less reproduction in the afterlife, Petrey must also regard sexual union between man and woman in the same way. To Petrey, such union is a mere physical event, bounded by mortality, of no real meaning, and thus dispensable. “Possible yet not necessary” (111) is his conclusion concerning sexual union between men and women in the afterlife. But sexual union is also an ordinance rife with meaning, if we have the eyes to see it. It is the sacrament of peace between men and women, who are the fathers and mothers of all who live and all who will yet live. Sexual union between a man and a woman, conducted in righteousness, is far, far more than a physical event. An examination of but one aspect of its meaning is instructive.

Among its many other profound meanings, sexual union between a man and a woman in marriage is an admission that self-love, or love of what one is, is sterile. Thus Agacinski (2001) calls sexual difference the foundation of ethics: to realize that one cannot produce offspring without the Other, to realize that one is not infinite of oneself, to realize one is limited by oneself but unlimited with the Other. She goes on to say,

[I]f humanity is mixed, and not single, all individuals are confronted with their own insufficiency and cannot fully claim to be full human beings . . . There is indeed a lack essential to every human being, which is neither the lack of a penis nor some other attribute of men, or women, but stems from being only male or only female.” (2001:39)

Sexual finitude in reproduction, of which sexual union of a man and a woman in a loving, committed marriage testifies, thus serves an important ethical function in human society, and in so doing “generally wards off individual egocentric fantasies of omnipotence.” (xxiii) Indeed, sexual union between men and women is the template for the treatment of all Others; if sex between a man and a woman is contaminated by dominance or contempt, it will produce very different societies than if sex is a mutual giving in peace between a man and a woman who stand before each other as faithful, loving equals. [6]

As a coda to his discussion of reproduction and sexual union, we are also asked by Petrey to contemplate that, “There is no requirement or expectation of natural fertility to qualify for marriages, even sealings, in Latter-day Saint practice” (114). If there is no need for embodied procreation or sexual union, fertility likewise must be superfluous for Petrey. But this fertility discussion misses the point: marriage’s deeper meaning is as the sacrament of peace between the mothers and the fathers of all who live and all who will yet live. In the eternal perspective, infertility is but a small moment, but fertility in the afterlife for those who gain that right will last forever. In temple marriage, we are pledging not only ourselves and our capabilities in the here and now, but who we shall be and what our capabilities will be in the eternities. Contra Petrey, there has, in fact, always been a requirement and an expectation in LDS temple marriages of post-mortal “natural fertility.”

II. The Superfluous Woman

Petrey moves on to tell us that “In both the canonical and ritual accounts of creation, women are entirely absent” (111). Dispensable again. Drink it in, sisters:

Creation of the earth, organization of the elements, and even the creation of the living bodies of Adam and Eve all occur without the presence of female figures. The creation as we know it is capable of being performed with an all-male cast. This has the effect of not only making women superfluous to creation and salvation, but also of putting a male-male relationship as the source of creativity, productivity, and the giving of life itself. (111)

Superfluous. Absurd and superfluous. Of course, to assume that absence of mention is the same as absence is a logical fallacy. We have tantalizing glimpses that the presumption of women’s absence is an error, for example: “Eve, Adam, Abraham, and others were among the noble and great ones involved in the creation of the earth." [7] Really, how is it possible to assume that women were not involved without a prior assumption as to the importance (or, rather, lack of importance) of women to creation? This assumption is quite revealing of Petrey’s own view of women. Furthermore, it is possible to assert that whenever Elohim is mentioned, as it is in the creation story of Genesis (and by extension, the Pearl of Great Price), we are speaking of God, and “God” means an exalted woman and an exalted man married in the new and everlasting covenant of marriage (D&C 132; see further, Sorensen and Hudson Cassler, 2004 [8]). To speak of God in the sense of Elohim is to speak of Man and Woman. Eve was not created in the image of a male god; she was created in the image of her Heavenly Mother. What we have taken as absence was presence all along, but we did not have the eyes to see it.

