Exaltation for Mormon Women: The Romney Objection

One of the first sources I ever read for information on Mormonism came from an entry in a book entitled Concise Dictionary of Cults and Religions by William Watson (Chicago, Il.: Moody Press, 1991). It was during my sophomore year of high school (1997-1998) that I borrowed the book from my aunt. I now know that the excerpt was shoddy and presented a very skewed view of Mormonism, but one line in particular still haunts me (emphasis mine):

Mormonism’s view of the Trinity is not the same as that of orthodox Christianity. God “was once as we are now and is an exalted man. The Father has a body of flesh and bone as tangible as man’s.” Every Mormon male can seek to become a god. This doctrine is clearly polytheism. Jesus is one god among many gods; the spirit brother of Lucifer; a polygamist. The Holy Spirit is personage of spirit. [1]

My 16-year-old self balked at that line. I found it incredible that anyone could believe in a religion where men could seek to become gods, but women could not. As it turned out, most of my LDS friends balked at that line as well. Throughout the remainder of high school and my undergraduate years at BYU, whenever the subject came up, my Mormon friends would assure me that women could become gods just as men could. I soon decided that this had been one of the many inaccuracies in the Dictionary’s entry on Mormonism and allowed the matter to slip from my mind.

Today I am not so certain that the dictionary was wrong altogether, as opposed to presenting an older strain of LDS thought that is now very rare. Consider what Bruce R. McConkie had to say about the exaltation of women in Mormon Doctrine (under the entry for “QUEENS;” emphases his): 

If righteous men have power through the gospel and its crowning ordinance of celestial marriage to become kings and priests to rule in exaltation forever, it follows that the women by their side (without whom they cannot attain exaltation) will be queens and priestesses. (Rev. 1:6; 5:10.) Exaltation grows out of the eternal union of a man and his wife. Of those whose marriage endures in eternity, the Lord says, “Then shall they be gods” (D. & C. 132:20); that is, each of them, the man and the woman, will be a god. As such they will rule over their dominions forever. [2]

And now consider that this entry made it onto apostle Marion G. Romney’s list of objections to the book:

January 28, 1959

Dear President McKay:

This is my report on MORMON DOCTRINE, by Bruce R. McConkie, which on January 5, you asked me to read.

As to the book itself, notwithstanding its many commendable and valuable features and the author’s assumption of “sole and full responsibility” for it, its nature and scope and the authoritative tone and style in which it is written pose the question as to the propriety of the author’s attempting such a project without assignment and supervision from him whose right and responsibility it is to speak for the Church on “Mormon Doctrine.” Had the work been authoritatively supervised, some of the following matters might have been omitted and the treatment of others modified.

C. Miscellaneous Interpretations. (Exhibit IV)

Women to be gods, page 551 [3]

One could argue that the specifics of Romney’s objection are not entirely clear from this brief description, but McConkie’s own entry was concise and left little room for interpretation. It would seem, then, that Romney’s objection had to do with McConkie’s declaration that women could become gods. The church certainly teaches that women can now, and even quotes this excerpt in its current manuals. [4] But it would appear that not all Mormon leaders have always believed that women could become gods—or perhaps, have not wanted members to think that it was incumbent upon them to believe such.

Whatever phases and transitions the Mormon doctrine of exaltation has gone through, it has always been a given that men can become gods. The nature of what a “god” is has been subject to interpretation and debate, but that men could become such a thing never has been. That this was ever even a question where women are concerned is significant.



[1] William Watson, Concise Dictionary of Cults and Religions (Chicago, Ill.: Moody Press, 1995), 155.

[2] Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine (Salt Lake City, Ut.: Bookcraft, 1998), 613. I typed this out of my personal copy of the book, which is an 18th printing of the 2nd edition. However, a friend who owns a 1st edition (1958) of the book has confirmed to me that the entry on “QUEENS” is the same. It is found on p. 551 of the 1st edition.

[3] Marion G. Romney to David O. McKay, 28 January 1959, in possession of the Historical Department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Scanned copy available online here.

[4] For example, see here.


Exaltation for Mormon Women: The Romney Objection — 15 Comments

  1. Don’t worry about some un-official report. As McConkie says the scriptures are clear: women are to become “queens and priestesses” right along side men. (Rev. 1:6; 5:10.) “Then shall they be gods” is not male specific but clearly implies both. (D. & C. 132:20) There’s some more sacred stuff I am not going to quote (from you know where) but it should be obvious the canonized scriptures and the temple in this case support McConkie, not Romney.

    Sisters, you will be exalted right next to (not behind) you husbands if you both live so worthy. This is reenforced both in the scriptures and especially in the temple.

  2. Jack’s post is not about uncovering the “truth” of exaltation, but providing evidence for different strains of thought regarding it in Mormon history. Out of the two, I’m surprised it is McConkie on the side of women.

  3. Your post makes some big leaps based on not much more than inference and speculation. Consider for example these statements by Pres. Romney:

    “Husbands and wives are equal partners, particularly Latter-day Saint husbands and wives. They should so consider themselves and so treat each other in this life, and then they will do so throughout eternity.

    “As has already been said, “The man is not without the woman in the Lord, neither is the woman without the man in the Lord; … no man can be saved and exalted in the kingdom of God without the woman, and no woman can reach the perfection and exaltation in the kingdom of God alone. … [God] made man in his own image and likeness male and female, and in their creation it was designed that they should be united together in sacred bonds of marriage, and one is not perfect without the other.” (Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine, 1939, p. 272.)”

