(artwork used by President Bingham in her talk)

Complementary gifts and roles, according to divine patterns

(Posted on Facebook 1 May 2020)

The status of women and men in the family, the Church, and even the world at large was addressed by President Jean B. Bingham in her talk “United in Accomplishing God’s Work,” which I read for the first time this morning after having watched it a couple times. It was delivered a few weeks ago in the April 2020 General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

On the one hand she highlights the interdependence and equal value of women and men and their contributions. She emphasizes the importance and necessity of listening and counseling together — and more comprehensively, of true partnership — in the Lord’s work in all spheres. She points out that the heavens are equally open to women and men, and that Church callings to both women and men are extended and performed with divine — that is, priesthood — authority and power. She seems to imply a startling causal connection between the “turn [of] the key” in the formation of the women’s organization in the Church (the “Relief Society”) and the “educational, political, and economic opportunities for women [that] have begun to gradually expand throughout the world.”

On the other hand she insists on a complementarity between certain gifts and roles of women and men. She does not specify those gifts and roles, other than brief mention of “women’s contributions both to the family and in civil society,” and a passing acknowledgment that “women are not ordained to a priesthood office.” She challenges us “to overcome cultural bias and instead embrace divine patterns and practices based on foundational doctrine,” without detailing either the “cultural bias” or the “divine patterns” and “foundational doctrine” to which she is referring. Without such specificity, we are left to assume or guess that for the latter she is referring to “The Family: A Proclamation to the World;” or perhaps certain sections of the Doctrine and Covenants relating to (a) priesthood organization and (b) the new and everlasting covenant of marriage; or perhaps other Restoration scripture regarding creation and human origins and purpose, and associated temple ritual.

(Actually she does specifically mention female subservience, “traditions of dominance,” and “activities limited to a narrow scope” as part of the cultural bias of which she disapproves. It seems she would also include contemporary tendencies towards comparison, competition, and power struggle, as well as a failure to recognize contributions beyond paid employment.)

While there has been a recent tendency to begin to tease apart and differentiate the meanings and operations of “priesthood” in the family and in the Church, my overall impression is that in this talk Sister Bingham either does not see such a clean separation, or is choosing here to emphasize a few principles common to both spheres.

(One quibble: she seems to use the word “parity” as an antonym for “complementarity,” but I wonder if “equivalence” might have been a more accurate word choice. I suppose she did not want to get anywhere near being seen as opposed to “equality.”)

Many in the world clearly believe that notions like “equal value” and “true partnership” are inconsistent with perpetuation of “complementary” gifts and roles, and insist instead on something more like “equivalence.” To my sisters in the world in general, and my fellow Latter-day Saints who are women in particular: What do you think of President Bingham’s claims to both equal value, interdependence, and true partnership, and complementary gifts and roles according to divine patterns?

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