In response to the marvelous webpage the Church recently posted called “Motherhood,” one mother wrote about how disappointed she was at the statement that Motherhood is “the highest, holiest service assumed by humankind.” She explained that motherhood is a mere biological function, and that her highest calling is to become like Christ, not to simply give birth. I am afraid that many modern mothers see their roles as mothers in this way. And at the risk of embarrassing mothers with attention, or discouraging them with a seemingly impossible comparison, I want to suggest that while it is true that a mother’s highest calling is to become like Christ, it is through acting in her role as a mother that this highest calling is actualized.
A few years ago, I had the opportunity to meet Dr. Valerie Hudson and hear her talk about her ideas regarding the status of women in the Church.[i] While Dr. Hudson was a professor of political science at Brigham Young University, she was listed as one of the “100 Top Global Thinkers of 2009″ by Foreign Policy Magazine for her work in showing that the status of women in a society is linked to the fate of their nations with regard to their domestic stability, prosperity and national security. Her political ideas are interesting to me and have important significance for world affairs. However, her ideas as they relate to the gospel are even more interesting and have eternal significance.
Of course, when talking about women and the priesthood, there are many things we don’t know or understand, and it is easy to hurt people’s feelings, especially on Mother’s Day. In that regard, I would like to make it clear that Dr. Hudson’s ideas, and the things I have to add, are only one way of looking at things. They do not answer every question, but I hope it will help shed some light on some issues.
Like so many things in the gospel, the foundation for these ideas goes back to the beginning. As spirit children of our Father and Mother in heaven, we desired to become like them. But we could only do so if we received bodies and the opportunity a mortal life would give us to grow, and to be tested to see if we were worthy to exercise the same power that is exercised by God.
I can imagine that we must have watched as Adam and Eve went to Earth and were placed in a garden, located eastward in Eden.[ii] They were first told to “Be fruitful, and multiply, and [to fill][iii] the Earth.”[iv] This would allow the rest of us to enter mortality, and give us the chance to gain bodies, gain experience, and be tested.
However, in their initial state of innocence and immortality, they were unable to have children.[v] So among all the other trees in the garden, there were two that were more important than the others. There was the Tree of Life, which had fruit that would allow Adam and Eve to live forever, and there was the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, which would make them mortal, but able to have children.[vi] The fruit of this tree was the only one that would allow Adam and Eve to have the experiences they needed to be able to grow and progress toward becoming as Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother.[vii]
As Eve, the mother of all living, decided to partake of the fruit and then offer it to Adam, we must have rejoiced as she was also giving all of us the opportunity to pass through the veil that divided us from mortality in order to come to this Earth. Throughout history, Eve has stood as a symbol to the world of the folly of women, and the way in which women have only brought evil into the world. However, through the restoration of the gospel through Joseph Smith, we have learned that Eve is to be respected, admired and revered for her wisdom and willingness to leave paradise so she may help all of us to receive bodies, to be tested, and gain the experience we need in order to become as our Heavenly Father and Mother.
Of course, once we passed through the veil and came to this Earth, it is our hope that we may pass back through the veil and live forever in the presence of God. Before doing so, we must be able to partake of the fruit of the other tree, the Tree of Life. The problem for us now, is that as we experience mortality, and gain the experience we need to become like God, we invariably sin and become unworthy to live with God. After Adam and Eve became mortal, God barred the way to the Tree of Life in order to help protect us from living forever in our sins and being forever shut out from the presence of God.[viii] So before partaking of the fruit of the Tree of Life, and passing through the veil back into the presence of God, we must become cleansed of our sins through the atonement of Christ. In order to do this, we must have faith, repent, and be baptized by water and by the Holy Ghost.
The ordinances of baptism and confirmation, which enable us to become clean, are administered by those who hold the priesthood. So, Eve stood at the veil by the Tree of Knowledge to help us to pass through the veil to enter into mortality, and Adam, who holds the priesthood, stands at the veil by the Tree of Life, to help us pass back through the veil to enter into eternal life. We could not experience eternal life, and live as God lives, without the roles played by both Adam and Eve. Both roles are essential. One is not more important than the other. Just as Adam hearkened unto Eve in partaking of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, Eve should hearken unto Adam as they make their way toward the Tree of Life.
Every mother is like Eve in that she stands at the veil and helps spirit children of our Heavenly Father enter into mortality. Fathers who hold the priesthood usher us back toward the veil and give us access to the Fruit of the Tree of Life through administration of the priesthood ordinances.
Of course, all of the ordinances of salvation are performed in our temple buildings. Paul teaches that our bodies are temples since temples are where the Spirit of God dwells, and the Spirit of God should dwell also in us.[ix] Beyond this, in the ordinances of the priesthood there seem to be additional ways in which a woman’s body is analogous to a temple, where these ordinances take place.
In the Book of Moses, we read that being born again through baptism by water and by the Holy Ghost is analogous to our first birth. In Moses 6:59, we read that “inasmuch as ye were born into the world by water, and blood, and the spirit, .