Petrey also wants to ensure we realize that, “Even Eve is “reproduced” from a male body with the help of other males. The Lord penetrates the body of Adam and creates Eve.” Petrey does not mention that President Spencer W. Kimball taught that the “rib story” was entirely figurative; in that context, Petrey’s assertion that Adam “birthed” Eve is very revealing. [9] To be more precise, Petrey’s view fits the classical masculinist perspective which passionately desires a paternity unsullied by maternity, a masculinity without a corresponding femininity. Agacinski asserts,

[A]ndrocentrism obeys a metaphysical fear of division. Thought in general, and especially Western thought, experiences a nostalgia for the one . . . The one closes in on itself . . . The division of the species disturbs this demand for simplicity, and there is always the temptation to reduce the two to one. Thus, Eve has been made to derive from Adam, man alone has been thought to transmit the germ of life, or it has been assumed that there was only one sex, the phallus. (11)

This dream of a paternity unsullied by maternity motivated the ancient Greek philosophers (all male, needless to say) to opine that women were not even related to their own children, being but the “ground” in which men “sowed their seed.” How odd to see that ancient misogyny embraced by a 21st century Mormon man.

III. Kinship

Petrey tells us that “kinship is a way of making the biological results of sexual reproduction meaningful” (115). I cannot but say it: only a man—a being that reproduces outside of his own body--could have written that statement. From this female’s perspective, kinship is men’s way of “making the biological results of sexual reproduction meaningful.” We women call those “biological results” our children. We women carry within us for the rest of our lives the cells of each human being we have borne in our wombs. We do not need men’s ordinances to be kin to our children: such ordinances are for the sake of men, whose blood is not mingled with that of their children, whose heart did not beat with their child’s within the same body, whose cries did not join with their child’s at birth. We have our own women’s ordinances, or pregnancy, birth, and lactation, which establish our kinship with our children. Mothers who must adopt out their children know they will always be kin to them, no matter where their children are. Their bodies carry those children within them forever. The mother cannot be erased, despite all efforts to do so. The navel mark is etched into the very flesh of each human being as a symbol that kinship to one’s mother is real and permanent and un-erasable and holy. (Our vesture contains but an echo of this real, embodied mark and its holy significance.)

We can pretend we have produced children who have no mother by buying eggs and renting wombs, but that is a lie. The egg came from a woman; the womb was in a woman. There are no human children without mothers, and this stubborn fact testifies to the stubborn placement of women as indispensable in the Plan of Happiness. And that motherhood is, as we have seen, no simple physical act, no mere instrumentality, but rather the deepest incarnation of all that is meant by love, an embodied ordinance of the greatest meaning and the greatest power.

We do children a great disservice when we lie to them in obscuring their dual male and female heritage. As Agacinski puts it, it is an “inhuman organization” that prevents children “from knowing through their fathers and mothers, their double, masculine and feminine, origin” (2001:116), and continues,

The small child, offspring of a human world, must know that she or he descends from a lineage made up of men and women . . . the biological origin of the child is always double, as the unavoidable recourse to cell donors proves . . . It is in the parental couple, as much real as symbolic, that the child discovers the division of man, and thus a form of his finitude and human destiny. It is in the necessary parental complementarity that humans recognize both their difference and their mutual dependence. It is in the impossibility of being both father and mother that individuals encounter their own limits, come up against their desire for self-sufficiency, and must assume their sexual identities. Mixity is a value that is as much fundamental, universal, and ethical as it is biological. . . . The desire to neutralize the very principle of man’s double origin will have serious ethical and cultural consequences.” (2001:109)

Though Petrey claims, “Mormon models of kinship, both past and present, displace and replace the biological and the sexual relationship as markers of kinship” (119), this is a narrow, masculinist view. The temple sealings are meant, in the first place, to include men rightfully into kinship with those they have not borne in their body. These sealings are meant, in a sense, to ratify what was done by women in the sacrament of sexual union in marriage and in the female-presided ordinances of pregnancy, childbirth, and lactation. Only in cases of great sorrow will the mother’s reproductive line, her female ordinance line, not be subsequently paralleled by the male priesthood-sealed line. The mother’s choices in sexual union and in childbearing precede and are foundation for temple sealings except in sorrowful exceptional cases.

