Anne is a member of The Church of Jesus-Christ of Latter-day Saints and a survivor of two abusive marriages. Her faith in Jesus Christ is inextricably intertwined with her perspective on the world. Anne provides coaching and filtering services for co-parents who want help with their communication. She strives to build peace in an increasingly polarized world and writes about gospel topics at

This article has been edited for length and clarity. The full version is available here.

Enter Anne…

Truly understanding the sacred role of women and then modeling it well in our families, and as leaders at Church, is sometimes a challenge during this day and age. A challenge that has been instigated by the cunning lies of Satan as he has carefully laid a path of deceit from the beginning of our earthly existence.

“And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed;” Genesis 3:15

One of the key doctrines of a certain brand of feminism is that traditional institutions have, since the dawn of time, been waging a war on women. Some people with this perspective might opine that the family and the Church are twin instruments of women’s slavery, and the ultimate emancipation of women depends on the overthrow of both. Yet a full understanding of Heavenly Fathers plan for eternal families and the importance of equality in the roles we all may play, helps us to recognize that in the covenants we make, there is eternal emancipation.

For people like me, it’s tempting to dismiss such charges without a second thought. Believing deeply that the Church and the family are key to the emancipation of women, I seek to shore them up against efforts to dismantle them. But sometimes, a fortress needs to be strengthened before it can be defended. And, as Moroni learned in Alma 61, you need to become aware of and deal with the treachery that’s been at work in your heartland before you can prosper against a foreign enemy.

So, let’s talk about Satan’s particular war on women.

I believe it started in the Garden of Eden, when the Father told the Serpent,

“I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed.” Genesis 3:15

Granted, all humankind is woman’s seed, so that can be broadly understood to reference a general antipathy toward Satan that the Lord placed in our hearts at that time, as discussed in a recent blog post at my website. But I also believe the Lord provided a particular fortification against Satan for women, and that it was directly tied to the burdens we carry in relation to childbearing. In fact, the Lord’s promise of enmity was closely connected with motherhood in two ways. First, there is the reference to her seed. While this does seem to allude to the virgin birth of Jesus Christ and to His ultimate triumph over Satan, the scriptures tend to be multilayered with meaning. “Her seed” also brings to mind women’s procreative powers, both Eve’s and her daughters’. The second connection is what comes next as the Lord turns to Eve and continues:

“I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children.” Genesis 3:16

The Great Quest of Life

Much has been argued in recent years about the unfair burden with which biology saddles women in human reproduction. What I want to consider for a moment is whether that “unfair burden” is, in fact, a boon. And I think the answer depends on our objective for coming to Earth in the first place. What was it about the opportunity for mortality, including all its attendant difficulties, that led us to shout for joy (Job 38:7)? I doubt that it was because we were excited to launch stellar careers in pursuit of wealth and exploitive power. Nor was it an eagerness to spend our lives in the pursuit of sensual pleasures. I believe it was because we wanted to grow to be like our Heavenly Parents: beings of pure, unalloyed love. Just before giving His life for us, Jesus taught,

“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” John 15:13

I believe that, whatever our gender, the pinnacle of success is to learn to love as Jesus does (see Moroni 7:46-48). And to that end, I see the “burdens” of motherhood as a very generous boost forward.

Childbearing Is a Crucible

We each experience the burdens of childbearing differently, but they tend to be intense to the point of transforming us and teaching us Christlike love. For myself, with my five babies, I suffered unrelenting nausea from about 6 to 20 weeks. At night, I had recurring dreams that I was sitting at a banquet of food, only to wake up in the morning, weak with hunger and unable to tolerate the thought of eating anything. I frequently felt like I was starving, and I worried about my baby. My doctor told me that was one thing I did not have to worry about. My body would deplete its own resources and hold onto enough food to nourish my baby. In my case, he was right. My babies were born large and healthy, even though their mother spent the first half of pregnancy looking very, very ill.

