Just Pretend It Already Has 26 Comments . . .

July 11, 2006 | 101 comments
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. . . because this may be the longest post you’ll read this year. (I want a Niblet!!) Randy wanted me (and Nate) to explore the issue of presiding a little more on the temple thread, but some yahoo cut off comments, so Randy emailed me. Here is our discussion, with Randy’s words in italics:

I like your (and Nibley’s) view of the hearkening covenant. I heard
the Nibley quote

OK, this is me interrupting Randy’s train of thought to reproduce the infamous Nibley quote that I couldn’t find when this discussion began:

“There is no patriarchy or matriarchy in the Garden; the two supervise each other. Adam is given no arbitrary power; Eve is to heed him only insofar as he obeys their Father—and who decides that? She must keep check on him as much as he does on her. It is, if you will, a system of checks and balances in which each party is as distinct and independent in its sphere as are the departments of government under the Constitution—and just as dependent on each other.” Hugh Nibley, “Patriarchy and Matriarchy,” Old Testament and Related Studies, page 92f.

OK, back to Randy’s question:

on the bloggernacle a couple years ago now, and it strikes
me as an entirely reasonable, even the most probable, interpretation.
Yet it still seems somewhat problematic in some ways, which is where
Nate’s comment on option #1 comes in. This interpretation, as I
understand it, takes the hearkening covenant as a type of how our homes
are to be run. As Nate sees it, the symbolism suggests that the
husband “presides” (whatever that means) in the home. In other words, the
asymmetry is intentional; woman do not preside, men do. My first
question here is do you agree? By that I don’t mean, do you agree that
men preside in the home (you’ve already answered that question).
Rather, do you agree that this covenant compels/supports this view?

Yes to all of the above:

(1) The story that unfolds in the Temple involves the husband being given the role of presiding in the family.

(2) Most of us think ‘presiding’ means things that no Church leader has ever said that it means. I’ve repeatedly made the challenge to the Bloggernacle for someone to find me a statement from a Church leader stating that husbands have the last word. No one has ever produced one. (Maybe there’s one out there . . .)

(3) While the fact that husbands preside appears to create an assymetrical relationship (since wives don’t preside), wives take on a different role that provides symmetry. See the Nibley quote above. Also:

“No woman has ever been asked by the Church authorities to follow her husband into an evil pit. She is to follow him as he follows and obeys the Savior of the world, but in deciding this, she should always be sure she is fair.” Spencer W. Kimball, “The Blessings and Responsibilities of Womanhood,â€? Ensign, Mar. 1976, 70f.

Or, if you like things put a little more baldly:

“But I never counseled a women to follow her husband to the Devil.” Brigham Young, Discourses of Brigham Young, pages 200-201.

Or:

“When we speak of marriage as a partnership, let us speak of marriage as a full partnership. We do not want our LDS women to be silent partners or limited partners in that eternal assignment! Please be a contributing and full partner.” Spencer W. Kimball, “Privileges and Responsibilities of Sisters,â€? New Era, Jan.-Feb. 1979, 42f.

(4) This is a bit of a digression, but I think that one problem we (including me!) have in interpreting the temple ceremony as it relates to men’s and women’s roles is that Adam and Eve are each filling two roles: husband-wife and priesthood leader-member. How do we tell which is which? I know of no objective rubric. It does seem to me that the moments where people find the most sexism are moments where I do not think that Adam is doing husband things but rather prophet things.

This has been long. To sum: yes, men preside. This might appear uneuqal or asymmetrical until you remember that you are only looking at half of the equation. Then it appears equal in terms of responsibility, privilege, and ‘rights’, but not identical.

The reason I ask is that the way Nibley tells it (if I am remembering
correctly), the roles of men and women in the hearkening covenant are
different but equal (indeed, that is his whole point, that there is no
need for women to be concerned about the relative inequalities, because
there are none). If so, then I don’t see how Nate’s option #1
necessarily follows. But perhaps this is just a debate over what it
means to preside.

Yes, I think that is it. It is possible for one person to preside but for both people to be equal. This has been a constant theme in the addresses of members of the Q12 and FP over the past decade, but I’ve sensed that the reaction is usually (1) ‘they are talking out of both sides of their mouths! hypocrites!’ or (2) ‘this reflects a shifting paradigm; we are abandoning the preside rhetoric for the equal partnership rhetoric’. I think we at least need to try to assume that they are offering reconcilable statements. I think they reconcile because (1) preside doesn’t mean what a lot of people seem to think it means and (2) the counterpart to presiding is Eve’s responsibility to judge Adam’s counsel for herself and act according to her assessment of whether he is following the Lord.

Here’s the second part of my question: My experience personally, and
what I perceive taking place elsewhere, including in church leadership,
is that God does not direct our every move. We do our best to study
things out before hand, come to a tentative conclusion of what we
should do, and then go to the Lord asking for guidance and direction.
Sometimes we are given the go ahead, even if God perhaps would do
things a bit differently. If this view is correct, then it seems to me that
even Nibley’s view of the hearkening covenant creates unequal status in
the family. A hypothetical: Adam and Eve are facing a decision of
whether to read the BOM, the D&C, the NT, or the OT during family
scripture study this year. Adam and Eve ponder the issue, ultimately
coming to different conclusions, both for equally compelling reasons.
They take the issue to the Lord. Assume we can know (always difficult)
that the Lord leaves the decision to Adam and Eve. If so, doesn’t Adam
get what he wants? And moreover, wouldn’t Eve be in violation of her
covenant to not follow Adam’s lead? He is, after all, hearkening to
God and has suggested a righteous course of action; it’s just that God left
the decision up to them (not an uncommon occurrence), and ultimately,
at the end of the day, Adam.

I think there are two ways to look at this, I suppose which model you choose depends on the couple:

(1) The counsel of the Church has been pretty consistent that Adam does not get to have ‘the last word’ here but that they need to keep talking and praying together until they come to an agreement. They don’t proceed until there is unity. So I would dispute your statement that ‘at the end of the day’ it is Adam’s decision.

or:

(2) Most of what I consider to be presiding (calling the family to prayer, being sure family scripture study happens, etc.) are not exactly things where people have huge differences of opinion. Your situation above is interesting, but do you really think many divorces are caused by people who cannot decide which book of scripture to study that year? Most husbands and wives I know would be pretty shrugful about that one and agree to alternate days or something. Issues such as whether to move, take a different job, select from medical treatment options, have another child, etc., do not fall under the rubric of ‘presiding;’ the husband has no more decision-making authority there than the wife (see Pres. Kimball above). My point is that wives do not have their faces ground into the dust and their personal autonomy denied because their husbands are choosing who says the prayer.

Thanks, Julie. I’m going to think about this some. I think you are
right that at the end of the day, much of this comes down to what it
means to preside. Perhaps part of where things go wrong is failing to
distinguish between presiding in the home and presiding in a calling. For
example, in a Bishopric, the Bishop presides. The Bishop is counseled
to listen to his counselors, but at the end of the day, it is the
Bishop’s call whether to hold the ward picnic on Saturday afternoon rather
than Wednesday evening. While the Bishop may try and work toward
consensus, but if that is not possible, it is up to him, ultimately, to make
a decision. Perhaps presiding in the home is a different type of
animal, and is not a tool of conflict resolution at all. In fact, perhaps
presiding in the home carries exactly zero independent weight in making
decisions for the family (beyond, for example, picking out people to
pray). Under this view, presiding would be nothing more than an
assignment to see that certain issues are raised and addressed. How those
issues are resolved is left to the husband and wife, as equal partners
(which is decidedly not the case in the Bishop/Bishopric example, as there
is no suggestion that a counselor is the Bishop’s equal). So even in
my example about which book of scripture to read, the question of who
presides would be irrelevant to how the question is resolved. Is that
going to far? Not far enough?

Yep. I think that is it: presiding in the Church and presiding in the home are entirely different animals. I think this is the gist of Elder Oaks’ last talk on the subject. It is also behind President Packer’s famous “don’t treat your wife like you treat the stake” quip.

How would you affirmatively define what it means to preside (other than
to say what it is not)? Does it go beyond calling the family to prayer
and being sure family scripture study happens, or is that it?

I think you had it exactly right when you said, “an assignment to see that certain issues are raised and addressed.” The ultimate responsibility for holding FHE rests on my husband, not me. I don’t feel violated by this (and I’d go into the reasons for that, but this is already way too long). But that doesn’t mean he gets to decide what all the lessons will be about, or that we’ll hold it on the roof, or whatever. As far as making the decisions where there might be a reasonable difference of opinion, neither of us has ‘the last word’ but rather needs to work together until we reach an agreement. And if he wants all of our FHEs held under the auspices of the NFL, well, then I’m under no obligation to follow him to the devil on that one.

I really should be getting some work done, but a few more thoughts
(before they leave me):

On my second original question, on your two models, some ideas:

Take the second model first. You say “most of what I consider to be
presiding . . . are not exactly things where people have huge differences
of opinion.” I would agree, if we limit presiding to something very,
very narrow. But let’s go back to the language of the covenant: Eve
covenants to hearken to Adam as Adam hearkens to God. This strikes me as
more than just a discussion of “presiding” (in the limited sense).
After all, when I pick someone out to say a prayer, I generally am not
acting on inspiration, but am trying to think of who has not said the
prayer recently. “Hearkening” in the context of the temple covenant
surely requires more than simply deferring to the selection of who is going
to pray. It demands listening and following God’s counsel, whether
directed to the church in general or to individuals in particular.
Further, unlike presiding (narrowly defined), the hearkening covenant sounds
to me like one of several tools for resolving conflicts. Thus, in
deciding upon a course of action, whatever it may be, Adam is to hearken to
God, and Eve to Adam. This brings us back to Nibley, and the way the
husbands and wives work together to make decisions. What I was trying
to get at with my original second question is what happens when this
tool for decision making and conflict resolution does not end the matter
� e.g., God does not give a clear answer? One possible answer in that
situation is that Adam and Eve must simply find a different way to
resolve the conflict. At that point, the hearkening covenant simply has no
more applicability. Another possible answer (and one I personally
reject), is that Eve still must hearken to Adam (provided, of course, that
Adam is still hearkening to God). In other words, when God does not
give specific direction, Eve still must follow Adam. I think this view
is incorrect, but I’m trying to better understand why. After all, it
strikes me as an entirely plausible reading to say that as long as Adam
is hearkening to God, Eve must hearken to Adam, even if God is not
speaking to Adam on the particular question at issue. (And judging by the
reaction of many, some have concluded that this is what the covenant
means, for better or worse.)