IV. Gender

In the final section of his essay, Petrey appears to define “gender” as “enactment of gender roles” in order to problematize the idea of “eternal gender” in LDS theology. With such a definition, he can appeal to women who are justifiably aghast at the limited and clearly subordinate roles assigned them by society, even within LDS culture. Using that definition, Petrey is now able to highlight what he perceives to be a tension in LDS doctrine concerning gender: as Petrey puts it, “gender “identity” cannot be both inherent and taught.” (124). But there are very important things that are just so: “faith” is both inherent and taught, for example. We do not say, “Well, if you were born, then you kept your first estate and had faith in Christ’s plan, and so you have no need to go to Church or read your scriptures.” There are many “inherent” things that must be nurtured in order that they do not die—such as our understanding of the meaning and power of the ordinances over which women preside, such as pregnancy, birth, and lactation. Our female spirits knew these things before mortality, but this understanding has largely died out in the mortal world, even within the LDS community—a perfect example being Petrey’s own essay. No, we can cultivate sexual difference in a non-misogynist and non-coercive fashion , without such cultivation somehow undermining the concept that sexual difference is eternal. [10]

V. Marriage

Petrey further informs us of “the necessity of hierarchical views of males and females in marriage as a necessary aspect of marking same-sex relationships as illegitimate” (127). He believes this is so because of language in the Family Proclamation referring to the husband’s role in “presiding,” noting that in male homosexual marriage there are two “presiders” and in lesbian marriage there are no “presiders,” both of which circumstances are problematic to the LDS mindset which, in Petrey’s view, craves a neat male-female hierarchy in marriage.

But Petrey has simply misunderstood what “preside” means, which is not uncommon in our faith community. A recent Ensign article sheds some further light on the subject:

“The husband’s patriarchal duty as one who presides in the home is not to rule over others but to ensure that the marriage and the family prosper. . . . The husband is accountable for growth and happiness in his marriage, but this accountability does not give him authority over his wife. Both are in charge of the marriage.” [11]

The LDS Church unabashedly preaches the sincerely equal partnership of men and women in marriage, and thus it is disingenuous to tie the Church’s repudiation of same-sex marriage as somehow emanating from what Petrey presumes (wrongly) is LDS doctrinal subordination of women to men in marriage. The argument is a non sequitar for the latter proposition is demonstrably false.

Indeed, it is the Church’s incessant drumbeat of equal partnership between men and women in marriage that undercuts the “post-heterosexist doctrine” viewpoint so decisively. Men and women, the mothers and fathers of all who live or will yet live, must enter into the sacrament of peace we call marriage—intimate, faithful, day-to-day physical, emotional, and physical experience and love of one another—to become as their Heavenly Parents. There is no other way: this is central, not peripheral, doctrine. This is the great bridge that must be crossed, here or in the hereafter if one has not had the chance here. Thus when Petrey tell us that,

“If learning to interact with members of the opposite sex (or gender) really does hold a privileged position as a means to salvation over learning to master other kinds of relationships—such as those of different social, economic, racial, linguistic, national, or even religious backgrounds—there is no reason to suppose that same-sex companions cannot or would not develop those relationships” (128),

we can say that he is purposefully comparing apples to oranges, which denotes a state of stubborn denial, a real “kicking against the pricks.” (NB: contra Petrey, in LDS doctrine marriage is not essential to salvation—it is essential to exaltation). As Agacinski notes,

[S]ex is neither a social nor a cultural trait, nor an ethnic one, [i]t is not the common characteristic of some ‘community’—like a language, a religion, or a territory—but rather, [i]t is a universal, differential trait. That is, humankind does not exist outside this double form, masculine and feminine.” (2001:xxiii)

Marriage, especially when sealed in the temple, is simply a far, far different experience of the other sex than any friendship or acquaintanceship. It is an exclusive giving and receiving of all one is on all levels, lasting for the rest of one’s existence and throughout all eternity, between the mothers and the fathers of all who have lived or ever will live. It is, as we have said, “the” sacrament of human peace, and as such, is as indispensable to our divine destiny as women themselves are.


