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The Proclamation and Me

Preparing the elder's quorum lesson this week, I ran across two quotes from President McKay that ably explain how I have made peace with the Proclamation (I didn't initially realise that this was something I had to do, but time, talking with my wife and other women, and confusion have led me to this position). It also provides some insight into what exactly is wrong with unrighteous dominion.

The first is from pg. 43 in a section focused on unity in the home:
Very frequently discords arise in the home because husbands desire to save their own dignity and have their own way, have their own wishes carried out. Wives desire the same. Some exercise their prerogative to have the last word. Husbands are sometimes even more eager to have it than wives. Each really is trying to save himself or herself, and instead of having harmony and peace in the home there arises discord. Instead of saving the life of harmony in the home, you lose it, merely because you are seeking to save your own selfish life, or have your own selfish way. Better to lose that desire. Say nothing, and in losing your desire and that feeling of enmity, of ruling, of governing, you say nothing, and you gain your life in the home.

The most interesting thing about this quote to me is the identification of enmity with the idea of ruling or governing in the home. Not only is it selfish, but it is an act of hate (or pride in the Pres. Benson sense). It really is perplexing that some areas of Mormon culture continue to perpetuate the "ideal" of the patriarchal lawgiver when talks like this have been in circulation for a while. Unrighteous dominion is an act of hate, against both the dominated and (in the Pres. Benson sense) God himself.

The second quote is from pp. 45-46 in a section dealing with unity in the church:
The greatest safeguard we have for unity and strength in the Church is found in the priesthood, by honoring and respecting it. Oh, my brethren—presidents of stakes, bishops of wards, and all who hold the priesthood—God bless you in your leadership, in your responsibility to guide, to bless, to comfort the people whom you have been appointed to preside over and to visit. Guide them to go to the Lord and seek inspiration so to live that they may rise above the low and the mean, and live in the spiritual realm.

Recognize those who preside over you and, when necessary, seek their advice.

The setting is clearly a "priesthood meeting"-type setting, meaning that he is primarily talking to ecclesiastical leaders and dealing with issues of ecclesiastical unity. The way he uses "preside" here (the most problematic of the three p's in the Proclamation) is interesting. We should recognize those who preside and seek advice (when necessary). Those who preside "over" are to comfort, to bless, to visit, and to guide under the blessing of God.

My question is, does the description of presiding given in the second quote work well with the description of "governing" in the family as hatred? I am not certain that it does. I have long had the feeling that "presiding" means fundamentally different things in the church and in the family. Whereas in the ecclesiastical order it does imply a type of governing power (delegated to leaders as they accurately represent the will of Jesus Christ (as far as possible)), I don't believe that it carries that connotation in the family.

Instead, may I offer as an alternative, that to preside (in the family setting) may mean something along the lines of "to represent". Ultimately, because unrighteous dominion is hateful to God and humanity, we are only presided "over" by our choice. Attempts to force conformity from the top down usually fail; power rests with the people. But the Church views itself as a top-down organization. The primary responsibility of the prophets and apostles is to represent the will of God to the people, not the other way around. In the ecclesiastical setting, this representation takes the form of the highest ranking worthy holder of the priesthood being acknowledged in some way. It shows that the meeting is authorized by the hierarchy and, in particularly, that someone authorized in this setting to speak for God is present and that he will correct any mistakes that we (the less-authorized) might make.

But this cannot be the way the family works. In the family, both parents are to be considered equal partners. The fact that one can openly use the priesthood cannot, according to D&C 121: 39-44, be used as a means of establishing dominion or governance in the family. Both father and mother are in the same boat, gaining power to govern within the father as it is delegated to them within the family. This generally means that within the family, the mother has greater power to govern because she has earned more trust from the family members than the father, having (stereotypically) spent more time with them. Nevertheless, in a two-parent household, both parents negotiate between themselves and with the children what exactly those powers for governance are that the parents hold individually and jointly. None of that has anything to do with the priesthood.

So what does presiding have to do with the family? Well, presiding in the ecclesiastical sense is based on the idea that the ecclesiastical leader is representing the Savior (and the leader is worthy so to do and that the leader is doing a good job of it). It is in this less governmental sense that I think presiding enters into the family. The father's role as a "presider" in the family is to represent the interests of the church (and, ideally, Christ). The mother's role is to represent the interests of the family (and, ideally, Christ). Between the two roles, the co-equal partners negotiate a way to satisfy both sets of interests in the family. Ideally, both will always agree, but I believe that life is complex enough that negotiation between the two viewpoints is necessary to create the sort of family with whom the Spirit can be found.