I don’t think that hearkening is more than presiding, but I do think that presiding is more than calling on people to say the prayer. Maybe we need to emphasis areas where presiding can be done unilaterally (selecting people for prayers) and where it cannot (selecting topics for FHE lessons, for example). I do not see the hearkening covenant as a tool for conflict resolution, because I don’t think it implies (not have church leaders taught that it implies) any ‘last word’ authority. I will also say that I have been blessed with a decade of marriage to someone with whom I have disagreed maybe twice (about ‘real’ issues–discussing politics is another matter!), and I don’t have a backlog of personal experiences with marital conflict resolution upon which to draw. When we’ve come to the table with different views, we’ve kept talking until we were both genuinely in agreement.

Your answer to that interpretation, it seems to me, is found in your
first, not the second, model. There you say, “[t]he counsel of the
Church has been pretty consistent that Adam does not get to have ‘the last
word’ here but that they need to keep talking and praying together until
they come to an agreement. They don’t proceed until there is unity.
So I would dispute your statement that ‘at the end of the day’ it is
Adam’s decision.” A couple things. As an initial matter, just to be
clear, it is not my view that Adam gets to call all the shots (provided
they are not inconsistent with God’s counsel). That simply strikes me as
wrongheaded. (But I suspect you already knew that.) As to the
substance of your point, I think there is little question but that attitudes
towards the proper role of women have changed both inside and outside
the church over the last 150+ years. I agree that the current counsel of
the Church about Adam not having the “last word” has been consistent,
but I don’t know that I would go so far as to say that this counsel has
been consistent throughout church history. (I’ve been reading Wilford
Woodruff’s journals lately, and it’s often not pretty.) If we had to
rely on what the brethren taught about the role of women at the time the
hearkening covenant was first written, I suspect your (and my)
interpretation of this covenant would not fare so well as it does when compared
to current counsel. True, Brigham stated that a wife is not to follow
her husband to hell, but that only guts us so far � what about
matters on which there is no right or wrong answer? I suspect on that point
Brigham might come out differently than you or I would. Does that
matter?

I don’t disagree with you about what the nineteenth century Brethren taught on the matter, but I also don’t see any point in losing sleep over it. It is interesting as a historical matter, but I think one would be hard-pressed to make the case that we should follow what Pres. Woodruff said about marriage relationships instead of what Pres. Kimball did.

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101 Responses to Just Pretend It Already Has 26 Comments . . .

  1. Adam Greenwood on July 11, 2006 at 3:04 pm

    On almost every point I disagree with Julie S. here on, we’ve already discussed our disagreement ad nauseam. I leave this comments thread to other disputants.

  2. Mephibosheth on July 11, 2006 at 3:13 pm

    For me, the most important implication of a father “presiding” is in the sense that a president is someone who takes responsibility for the organization. If something is not happening right (setting aside for the separate issue of who decides what is right and how) in the family, or ward, or company, or country, the president is simply where the buck stops.

  3. Mark Butler on July 11, 2006 at 3:15 pm

    The most obvious thing about most of Nibley’s papers is that they are strikingly free of arguments. More like a long list of suggestions. Some suggestions are worthwhile, if one has reason to take the hint, but if one does not, it gets old in a big hurry. I consider his “Matriarchy and Patriarchy” paper to be one of the most poorly reasoned and scripturally unfounded things he ever wrote, and that is saying a lot.

  4. Mark Butler on July 11, 2006 at 3:26 pm

    That said, that particular paragraph of Nibley’s definitely has something to be said about it, but it should be elaborated in terms of the doctrine and principles of the priesthood, a subject about which there is an inordinate amount of material available in the New Testament and in the Doctrine and Covenants, which Nibley seems to neglect completely. In short, what is it that legitimizes righteous authority, when, why, and under what conditions? Indeed in a council relationship what is the role of the presider? Where does discretion come in to play? What legitimate discretion does the president of a council ever have? What is the role of common consent and conciliar consensus, and so on?

  5. Julie M. Smith on July 11, 2006 at 3:36 pm

    Well said, Mephibosheth.

  6. s on July 11, 2006 at 3:39 pm

    Julie, I’m not going to outline my disagreements here either, since I feel like they’ve been hashed out elsewhere (and by people much more articulate than I am on this issue). But I will ask a few questions in order to try and clarify some things I’m confused about:

    The way you describe presiding (i.e. husbands and wives pray about disagreements on important issues until they are in agreement) doesn’t sound to me like “presiding.” It sounds like mutual-decision making. Why is the concept of “preside” even necessary if this is the way that decisions are made? Does it have more to do with the issue of responsibility (i.e. your husband has ultimate responsibility for how the family runs, and you have a responsibility to make sure his efforts to do this are not amiss)? If so, I think I’m going to have to point out that these two things don’t fit together well for me (co-decisions plus different responsibilities). For me, mutual decision-making implies mutual responbility (both people accept responsibility for the mutually made decision). If this is not what you are saying, will you please clarify? How does “presiding” differ from husbands and wives acting as equal partners making decisions together? In your view, why do we need the concept of “presiding”?

  7. Wilfried on July 11, 2006 at 3:40 pm

    Thank you, Julie.

    Allow me to put the topic in a different, international perspective pertaining to the place of the Church in the world and the place of women in our social structure. Today I just got a mail from a local Belgian Church leader, despairing, mentioning the xth time that Belgian Church members are being harrassed in a divorce case. The lawyer uses the usual argument: Mormons are a cult. He refers to the official parliamentary investigation of the Church, and the subsequent analysis, concluding, among other things that Mormons are a cult because their “attitude towards women does not fit the European and international evolution in matters of equality between men and womenâ€?.

    Here in Belgium the judge then decides. It may mean for the Mormon woman, member of a cult, to lose alimony and child support. Even to lose children.

    Thanks heaven for Hugh Nibley and for Church presidents who provide us with documents to try to prove the contrary. Thanks heaven for Mormon women who stand up to prove the sect analysis wrong. But what a quandary, what a tragedy, if, among Mormons, ideas contrary to full equality still surface. There are women here who pay a heavy price for it.

  8. BrianJ on July 11, 2006 at 3:40 pm

    I would dispute a side issue with Randy here, and that is about Bishop’s having the last word. I have never been taught to use counselors that way–and I have been taught the opposite.

    I would add something about the hearkening covenant. Having someone listen to me as or only as far as I listen to God is quite reassuring. I pray regularly for direction from God, but I often worry if I am interpreting his answers correctly (was that inspiration or just my imagination?). My wife, tuning in to those same answers, backs me up or not. When I had to choose a graduate school, I narrowed down the choices and picked one school–but it was my wife’s prayer that made it clear that I had really hearkened unto God in making my decision.

    One more thing–after reading the entire post (yes, I read it all), I still do not know how you define “preside.”

  9. Julie M. Smith on July 11, 2006 at 3:45 pm

    s, those are thoughtful questions; thanks for asking them.

    “The way you describe presiding (i.e. husbands and wives pray about disagreements on important issues until they are in agreement) doesn’t sound to me like “presiding.â€? It sounds like mutual-decision making.”

    That isn’t the argument I’m making. I don’t think “husbands and wives pray about disagreements on important issues until they are in agreement” has anything to do with presiding. I agree with you: it sounds like mutual decision making.

    “Why is the concept of “presideâ€? even necessary if this is the way that decisions are made?”

    Because God has given men and women different responsibilities in order to improve that chances of (eternal) success for the family unit and presiding–which has nothing to do with decision making, to restate–means that the men have the ultiamte responsibility for some of the spiritual practices of the family. Ah, I see that your next question suggests this very idea, so I answer yes to “Does it have more to do with the issue of responsibility (i.e. your husband has ultimate responsibility for how the family runs, and you have a responsibility to make sure his efforts to do this are not amiss)?”

    “If so, I think I’m going to have to point out that these two things don’t fit together well for me (co-decisions plus different responsibilities). For me, mutual decision-making implies mutual responbility (both people accept responsibility for the mutually made decision). If this is not what you are saying, will you please clarify? ”

    Nope, that is exactly what I am saying. You said that it doesn’t fit well for you–maybe you can clarify that for me. I only have experience with one marriage and, as I said, not one with a lot of disagreement in it, so I’d be interested in hearing you flesh out why this doesn’t work for you.

    I think I’ve already covered your last two questions, but if it wasn’t to your satisfaction, let me know and I’ll take another stab at it.

  10. Randy B. on July 11, 2006 at 3:47 pm

    BrianJ,

    On some matters, the Bishop really does have the last word. Only he is a Judge in Israel, for example. On other issues, say when to hold the ward activity, I agree that bishops are taught, and in my experience generally follow, the advice to strive for consensus. But what happens if consensus is not possible? Someone, at the end of the day, has to make the call.

  11. Julie M. Smith on July 11, 2006 at 3:56 pm

    Wow, Wilfried, I had no idea. Thanks for alway providing the international context that the rest of us are missing.

    BrianJ, thanks for your comment. I assume “One more thing–after reading the entire post (yes, I read it all), I still do not know how you define “preside.â€?” was directed at me, so:

    Presiding could be defined in three parts:

    (1) The exercise of ceremonial authority, including selecting people to pray, conducting (or delegating the responsibility to conduct) FHE, etc. The fact that reasonable people will generally not disagree about the implimentation of these duties should imply that women need not take offense at the fact that men perform them unilaterally.