When Petrey states, “there is nothing preventing Latter-day Saints from moving past these assumptions” (129) about the heterosexual nature of marriage sealing in LDS theology, we say, But there is something—or, rather, someone: our Heavenly Mother, who will not countenance Her own erasure by one of Her sons.

No, the female is not dispensable, no matter how pretty the cloak of enlightened thought obscuring that agenda from our view. As Agacinski puts it, “We cannot merely be neutral observers of any and all interpretations. We have a vested interest in theories of difference as well as the respective places of men and women in a culture” (xxxiv). It matters that there is a Female God/Mother in Heaven. It matters that there are females/mothers here on Earth. We women are no mere by-passable instruments in the Plan; we are the heart of the Plan. The men who “get” this—the men who pledge their love, their loyalty, and their commitment to our equality and to the sacrament of human peace--are our brothers and our partners. Those men who see us as dispensable cannot be viewed as our friends, for they do not recognize that male and female “are woven into the fabric of the universe, a vital, foundational element of eternal life and divine nature.” [12]



NB: All Agacinski quotes are from Sylviane Agacinski, The Parity of the Sexes, New York: Columbia University Press, 2001 (English translation edition). Also cited is Hudson and Den Boer 2004, which is Valerie M. Hudson and Andrea M. Den Boer, Bare Branches: The Security Implications of Asia's Surplus Male Population, Cambridge, Massaschusetts: MIT Press, 2004.

[1] Jack Healy, "Gentle Dissent in Mormon Church on Gay Marriage," New York Times, 11 June 2012, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/12/us/dissent-on-gay-marriage-among-mormons.html?pagewanted=all. [Back to manuscript].

[2] https://www.dialoguejournal.com/2011/a-letter-to-the-editor-joe-spencer-responds-to-taylor-petrey/. [Back to manuscript].

[3] Note: Even a handful of short-sighted females have signed on to this agenda: Kira Cochrane, "Sex Could Be History," The Guardian 17 August 2012, http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2012/aug/17/sex-reproduction-aarathi-prasad . [Back to manuscript].

[4] Sally G. Allen and Joanna Hubbs, “Outrunning Atalanta: Feminine Destiny in Alchemical Transmutation," in Sex and Scientific Inquiry, edited by Sandra Harding and Jean F. O’Barr, 1987, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 79-98 [Back to manuscript].

[5] Analiesa Leonhardt, "The Sacrament of Birth," SquareTwo, Vol. 3, No. 1, (Spring 2010), http://squaretwo.org/Sq2ArticleLeonhardtBirth.html. [Back to manuscript].

[6] V. H. Cassler, "Some Things Which Should Not Have Been Forgotten Were Lost," SquareTwo, Vol. 2 No. 1 (Spring 2009), http://squaretwo.org/Sq2ArticleCasslerMarriage.html . [Back to manuscript].

[7] Daniel H. Ludlow, ed. The Encyclopedia of Mormonism (New York: Macmillan Publishing, 1992, “Eve."[Back to manuscript].

[8] Alma Don Sorensen and Valerie Hudson Cassler, Women in Eternity, Women of Zion, Springville, Utah: Cedar Fort, 2004. [Back to manuscript].

[9] Spencer W. Kimball, "The Blessings and Responsibilities of Womanhood," October 1975 General Conference address, http://www.lds.org/ensign/1976/03/the-blessings-and-responsibilities-of-womanhood . [Back to manuscript].

