One of the big Mormon blogs had a discussion on a recent Dialogue article that explored the potential for a gay-affirming version of LDS theology. It took me a couple of hours to read the article and the long thread of comments. It is an interesting presentation and discussion. If you have a couple of hours to burn, check it out.
The article questions whether gender exists and if it exists whether it is eternal. It then argues that if gender is not an essential, eternal attribute of a person, our expectations for straights-only exaltation might be open to revision. (This is a gross abbreviation of a much longer argument.)
Here’s my reaction, for what it’s worth. I’m not sure the point we should be considering is whether gender matters or is eternal. I think it’s pretty obvious that gender matters– if it didn’t then gay Mormons would just marry members of the opposite sex and those marriages would do as well as any others, or equivalently, it would easy for straight people to successfully marry members of the same sex. Clearly, this is not the case. When it comes to the formation of durable pair bonds, gender matters. A lot. We shouldn’t be arguing for the elimination or negation of gender.
It’s also easy to imagine that gender identity persists in the hereafter. LDS tradition tells us that there will be a continuity of personality and identity between our mortal and post-mortal selves. Given how deeply rooted gender identity and sexual orientation seem to be in people, this doesn’t seem like much of a stretch for Mormons to accept theologically. Eternal life where we are not “ourselves” is something other than eternal life.
I guess my question on the theological issue is how eternal the concept of patriarchy might be. Using Wikipedia’s definition, in patriarchy "the role of the male as the primary authority figure is central to social organization." In other words, it’s not so much that gender exists and is important to relationships, it’s whether gender disqualifies a person from participation in all aspects of society, including marriage and social leadership. This is a much, much bigger issue than just how we treat gay people.
It's interesting to note that there is a strict correlation across cultures in how women and homosexuals are treated. Compare, for example, Holland versus Saudi Arabia. In strongly patriarchal cultures like Saudi Arabia women are excluded from public life, and homosexuals are put to death. Cultures that have rejected patriarchy, such as Holland, open their society to participation by women in every way and see families headed by same-sex spouses as equal to all other families. Does the society of the Celestial Kingdom more resemble Holland or Saudi Arabia? Right now, the CK is trending toward the Saudi way of doing things-- our Heavenly Mother is mutely sequestered away, polygamy worthy of the FLDS is still the social order, and gay people are excommunicated from the Kingdom by male agents of a male deity. It couldn't be more of a sausage fest.
Thus, the question isn't whether gender is eternal, it's whether eternity is led by the male gender.
Of course, there is an ongoing conversation in Mormon culture on this topic. It is one of Mormonism’s central tensions right now. The earthly church is straining in the direction of Holland even as the folks with their hands on the tiller are pointing it toward Saudi Arabia.
I'm an optimist. The winds will prevail. Tulips and cheese are in our future.