    (2) The ultimate responsibility for the spiritual health of the family, for example, to ensure that FHE actually happens. This does not mean the authority to determine unilaterally the content of the FHE, etc. ANother example: if the children are fighting a lot, the father has the ultimate responsibility to be sure that efforts are taken to change that, but does not have the right to determine unilaterally what those efforts (i.e., duct tape) will be.

    (3) Contrary to popular assumption, presiding does not include the right to have ‘the last word’ in discussions or decisions.

    This definition is not set in stone; I’d love help refining it.

  12. s on July 11, 2006 at 4:14 pm

    Julie,

    I guess I’m under the assumption that if I make a decision, whether that decision is individually made or jointly made, I’m responsible for that decision. For example, if my husband and I mutually agree that I will continue to work even after I have children (which is real possibility), but it ends up being the “wrong” decision (i.e. not what God wanted us to do), I think God is going to hold us both accountable.

    I do recognize that if bad decisions are made, both people would be held accountable for the decision according to your model, but it seems like they would be held accountable in different ways, and that’s what doesn’t make sense to me. If they’re making they decisions in tandem, why are they not suffering equal consequences? I guess the issue of different responsibility makes more sense to me in a context where the husband is the one making the decisions and the wife is counseling him on those decisions. But that doesn’t seem to be the model you’re using.

    Maybe we’re disagreeing on our definition of “responsibility”?

    I think I’ve already covered your last two questions, but if it wasn’t to your satisfaction, let me know and I’ll take another stab at it.

    I’m still not sure if I have a satisfactory answer to my final question, but it’s probably because I’m not agreeing with the whole “different responsibility” thing. :)

  13. Frank McIntyre on July 11, 2006 at 4:17 pm

    Wilfried,

    I find that fascinating, but am more inclined to put the blame at the foot of the EU than the Church. Whatever our doctrine of presiding in the home (and I take it as being largely one of responsibility to ensure things happen), it seems plausible that it will not be enough to satisfy European bigotry at our horrendously American cult.

  14. Julie M. Smith on July 11, 2006 at 4:21 pm

    s, good thoughts. I think there are different degrees of accountability. If a ward decided to assign callings by aiming a dart at a copy of the ward roster on the wall, then the counselor would have some explaining to do at the judgment bar, but the bishop would have a whole lot more! I think it the same in a family.

    I will admit that I don’t think that presiding is primilarly about a system where it is easier for God to decide from whom to ‘dock points’ for bad behavior; I think it is primarily about helping the father be integrated into a home that he is away from all day. My husband is more involved in our family (by virtue of his job) than almost all men that I know, but there is still a LOT that goes on around here that he misses and it would be very easy for him to be marginalized in his own home. Priesthood roles help alieviate that.

  15. Mark Butler on July 11, 2006 at 4:31 pm

    I am not particularly fond of the military model of the Church, although I do think it is a last resort fallback mode where necessary to maintain basic order. It is worth remembering that the patriarchal order is not primarily about the relationship between husbands and wives, but about the relationship between parents and their children. It should probably be called the patrilineal order anyway.

    Now as I see it, husband and wife from the presiding council of the family, and the husband presides in the presiding council. The role of a presid-ent in a council is very similar to that of a chairman or parlimentarian in parliamentary procedure – not to issue dictates, but to maintain basic order. A suspension of the rules cannot pass a parliament without a 2/3 vote, which in this case means the consent of both parties.

    In his day to day function, the U.S. President is rarely a presid-ent at all, but rather an executive – there to execute the will of the legislature. A mother typical executes the laws of the family much more than the father, until a matter of serious discipline is at hand. We talk about executive discretion, and certainly a mother has plenty of that.

    Now in the case of a council – there are two basic sources of law – there is the higher law – the constitution or supervening federal authority, and there is the will of the council. The will of the pres-ident / chairman per se doesn’t even come into play, except through legitimate procedural moves.

    One of the most important roles of a chairman is to make sure that the laws are being followed, including the bodies own established rules. In that function he or she acts more in a judicial function than in an executive function. Only in a military are executive, legislative, and judicial functions combined in one man, as a matter of exigency. In civil society, we don’t operate that way. The doctrine of the priesthood teaches as much about the Church, albeit in a different mode, because the councils and courts of last resort are in heaven, and not on earth.

    Anyone who thinks that the President of the Church just hands out assignments to the Council of the Twelve like some sort of uber-executive, completely overriding all dissent has a rather naive understanding of the working of the highest levels of the Church. No Priesthood leader should operate that way, ever. It might work in times of war and exigency, e.g. during the life of Brigham Young, the rest of the time it is a prescription for ineffectiveness.

    If a discretionary principle does not have common consent at some level of the kingdom of heaven (i.e. either here or on earth), it is little more than tyranny. The force of the priesthood only comes when teaching and advocating according to the laws of heaven, and not their arbitrary whims. Humility is the first and foremost attribute of any righteous authority – to submit his will to God’s (or in the case of the Most High, the presiding authority in heaven, to submit his will to the will of the divine concert, or in the parallel case of the President of the Church to submit his will to the will of the presiding council).

    In short, I don’t believe an authority has any author-ity in and of himself, but only what is delegated to him in righteousness and sustained by those he or she presides over. In the case of a presid-ent, if the other members of the council will do their duty, no non-procedural author-ity at all, just investiture of conciliar authority.

  16. Frank McIntyre on July 11, 2006 at 4:32 pm

    “but there is still a LOT that goes on around here that he misses and it would be very easy for him to be marginalized in his own home. Priesthood roles help alieviate that.”

    This is true in our home.

  17. Keith on July 11, 2006 at 4:41 pm

    I do think it is easier to point out what preside does not mean, and more difficult to describe what it does mean.

    “I think you had it exactly right when you said, “an assignment to see that certain issues are raised and addressed””

    This makes me think of Paul’s statement that husbands should love their wives even as Christ loved the Church and gave himself for it so that it could be sanctified. The idea of caring for, being attentive to issues that need addressing, working actively (without compulsion) to see that opportunities are afforded for spiritual growth, for blessings and enjoyment of the things of God, for seeking those things that are praiseworthy, good, lovely, etc.–all for the spiritual welfare of the wife and family. This, of course, is not a ‘I’ve decided in our family that we need more of this, or we must do that,” nor a busy-body sort of policing, but rather a diligent searching to find the needs and the good, edifying, holy, loving, etc., that could be found, given, or explored by the family. (And that diligent searching would include asking the others involved what this might be that ought to be raised, or what might be done.) The responsibility of truly giving himself, all of himself, for the wife in the same way Christ loved the Church and gave himself for it is a tremendously rigorous commandment and, properly understood, ought to bring about a humility and a genuine selflessness–an active seeking to bring all of God’s blessings to the family, or (put in another way) to bring the family to all of God’s blessings. And this, of course, comes with the inherent provision that the husband must himself be seeking to be fully submissive to God’s will.

    Presiding in the gospel sense, which as Kierkegaard points out happens with all divine things, may well be the very opposite of ‘human’ conceptions of power and so be the greatest humility and giving up of self-power. The husband might well say (to paraphrase Levinas who quotes Dostoevsky), “We are all of us to be submissive to God, but I more than all the others.” Maybe something like that is present when one is given to preside.

  18. s on July 11, 2006 at 4:48 pm

    I think there are different degrees of accountability. If a ward decided to assign callings by aiming a dart at a copy of the ward roster on the wall, then the counselor would have some explaining to do at the judgment bar, but the bishop would have a whole lot more! I think it the same in a family.

    And I tend to assume that the husband and wife are going to be held equally accountable (which is why I’m not sure why we need to distinguish the difference in responsibility). My patriarchal blessing is pretty adamant about God holding me accountable for certain things that happen in my family (and many of these things have to do with the spiritual activities and health of the family, which is something you labeled as being part of the father’s “presiding” role).

    I will admit that I don’t think that presiding is primilarly about a system where it is easier for God to decide from whom to ‘dock points’ for bad behavior; I think it is primarily about helping the father be integrated into a home that he is away from all day. My husband is more involved in our family (by virtue of his job) than almost all men that I know, but there is still a LOT that goes on around here that he misses and it would be very easy for him to be marginalized in his own home. Priesthood roles help alieviate that.

    I can see how this might work well for others, though I tend to envision my family functioning differently. A lot of this has to do with my discomfort with traditional gender roles and how I plan not to adhere to them to a large extent in my own marriage and family. In that kind of context, “presiding” makes less sense to me.

    So, I guess I still don’t have an explanation that’s satisfactory to me for why we need the concept of “presiding in the home”. I didn’t really expect one, though. :) (And I do appreciate your attempts).

  19. bbell on July 11, 2006 at 4:49 pm

    I am going to add preside/hearken/patriarchy to the SSM/abortion category

  20. s on July 11, 2006 at 4:55 pm

    The idea of caring for, being attentive to issues that need addressing, working actively (without compulsion) to see that opportunities are afforded for spiritual growth, for blessings and enjoyment of the things of God, for seeking those things that are praiseworthy, good, lovely, etc.–all for the spiritual welfare of the wife and family….The responsibility of truly giving himself, all of himself, for the wife in the same way Christ loved the Church and gave himself for it is a tremendously rigorous commandment and, properly understood, ought to bring about a humility and a genuine selflessness–an active seeking to bring all of God’s blessings to the family, or (put in another way) to bring the family to all of God’s blessings.

    Keith, I really like what you said here about presiding–it’s very lovely, and a noble goal. I guess my question would be: how is this “presiding” rather than the responsibilities of a good father and husband? i.e. in what ways are these not also the wife’s responsibilities (even though she doesn’t technically “preside”? Shouldn’t she also be “attentive to issues that need addressing” and “truly giv[e]…all of [her]self” to her family. Shouldn’t she be working “to bring the family to all of God’s blessings”?