[10] Of course, the Abbot and Byrd book on encouraging heterosexuality that Petrey mentions in this regard was critiqued thoroughly in the pages of SquareTwo for its mildly misogynist and somewhat coercive approach to gender roles: http://squaretwo.org/Sq2ArticleStearmersBookReview.html.[Back to manuscript].

[11] Randy Keyes, “Counseling Together in Marriage, Ensign, June 2012, p. 1. [Back to manuscript].

[12] Bruce D. Porter, "Defending the Family in a Troubled World," Ensign, June 2011, http://www.lds.org/ensign/2011/06/defending-the-family-in-a-troubled-world . [Back to manuscript].

Full Citation for this Article: Cassler, V.H. (2012) "Plato's Son, Augustine's Heir: A "Post-Heterosexual Mormon Theology"?, SquareTwo, Vol. 5 No. 2 (Summer), http://squaretwo.org/Sq2ArticleCasslerPlatosSon.html, [give access date]

Would you like to comment on this article? Thoughtful, faithful comments of at least 200 words are welcome. Please submit to SquareTwo.

COMMENTS: 5 Comments

1) Bradley Kime

Thank you so much for this response! It was certainly needed after the warm reaction Petrey's article has received (including article of the year from Dialogue). I think there are a number of logical problems in Petrey's approach. Two in particular: first, the idea, as you pointed out, that the reproductive capacities and activities of women are absurd, which Petrey clearly implies with his rhetorical questions. Petrey is careful elsewhere in his piece to deconstruct all of our socially-constructed notions about theology, gender, and reproduction. But does the notion that menstruation and lactation in the afterlife are absurd have any meaning outside of particular socially-constructed paradigms? Why is postmortal pregnancy self-evidently absurd? Leaving the implicit assumption hanging doesn't seem logically rigorous; it seems like, well, a sloppy appeal to a socially-constructed notion about theology, gender, and reproduction. Second, the idea that if traits are taught and nurtured it is inconsistent to speak of them as also inherent and eternal. There is no inconsistency here in the context of pre-earth life theology. We are children of God, premortally and eternally--an innate characteristic. We still have to be taught that truth and then nurtured (or socially conditioned) to exhibit certain morally-significant characteristics that go along with it.

More importantly though, your main thesis, to me, was powerful and crucial—that Petrey’s post-heterosexual vision effectually erases women from the Plan of Salvation. His article was distressing for many reasons: The way he offhandedly used exceptions to deconstruct and dismiss rules (for example, dismissing the prominent place of procreation in mortal and post-mortal marriage because not all couples can have children in mortality). The way he played fast and loose with textual ambiguities and/or vacuums (for example, assuming the absence of female roles in the creation of the earth and Adam and Eve based on the creation accounts). But most distressing was the devaluation and disappearance of women in his post-heterosexual theology. Thank you for a powerful critique of a problematic (to say the least) idea.


2) Emily Ann Powers

I truly loved Dr. Cassler’s article, “Plato’s Son, Augustine’s Heir: ‘A Post-Heterosexual Mormon Theology’?” which provided commentary on Taylor Petrey’s article.  His article was very disturbing to me.  He strikes me as a very insecure man and her article points out exactly why.  He wishes to be able to be all things to himself and if he can’t do it (i.e. embodied reproduction) then he must do all kinds of intellectual gymnastics to argue that it isn’t needed.  Shortly after reading her commentary, I sat in ward council and was struck by the tension within our LDS culture between self-sufficiency and community.  Christ is very clear, particularly in the Gospel of John, that in order to be of Christ, you must be part of a community.  You cannot achieve heaven alone.  This is one reason that anciently the Gospel of John almost didn’t make it into the canon.  The Platonic philosophers didn’t like the idea that you needed a community.  Intellectual vigor should be enough to qualify you for heaven.  LDS theology, with the very foundational idea that God is by definition a communion of Man and Woman, is the perfect example of John’s portrayal of Christ’s gospel.  I’m seeing the tension though on a different scale in my ward.  There are those who need help, yet are refusing it because they want to be “self-reliant.”  They take the principle of self-reliance to the extreme and it almost seems that this extreme principle of self-reliance feeds into unholy patriarchy.