So, that is my theory. I know it has a couple of holes in it and I know that it may not represent any sort of reality outside of my head, but it became necessary to develop it as I found myself caught in a sort of double bind between the equal partner clause and the "traditional" meanings of preside in the Proclamation. I do think that there might be something to this reinterpretation of "preside". If nothing else, I feel like it gets rid of the double bind there. And Pres. McKay's comments seemed to illustrate what I was getting at. So, what do you think?

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Blogger Peggy Snow Cahill said ... (March 13, 2005 7:12 PM) 

Great piece! The only "hole" I might see is in putting the father as acting in the "church interests" and the mother in the "family interests" as an artificial division. Ideally, I think, a couple begin their relationship believing that the "church interests" (that is to say, the implementation of the gospel of Jesus Christ) which is really only the Lord's way to happiness IS the best thing for the "family interests". Or in other words, I think that they need to be united in realizing that living the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the best way for the family to be happy.


Blogger HP said ... (March 13, 2005 7:38 PM) 

I agree that the division between family and church is somewhat artificial. But I can imagine situations where they speak to competing interests. For instance, if the mother or father has an intense calling and is away from the home quite a bit, obviously some sort of accomodation needs to be worked out between the parents to keep things running smoothly in the home. Here is where I see the parents slipping into the roles (although I don't really believe in the exclusivity of the roles; I just assigned them to genders to accomodate the gender language in the Proclamation).
That said, I agree. I do believe that, ultimately, doing what Christ wants you to do is in everyone's best interest.


Blogger Ronan said ... (March 13, 2005 7:49 PM) 

Hey, so what do you think of the injunction that women should obey their husbands, whereas husbands only need to obey God?


Blogger HP said ... (March 13, 2005 10:10 PM) 

Er...I could do with a little more interpretation on the Wow there.

Regarding the injunction, I would say that the context in which we get it is ripe with symbol and metaphor and that the same context has changed at least once within our lifetimes. So, I am not sure a literal interpretation of the injunction is the most appropriate way of taking it.

Additionally, if you wanted to take a literal interpretation, it wouldn't create a "governor". Reason being that the injunction asks the woman to obey only when the husband is obeying God. So, this wouldn't be a case of unrighteous dominion because it would never be the husband pulling rank; it would be God. Anyone who believes that only husbands receive revelation for the family has not been married for very long.

In any case, I would likely interpret it in the same way I am interpreting the Proclamation in order to avoid the double bind. The roles assigned could once again define the paramount interests (generally speaking) for the equal partners (God/church for the husband; husband/famiily for the wife; in both cases, subject to God).

Or, of course, I could be wrong about all of this.


Blogger Peggy Snow Cahill said ... (March 14, 2005 7:08 AM) 

I think it has something to do with the authority/responsibility connection. The Bishop or other leaders have authority, but they also have the responsibility for what they do with that authority. If I follow my Bishop's counsel, and he is wrong, ultimately he will have to give an accounting for that. Same thing, if I follow my husband's counsel, in good faith, and if he has given me bad direction, he will have to answer for that ultimately. That is why I have never had any desire to hold the Priesthood. The responsibilities which the Lord gave women are enough for me, without more added on top. So, I gladly look to my husband for leadership, and follow his counsel. Does that mean he is in authority over me? Yeah, to some extent, and to that same extent, he will be responsible for it.
Does that make any sense? Of course, we as women are not obligated to do everything our husbands say...only insofar as they hearken to the word of the Lord. I mean, I wouldn't do anything wicked even if my husband insisted (which he wouldn't!), so one's own good judgment and spiritual awareness also come into play. Hope I didn't just compound the confusion!


Blogger HP said ... (March 14, 2005 8:35 AM) 

Peggy, your approach is interesting. The problem I have with it is the D&C 121 is pretty clear: attempts to maintain and exert power by invocation of the priesthood alone are unrighteous dominion. So, I don't believe that the stewardship model must apply in family dynamics the way it applies in ecclesiastical settings. Ultimately, regarding family stewardship, I think both parents are held responsible.


Anonymous Russ Johnston said ... (March 14, 2005 9:25 AM) 


I don't aggree with your assertion that there is a difference between church leaders and fathers. It's not that fathers have more authority, but that church leaders have less than you claim. Section 121 applies to both. Church leaders cannot assert authority by virtue of the priesthood any more than fathers can.