  21. Keith on July 11, 2006 at 5:10 pm

    ” I guess my question would be: how is this “presidingâ€? rather than the responsibilities of a good father and husband? i.e. in what ways are these not also the wife’s responsibilities (even though she doesn’t technically “presideâ€?? Shouldn’t she also be “attentive to issues that need addressingâ€? and “truly giv[e]…all of [her]selfâ€? to her family. Shouldn’t she be working “to bring the family to all of God’s blessingsâ€??”

    Good questions. Maybe presiding in the sense I’ve described is to be a good father and husband–and to be commanded to do that. (And the question you ask does bring out the difficulties in describing this. In the long run aren’t they asked to do the same thing–be submissive to God? Then why the distinctions? I don’t know, though I’m trying to make sense of it in bringing out one way to look at what it means to preside. Christ loved and gave himself for the Church. The husband is told to love in the same way. While this doesn’t work out the complexities of “preside” it does point to how it should be done (the spirit which is behind it).

    Clearly she should be seeking to bring the blessings, to follow Christ, etc.. But one way to see it might be to say “But that’s not my business. That’s between her and God. God will ask me what I did to love her as Christ loved the Church.” This might not be a fully adequate answer yet, but I think there’s something to it.

  22. s on July 11, 2006 at 5:19 pm

    Keith, I definitely do think that if we’re going to hold onto this concept of “presiding” as a religious community (and, for the time being, it certainly seems like we are going to, despite my unorthodox wishes to the contrary), it’s important to point out the spirit in which presiding should be done (i.e. one of Christ-like sacrifice and humility). Of course, I’m still left without an answer that makes sense to me for why “presiding” is necessary (at least in the home), but I realize you weren’t necessarily trying to provide that answer. :)

  23. Julie M. Smith on July 11, 2006 at 5:40 pm

    Re Keith in #17–lovely, true, and well-phrased. Thank you.

    Re s in #18–thanks for sharing your thoughts. I hope that things work out for you as planned, but I also hope you won’t be inflexible if they don’t: many women who say what you say are saying something else 20 years down the road. That doesn’t mean you are wrong or anyone else is right; it just means that the realities of life in the fallen world often require accomodation that we don’t anticipate until we are in the midst of a big pile of muck.

    To the questions that you add in #20, s, I would say: Of course a wife does those things. Most do it with no prompting. It may be simply that nature and/or socialization make it less likely that men will do those things without some specific prompting.

    S asks, “I’m still left without an answer that makes sense to me for why “presidingâ€? is necessary”

    Because it requires men to do things they (probably) would not otherwise do (that women are already doing) that are good for their families.

  24. Jim F. on July 11, 2006 at 5:49 pm

    Frank (#13): I’m hardly a fan of Belgium’s attitude toward the Church, but your analysis is, one might say, a bit on the thin side. There is a whole lot more going on there than anti-Americanism, even if anti-Americanism plays a part. The fact that Belgium is the only country that has such stringent anti-cult laws–and includes us as a cult–suggests that the problem is at least partly also a result of something unique to Belgium.

    As for presiding: Though etymologies don’t necessarily tell us what words mean to us today, they can give us new ways of thinking about words. In that regard, a friend (Larry Wimmer) pointed out that the Latin root of “preside” is praesidere of which one meaning is “to guard.” In Sacrament meeting, we should all be attentive to the way things are done, helping to see that they are done right. But only one person, the bishop (or other presiding authority), is appointed, as guard to see that things are done properly. Others have other responsibilities, however, so that it makes sense to speak of priesthood holders as equal. (I certainly don’t think of my bishop as my superior; I don’t think of him in something analogous to the way that I think of my boss.)

    Does the father preside in that he guards the family? in that he is given responsibility for seeing to it that things are done properly? Does it make sense to see both father and mother as having responsibilties to guard and nurture, but the father as having the primary responsibility for guarding and the mother the primary responsibility for nurturing–a division of labor that is not hierarchical? Is it possible to understand mothers and fathers as equals in that kind of relationship? I don’t know, but it seems to me that we might pursue Larry’s suggestion profitably. Indeed, it seems to me that we can translate many of the things we hear from the General Authorities about presiding in the home into those terms.

  25. Téa on July 11, 2006 at 5:51 pm

    Julie you wrote of husbands presiding:
    “This might appear uneuqal or asymmetrical until you remember that you are only looking at half of the equation. Then it appears equal in terms of responsibility, privilege, and ‘rights’, but not identical.”

    Can you define the other half of the equation, the “different role that provides symmetry” for a wife? It might help in defining what it means to preside righteously. Count me in with those who don’t understand how presiding in marriage and equal partnership in marriage fit together.

    This quote from Elder M. Russell Ballard doesn’t say that men have the last word, but it refers to the patriarch being the *one* to make the decisions.
    “A father, who is the priesthood bearer and patriarch in a home, has the responsibility to make the decisions. I emphasize the term responsibility—not the term authority. But it is far better if those decisions are made in a spirit of unity of purpose and pulling together as a family.

  26. Mark B. on July 11, 2006 at 5:53 pm

    It seems that the principles described in the 107th Section of the Doctrine and Covenants are especially applicable in the family:

    27 And every decision made by either of these quorums must be by the unanimous voice of the same; that is, every member in each quorum must be agreed to its decisions, in order to make their decisions of the same power or validity one with the other—
    28 A majority may form a quorum when circumstances render it impossible to be otherwise—
    29 Unless this is the case, their decisions are not entitled to the same blessings which the decisions of quorum of three presidents were anciently, who were ordained after the order of Melchizedek, and were righteous and holy men.
    30 The decisions of these quorums, or either of them, are to be made in all righteousness, in holiness, and lowliness of heart, meekness and long suffering, and in faith, and virtue, and knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness and charity;
    31 Because the promise is, if these things abound in them they shall not be unfruitful in the knowledge of the Lord.

    So too with the decisions made in that most eternal of priesthood quorums, the family.

  27. Téa on July 11, 2006 at 5:53 pm

    Can someone take care of that double comment for me? Thanks! [Administrator: Done]

    And here is the source for that quote.

  28. Jim F. on July 11, 2006 at 5:58 pm

    S: I’m still left without an answer that makes sense to me for why “presiding� is necessary.

    I don’t know. I also don’t know why baptism is necessary. But isn’t the question not whether it is necessary, but whether it can be conceived without understanding it in terms that give women a lower status than men? If it necessarily involves putting men above women, then it is a problematic concept. In that case we would have good reason for worrying that it may be unethical to encourage men to preside. However, if the concept doesn’t require demeaning women in some way, then though we may not know why it is important, the question of why men are told to preside is only an intellectual problem. In other words, isn’t the real issue “What does ‘presiding’ mean?” rather than “Why are men called on to preside?”

  29. s on July 11, 2006 at 6:00 pm

    Re s in #18–thanks for sharing your thoughts. I hope that things work out for you as planned, but I also hope you won’t be inflexible if they don’t: many women who say what you say are saying something else 20 years down the road. That doesn’t mean you are wrong or anyone else is right; it just means that the realities of life in the fallen world often require accomodation that we don’t anticipate until we are in the midst of a big pile of muck.

    This is definitely true, and I hope I’m willing to be quite flexible, though I guess only the future will tell whether my hope on that account will hold true.

    S asks, “I’m still left without an answer that makes sense to me for why “presiding� is necessary�

    Because it requires men to do things they (probably) would not otherwise do (that women are already doing) that are good for their families.

    I guess I wish we could find an alternate ways of doing this that doesn’t have the problematic consequences that concepts such as “presiding” does. For instance, something tells me that the reason GA after GA says that “presiding” doesn’t mean men have the ultimate authority is because way too many men are interpreting things that way.

  30. Téa on July 11, 2006 at 6:01 pm

    If Julie’s words are true

    “Yep. I think that is it: presiding in the Church and presiding in the home are entirely different animals. I think this is the gist of Elder Oaks’ last talk on the subject. It is also behind President Packer’s famous “don’t treat your wife like you treat the stakeâ€? quip.”

    then are the comparisons or scriptures referring to Church leadership not as applicable in this discussion?

  31. Caroline on July 11, 2006 at 6:44 pm

    S and Tea,
    Count me in with you two. It seems as if people are doing awfully painful contortions to make the word “preside” non-hierarchical (or as Jim F says, not “putting men before women”) It’s a noble attempt, but it’s not a convincing argument to me. The root of the word preside, “praesidere”, literally means to sit (sidere) in front of (prae). Also, looking in my Latin dictionary, one of the meanings is “to rule.” And that’s a model of marriage that a lot of people in this day and age are going to struggle with.

    I suppose we can try to redefine the word, but I think a better option would be to acknowledge that the concept is a historical remnant from a different era in which men truly did rule over their wives. Things have changed. I’d love for the language we use to reflect our new understandings of the importance of equal partnership in marriage, rather than desperately try to cling on to a word that no longer conveys an accurate meaning.

  32. Mark Butler on July 11, 2006 at 6:54 pm

    Well, I tend to think stakes would run a lot better if a stake president would treat the members of stake councils *more* like he treats his wife. Perhaps marriage and family is a case study in the doctrine of the priesthood, one far better than the military or the corporate world.

  33. Mark Butler on July 11, 2006 at 6:59 pm

    I would also say that any council where a 2/3 majority cannot stay the discretion of the president indefinitely, is not functioning properly. President as dictator is a false doctrine.

  34. Julie M. Smith on July 11, 2006 at 7:02 pm

    Re Jim in #24–that’s very useful; thanks for that comment.