 I’ve been thinking a lot about what Petrey was trying to do in his article, create a place within Mormon theology for homosexuality.  Petrey indulged in extensive creative philosophizing, which seems to me unnecessary.  If Mormon theology were to suddenly embrace homosexual relationships, it is unlikely that such a change would also involve a whole-sale overhaul of the basic tenets of the faith.  It seems, just to me, that, perhaps, there is already a place reserved in LDS theology for homosexual relationships.  Since it’s merely conjecture, I never would imagine publishing an article declaring it to be some sort of discovered truth.   

My reasoning started with a question from DC 132.  In the Celestial Kingdom there are three levels.  The highest one is reserved for couples, man and woman, sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise.  The other two levels are not really addressed much.  Mostly I have seen the Celestial Kingdom represented as three levels – top, middle, and bottom.  However, there is no indication that that is the correct vision of the Celestial Kingdom.  There definitely is a top level, but could not the bottom two levels be equal?

 And what do we know about those who are in the bottom two levels?  We know that these are righteous people who lived Celestial lives.  They have taken upon themselves the yoke of Christ and lived as He would have them live and have obtained Salvation – life forever with God the Father.  But there is one distinguishing feature.  Even though these Celestial people are perfect, and surrounded by other perfect beings, they chose not to marry a person of the opposite sex.  The ordinance could be performed in the temple for them, but they have chosen to remain outside of heterosexual marriage and therefore do not have “increase” but remain as angels to those who have entered the new and everlasting covenant of marriage.  So the question that I had to ask is, why?  Why would a Celestial soul reject marriage to another Celestial soul?  There’s no chance of abuse or the marriage falling apart or infidelity or anything like that.  For some reason they reject a perfect marriage, even in the Celestial Kingdom.  Could it be – and here’s where I’d like you to really check my reasoning – that the two lower divisions of the Celestial Kingdom are reserved for those who prefer homosexual relationships (one division being for men and the other for women)?  The preference in Heaven is giving to the heterosexual ones, they are the only ones called “gods.”  Why else would the Plan of Happiness would include two places for Celestialized people who have no desire to enter into heterosexual marriage? 

Obviously this is all conjecture.  But it does seem to me to be silly to have someone like Petrey do such philosophical wrangling as to twist the truth into pieces when there’s a ready-made hole in our understanding where homosexual relationships would easily fit.  Now, I am certainly not saying that I believe this to be truth.  However, it does seem to me that were some revelation to be received by the Prophet sanctioning some sort of homosexual relationship, rather than being a revelation that would require a complete reconstruction of LDS doctrine, it will be one that would fill a hole in our understanding.


3) Taylor Petrey

I read with interest V. H. Cassler’s recent SquareTwo entry responding to my Dialogue article from last year. It is always a pleasure to see that people take my work seriously enough to respond to it, and I appreciate the compliments she pays to it. There are a few important points worth considering here, and I hope that I and others may address them more fully.

Before a richer discussion may proceed, however, I feel obliged to address some of the criticisms made against my argument. Cassler’s thesis is based on a rather plain misreading of my article and she attributes to me many views which are either not in the text of my article or which are explicitly contrary to what I argue. She bases the bulk of her critique on a section of my article dealing with divine reproduction. In that section, I offer critical discussion of models from LDS scripture and ritual for three types of relationships: male-female (pp. 108-110), male-male (pp.111-112), and female-female (pp. 112-113). Further, I offer many different models for birth including the organization of intelligences, baptism, resurrection, and even literal insemination, pregnancy, and birth. I offer no single model as normative, but rather point out that these various creation and reproduction models all exist in our texts and rituals and that they do not necessarily support a heterosexual-only account of creation.