Anonymous Russ Johnston said ... (March 14, 2005 9:26 AM) 


I don't aggree with your assertion that there is a difference between church leaders and fathers. It's not that fathers have more authority, but that church leaders have less than you claim. Section 121 applies to both. Church leaders cannot assert authority by virtue of the priesthood any more than fathers can.


Blogger HP said ... (March 14, 2005 10:34 AM) 

The reason why I find a difference between the ecclesiasical order and the familial order is that I don't think it is a sin for authorized priesthood leaders to "govern" in the church, but, according to Pres. McKay, it would be a sin for a father (or a mother) to "govern" in the family. For example, priesthood leaders are authorized, in extreme cases, to exclude others from the community of believers. Parents may kick an offensive child out of the house, but the child remains their own. In both cases, there is the opportunity for unrighteous dominion (in the ecclesiastical case, trying to usurp the authority of higher-ups; in the familial case, trying to establish oneself as the sole authority).

That said, no matter what, as Peggy pointed out initially, none of it works unless all parties concerned are on the same page as God.


Anonymous J. Stapley said ... (March 14, 2005 2:45 PM) 

John, you bring up a lot of interesting points. It seems like all of this stems back to the covenants we make. There a couple of ramifications to this: The ideas for men’s and women’s roles that we are talking about apply only to only families where there is a Melkizedek Priesthood holder (and to a greater extent where the couple has gone through the Temple). These roles don’t apply to gentiles. Period.

First of all it is not because men have the priesthood and women don’t. We both have the priesthood, but there are different modes that we currently perform within the priesthood. More specifically men receive the Melkizedek priesthood by Oath and Covenant (basically saying we go to hell for sin or inaction). The covenants of the Temple are not dissimilar. It could be said that men “preside” in the home because they have taken upon themselves the consequences for the state of affairs, if you will.

It could be said that the office of Father and the office of Mother are co-equal in authority and power within the home and family. The only difference between them is that those who occupy the office of Father and have received it by Oath and Covenant have more to lose.

Basically, the tendency is to say that Men preside in the home and as a consequence they have more “responsibility”. I think it is different. I think that because of the added consequences/responsibility, the buck stops with them (which we call presiding).


Blogger HP said ... (March 14, 2005 4:16 PM) 

I am tempted to agree with you. But I find it hard to understand how the equal partners can be equal in authority within the home and still have different stewardship expectations. By this I do not mean the separation of roles (which I clearly do believe in (at least, I hope its clear)), but rather that God demands more from one parent than the other. The differing demands (if one is more strict than the other) would seem to imply different levels of stewardship (Father as manager, Mother as Assistant manager/Father as Bishop, Mother as counsellor). In each of those situations, one does have a greater stewardship, but that one is also clearly in charge.

I would like (for simplicity's sake) the same sort of order to work in both the church and the family, but, because of these sorts of issues, I cannot be sure it does. It would, as Russ suggests, mean that the Church order is less hierarchical than I had assumed. This doesn't seem to fit well with past experience, but it is interesting to ponder.


Anonymous J. Stapley said ... (March 14, 2005 4:31 PM) 

I guess that I am setting aside the verbiage and looking at the situation. If we look at an ideal family and start going down the checklist, I don’t know that we could find any real disparity in power and authority. All things would be done by common consent and Husband and Wife would have equal access to Divinity.

So where does any disparity come from? From the oaths and covenants we make. So do our Oaths and Covenants effect our praxis? They effect who administers blessings and what callings we have in the church, but that is about it.

Maybe the analogy to Church Hierarchy would be better compared to the High Councils. There is a President of the Council, but not the disparity in authority you see in say a bishopric.


Blogger HP said ... (March 14, 2005 8:24 PM) 

I like the distinction between how ecclesiastical councils work and how presidencies work that you draw. I agree that it does a better job of analogizing to family dynamics. I would probably see the mother and father as a council with Christ as the directing president.

Regarding the issue of covenants, I agree. Part of the reason for the discussion has been to divorce the "priesthood" from discussion of gender roles in marriage. I just don't think it is relevant to how the family is run (because of Pres. McKay's statements and D&C 121). If the husband happens to have the priesthood, good. It is an additional source of help and an additional opportunity for service, but it isn't one that is related to the family directly.

My mission president, Richard Chapple, used to say that motherhood wasn't equivalent to the priesthood. Instead, it was equivalent to fatherhood. The female equivalent of a priest is a priestess.


