On July 28, 1847, just four days after the Saints arrived in the Salt Lake Valley, President Brigham Young saw the Salt Lake Temple in vision.  He testified to the members of the church that, “The vision of it was there. I see it as plainly as if it was in reality before me.” President Young later sketched a drawing of the magnificent structure he had seen in vision for Truman O. Angell, the master architect appointed to plan and direct the construction of the temple. On April 6, 1893, the Salt Lake Temple was dedicated and the vision of a prophet of God had been fulfilled.
Just like the Salt Lake Temple was seen spiritually before it was created physically, we were created spiritually before we were created physically. This “spiritual blueprint” is described in Moses 3:5: “For I, the Lord God, created all things, of which I have spoken, spiritually, before they were naturally upon the face of the earth.” The united voices of prophets and apostles in “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” testify that we are “beloved spirit son[s] or daughter[s] of heavenly parents” who existed before mortal birth. When combined, these beautiful doctrines provide clarity, comfort and peace in a world that is swirling in confusion about gender and identity.
The Architecture of Eternal Gender and Identity
Our heavenly parents are the master architects of our spirits and, like temples, our bodies have been designed for a sacred purpose. “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” also teaches us that “all human beings—male and female—are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny. Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.” This statement emphasizes just how important gender is in God’s eyes. Not only is gender a crucial characteristic of our existence, it actually defines our very identity and purpose.
Because of its centrality to Heavenly Father’s plan for each of His children, it’s important to recognize that our individual gender did not begin at birth, but rather began premortally. President Boyd K. Packer taught: “We know that gender was set in the premortal world” and “from our premortal life we were directed into a physical body. There is no mismatching of bodies and spirits.” Elder Richard G. Scott also taught that the creation of male and female children of God “was done spiritually in your premortal existence when you lived in the presence of your Father in Heaven. Your gender existed before you came to earth.”
The doctrinal truths about the nature of our gender can help us navigate the stormy seas of rapid social change. They provide much needed clarification and certainty in a time of confusion.
One Unit: The Spirit, Body and Soul
From the earliest days of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, scripture has taught that the spirit is in the likeness of the physical body and the body and spirit are eternally bonded together, comprising the soul of a man or woman (see Spirit in Bible Dictionary). The first revelation on this doctrine was given to the Prophet Joseph Smith in D&C 77:2, where learn “that which is spiritual being in the likeness of that which is temporal; and that which is temporal in the likeness of that which is spiritual; the spirit of man in the likeness of his person.” In a later statement given to the worldwide church as early as 1909, the First Presidency declared, “The creation was twofold—first spiritual, secondly temporal. … The spirit of man is in the form of man, and the spirits of all creatures are in the likeness of their bodies.” In other words, our physical bodies look like our spirits. What a profound truth!
The bond forged between the spirit and the body is described in more detail by Elder James E. Talmage: “The body takes form as male or female, according to the gender of the spirit whose appointment it is to tenant that body. … Man is man, and woman is woman, fundamentally, unchangeably, eternally.” The spirit and the body, welded in an eternal and enduring link, continues in the resurrection when “our spirits will be reunited with the same body of flesh and bone it possessed as a mortal.”
Of this unbreakable, unchangeable bond between the body and spirit, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland taught:
“First, we simply must understand the revealed, restored Latter-day Saint doctrine of the soul, and the high and inextricable part the body plays in that doctrine. One of the “plain and precious” truths restored to this dispensation is that “the spirit and the body are the soul of man”. … Perhaps here Paul’s warning to the Corinthians takes on newer, higher meaning:
. . . Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?
For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s. (1 Corinthians 6:13-20)
When pieced together and viewed through an eternal lens, we see how just deeply these truths interconnect. While the philosophies of the world teach that the spirit and the body can be disconnected (and even interchangeable), Elder Dallin H. Oaks testified that “modern revelation makes clear that what we call gender was part of our existence prior to our birth.”
Gratefully, the restored gospel of Jesus Christ provides doctrinal clarity about the eternal, welded link between the body and spirit, and indeed, the very soul.
The Divine Architectural Design
“The Family: A Proclamation to the World” teaches that each son or daughter of heavenly parents is beloved and has a divine nature. Because of this, we understand that maleness and femaleness are not simply biological but divinely instituted, with each person possessing unique attributes, responsibilities and blessings that transcend mortality. Speaking to the worldwide church, General Young Women President Margaret D. Nadauld taught:
“That women were born into this earth female was determined long before mortal birth, as were the divine differences of male and female. I love the clarity of the teachings of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve in the proclamation on the family, where they state, “Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.” From that statement we are taught that every girl was feminine and female in spirit long before her mortal birth.”
Just as every woman was female in spirit long before this life, every man was masculine and male in spirit before he came to earth because, as Elder M. Russell Ballard taught, “The premortal and mortal natures of men and women were specified by God Himself.”
Our gender is not socially constructed or assigned at birth. Rather, our gender is divinely constructed and an essential characteristic of our eternal identity and purpose within the great plan of happiness.
Just like temples, the centrality of gender for every man, woman and child’s eternal identity and purpose is interwoven throughout the plan of happiness. We not only know who we are, but whose we are. We are children of heavenly parents. They are the master architects who created us for a divine purpose that transcends this mortal world. They love us more than we can possibly comprehend. Because of this, these truths will always be opposed by the adversary of truth.
As Elder David A. Bednar warned:
“More recently the devil has attempted to combine and legally validate confusion about gender. … Satan works unremittingly to confuse understanding about gender, to promote the premature and unrighteous use of procreative power, and to hinder righteous marriage precisely because marriage is ordained of God and the family is central to the plan of happiness. … [Satan] persistently strives to confuse the divinely appointed purposes of gender, marriage, and family. Throughout the world, we see growing evidence of the effectiveness of Satan’s efforts.”
Elder Bednar further explains that because gender “in large measure defines who we are, why we are here upon the earth, and what we are to do and become” and that “Satan’s most strenuous opposition is directed at whatever is most important to the Father’s plan” it is no wonder that there will be strenuous efforts to redefine these truths.
The world around us is engaging in many forms of “spiritual identity theft” to try to distort, confuse and diminish our understanding of divine nature. We can, however, discern truth from error as we follow this wise counsel from Elder M. Russell Ballard: “Brothers and sisters, keep the doctrine of Christ pure and never be deceived by those who tamper with the doctrine.”
Through a careful study of this often misunderstood but long-taught doctrine, we can strengthen our discernment and gain spiritual confidence in a world that is searching for peace and truth. We can provide clarity to loved ones about these eternal truths because, as President Dallin H. Oaks taught, “Latter-day Saints who understand God’s plan of salvation have a unique worldview that helps them see the reason for God’s commandments, the unchangeable nature of His required ordinances, and the fundamental role of our Savior, Jesus Christ.”
How grateful we are for living prophets and apostles who guide us in these last days. As we follow their teachings, we can take courage and, with confidence, testify of pure doctrine to the rising generation as they face an increasingly confusing world.