    Re Tea in #25: the corresponding role of the wife could be understood in a few different ways; Jim has given us ‘nurturer'; Nibley has given us ‘judge'; some would say ‘mother,’ etc. As for the Elder Ballard quote: I like the distinction he is making between authority and responsibility. I would read him as saying that fathers have the responsibility to be sure that a decision is made, but not the authority to make the decision unilaterally. I don’t think that anyone who has read his very-pro-female-leadership book _Counseling in Our Councils_ would read him as preaching Bad Old Patriarchy. Also–look at the context of the quote: the very next anecdote involves his wife judging and corrrecting and encouraging him to change his behavior. And notice the very next statement from Sister Ballard . . .

    Mark B.–thanks for that citation.

    s re your last paragraph in #29: If we throw out the baby just because people misinterpret the bathwater, we have to get rid of, well, pretty much everything . . . Which is not to say that I don’t appreciate the efforts made by the brethren in recent years to clarify the meaning.

    Re Tea in #30: I think the comparisons are partly applicable, but maybe some of you want to flesh that out a little more.

    Caroline, you say you aren’t convinced that presiding can exist non-hierarchically, but the only evidence you present is a dictionary definition that the brethren reject, so I’m not sure why I would accept it. Admittedtly, the Church seems to use this word differently than other Bible-believers do (or the world in general does), but that hardly makes it unique; we do that all the time!

    You suggest we just abandon the word, but I think that would be tragic to abandon the (correct) understanding of the word because of the function of presiding that Frank and I have pointed to–namely, binding the hearts of the fathers to their wives and families. In a world where family dissolution is a rampant evil, we should much rather be sure that everyone is clear on the proper role of fathers if the alternative is to leave fathers roleless in the family.

    Re #32: his point was that the new SP could make a decision in cases of disagreement in the stake, but he couldn’t do that to his wife.

  35. Frank McIntyre on July 11, 2006 at 7:06 pm

    Jim,

    “The fact that Belgium is the only country that has such stringent anti-cult laws–and includes us as a cult–suggests that the problem is at least partly also a result of something unique to Belgium.”

    I am all for deferring to your knowledge of the relative levels of bigotry against Americans or religion across European countries. Wilfried’s comment seemed to me to suggest that the Belgians saw our values as un-European, and so I framed my comment that way because I did not want to single out the Belgians. But that was sort of dumb. We might as well single them out. How do things stack up in France? Is there even a cult list there?

  36. Jim F. on July 11, 2006 at 7:16 pm

    Frank, there is a cult list in France, but we’re not on it, to the chagrin of some. As far as I know, the only cult list we are on is the Belgian one.

    I think that for some Europeans, the cult issue allows them to say the things they want to say about religion but are usually too polite to say. The cult lists give people a religious group–those on the list–about whom it is okay to say the nasty things that they think about most religion. Many in Europe are still recovering from the relations of church and state that preceded the French Revolution; that history has often not been benign. In addition, I suspect that the concern about cults has as much to do with xenophobia in general as anti-Americanism.

    But I’ll refrain any further from the thread jack. Wilfried’s comment was, as I understood it, a reminder that our discussions have import for things more than we ken, including divorce cases in Belgium. That is an important reminder.

  37. Téa on July 11, 2006 at 8:01 pm

    Julie, would it be accurate to say that you view presiding in the home and equal partnership in marriage as concentric circles? And could the relationship between presiding in the home and presiding in the church be represented by another form of a Venn diagram?

  38. Julie M. Smith on July 11, 2006 at 8:02 pm

    Tea,

    I’m sorry–I promise I’m not trying to be obtuse, but I honestly don’t understand what you are saying. Perhaps a former English major could request that you try again?

  39. s on July 11, 2006 at 8:10 pm

    s re your last paragraph in #29: If we throw out the baby just because people misinterpret the bathwater, we have to get rid of, well, pretty much everything . . . Which is not to say that I don’t appreciate the efforts made by the brethren in recent years to clarify the meaning.

    In this case, I think there’s a way to throw out the bathwater without throwing out the baby (i.e. along the lines of what Caroline suggested–new language that would get rid of all hierarchical meanings but that would still encourage men and women to value the kinds of Christ-like sacrifice and service that the GAs have included in the definition of “preside”). Yeah, it would mean we would have to get rid of a lot (though I don’t think that means “everything”). And it would mean some substantial changes in a number of areas where I don’t think the church is ready to change (for example, at the very least, it would merit a serious reexamination of how the church defines gender roles). Still, although I know that many of you disagree with me, I do hope for change in those areas someday (when the church/society is ready).

  40. Mark Butler on July 11, 2006 at 8:14 pm

    The real question: Is God ready for a serious reexamination of how he defines gender roles (or the council in heaven, etc.)

  41. s on July 11, 2006 at 8:22 pm

    Mark, I think so (or maybe more precisely, I think that God will reveal his fuller plan about gender roles when we are ready to hear it), but I realize that lots of people are not going to agree with me.

  42. Julie M. Smith on July 11, 2006 at 8:27 pm

    Re s in #41: I think the best-case scenario is that (1) those who disagree with the Church’s teachings on gender roles spend some time looking for the good that might come out of them and (2) those who agree with the Church’s teachings on gender roles spend some time thinking about which aspects of those roles are concessions to a fallen world.

    I imagine everyone’s mileage will vary, but under (1), I’d put the effect that (proper) presiding has on a father’s relationship to the family and under (2), I’d put the physical aspects of priesthood, motherhood, providing for a family, etc.

  43. Mark Butler on July 11, 2006 at 8:27 pm

    Now there I can agree.

  44. Mark Butler on July 11, 2006 at 8:29 pm

    with s in #41.

  45. Téa on July 11, 2006 at 9:10 pm

    Julie, I reckon my English ain’t what it used to be ; )

    Concentric circles are circles that have the same center point. Imagine a target with “equal partnership in marriage” in the bull’s-eye. “Presiding in the home” would be the next circle out, though its diameter would be dependent on how much presiding exceeds the area of equal partnership. In this visual, I imagine that your position would show presiding in the home to have only a slightly larger circle than equal partnership, with few responsibilities solely assigned to the one presiding.

    Venn diagrams depict the relationship between sets, or in this case principles, which could illustrate your views on the overlap or lack thereof between “presiding in the home” “equal partnership” and “presiding in the Church”.

    Reading over this again, I’m still abstruse. Mathematics in words wasn’t my strong point.

  46. Julie M. Smith on July 11, 2006 at 9:37 pm

    Tea,

    (First, for those concerned about my ability to homeschool my children, I knew what concentric circles and Venn Diagrams were–I just didn’t know how Tea was using them.)

    As for the circles: I don’t think it is a useful diagram. Howabout two columns, one titled ‘decisions that can be made unilaterally by the one presiding.’ This I would limit to ceremonial functions. (But, hey, even then, if the husband decides to never allow little Sally to say a prayer, I think the wife has a right to complain!) The other column is ‘decisions that must be made in unity’ and it has one item listed: everything else.

    As for the Venn diagrams: I don’t think that works, either. Let’s just add a third column for ‘presiding in the church’, where unilateral decisions are less than ideal and should be avoided, but ultimately are allowed.

    I guess the reason neither of these works for me is that I don’t see the ‘overlap’ for either ones. Things tend to belong in one or the other category.

  47. BrianJ on July 11, 2006 at 10:39 pm

    Julie, post 11:

    Thanks for the clarification. I agree with part 1 and mostly with part 2. The problem I have with part 2 is that I don’t know what “ultimate responsibility� actually means—a point that is brought up in later posts so I won’t rehash it now. I would drop part 3 from your definition—I actually agree with it, but it is a statement of what presiding isn’t instead of what it is.

    � This definition is not set in stone; I’d love help refining it.�

    I would add some element of what Mark Butler says in post 15 regarding presiding as a chairman and what Jim F (post 24) says about guarding “to see that things are done properly.�

    Again, thanks for the discussion.

  48. Kimball L. Hunt on July 11, 2006 at 10:49 pm

    What does /preside/ mean, within social terms?

    Well, there’s

    ( I. )

    (Enter favorite evolutionary argument here.

    (Or — here’s mine. But only if you wish.) Humans are social animals coordinating their action within extended familial communities; however, when it comes right down to it, when push comes to shove even within such a community with regard fertile women/ dwindling food supplies, the best at combinations of robustness and agility — stealthy attack and hand-to-hand combat — produce/ survive, along with the women best at attracting men having this quality?)

    ( I I. )

    (Enter arguments from your religious beliefs here.

    (Or my take on this, if ya wish!)

    / i. / Man grunts to Man something interpretable as: “You are my brother. ((For now.))”

    / i i. / Woman articulates to Woman: “I think this is what should be . . . .”

    / i i i. / Man grunts to Woman something interpretable as: “Listen, hon. You just stay here and do these chores and take care of our offspring and otherwise wait on me and serve me; and I will take care of this nasty business of fending off competitors for our food supplies when they’re scarce, OK?”

    / i v. / Woman (or, at least after her considering all her unsavory other options!) submits to Man — which is interpretable as saying “Hey, sounds like a good deal!” But then she articulates to him — when he’s in a receptive mood or she’s got the upper hand for some reason — “I think this is what’s most fair, don’t you think? Honey, will you go and try to make sure so-and-so does thus-and-so?”

    Now: Take # / i i / — while accepting the realities of / i /, / i i i / and / i v / — and fold them into traditional tribal mores and symbolic belief systems or else codify it. And then to render the proper air of authority to it, label it as coming from Father.

    ( I I I. )

    (Enter favorite contemporary ethical thinking here.

    (Or even mine — should ya please. Directly below.)

    Go through the all the stuff in # ( I I ) but recast, in light of taking out almost all of its perceived need to anticipate exigencies of naked aggression. (Or, as a shortcut, just look at what contemporary women think in the above # ( i i ) — accepting their a fuller critique of no longer needed portions of ( i ), ( i i i ) and ( i v ).

  49. Julie M. Smith on July 11, 2006 at 10:50 pm

    BrianJ–

    I agree with you–I also feel some lack of clarity as to what ‘ultimate responsibility’ really means. The best I can do is hope that it encourages fathers to turn to their families when the world pulls them away.

