I still have a “church” itch as the idea is found in the BoM. So below, in no particular order, are some observations and thoughts as they stand now:
Gendered imagery in the Bible illustrating the relationship between God (or Christ) and his people, represented by Israel, Jerusalem or the Church, is pretty common. In Revelation alone, there are multiple striking images such as the Cosmic Woman of Revelation 12, the Whore of Babylon (Revelation 17) or the “Bride, the wife of the Lamb” in Revelation 21.
The BoM is different. The GA Church is female, but of the naughty type and highly disfavored for it. Instead, the church/people of God is/are defined by what they think, that is, they share a set of beliefs with God. It’s a rational rather than an emotional relationship; right now it seems like two guys who’ve decided to hang out together. God is the dominant partner.
Love in the Bible can be quite passionate. It also expresses itself in a variety of forms: between genders, between men, and occasionally it even involves children. God’s love for his creation is so intense he’s said to be “jealous” in some translations, and Christ’s love for the church is the example for human marriage.
In contrast, the BoM seems a bit bloodless. Love of God might be mentioned most often, or perhaps love for one’s brethren. In any case, it is mostly platonic and impersonal; it works itself out in charity rather than sexuality. God’s love for the world is expressed in an allusion to John 3:16, but unless I missed something no love for the church is vocalized.
The BoM church has rights and privileges (Alma 2:4; 61:14; 3 Ne 2:12), which are a masculine prerogative. That’s quite a distance from the “feminine” vulnerability of the NT church. Or, if we were ever to establish the BoM church as feminine, we might say she’s a bit liberated.
There are three places where it strikes me that there’s something of a “feminine” feeling associated with the word “church:”
- When Alma the Younger was being naughty, he was said to be “stealing away the hearts of the people” (Mos 27:9). With this in mind, when the angel shows up to check Alma’s behavior, it’s almost like one man warning another to stay away from his girl.
- And then there’s Amalickiah, who, “because he was a man of cunning device and a man of many flattering words,…he led away the hearts of many people to do wickedly” (Alma 46:10).
- When the post-resurrection church falls apart, the apostates are said to “build up churches unto themselves, and adorn them with all manner of precious things,” that is, the churches are “dressed” like women by their proud masculine owners (4 Ne 41).
So the church-as-a-woman is swayed from her true love by the pretty words of smart men, except when she’s a trophy wife of her human founders. Gack!
I dunno. Maybe it’s just because I hang out with Catholics and they have a rich, if ambivalent, strand of tradition portraying the church as Holy Mother Church, but this is depressing. I hope somebody’s got some happier ideas about BoM ecclesiology than I do right now.