The Gospel Doctrine lesson #6 manual objective is “To help class members have a greater desire to ‘choose liberty and eternal life’ through Jesus Christ, ‘the great Mediator of all men’ (2 Nephi 2:27).”
To find ways to connect to the scriptures and liken them unto women, even when the language and examples don’t include women, so that we might all choose liberty and eternal life through Jesus Christ, the great Mediator of all women and men.
Section 1 of this lesson tells us, “Lehi counseled his sons to “arise from the dust … and be men.” It then asks, “What are the qualities of a righteous man?…How can we help young men choose righteousness over the world’s definition of manhood?”
There’s some great content in this lesson. Yet when I read it, I feel a disconnect—just a slight one. After all, I’m used to feeling this disconnect and my mind immediately, subconsciously goes to work to repair it. The wording of the lesson makes it apparent we should apply Lehi’s counsel to men today. But what about me? Should I also arise from the dust and be a man? Or arise and be a woman? And is that different? Do those qualities of righteous men apply to me?
This gendered approach, of course, isn’t unique to Lehi or this lesson. Neil L. Anderson notes in his 2011 Liahona article, “The Book of Mormon: Strengthening our Faith in Jesus Christ”: “On one occasion I pulled from its pages specific counsel from fathers to sons—it totaled 52 typed pages…The specific roles of women and daughters are to some extent unmentioned, as is common in ancient writing…We treasure the precious morsels that speak of women and mothers.”
But the disconnect doesn’t end with fatherly advice to sons. The scriptures in general, and in this lesson in particular, appear to be talking to men and about men. The signature verse of the lesson states (2 Nephi 2:27), “Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men…”
Of course Lehi means women too, right? And surely Christ is the Mediator of everyone, regardless of gender. So if Lehi really does mean me too, does it matter that his language doesn’t include me? Does it matter that there are 52 pages of council from fathers to sons but only “precious morsels” about women? Taking it further, does it matter that nearly all the “heroes” in the scriptures are male (only three Book of Mormon women are even named individually: Sariah, Abish and Isabel—who happens to be a harlot)?
Actually, studies have shown it matters immensely. Gendered Lives: Communication, Gender, and Culture by Julia Wood explains, “Research demonstrates conclusively that male generics are perceived as pertaining predominantly or exclusively to men.” The book describes a study in which subjects in grade one through college were asked to make up a story about the “average student”. When the researchers referred to the subject with the generic “he”, only 12% of the stories were about women. However, when they used “he or she,” 42% of the stories were about females.
Similarly, The Social Psychology of Gender by Shawn Meghan Born describes studies in which job ads written in the generic male led people to assume that a woman was not wanted in that position or could not do it. Fewer women applied and fewer women were chosen than when gender neutral terms were used. Research also demonstrates that women take longer to process information presented in the generic male.
When we tell faith promoting stories exclusively about men or in generic male language, can we afford to have only 12% of listeners visualize a woman having faith? If the “job” we are applying to is to be a disciple of Christ, can we afford to have fewer women feel they can do it? When the instructions we are giving are about how to be obedient, compassionate, or generally Christ-like, can we afford to have our women and girls experience these processing blocks?
If it does matter—a great deal, in fact—that the characters and language of the scriptures largely exclude women, what should we do? We can’t change the language in the Book of Mormon or the gendered world in which these ancient writers lived. But we don’t have to accept that as our world either. We can change the world in which we live. We can change the way we talk about and share information from the scriptures. And we should.
In this lesson, we can talk about qualities of righteous people instead of just righteous men, about young women and men choosing righteousness—and take gender out of righteousness all together. We can pull in examples of modern women or women from early church history who illustrate the characteristic we want to highlight when there are no women examples in the scriptures. We can broaden our own language to talk about “he or she” and “women and men.”
And we can refer to Christ as the great Mediator—not of “men,” but of us all—because after all, that’s what He is.
Related Mormon Women Project Interviews
Celebrating the Unseen Woman, Heather Farrell
Issues around women and their roles can hurt. I have quite a few college friends who could never reconcile their feelings and experience and have drifted from the Church, and I have friends who are still faithful but shaken. That’s hard. I know what it feels like to be shaken. But I’ve always had that rock, which the Lord gave me really young, and which I’ve never lost. So while I have questions and times when my rock is shaken, I know that even if I don’t understand it now, there is an answer. I understand that God is no respecter of persons. He doesn’t love men more than He loves women.
Patience and Joy, Patience Omorodion
I want to encourage every woman, as a Latter-day Saint, we should never be afraid of any group of people, no matter how many they may be. Whether they are outside or inside the Church. As long as we are holding on the tree, we are going on the right way. We should continue and never give up.
Other Related Women’s Voices
Are You the Woman I Think You Are?, Sheri Dew
Am I the woman I think I am, the woman I want to be? More importantly, am I the woman the Savior needs me to be?
We study our history to learn who we are. There is a worldwide hunger among good women to know their identity, value, and importance. Studying and applying the history of Relief Society gives definition and expression to who we are as disciples and followers of our Savior, Jesus Christ.