  50. Téa on July 11, 2006 at 10:54 pm

    No intention to cast aspersions on your knowledge, Julie, I just wasn’t sure what part(s) needed explaining =)

    It does clarify your position to understand you see no overlap between presiding in the home and equal partnership, along with presiding in the Church.

    Could there be a fourth column for the duties that belong to the wife, the other part of the equation we talked about before?

  51. Julie M. Smith on July 11, 2006 at 11:07 pm

    “Could there be a fourth column for the duties that belong to the wife, the other part of the equation we talked about before?”

    Good idea! I’d list: serving as a check on her husband’s duties, primary caretaker/nurturer of children, and then all of the (seemingly) mundane things that go along with managing a home and family, and chief consumer of double dark chocolate. (True story: my 4yo was told by his Primary teacher to draw a picture of being a peacemaker. He drew a picture of himself standing in between his mom and dad and handing his dad a jar of salsa and his mom some double dark chocolate. Gotta love that kid.)

  52. Jim F. on July 11, 2006 at 11:21 pm

    Julie, try dipping double-dark chocolate in salsa some time. Good eats.

  53. Téa on July 12, 2006 at 12:04 am

    The columns seem to be working well, Julie.

    My husband says I’m falling down on that last one for the wife. Apparently the bag of variety kit kats doesn’t count…

  54. Wilfried on July 12, 2006 at 12:27 am

    Jim F: “Wilfried’s comment was, as I understood it, a reminder that our discussions have import for things more than we ken, including divorce cases in Belgium. That is an important reminder.”

    Indeed, that was the only purpose. The political reasons why the Church is viewed in negative ways (and not only in Belgium) are of less importance here. Facile dichotomies (like EU versus US) do not explain it adequately. What is important, is that the Church has consistently, over the past decades, tried to change misconceptions about Mormonism. Pres. Hinckley has been very keen on this. If some misconceptions are based on our own traditions and concepts, like gender equality, we need to be careful how we come across. And things might have to change further, as they have been changing over the past decades. If only in behalf of divorced mothers, devoted Mormons, who want to keep their children.

  55. Frank McIntyre on July 12, 2006 at 1:07 am

    Now Wilfried, how am I supposed to give up the threadjack after you get done calling EU/US comparisons facile? :)

    We’ll save that argument for another day and I’ll content myself with pointing out that, last I checked, the U.S. does not maintain a cult list like France or Belgium or however many other EU countries and that, last I checked, we weren’t on that non-existent list. Hooray for the First Amendment both in spirit and in letter!

    As for the divorce courts in Belgium, my sympathy goes out to the poor women put in that horrendous situation.

  56. Wilfried on July 12, 2006 at 1:46 am

    Thank you, Frank. Indeed, let us not forget the focus of the argument and the topic of the thread. We are considered a cult, among other arguments, because our “attitude towards women does not fit the European and international evolution in matters of equality between men and womenâ€?. Note “international”. Whether this is true or not is prone for much debate, but as long as our enemies find easy ammunition for their standpoint in the writings of Mormons themselves, it becomes more difficult to defend ourselves at crucial moments in court.

  57. DKL on July 12, 2006 at 1:52 am

    By the time I got here, the comment already had 56 comments. So much for my make-believe blog world….

  58. mullingandmusing (m&m) on July 12, 2006 at 3:49 am

    In this case, I think there’s a way to throw out the bathwater without throwing out the baby (i.e. along the lines of what Caroline suggested–new language that would get rid of all hierarchical meanings but that would still encourage men and women to value the kinds of Christ-like sacrifice and service that the GAs have included in the definition of “preside�). Yeah, it would mean we would have to get rid of a lot (though I don’t think that means “everything�). And it would mean some substantial changes in a number of areas where I don’t think the church is ready to change (for example, at the very least, it would merit a serious reexamination of how the church defines gender roles).

    I don’t mean to cast aside the real issues that people have with things like this, but it seems to me that the solution to these types of things is not to wait for the prophets to change what they are saying. I see this very much like a Magic Eye picture. In this case, some people see conflicting statements — 1) men and women are equal before God and are equal partners in marriage, and 2) that the Church is heirarchical and the family is patriarchical (did I spell those right?…it’s late!) I think the trick is not to wait for the picture to change, but to look at the basic truth (men and women are equal) and to seek for understanding about what appears to contradict that doctrine. The practice should not be the focus, IMO. The doctrine is what we hold on to and we seek to see how things really are with the practice (there really IS a cool, more-than-two-dimensional image there — really!). It is not up to the prophets to work out the contradictions. It is up to us. What they teach is the picture that shouldn’t be expected to change to suit our frustrations. The opportunity is there to see the beauty in what they have given us.

    Another analogy is Elder Eyring’s concept of holding sand that has the promise of gold. The prophets teach gold.

    “Sometimes we will receive counsel that we cannot understand or that seems not to apply to us, even after careful prayer and thought. Don’t discard the counsel, but hold it close. If someone you trusted handed you what appeared to be nothing more than sand with the promise that it contained gold, you might wisely hold it in your hand awhile, shaking it gently. Every time I have done that with counsel from a prophet, after a time the gold flakes have begun to appear and I have been grateful.”
    Henry B. Eyring, “Finding Safety in Counsel,� Ensign, May 1997, 24

    Sometimes it just takes a while for the gold to be seen. Just like a Magic Eye picture isn’t always the easiest thing to “get in” to at first. It took me months, maybe even years of trying before I experienced that “view.” Hold on to the doctrine. It’s true. (And remember that people’s bad interpretation or implementation of the practice isn’t the practice, either.) The practice doesn’t contradict the doctrine. We just may not see that yet. So, clearly, we have things we can all ponder about presiding, and covenants, and order…but that’s part of the beauty of the gospel. Layers of an onion. I think we miss some opportunities to find that beauty when we wait for things to change that may never change. Isn’t that part of what faith is — hoping for things which are not seen (yet?) but are true? If we are frustrated about something that is repeatedly and clearly taught, that seems more than anything an invitation to discover a yet-hidden picture of light. The light is there. I have seen glimpses of it. This doctrine is good. And because I have tasted of that goodness, I don’t want these things to change. I want to understand them better. And I believe we can!

  59. mullingandmusing (m&m) on July 12, 2006 at 3:54 am

    and then all of the (seemingly) mundane things that go along with managing a home and family,

    I learned something about this recently…wrote about it here (hot off the e-press!)

  60. mullingandmusing (m&m) on July 12, 2006 at 4:18 am

    59 — p.s. That post is mostly quotes — from Elder Maxwell and Joseph F. Smith.
    58 – s, I was not directing my comments to you specifically…more in a general concept kind of a way…and your comment was a general representation of what I wanted to address. Don’t know if that matters to you, but I didn’t want to make it a you vs. me kind of thing. Just general thoughts I’m mulling over….

  61. s on July 12, 2006 at 9:35 am

    Jim F (#28), I’m not entirely sure why baptism is necessary either, but I see baptism in a different way than presiding. I think that the church can do everything within its power to try to change the meaning of the concept (i.e. make the definition so that it doesn’t put men above women), but my point is that I don’t think we can get away from both the original meaning as well as the commonly acceptable societal meanings of the term. We can do all we want to try to redefine “preside,” but in the end I think a neater (though harder) solution is to get rid of the term and find others terms that do the work we want (i.e. indicate that husbands and wives are equal while still motivating the husband to be involved with his family). I think that the last question you ask is good (“Why are men called on to preside?”) because if we can come up with reasons why the term is used (and Julie has pointed out reasons such as it helps husbands be more involved with their families), we can figure out new language (that doesn’t have all the baggage of inequality that preside still does) that will hopefully figure out how to motivate husbands to be involved with their families.

    m&m (#58), thanks for your comments, though (as you may have guessed) I’m going to disagree with you on a few points. First, I think your attitude of finding the best in what we’ve been given is a good one. I am grateful every day for the blessings that the gospel has given me, and I continually try to better understand God’s teachings and His will in my life. And I think focusing on gratitude for these things is important. That being said, I believe that I can hold onto my ability to find beauty in the gospel as well as my struggles with it at the same time. It can be difficult, but doing so enriches my life and allows me to live a more full spiritual life. (It’s like what Lynnette said in her post on integration at ZD except in a broader context. Also, the view I have of the church is that of a fluid and changing church (where core principles such as Christ’s Atonement and the fact that we are children of Heavenly parents remain constant). I do seek for change and greater understanding in myself, but I also seek for change in the imperfect, mortal world around me (and, for me, this includes the church).

  62. Jim F. on July 12, 2006 at 11:41 am

    s, I’m sympathetic to your point. It would, of course, be easier just to dump the word “preside” in favor of easier language. But the word “preside” is stuck pretty firmly in the D&C. If we give up on redefining it, don’t we leave that language to be understood in “ordinary” terms? It seems to me that it would be better to redefine the language, to find new meaning in the language we thought we were familiar with. Otherwise we end up with, for example, the office of the President of the Church requiring behavior that we don’t approve of (D&C 102:9-11).

    Besides, Mormons have been successflly redefining terms and using special vocabulary for a long time–scriptorian, evangelist, stake, exaltation, . . . . Why not redefine “preside”?

  63. Julie M. Smith on July 12, 2006 at 11:45 am

    s writes, “my point is that I don’t think we can get away from both the original meaning as well as the commonly acceptable societal meanings of the term”

    Mormons do this constantly with all sorts of theological concepts that we believe others have misunderstood. If we have to abandon concepts or choose new words just because other people misunderstand them, the list of terms we have to change starts with apostasy and ends with Zion! Instead, what is happening (and what should happen) is that the Brethren devote time in GC and other settings to explaining what *we* mean by our use of these terms.

  64. Kiskilili on July 12, 2006 at 12:31 pm

    I’m sympathetic to the movement to redefine preside, but I think it’s fair to say that other uses of the term muddy the waters significantly. When “preside” in a Church setting still involves a significant amount of authority in decision-making, the term is going to bring that baggage with it when it’s applied in a family setting.