Cassler focuses on my description of the models for male-male creation in LDS canonical and ritual creation accounts. Rather than engaging in the full range of relationship models I provide, Cassler proceeds as if I take it that male-male creation is the only normative ideal, and argues against such. Her stated reason for not addressing the other accounts that I offer, is "alas, the fact of the matter is that Petrey is a man." I neither understand the logic of this dismissal, nor would I consent to the implications that the gender of a person should be a qualifying feature of an argument (nor that it could be relevant to dismissing two-thirds of my argument). Suffice it to say that Cassler either misunderstands my argument, mistaking a part of the argument for the whole, or misrepresents it. I quite clearly state that I am showing, “the variety of possibilities available for Latter-day Saints to conceive of reproduction independent of heterosexual union,” not independent of women nor of Heavenly Mother. To make it absolutely clear, the models of creation I provide in no way exclude heterosexual husband-wife partners as divine pairs. I only expand upon those relationships to make space for others. My argument is that heterosexuality cannot be supported as the exclusive norm for creation based on our texts and rituals, not that women should be excluded. Though one would not know this about my article having read only Cassler’s description of my argument, I argue that the depiction of male-male creation in our texts and rituals should not be understood as the only normative model of creation.

With respect to women’s bodies, Cassler charges that because one of the three models for divine creation that I provide would not necessarily include women (just as one does necessarily not necessarily include men), and that not all entail divine sperm and egg, that I have revealed "a profound contempt for all things female." To the extent that I suggest that reproductive work identical to mortal bodies might not pertain to divine bodies, I clearly argue that it applies to both male and female bodies. I provide many arguments why this may be the case that have nothing to do with whether women's bodies are somehow problematic. As a thought experiment, I am not committed to one single way that Mormons may think about divine creation. In fact, I argue the virgin birth is an example of how women may create through birth, though in non-heterosexual ways. I explicitly do not rule out birth as an option for how creation may occur, even suggesting that it might apply to male bodies, as in the case of Eve coming from Adam’s body. Rather, all of my examples are meant to show that divine procreation is not necessarily based on heterosexual intercourse and mortal biological reproduction, not that it is necessarily devoid of women or women's bodies. For what it is worth, with respect to male and female bodies, I agree with Agacinski in the full context of the section in which she is cited on this point: "You’d have to have no experience of maternity, and no imagination, to reduce childbearing to [its] biological aspects.” This is precisely the argument I am making.


4) V. H. Cassler responds to Taylor Petrey's comment

I thank Taylor Petrey for his willingness to explicate his views further, to the end that women will not find them alarming. Unfortunately, his effort was unsuccessful in my case.

Petrey states, "I quite clearly state that I am showing, “the variety of possibilities available for Latter-day Saints to conceive of reproduction independent of heterosexual union,” not independent of women nor of Heavenly Mother. To make it absolutely clear, the models of creation I provide in no way exclude heterosexual husband-wife partners as divine pairs. I only expand upon those relationships to make space for others." Wrapped in a cloak of pretty inclusivity ("making space for others") is a core of exclusion. Petrey wishes to make space for reproduction that takes place without women. Petrey wishes to make space for divine reproduction that does not involve mothers. For Petrey to suggest that what he is saying is not really what he is saying is really not credible; this is obfuscation, pure and simple.

(And however one interprets the virgin birth, it apparently included a mother, Mary, and a father, Heavenly Father. I think that counts as heterosexual, no matter the mechanism. And Jesus certainly had a Heavenly Mother, as well.)

And yes, the sex of a person does matter when it comes to the philosophical justification of sex exclusion. Women are no longer half of humankind because of male interest in eliminating their presence.The sex ratio of our sorry world is 101.3--that is, 101.3 males per 100 females. It has been in the first place male philosophers and male theologians who have justified the valorization of all things male, and the contemptibility of all things female, hence the title of my essay, "Plato's Son, Augustine's Heir." It matters that Petrey is a male philosopher advocating an "LDS" theology that, when all the smoke and mirrors are put to one side, excludes women as necessary for reproduction, divine or mortal, and that promotes the age-old patriarchal dream of a paternity unsullied by maternity. It is worth remembering that God, which is Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother, has issued a sacred "promise" given "before the foundation of the world" that their daughters will "bear the souls of men" (D&C 132:63). That promise will be fulfilled, as are all God's promises. There are and will be no children without mothers, no matter how we try to obfuscate that reality.