  4. That D&C 132:20 “clearly implies both” genders was evidently not clear to Marion G. Romney.

    > “Sisters, you will be exalted right next to (not behind) you husbands if you both live so worthy.”

    Can you honestly say that about our Heavenly Mother? Is she really functioning beside him? Or is Heavenly Father “protecting” her right now? Is he putting himself in front of her to protect her name? It seems unlikely that the LDS Church would come out with an “official” clarification. Members seem stuck with the ever-questionable speculations of other members. Or worse, Mormon philosophers.

    Interesting that McConkie says in p. 117 of Mormon Doctrine that men and women can become “gods in their own right.” I wonder what he means by “in their own right” here?

    Also, when the next generation of CES manuals is more purged of quotes from Mormon Doctrine, these quotes (in the fourth footnote of Jack’s article) will presumably be purged as well. Will there be any leftover statements specifying that women can indeed become gods?

  5. Carol Lynn Pearson mentioned how BYU Religion Professor Rodney Turner was very admit that women could not become Gods/Goddesses. I sure wish I could find that link again. Note that Turner also wrote “Women and the Priesthood”.

    I also have both the 1958 & later edition “Mormon Doctrine”, and the entry for “Queens” is identical.

  6. Okay, just rescued a bunch of comments from spam.

    #1 Joseph Smidt ~ What WalkerW said. Remember, I don’t believe in any of the Mormon teachings on deification, so I’m not concerning myself with which version of Mormon exaltation is “true.” I’m only concerning myself with how Mormon teachings on exaltation have changed over time, and what factors influenced those changes.

    I actually think that the current temple liturgy works against the idea of women becoming gods in the same sense that men will be. While I intend to discuss that in my thesis, I don’t know if I will ever discuss it at WWE. This blog is a partnership with believing and active Mormons and I don’t intend on offending anyone.

    #3 WalkerW & #9 Grant ~ Out of the two, I’m surprised it is McConkie on the side of women.

    Ironic to see McConkie taking the more progressive stance…

    That was exactly what I thought.

    #4 Seth ~ Significant in understanding what the LDS church has taught about exaltation for women, and exaltation in general. I’m hoping to have two more posts on the subject before the month is up, though we’ll see where the wind bloweth me.

    #5 Flagar ~ Yes, that is a quote from President Romney (1978), after the establishment of second-wave feminism, not apostle Romney (1959), which is what’s under discussion. Even so:

    – Romney doesn’t expressly say anything about women becoming gods in that quote.

    – “Equal partners” has a rather nebulous use in LDS discourse, since it’s used right alongside subordinating terms such as “hearken,” “obey,” and “preside.” It’s presumptuous to think that a person who affirms that men and women are “equal partners” also believes that women are becoming gods in the same sense that men are. (I’m actually curious to know, and trying to find out, when Mormon leaders began using the term “equal partners” to describe husbands and wives. Your Romney quote is the first usage of it in the online Ensign archive at LDS.org going back to 1971, so no one used the term in the Ensign from 1971-1977.)

    – Nobody is denying that Mormon women are necessary for men’s exaltation, or that women have been taught that they will have something called “exaltation” (which is what the Joseph F. Smith quote affirms). That has most definitely always been the case. But being necessary is not the same thing as being equal, and what’s in question here is what “exaltation” for Mormon women means.

    I was told by a friend earlier this year that Mark E. Petersen had made a similar objection to women becoming gods in conjunction with Mormon Doctrine. I actually came across this from Romney while I was hunting for Petersen’s objection. I’m still trying to find where Petersen expressed anything similar (it’s possible my friend mixed up Petersen and Romney, who both investigated and objected to Mormon Doctrine, and that this is the quote he had in mind).

    #6 Aaron S ~ That D&C 132:20 “clearly implies both” genders was evidently not clear to Marion G. Romney.

    Exactly. What was “clear” to McConkie and what is so adamantly insisted on by almost all Mormons today based on similar clauses in the temple liturgy was not at all always “clear” to previous generations of Mormons.

    I agree that teachings on Heavenly Mother(s) have generally been key to understanding what Mormon women can expect from exaltation. I’ll be discussing that in my thesis and in a future post, maybe this month.

    #7 Mike H. ~ That’s fascinating. I’ll have to see if I can hunt that down.

    #8 Allen ~ Feel free to share if you ever complete your thoughts on it. Understanding and interpreting this data is an ongoing process for me.

  7. “I agree that teachings on Heavenly Mother(s) have generally been key to understanding what Mormon women can expect from exaltation. I’ll be discussing that in my thesis and in a future post, maybe this month.”

    I think that this is probably key to understanding Romney’s objection, too. I wonder if the objection doesn’t boil down to a semantic one on the issue of who presides over things.

  8. #11 Allen ~ Possible, but if so, he didn’t read McConkie carefully, because elsewhere McConkie affirms that “man holds the priesthood and is the head of the household of faith.” See the entry on “WOMAN.”

  9. Betsy ~ Welcome to commenting. For my own part, I’m thoroughly familiar with Hudson’s arguments & not impressed. I don’t want to get into that here because I don’t think she says anything in her testimony that directly pertains to my OP. She will be cited in my thesis several times as an example of someone trying to interpret LDS theology and doctrine in a (faux?)-feminist light.