And then there was birth. I heard birth stories before I was a mother and pushed the traumatic elements aside. People reassured me that I’d forget the worst of it. That’s probably true. But I remember the first time those squeezing pains consumed my world. This was a normal childbirth. There was no back labor, and the baby wasn’t breach. But this did not feel like something my body had been created and prepared to do. It felt wrong and dangerous, and I realized I could die. I thought about how my mother (who did have complicated deliveries) survived this, and her mother before her, and so on, all the way back to Eve. But I also thought about many other mothers who did not. I comforted myself that maternal mortality is negligible in the developed world. But even in a modern hospital bed with a well-trained medical team attending me, I felt I was walking through the valley of the shadow of death.

Then, finally, I had a baby; an innocent who was wholly attuned to me, for whom I had just endured nine months of sickness, discomfort, and alienation from my own body, followed by a brief but intense transition of surprising pain. Each of my little ones was fully, sometimes terrifyingly dependent on me for life as well as for comfort and nurture. And I alone could suckle, comfort, and protect them like no-one else in this world. The love of this precious baby transformed me into a willing sufferer for my child’s sake. My experience differs from other women in the details, but there tend to be a lot of similarities in the general outline. I believe there is significance in Isaiah’s comparing the Atonement to childbirth (Isaiah 53:11) and pointing to a nursing mother’s love as the closest earthly equivalent to the Saviour’s (Isaiah 49:15). I think that says important things about how childbearing speeds us along the way to developing Christlike love.

Other Avenues for Developing Christlike Love

That is not to say that childbearing is the only peaceable avenue for us to follow Jesus Christ in suffering, bleeding and even grappling with death for the sake of another. The scriptures are full of references to others who learned Christ-like, sacrificial love without bearing children. There was Esther, whose faith and courage led her to risk execution in order to save her entire people. And there were numerous faithful high priests who laboured in the spirit, wrestled in prayer, endured violent persecution, and even put their lives on the line in order to bring souls to God. (It’s interesting that Paul compared his ministry to childbirth, calling his converts “my little children of whom I travail in birth … until Christ be formed in you” [Galatians 4:19]).

What is unique about childbearing is that it’s virtually the only way that suffering, bleeding and risking death for another comes almost by default, decreed by our biology and, at least until the modern day, with very limited avenues for backing out.

Childbearing is a crucible that carves out reservoirs of love in our hearts. It also acquaints us with vulnerability and teaches us something about the value of every human being. When we voluntarily endure pain, privation and even risk our lives to bring life to another, we partake of godliness. As a result, Satan’s lies to diminish that godliness tends to fall rather flat, as long as we do not get entangled in those lies.

Satan’s Response

It is not surprising that the enmity between Satan and women goes both ways. If we were going to be fortified against him, he was going to wage war on us. And he would do it in the worst way possible. Not only would he commission his sworn servants against us, but, more importantly, he would mingle his hatred with the true word of God to try and turn our strength against us.

When exactly Satan authored the lie that women were inferior to or less important than men is lost to history. The doctrine has been as pervasive as it is false. Of special note, though, is its tendency to steal credibility from the story of the Fall (because it was Eve who first partook of the forbidden fruit and then persuaded Adam to do likewise) and then to entrench itself among the people of the Abrahamic covenant. For example, according to a podcast with Book of Mormon Central co-founder Dr. Lynne Wilson, the attitude of the Pharisees toward women was extremely demeaning around the time of Jesus Christ. Women were wholly dismissed as temptresses; they were to call their husband’s “rab” (meaning master), to be hidden from view (they must show neither their hair nor their ankles), silent (if a woman’s voice was heard outside of the home, her husband had a religious duty to divorce her), confined to the women’s section of the home, and not even worthy of engaging the conversation of their husbands (in fact, some taught that a man would go to hell if he wasted time conversing with a woman, because he should be studying the law instead and women were the source of temptation). Women were considered so untrustworthy they were not allowed to testify in court. By contrast, Jesus’ treatment of women — His eating and conversing with them, treating them as His disciples, traveling with them, and making them His first witnesses (both of His coming and of His resurrection) — was a shocking shake-up of those norms. Clearly, the misogyny of those who professed to follow Jehovah did not come from Him.

Aligned With the Family Proclamation

As Latter-day Saints, we recognize that the misguided views of Pharisees toward women is not in line with Heavenly Fathers plan. In fact, in the family proclamation we are specifically counseled that although women and men may have different roles in a covenant family, they are equal partners in their roles.

