In a recent article for Patheos entitled “Eternal Womanhood and the Limits of Public Recognition,” political philosopher Ralph Hancock challenges our faith community to “enrich LDS language about and for women without equating it to secular ideas.”  He enjoins us to “the task of finding the words to express and re-express what is best in our doctrine and in our aspirations as women and men.”

Hancock warns us, however, that, given the “dominant moral language” of progressivism in our society, “there’s no way of expressing the deepest truths in public language short of persuading the public to accept certain fundamental premises that are wholly at odds with dominant ideological views, and notably with prevailing understandings of ‘freedom’ and ‘equality.’”

Hancock and I are in complete agreement to this point in his essay.  It really is time to have a vocabulary for women in our LDS culture richer than “mission president’s wife.”  (Good grief.)  Indeed, I have been sorely tempted to create a wiki-dictionary of new terms—created by women--to express what language-dominated-by-the-male-perspective cannot possibly utter because men cannot possibly imagine.  These would pertain not only to specifically female physical experiences, but also to specifically female social and emotional experiences (which might have pale reflections in male-dominated language, but which could be given the recognizable frisson of female lived-ness only by women themselves).  So for the first, for example, I would like a woman-word for that moment you awake from sleep in the middle of the night, knowing your child is about to wake and will want to nurse.  And for the second, perhaps a woman-word for that feeling of being utterly invisible in a room because the men are all playing status games with each other so intensely that the discussion at hand no longer has any real content whatsoever.

(The very thought such woman-words could be brought into existence makes my heart smile.  If you are interested, let me know.  Maybe one day that wiki-dictionary could become a reality . . . )

And Hancock is also correct that given the disconnect between modern secular views of gender and LDS views of gender, there is a real chance for misunderstanding.  Such misunderstanding could, in its wake, lead to charges of hypocrisy (“You say the LDS believe such-and-such about women and/or gender, but your practices don’t evince that . . . “).  And, let’s face it, charges of hypocrisy can sting to such an extent that a LDS person might conclude that the Church has taken erroneous positions on doctrinal issues, perhaps resulting in that person leaving the faith community in their heart, if not in deed.  Given how many times students at BYU told me that they could not support the Church’s position on same-sex marriage, Hancock’s caution is well-advised.  We live in a day when, as Isaiah foretold, language would become unmoored from reality (Isaiah 5:20).

The Restored Gospel of Freedom, Fairness, and Equality
But after this caution, Hancock then goes too far for me, and in doing so, his sensible caution eventually takes us, in my opinion, “beyond the mark.” (Jacob 4:14).  Let us open that discussion with a quote from the Patheos essay:

The world's understanding of "fairness" and "equality," which powerfully shapes every worldly conception of womanhood, every "feminism," tends powerfully and inevitably toward sameness. Feminism in particular tends to be driven by an envy of the power and privilege attributed to men. (And of course men have possessed an overwhelming advantage in visible power, which they have all too often abused.) Our good Mormon feminists have unique theological resources for elevating the meaning of womanhood, and they deny in all sincerity that they want women to be the same as men; but whenever we evaluate the status of women by framing a comparison with the public and visible status of men, we are tending to slide from the spiritual idea of equality to the secular idea of sameness.

How can we be sure, as Sharon Eubank seems to assume, that applying our unique doctrine more perfectly will lead to practices that are more "fair" and "equal" as the world understands these; that is, that we will treat men and women more as if they were the same? Let me be very clear that I have not the slightest objection to any practical suggestions made by Sharon Eubank or others concerning improvements that might be made in the Young Women's program, or greater visibility for women leaders. And in fact I am an enthusiastic supporter of the argument that we need to make the fullest use of women's wisdom in Church councils at all levels. But I believe we need to beware of the slippage from spiritual equality, which recognizes the distinctive and wondrous role of womanhood, to sameness, which buys into a logic of envy and comparison.

