Question: Are Mormon women placed under covenant in temples to subjugate themselves to their husbands?

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Question: Were Latter-day Saint (Mormon) women ever placed under covenant in temples to subordinate themselves to their husbands?

Important note: Members of FairMormon take their temple covenants seriously. We consider the temple teachings to be sacred, and will not discuss their specifics in a public forum.

A covenant existed. There are a few ways to approach the question of why.

Some Latter-day Saint women and other critics wonder why a certain covenant in the temple was placed on them. It has raised concerns about the place of women in the Restored Gospel and the view of the Church towards them. Since this question is primarily aimed at those familiar with the endowment, the details or wording of the covenant will not be described.

There are a few ways to approach this question:

  • The covenant is conditioned upon the faithfulness and obedience of the husband. If the husband does not follow God's counsel, the woman is not obligated to honor his counsel.
  • Women's voices are essential to a man's being able to preside over the family. The Proclamation on the Family states explicitly that men and women should work together as "equal partners" in their familial obligations. "By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners."[1] One objection to this may be that the The Proclamation states that men should "preside" over their families. However, this shouldn't be interpreted to mean anything other than "use priesthood to bless their families". In Doctrine and Covenants 121:36-42 we read:

36 That the rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven, and that the powers of heaven cannot be controlled nor handled only upon the principles of righteousness.

37 That they may be conferred upon us, it is true; but when we undertake to cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man.

38 Behold, ere he is aware, he is left unto himself, to kick against the pricks, to persecute the saints, and to fight against God.

39 We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.

40 Hence many are called, but few are chosen.

41 No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned;

42 By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile

The man's job as "presider" was never meant to place men above women. If anyone conceives of the priesthood as elevating them to higher planes i.e. "gratify [...] pride, [or] vain ambition" then the priesthood is "withdrawn" and "[a]men to the priesthood or the authority of that man". Thus women's voices and listening to them are essential to the efficacy of a man's priesthood. Through "persuasion" and "long-suffering" we are to counsel with one another as "equal partners." "Presiding," then, means to be a source of priesthood power in a home and supervise familial functions. The temple was communicating this same message.

  • Latter-day Saint feminist Valerie Hudson gave a perspective on this that is consistent with the covenant as currently revealed and may be beneficial to those wanting help with this. This talk, given at the 2010 FairMormon Conference, describes the covenant as the balancing of two trees--Eve being the first to bring us past the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and Adam to bring us to the tree of Life:

I think it’s important to think about the fact that we have two trees and we have two people. Two trees, and a man and a woman. What I would like to address first is kind of an interesting interpretation of the fact that we have two trees and two people. Let’s address that by asking, Why was Eve created second? Now, I’m a convert to the Church, so I grew up in a tradition where the fact that Eve was created second was taken to mean that she was an appendage to Adam, that she was somehow inferior to Adam, that being derivative of Adam and not derivative of God that she was two steps away from divinity, not one step as Adam was.

[. . .]

Let me offer a suggestion here. Could it be that Eve was created second to demonstrate Adam’s helplessness before the First Tree? Could it be—two people, two trees—that Eve was foreordained to partake first of the fruit of the First Tree?

To answer that question, we must ask ourselves what partaking of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil means in a spiritual sense. And I think you know what it means. It means to enter into mortality with a mortal body, to enter into full agency, and to have awakened within us the light of Christ that will serve us so well as we pass the veil. Think—two people, two trees—whose stewardship does this sound like? It is through women that souls journey to mortality and gain their agency, and in general it is through the nurturing of women, their nurturing love of their children, that the light of Christ is awakened within each soul. And I would include in that list of souls Jesus the Christ. Even Christ our Lord was escorted to mortality and veiled in flesh through the gift of a woman, fed at his mother’s breast, awakened to all that is good and sweet in the world. Women escort every soul through the veil to mortal life and full agency. I believe that when we think about it—two people, two trees—that what we’re really thinking about is two stewardships. And that the fruit of the First Tree symbolizes the gift that women give to every soul that chose the plan of Christ. It symbolizes the role and power of women in the Great Plan of Happiness. It was not, in this view, right or proper for Adam to partake first of the fruit of the First Tree. It was not his role to give the gift of the fruit of the First Tree to others. It is interesting to think that even Adam, who was created before Eve, entered into full mortality and full agency by accepting the gift of the First Tree from the hand of a woman. In a sense, Adam himself was born of Eve.[2]

We encourage readers to see the full talk here

Why was it eliminated?

On 2 January 2019, the First Presidency of the Church announced that certain changes would be coming to the temple and offered their rationale. The statement below is quoted in full:

Whenever the Lord has had a people on the earth who will obey His word, they have been commanded to build temples. Scriptures document patterns of temple worship from the times of Adam and Eve, Moses, Solomon, Nephi, and others.

With the restoration of the gospel in these latter days, temple worship has also been restored to bless the lives of people across the world and on the other side of the veil as well.

Over these many centuries, details associated with temple work have been adjusted periodically, including language, methods of construction, communication, and record-keeping. Prophets have taught that there will be no end to such adjustments as directed by the Lord to His servants.

A dedicated temple is the most holy of any place of worship on the earth. Its ordinances are sacred and are not discussed outside a holy temple.[3]

Notes

  1. "The Family: A Proclamation to the World," <https://www.lds.org/topics/family-proclamation?lang=eng&old=true> (18 Aug 2020).
  2. "The Two Trees", Valerie Hudson; FairMormon Conference 2010 https://www.fairmormon.org/conference/august-2010/the-two-trees
  3. Mormon Newsroom, "First Presidency Statement on Temples"<https://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/temple-worship> (accessed 29 May 2019)>