Anonymous J. Stapley said ... (March 14, 2005 11:06 PM) 

I think that your Mission President was a wise man. Everything that has been promised can be realized in this life. If we consider the ramifications of that, it further attenuates any disparity in roles.


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (April 07, 2005 1:30 PM) 

I guess it's important to find a way to interpret "preside" so that you can feel comfortable that the church isn't using it in a sexist way.

But, ultimately, the Church gives men divine authority to do things in the family that have nothing to do with representing Christ. I find the traditional gender roles reinforced by the Proclamation and other statements the Church makes to be unuseful at best, and dangerous to the status of women.


Blogger HP said ... (April 07, 2005 3:00 PM) 

the Church gives men divine authority to do things in the family that have nothing to do with representing Christ.

What exactly? How? This is a hard concept for me to get my mind around. Are you discussing church or culture?


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (April 07, 2005 4:38 PM) 

It's hopefully just Church culture, but if you read the whole post on FMH, the Church says men are in charge of family home evening, family activities, family councils, etc.

Why do you think the Church is so traditional in its gender roles? Do you think they are divinely-created? Then if they are, what should we do with all of these women who don't like being presided over? Too bad, that's the way God wants it?


Blogger fMhLisa said ... (April 07, 2005 5:15 PM) 

Nice Post John, very thoughtful. I do appreciate the efforts you and other's (like Julia) make to work within the Preside family structure. However, I still find all this backbending around preside unfortunate and ultimately think it's the wrong wrong word.


Anonymous Steve (FSF) said ... (April 07, 2005 5:17 PM) 

On the abuse of male authority thing, isn't that mostly a short guy (Napoleonic) thing both in and out of the church? The high testosterone stocky types are the worst; never met one that wasn’t an _______. It's a subconscious compensation mechanism for their much greater challenge in the sex/reproduction area (the only activity in life that counts after we’re gone in the physical realm). Tall healthy guys are just much more at ease with all aspects of life (an hence have no need to dominate anyone) because that most important area of life is so much easier for us.


Blogger HP said ... (April 07, 2005 5:57 PM) 

Steve, as a short, stocky, hairy guy, I am uncertain as to the appropriate response to your point. Vive la difference?

Lisa, I agree. That word is definitely the elephant in the room.

Anonymous, in the original FMH post, the list has been taken several different ways. I'll post my comments on the list over there. But over here, I am curious. Why wouldn't planning FHE or family counsels be an opportunity to represent Christ?

Why do you think the Church is so traditional in its gender roles? Do you think they are divinely-created? Then if they are, what should we do with all of these women who don't like being presided over? Too bad, that's the way God wants it?

I suppose that what we are all trying to do by reinterpreting "preside" is to make these sorts of questions moot. Perhaps we are arguing that it shouldn't matter if the church is traditional in its gender roles, because tradition got it wrong and the chuch has always been right. We were just too culture-bound to see what was intended all along.

I don't think that you can get out of gender essentialism in the church but I do believe that there isn't gender exclusivity. I believe that different families are allowed to make decisions over who is responsible for (or, in my language, who represents) what. I do believe that the need for the different representatives among the parents is divinely assigned, but who fulfills what is up to the family itself.

Finally, I am utterly convinced that God wants all of us to be happy. How we get there is a negotiation between us and him.


Anonymous Steve (FSF) said ... (April 07, 2005 7:41 PM) 

Sorry for this tangent, but I don’t want to leave John hanging. John -- you "sound" like a reasonably nice guy and not an _____. I certainly hope that’s the case, as I don’t know you. Please understand my comments above are my experience, which can’t be universally true, but are definitely true in general.

I do have some first hand empathy about the Napoleonic thing because of an experience before marriage. I occasionally went to those underground pay parties in Provo/Orem when between gf's. At one of them I hooked up with a gal on the hunt, but who seemed out of place at one of those things. To make a long story short, afterwards she tells me it was great, that some day I’ll settle down with someone and make her very happy, etc, etc, but I won’t be seeing her again. She goes on to say she’s engaged to a guy that her family approves of, that he’s nice, funny, smart, treats her well, etc, but he’s short, balding and she's not physically attracted to him. She explained about always dreaming about marriage to a tall man and wanting to know what it was like. I went to the toilet, threw up and was ill for days after that. I still can’t stand Napoleonics and their abuse of authority, but I do have empathy for them.


Blogger Ronan said ... (April 08, 2005 8:11 AM) 

"Underground parties" in Provo? I'm utterly devastated.


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