Rather than contend directly with some of the incongruities in Hancock’s formulation—for example, it is really (really!) hard to listen to someone with “the public and visible status of men” telling those without such status that they are simply “driven by envy”—in this essay I’d rather assert that “freedom” and “fairness” and “equality” are some of the most important concepts of the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Furthermore, I believe it is unbecoming of us as members of the kingdom of God on earth to throw in the conceptual towel, so to speak, and relinquish the terms expressing those doctrinal principles to our Adversary.  Indeed, in the end I would assert that Hancock’s cure would produce the same level of harm that he intends to avoid by using it.

Rectification of Names
How might this be so?  Millennia ago, a very wise man known as Kung Tzu (孔子) recognized the profound nature of the problem. One of the three central ideas of his system of thought—Confucianism—is therefore “the rectification of names.”  In The Analects, the following exchange occurs:

Tsze-lu said, “The ruler of Wei has been waiting for you, in order with you to administer the government. What will you consider the first thing to be done?”

The Master replied, “What is necessary is to rectify names.”

Confucius goes on to explain, “If language is not correct, then what is said is not what is meant; if what is said is not what is meant, then what must be done remains undone; if this remains undone, morals and art will deteriorate; if justice goes astray, the people will stand about in helpless confusion. Hence there must be no arbitrariness in what is said. This matters above everything.” (http://www.analects-ink.com/mission/Confucius_Rectification.html )

The longer I live, the more strongly I feel that Confucius is right on this score.  If what is said is not what is meant, good vanishes and society comes undone.  I do not believe Confucius exaggerates the consequences.  In fact, most of our dystopian literature revolves around this theme of Orwellian newspeak—to take a contemporary example (The Giver; see Zirkle's review this issue), where killing is not killing, but “release,” and death is merely “Elsewhere.” Hancock rightly points out that the same elision has already occurred with “freedom,” “fairness,” and “equality.”  To call evil good, there must be terms indicating good that are capable of being hijacked to that end.

So to stop this, do we cast off the hijacked terms as if they were infested with a deadly parasite?  Confucius wisely suggests that is not the answer.  I agree: “what is necessary is to rectify names.”  What is necessary is to fight for those terms expressing good; we need to fight to get them back because our people need the good they express.  If we give up that fight, Ralph, we lose anyway.  Without those central concepts, we lose the power, the vision, and the hope of the Restored Gospel.  “This matters above everything.”

Our people need to know that God wants them to be free—and what this means.  Our people need to know that God is fair—and what this means.  Our people need to know that even in the context of sexual difference, men and women stand as equals before God—and what this means.  The Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ preaches every one of these foundational precepts, and it also teaches us what these things really mean in the sight of God.  These are pearls of greatest price, even if the Adversary has attempted to cover them in mud and fabricate synthetic pearls to sell us instead.

In Argumentato Pietatis
How may we strive to rectify these holy names? Though I believe there are many ways, here is one way: “[T]here must be no arbitrariness in what is said.”  Picking up on this Confucian advice, I suggest using language to reclaim language.   In contemporary Western society, “freedom,” fairness,” and “equality” need companion language to disallow arbitrariness from overtaking them and distorting their meaning.  What words might help us reclaim these key terms?  I consulted a Latin teacher to suggest a translation of the phrase, “in the context of righteousness.”  He offered, “in argumentato pietatis.”  Let’s now try that phrase out, and see if its use has the intended salutary effect.

1) Consider how central to the Restored Gospel is the concept of freedom/agency in argumentato pietatis.  While the Lord proclaims openly, “I, the Lord God, make you free, therefore ye are free indeed” (D&C 98:8), we also understand that true freedom only exists in argumentato pietatis.  We are warned of the Lord, “Abide ye in the liberty wherewith ye are made free; entangle not yourselves in sin” (D&C 88:86).  Benjamin further explains, “[U]nder this head [Christ] ye are made free, and there is no other head whereby ye can be made free” (Mosiah 5:8). Indeed, Lehi suggests a difference between the freedom to choose and the capability to be free beings.  The freedom to choose, if used to choose unrighteousness, destroys our capacity to live as free beings, according to Lehi:  “[Men and women] are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men [and women], or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil” (2 Nephi 2:27). While the freedom to choose for ourselves our own fate was the subject of the War in Heaven, that is not the subject of the War on Earth.  That latter war concerns the choice to live free, which freedom can only be obtained in argumentato pietatis.  To parallel the famous locution of Alma that “wickedness never was happiness” (Alma 41:10), we may say, “wickedness never was freedom.”  The only freedom possible, then, is freedom in argumentato pietatis.