In a very sincere way, I believe it is time for Petrey to engage in some serious navel-gazing. That mark, the navel, symbolizes that he who seeks to erase the mother (or Mother) is despoiling some very sacred ground.

(P.S. The full context of Agacinski's cite makes plain that she is asserting the opposite of what Petrey feels she is asserting. Agacinski is trying to help men understand that birth is not about "mere" biology--but not in the sense that biology is meaningless, as Petrey would like to interpret the quote. Quite the contrary, Agacinski asks us to see that biology can be the ultimate expression of our greatest, most meaningful purposes, and thus biology has never been "mere" to begin with.)


5) Michael Reed Davison

            In his comment, Petrey correctly points out that he did not intend to offer any one model as normative; he seems to be promoting a kind of universal diversity, with endless kinds of relationships and “genders”. However, his article does point to the creation of the world as a kind of basic pattern: “The creation as we know it is capable of being performed with an all-male cast. This has the effect of not only making women superfluous to creation and salvation, but also of putting a male-male relationship as the source of creativity, productivity, and the giving of life itself” (Petrey, 2011, p. 111). Given that Petrey himself argues that the scriptures make women “superfluous to creation and salvation,” he can hardly be surprised when a woman objects to his interpretation. I have never heard a prophet describe women as “superfluous;” quite the opposite, they describe women as glorious, the crown jewel of creation, and an essential part of the Plan of Happiness. For example, Elder Ballard said, “There is no role in life more essential and more eternal than that of motherhood,” (“Daughters of God,” April 2008 General Conference). Likewise, Cassler argues (and I was taught in seminary) that “Elohim” refers to both Father and Mother, united as one God. If this is true, then Petrey's interpretation of the creation story is obviously incorrect.

            Second, I am wary of Petrey's theory because of its suggestion that same-sex and opposite-sex relationships are essentially the same, which implies that the genders have no unique strengths, weaknesses, or differences. It is wise to be wary of any conception of gender based on sameness, since, in this life, these theories usually default to a system in which men can be men, and women can be men, too (Cassler, “Some Things Which Should Not Have Been Forgotten Were Lost,” Spring 2009). In other words, they usually set masculinity as the ideal, to which men and women can both strive. To be fair, I think Petrey is arguing that women can be men, but that men can also be women. He position may not be inherently discriminatory—in spite of his glowing description of the male-male relationship as the source of creativity—but it does draw into question the significance of physical bodies and male-female gender differences.

            Given the doctrine that our complete souls are half body and half spirit (D&C 88:15), any philosophy that downplays the importance of the physical body should be viewed with caution by Latter-day Saints. Likewise, the Lord's statement that “they who are of a celestial spirit shall receive the same body which was a natural body; even ye shall receive your bodies” (D&C 88:28) suggests that our mortal and resurrected bodies will be more similar than different. That implies eternal gender and heterosexual procreation.

            Does this mean that our traditional conceptions of gender are consistent with God's idea of gender? Of course not! Many of our traditions about gender are harmful and contradict the gospel. I simply disagree with Petrey's solution, which is to make gender completely personalized, to have many “genders.” A better solution is to ask of God, in faith, for revelations about gender and sexuality. Even the revelations the Prophet receives are partly determined by our prayers: “And by the prayer of your faith ye shall receive my law, that ye may know how to govern my church and have all things right before me” (D&C 41:3). As Powers points out, future revelation will not change our doctrine (although it may change some policies); instead, it will build on what we already know. If we take seriously the revelations we have already received, and if we faithfully pray for more, then God will give to us freely (James 1:5-6, D&C 84:57, Article of Faith #9).