“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.”

Patriarchy Verses Patriarch

Today, the coercive socialization that seeks to keep women “in their place,” and submissive to male authority is generally blamed on the patriarchy. But that’s an oversimplification. And while I agree that patriarchy is oppressive in the forms that it’s been practiced throughout history, I disagree that any of those forms resemble the patriarchal order that the Father established with Adam and Eve.

Patriarch is the key word in both terms. It derives from the Greek patēr, meaning father (or patria, meaning family) and archēs, meaning chief, leader or ruler. From my study, I’m persuaded that the key difference between the two concepts lies in the specific meaning of the word archēs: that it means “leader” in the case of the patriarchal order, as opposed to “chief” or “ruler,” in the case of patriarchy.

Jesus’ Instructive Example of Presiding

I realize my analysis runs counter to wording of Genesis 3:19, which tells us God indicated that Adam would “rule over” Eve. But that language was written much later, after Satan had been actively promoting misogyny and unrighteous dominion in all aspects of human life for millennia.

God speaks to us according to our language and understanding. He teaches us line upon line and takes the long view to leading humanity out of darkness. That’s part of the reason that the teachings of the current prophet take precedence over those of the prophets who have gone before. So, I’m inclined to look at the example of Jesus Christ and modern revelation in order to come up with a better understanding of the patriarchal order.

As far as modern revelation goes, I’m surprised that I can’t find the term “patriarchal order” anywhere in the standard works of scripture. The closest I can get is this, from The Family Proclamation, “By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness”.

There’s a lot of confusion about what it means to preside. But it would be hard to argue that it means something different from what Jesus demonstrated. His example on this was just as shockingly counter-cultural as His treatment of women. According to Dr. Wilson,  a master teacher was so highly esteemed in Jesus’s day that his students might seek to fill the role of his servant in order to spend more time with him. This could be abused, so the pharisees created rules about what sort of duties a disciple would be permitted to fill. He could, for example, feed his rabbi or help his rabbi dress. One thing he could not do, because it was too far beneath him, was wash his rabbi’s feet. It’s no wonder, then, that Peter was horrified when Jesus did for the disciples the demeaning duty that was forbidden for them to do for Him.

On that occasion, Jesus said,

“Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.” John 13: 13-15

He then proceeded to Gethsemane and on to Calvary, where he suffered, bled and died on behalf of all those over whom He presides.

From Jesus’ example we learn that presiding is not about being “above” or in charge of anybody else. It was Satan’s plan to force obedience. Jesus presided by serving, loving, and taking upon Himself the responsibility to carve from His own flesh a way for us to return to the Father. He didn’t see any duty as beneath Him. And He reserved His stinging words, not for the woman taken in adultery, not for the publicans and self-acknowledged sinners, but for the scribes and pharisees who used their power to condemn and control.

Leading Us to Sanctification

Doctrine and Covenants 121:36-46 teaches that it is the “nature and disposition of almost all men” to abuse the authority with which they’re entrusted. But the priesthood is an antidote to that tendency. It is “inseparably connected with the powers of heaven” and wholly dependent upon “the principles of righteousness.” Presiding does not mean exercising “control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of men” but instead, practicing “persuasion…long-suffering…gentleness and meekness, and… love unfeigned; By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile”. There are times when the one who presides needs to reprove, like Jesus when He cleared the temple and reproved the scribes and pharisees. But those times are to be directed by the Holy Spirit and followed by a demonstration of increased love. By following the path of committed, long-suffering love, the one who presides obtains an ‘everlasting dominion” that flows to him forever, “without compulsory means.”

What I have come to believe is that the patriarchal order is God’s system for imbuing His love in His children and building with fathers and mothers a covenantal relationship that redounds in blessings upon our children. Within that order, He gave to women the crucible of child-bearing; and to men, the crucible of priesthood service. Both roles, when embraced with an understanding of what they’re all about, are equal in their power to lead us toward sanctification.

We invite you to continue reading next weeks’ conclusion of “Satan’s War on Women – Part 2 – The True Enemy.”

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