2) Consider, too, how central to the Restored Gospel is the concept of God’s fairness in argumentato pietatis.  Over and over, we are taught by our scriptures that God is “no respecter of persons” (see, for example, D&C 38:16). Indeed, the great work for the dead in the LDS Church is rooted in the fairness of the Lord.  President Joseph F. Smith explained that, “[T]he gospel [is] preached to those who had died in their sins, without a knowledge of the truth, or in transgression, having rejected the prophets . . . The dead who repent will be redeemed, through obedience to the ordinances of the house of God” (D&C 138: 32, 58).  How unfair God would be if salvation came only to those very few lucky enough to hear the Gospel and receive its ordinances in the fallen world!  Likewise, Mormon condemns infant baptism on similar grounds: “[L]ittle children need no repentance, neither baptism . . . if not so, God is a partial God . . . and a respecter to persons . . . [A]wful is the wickedness to suppose that God saveth one child because of baptism, and the other must perish because he hath no baptism . . . God is not a partial God.” (Moroni 8: 11, 12, 15, 18).

As with freedom, the concept being promulgated here is fairness in argumentato pietatis. Those who repent, even if dead, and those in no need of repentance, even if never baptized, will be saved.  In the context of righteousness--in argumentato pietatis--God is not partial, nor cannot be.  God is partial outside of this context, however. This is most plainly set out by the Lord in the book of Ezekiel, chapter 18; speaking to the children of Israel, God says,

[Y]e say, The way of the Lord is not equal.  Hear now, O house of Israel; Is not my way equal? are not your ways unequal? When a righteous man turneth away from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity, and dieth in them; for his iniquity that he hath done shall he die. Again, when the wicked man turneth away from his wickedness that he hath committed, and doeth that which is lawful and right, he shall save his soul alive. Because he considereth, and turneth away from all his transgressions that he hath committed, he shall surely live, he shall not die. Yet saith the house of Israel, The way of the Lord is not equal. O house of Israel, are not my ways equal? are not your ways unequal?  (Ezekiel 18: 25-29).

God is the author of all fairness in argumentato pietatis.  When a soul chooses iniquity, it is no longer possible for God’s impartiality to obtain. Wickedness always brings cursings; righteousness always brings blessings. If it were not so, “there is no God” (2 Nephi 2: 13).

3) Consider also how central to the Restored Gospel is the concept of the equality in argumentato pietatis of God’s children, and how repugnant our inequitable treatment one to another is in the sight of God:

[L]et every man esteem his brother as himself.  For what man among you having twelve sons, and is no respecter of them, and they serve him obediently, and he saith unto the one: Be thou clothed in robes and sit thou here; and to the other: Be thou clothed in rags and sit thou there—and looketh upon his sons and saith I am just? (D&C 38:25-26).

Notice the context again of in argumentato pietatis—each of the sons serves the father obediently.  Within that context, the Lord sees no excuse for preferential treatment of some.  It is sin, not God, that brings inequality to his children: Alma states, “And thus we see how great the inequality of man is because of sin and transgression, and the power of the devil” (Alma 28:13).  Indeed, the appearance of inequality among a people is a sign of their sinful state, for the Lord says, “[I]t is not given that one man should possess that which is above another, wherefore the world lieth in sin” (D&C 49: 20).  God calls us to be “equal in the bonds of heavenly things, yea, and earthly things also, for the obtaining of heavenly things, for if ye are not equal in earthly things ye cannot be equal in heavenly things” (D&C 76:5-6).

And this is not all.  Amazingly, God’s highest intention for each of his children is to prove them worthy to become equal heirs with Christ (D&C 88:107), receiving “all power” and the “fullness” of God (D&C 76: 54-56, 94-95; 132:20).  And, obviously, in this highest realm, “he makes them [his children] equal in power, and in might, and in dominion” (D&C 76:95).  Equality in argumentato pietatis is apparently even more sincerely intended than we can possibly imagine in this our mortal state.