    And, to broaden the circle a little, we’re still in the world, and our understanding of language (especially terms that flourish in entirely non-religious contexts) is informed by other, worldly usages. On the most basic level, I think it’s difficult to maintain that in some settings the term explicitly indicates hierarchy and in others it essentially means heterarchy.

    The ambiguity we’ve created might appeal to some. But it’s worth remembering that, as the situation now stands, a husband/father who has a drastically different reading from Julie’s can just as easily back up his own understanding of “preside” with scriptures and GA quotes.

  65. Jim F. on July 12, 2006 at 12:49 pm

    Kiskilli, who uses “preside” in anything but a church context? Indeed, who but Mormons use it much at all? It is already a Mormon word, so we don’t have to worry too much about the dictionary when we try to figure out what we mean by it.

  66. s on July 12, 2006 at 12:55 pm

    What Kiskilili said. And a few additional comments:

    Jim, yeah, the word “preside” is in the D&C (and you’re right we do have to negotiate the meaning it’s has had in our religious tradition–we can’t just ignore it), but I think most of the examples have to do with church leadership rather than marriage relationships. While I’m not happy with the term in general, I have bigger problems with it in the context of marriage than the context of church hierarchy. So, maybe we could use the term in church leadership contexts but use different terminology when discussing marriages and families?

    Julie, I think there’s a difference between a term like “apostasy” and “preside.” As Kiskilili said, “preside” has baggage, and a lot of it is in a church context (there are scriptures and GA quotes that would contradict the kinds of things that you are arguing, and “preside” implies hierarchy and authority in church leadership). The GAs don’t have to get up every single general conference and say “okay, all of you are misunderstanding our definition of the word apostasy, so let’s go over it one more time.”

  67. Julie M. Smith on July 12, 2006 at 1:01 pm

    “But it’s worth remembering that, as the situation now stands, a husband/father who has a drastically different reading from Julie’s can just as easily back up his own understanding of “presideâ€? with scriptures and GA quotes.”

    Some scriptures, yes, if he’s creative and likes to ignore certain things that don’t support his position. Modern GA quote: no. My challenge from the original post still stands.

    In general, k and s, I would worry about us losing the positive connotations of preside. (What might we replace it with, anyway?) I think we’re far better following the Elder Oaks’ model of carefully defining and explaining our use of the term.

  68. Jim F. on July 12, 2006 at 1:04 pm

    s, but might it not also be helpful to use thinking about marriage relations (and what “preside” could possible mean there) to help us think about what it means in church leadership? As Julie pointed out earlier, Elder Ballard’s book, Counseling With Our Councils: Learning to Minister Together in the Church and in the Family seems already to have taken a big step in that direction.

  69. Kiskilili on July 12, 2006 at 1:04 pm

    Good question (65). I really don’t know how common it is, but I believe the term is used in judicial and political contexts; people preside over press conferences, courts, graduations, etc.

  70. Jim F. on July 12, 2006 at 1:07 pm

    Kiskilli (#69): I’m hardly a lexicographer, nor do I play one on T&S, but outside of LDS settings, I’ve heard the word used only in courts: “The Honorable So-and-so presiding.” I don’t think it is used in many other situations (if any) nor do I think that it is used with any frequency by non-Mormons. I think it is fair game for us.

  71. Wilfried on July 12, 2006 at 1:08 pm

    About meanings: One could even say, and it has been said more than once, that changing and evolving understandings of certain concepts are a trademark of Mormonism as a uniquely dynamic religion. Is our ability to adapt not related to the principle of continuing revelation and the promise that so many things still need to be revealed? Of course, such movement also carries the seed of misunderstandings and the clash of divergent interpretations, but overall I have the impression most Mormons are very acceptant of this dynamism which opens our hearts to gradual “more light”. Glad we have no catechism defining terms once and for all.

    To use Julie’s brilliant “the list of terms we have to change starts with apostasy and ends with Zion” (in comparison with the semantics by outsiders) – there are already two terms, apostasy and Zion, that have divergent and evolving meanings within our own Mormonism.

  72. s on July 12, 2006 at 1:14 pm

    That’s an interesting question, Jim, though I think you could still hold onto a concept of “preside” as humility- and service-focused, etc., without needing the marriage context to back up your arguments. Basically, I think we can ask ourselves how we might apply principles from successful marriages to church leadership without using the word “preside.”

    Julie, I can understand your desire not to lose the potential positive benefits of preside (as you said, it’s something that has helped your own husband feel more involved in your family, which is great). But I guess I’m wondering if we can’t figure out alternate ways of making husbands feel involved in their family without relying on this term. (Let me think about some alternate suggestions.) Then we get the positive benefits without having to deal with all the problematic consequences.

  73. Julie M. Smith on July 12, 2006 at 1:21 pm

    “But I guess I’m wondering if we can’t figure out alternate ways of making husbands feel involved in their family without relying on this term.”

    I am interesting in your ideas, but at the same time, I think it would be at least as much work to drop the presiding concept for a whole new idea of parental involvement as it is to be sure that people are clear on the proper meaning of preside. Especially because I think, for the most part, the Saints ‘get it.’ I can’t find the citation, but I love that study that showed that the Saints use the most hierarchical language of any religious group, but have the most egalitarian relationships!

  74. Caroline on July 12, 2006 at 1:38 pm

    S, K, and Tea,
    Thanks for fighting the good fight here. I’m 100% behind you, but don’t have the stamina to contribute much more right now (about to give birth in a couple weeks. Yikes!)

    OK, I can’t resist one little question. One of the reasons Julie likes the word preside is because she feels it ties the man to the family and assures him a place and role in it. Does “equal partner” in a family not also guarantee and assure the father that he has a proactive and (equally) important role in the family as the wife? To me, that phrase “equal partner” carries even more powerful connotations of just how equally involved a father should be in the family, as opposed to the term preside which, in Julie’s interpretation, is really just a ceremonial title indicating ceremonial functions.

    Give me a man any day who sees his role as my 100% equal partner in all aspects of marriage, rather than one who defines his special role in the family as “prayer-caller” or “FHE regulator.” Just my two cents.

  75. Kiskilili on July 12, 2006 at 1:50 pm

    As I understand (or misunderstand!) the situation, one reason not to dump the term “preside” is that, because of its established history in official texts, if we change the term we use to describe the father’s role in the home, we’re openly acknowledging to ourselves a shift in our thinking. But if we’ve already consciously acknowledged that shift, it’s harder for me to understand what harm there would be if our language reflected it. Then we’d be better equipped to understand what our sacred texts meant in their own contexts. I’m more comfortable disagreeing with a passage outright than redefining the words to mean something more palatable to me.

    And I’m much less confident than Julie that most saints “get it,” but I’m sure our experiences have been different (which keeps these conversations interesting!). To choose just one example, one of my professors at BYU (whom I really like and respect) explained to us that it is the husband’s responsibility to make decisions for the family, and the wife needs the husband’s permission for decisions she makes in a way the husband certainly does not need the wife’s permission. I’m pretty sure this active, goodhearted church member did not pull this interpretation out of thin air.

  76. Julie M. Smith on July 12, 2006 at 2:02 pm

    Caroline, I think you are grossly mischaracterizing my definition of preside. See comment #11.

    Kiskilili, if we dump theological concept because BYU professors misunderstood or mistaught or misconstrued them, we’d pretty much all have to go join the Presbyterians.

  77. s on July 12, 2006 at 2:09 pm

    Julie, perhaps Caroline’s comments did not encompass your entire definition of “preside.” However, the question I am interested in does her suggestion of the term “equal partner” work for you? (I personally like the suggestion quite a bit!)

    And I think Kiskilili’s point is not that this (erroneous) definition of “preside” was taught at BYU–it was merely one of many examples that she can think of of people who have misunderstood “preside.”

  78. Kiskilili on July 12, 2006 at 2:11 pm

    LOL! Joining the Presbyterians might not be so bad!

    My point is that he’s not the only one I’ve encountered espousing this view, and there are things the Church could do to make this view more difficult to maintain. (I do recognize, though, that the Church has made significant strides in recent decades.)

  79. Jim F. on July 12, 2006 at 2:20 pm

    Kiskilili: I’m pretty sure this active, goodhearted church member did not pull this interpretation out of thin air. I agree. It is unlikely that he did. But I also don’t think he got it simply from the word “preside.” There’s a whole culture out there (of which I am part) that is at work in his understanding of what it means for him to be a husband and father.

    I’m more comfortable disagreeing with a passage outright than redefining the words to mean something more palatable to me. I don’t see what people like Julie and I are advocating as merely redefining the words to mean something more palatable. I, too, am against that. Instead, it seems to me that there is more to scripture than we often understand, and we have to figure out, over time, what it means. I don’t advocate redefining the word. I advocate understanding what it means in a Mormon context, and by “what it means” I don’t mean “what we understand it to mean.” I mean “what kind of life it calls us to.”

    Post-polygamy, we are still figuring out what “eternal marriage” and other terms in the scriptures mean. We don’t do that by making them more palatable. Neither do we do that by substituting new terms for the old ones. We look to see what we can discover in the old terms that we may not have previously seen. As Wilfried pointed out (#71), that’s one side of continuing revelation. As Julie pointed out(#63), we have been doing this with many terms, from apostasy to Zion, for a long time. Why exclude “preside” from the process? — but I’m repeating myself, so I think I’ll give it a rest hoping that my repetition will avoid going on ad nauseam.

  80. Kaimi Wenger on July 12, 2006 at 2:32 pm

    Julie,

    I can appreciate that a particular BYU professor’s ideas do not constitute church Doctrine- with-a-capital-D.

    However, on the flip side, the church tends to be very thinly theorized. It’s one thing to discount a member’s opinion in Catholicism — you can say “brother so-and-so says X, but the real rule is in Summa Theologica and says Y.” But Mormons don’t _have_ a Summa Theologica. (The closest analogue is probably McConkie, which, um, creates its own issues.)