Women and Men
Do women and men stand as equals in argumentato pietatis?  Of course!  Any society that does not value women equally with men, that denies women equal opportunity to offer counsel and give consent, that differentially allocates “temporal things” on the basis of sex, “lieth in sin.”  Such a society would offend—should offend--the sensibilities of the righteous, for they embrace the concept of equality in argumentation pietatis.  (And that feeling of spiritual offense should never be mistaken for fallen envy.)

At the same time, the righteous also embrace sexual difference as good because it echoes the difference inherent in the personages of our Heavenly Father and our Heavenly Mother, in whose images we are created.  Indeed, embracing eternal sexual difference is an inalienable component of in argumentato pietatis. The antidote for inequality is therefore not sameness—that is Lucifer’s conceit (also playing a critical role in The Giver dystopia).  The antidote for inequality is to “let every man esteem his sister as himself.” Sexual difference can never justify bringing women and men into inequality in argumentato pietatis.  Equality in the context of both righteousness and eternal sexual difference is our aspiration, and as we work toward that goal a clearer understanding of how to achieve what may appear impossible to the mortal mind, will be brought to our view by our Heavenly Parents.

While the use of a neo-Latinism might not be every reader’s cup of tea, we as a faith community must find ways to “rectify the names” of those doctrinal precepts at the very heart of the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ, such as “freedom,” “fairness,” and “equality.”  There is no greater call, as Hancock himself expresses, than to “persuad[e] the public to accept certain fundamental premises that are wholly at odds with dominant ideological views.”  That is the telos of missionary work, and that work must be constantly performed, day in and day out--not just among non-members, but also among members, especially the youth and young adults who are our future. 

We are free, God is fair, and we stand as equals—but only in argumentato pietatis.  Outside that context, any hope of freedom, fairness, and equality is lost to us.  Think of the scale of such a loss; it would be incalculable in its enormity!  The stakes, then, are very high, and we must act accordingly.  We must not abandon core doctrinal precepts because language has been distorted; rather, we must fight to reclaim those pearls of great price.

Ultimately, we cannot become weary in this form of well-doing, for the battle to “rectify the names” is now ours.  And then it will be our children’s, and our children’s children’s, until that Great Day when what is said is always what is meant, and will be forever more.

Full Citation for this Article: Hudson, Valerie M. (2014) "Rectifying the Names: Reflections on ‘Womanhood and Language’ by Hancock," SquareTwo, Vol. 7 No. 3 (Fall 2014), http://squaretwo.org/Sq2ArticleHudsonRectificationNames.html, accessed <give access date>.

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COMMENTS: 2 Comments

1) Kathy Bence

It’s been said that the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. Perhaps it could also be said that an important thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good words to be hijacked. Valerie, you’ve covered it all: from the significance of our words, to a Confucius-explanation of why we need to rectify names, to a defense of why we can’t lose terms that reflect our deepest values.

Thank you for important and deeply profound thoughts that prove we must not retreat from this battle and allow evil to be called good.


2) Tom Rogers

It’s heartening to see two particularly bright lights from the 1970s BYU Honors program still ‘dialoguing’ so impressively and making important distinctions like few others. Allow me to throw in the following two impressions:

1) The ‘curse’ alluded to at the very end of Malachi in a verse so meaningful to Mormons—the very last word, in fact, in the entire King James version of the O.T.—is surely not willed or instigated by the Messiah so much as it is a natural consequence of humankind’s failure to turn our hearts "to the children” and, as children, to turn our hearts not only "to the fathers" but also to our mothers, wives and husbands.

2) Every Mormon wife whose husband sincerely strives to honor his priesthood, however fitfully, can only be grateful.

What I especially like about Square Two and Valerie’s rejoinder is their celebration of all with which, despite human foibles and lapses, the Restored Gospel has so richly blessed us. I miss that celebration in many another albeit unofficial Church related publication.

Your mentor and colleague of yore,

Tom Rogers
BYU Emeritus Professor of Russian
current member, Dialogue Board of Directors