    Church doctrine-with-a-capital-D simply doesn’t give much guidance as to what “preside” means. And in the absence of such guidance, people have to fill the definition in _somehow_.

    You’re right that we don’t have official guidance as to what it means. You seem to suggest that given that absence, we should apply general Christian and egalitarian principles to come up with a sort of proto-feminist reading. As much as I’d like it if I could believe that :) , I don’t think it’s necessarily the most convincing way to fill in the blank as to what “preside” means.

    Given that we’ve got a lengthy history including records of gender relations involving church leaders, and a well-established church culture, my sense is that the most logical way to resolve ambiguities is to turn to those sources, rather than start with a tabula rasa, a dictionary, and some egalitarian principles. History should be some indication of what past leaders thought preside meant; and if culture were wrong in its reading, leaders would presumably say so. So the two obvious guides are culture and history, and both unfortunately weigh against your own reading.

    To get anywhere from there, I suppose, we have to answer more meta questions. Is the word “preside” sufficiently inextricable from Mormonism that one should try to “rescue” it against the evidence and recast it in a more egalitarian mold (which seems to be Julie’s project, abetted by Jim and others)? Or would it be better to jettison the concept altogether (which seem to be Kiskilili and S and Tea and Caroline’s tack)? Or are both reform wings wrong, and should we stick with existing, less egalitarian ideas (the approach favored by Adam and M&M)?

  81. Julie M. Smith on July 12, 2006 at 2:33 pm

    “However, the question I am interested in does her suggestion of the term “equal partnerâ€? work for you? (I personally like the suggestion quite a bit!)”

    As you might have gathered from this conversation, I am less interested in the terms that we apply to things than I am in how we define those terms. Apparently the Brethren think that in addition to the equal partner language, the preside language provides some benefit to the Saints. I don’t know what their reasoning is, but as for me, I think it has something to do with the fact that in modern societies, fathers and husbands are not strictly necessary (I could do this whole family thing by myself from sperm bank on) and we need to be clear that in ideal LDS homes, they are necessary. Equal partner language–by itself–suggests a fungibility that I think would be detrimental to LDS families.

  82. Kiskilili on July 12, 2006 at 2:36 pm

    My primary problem isn’t with the term “preside.” I find “hearken” much more difficult, and much less amenable to reclamation.

    But to continue the discussion on “presiding,” let’s imagine the term has no life outside the Church (it may be moribund anyway), is unrelated to the term “president” (an association that perhaps evades many), and has no Latin etymology (of which most are unaware). I’m still not entirely comfortable with the fact that the term is used to mean one thing (dare I say it is used in a more traditional sense?) in the context of Church settings, and something else again (an unprecedented usage?) in the context of the home. If it means a different thing when a father presides than when a bishop presides, and we’re understandably confused enough about that difference to warrant talks like Elder Oaks’, I think we’d be well served by choosing a different term to describe the father’s role.

    So, I wouldn’t necessarily exclude “preside” from the process (of “figuring out what it means”). But if we’re “figuring out” that its usage in one context is an “entirely different animal” (to quote Julie) from its usage in another, I suspect misunderstandings are bound to occur.

  83. Julie M. Smith on July 12, 2006 at 2:40 pm

    And the Niblet for understatement of the year goes to: “The closest analogue is probably McConkie, which, um, creates its own issues.” clap clap clap

    I completely agree with you that in the past, the doctrine of presiding was not well explicated and it was entirely possible for people to think it means something that it doesn’t and that many Saints did precisely this. Where I disagree with you is this: “You seem to suggest that given that absence, we should apply general Christian and egalitarian principles to come up with a sort of proto-feminist reading.”

    I don’t think I am doing this at all. If you go back to my original post, my ‘sources’ are not my own readings (although we could have all sorts of fun with Peter talking about Sarah obeying Abraham hahahah) but rather recent statements from the Brethren (there are lots of others I could have listed). I think it would be entirely appropriate to credit Mormon feminists and cultural trends with bringing this issue to the forefront and entirely appropriate to credit the Brethren with responding to the issue. To sum, I am not relyin on ‘general Christian and egalitarian principles,’ I am relying on statements made by the 12 and FP and the GHI, etc. I agree with you that, with a few exceptions such as the BY quote in the original post, there is plenty of 19C stuff against my position. But that’s 2 centuries ago. Look at what leaders from Pres. Kimball on have said on the issue, and you won’t find any support for the ‘presiding means having the final word’ type interpretations. (My original challenge still stands: find me the modern prophet who says otherwise.)

    And you may have misread m & m, but I’ll let her speak for herself.

  84. Julie M. Smith on July 12, 2006 at 2:41 pm

    Also: I am sensing that we are getting to the point where everyone has had her or his say and not much new is being put forth, so unless someone comes up with a really interesting threadjack, I will close comments round about 100.

  85. Kiskilili on July 12, 2006 at 2:44 pm

    unless someone comes up with a really interesting threadjack

    I hope that’s not a dare!

  86. Julie M. Smith on July 12, 2006 at 2:44 pm

    “I’m still not entirely comfortable with the fact that the term is used to mean one thing (dare I say it is used in a more traditional sense?) in the context of Church settings, and something else again (an unprecedented usage?) in the context of the home.”

    I am sorry that you aren’t ‘comfortable’ with the concept, but we either need to maintain that leadership in the home is different from leadership in the church, or we maintain that they are the same. Neither of these scenarios is a winner for your brand of feminism, and I would think you would find the first to be the lesser of two evils, at least.

  87. Mark Butler on July 12, 2006 at 2:44 pm

    As I have suggested before, one of the solutions to this cognitive dissonance regarding the proper meaning of the word preside, is to better understand the role of a “president” as a “presider” in a council of members who have more than just an advisory capacity.

    I have tried to suggest that no president, as such, can make a material decision unilaterally in righteousness. It does violence to the very concept of “presidency”. A president is not a king. A president is not a dictator. A president is there to make sure things are done in order, according to laws not of his own authorship.

    Letting a president do whatever he wants, and blindly override the will of a 2/3 majority of the council he presides in, turns a president into a despot.

    Note the analogy with the U.S. President – he is there to administer the laws, not to make up new ones – not to get his way, but to implement Congress’ way – the will of the people in this case. Only when or in contexts where the nation is under mortal threat does he acheive military authority the unification of executive, legistlative, and judicial powers within that context.

    That indeed is also the fall back position of the Priesthood – maintaince of basic order, countering mortal threats to life and liberty, by whatever means necessary. But in the civil order of the Priesthood, a president does not have (or should not have authority as such, except to carry out the will of the councils that preside over him, and to guide the formation of the will of the council he presides in).

    In short, I am sayin that in the civil order of the Church, presidents do not have author-ity, in and of themselves, only councils, in this case the council of husband and wife, or stake high council, or council of the Twelve, etc. have author-ity as such. All other author-ity is the creation of some other author, generally speaking a higher council, ultimately the council in heaven, where the Most High presides in righteousness, according to the laws of conciliar consensus, and common consent (of those who sustain the council in righteousness).

  88. Kiskilili on July 12, 2006 at 2:49 pm

    Sorry, I probably wasn’t clear. I agree that leadership in the home should be different from leadership in the church; this is why I think it would be helpful to use different terms to talk about them.

  89. Kaimi Wenger on July 12, 2006 at 2:49 pm

    Julie,

    Again, I’d like to agree with you. However, the statements you’ve cited are sufficiently fuzzy and open-ended that they seem to leave room for all sorts of readings of “preside.”

    The quotes do rule out “me Tarzan, you Jane” neanderthal-ish relations, yes. But they don’t speak one way or the other as to whether men have the final word. “Contributing and full partner” just doesn’t do that kind of work.

    My read is that the church leaders’ statements on the topic are ambiguous. They can reasonably be read as you’ve done; or they can be read as in harmony with a more traditional view of presiding.

    Given that ambiguity, the major reason to prefer your reading is, as I noted above, general Christian and egalitarian ideals. The major reason to prefer the other reading is history and culture. I think that you lose that battle — though I admire you for fighting it. I just don’t see the statements you’ve given as undercutting the traditional view. Open to other views (such as yours), yes — but they don’t undercut the traditional view.

  90. Mark Butler on July 12, 2006 at 2:49 pm

    “saying”, also move right parenthesis to just after “should not have”

  91. Mark Butler on July 12, 2006 at 2:51 pm

    Kiskilili (#88),

    If all the members of the ward were equally righteous, I suspect that the proper mode of ward administration would be much more like family administration than we might otherwise suppose.

  92. Jim F. on July 12, 2006 at 2:54 pm

    Kaimi (#82): You either misunderstood what I am saying in #81 or were posting while I was. I suspect the latter, but I want to repeat, I don’t think I am arguing that we should try to “rescueâ€? it [the term "preside"] against the evidence and recast it in a more egalitarian mold

    That way of putting things assumes that we know already what the term means. I assume that we may not.

  93. Jim F. on July 12, 2006 at 2:56 pm

    In other words, Kaimi, I think you are proceeding as a lawyer and I’m proceeding as a philosopher (though there is enough overlap between lawyer and philosopher to make the methodological distinction sometimes difficult).

  94. Julie M. Smith on July 12, 2006 at 2:59 pm

    “I agree that leadership in the home should be different from leadership in the church; this is why I think it would be helpful to use different terms to talk about them.”

    I think I already said this, but new terms would require a complete explanation of what we meant by them, so if we have some ‘splainin to do anyway, why not just stick with explaining the terms that we have?

    Wow, Kaimi, I guess I’ll just have to disagree with you on the interpretation issue. There is no room in my brain for a ‘full partner’ who doesn’t have an equal vote with the other ‘full partner.’ Similarly, Pres. Kimball and Young and Packer and Elder Oaks and Ballard et al have stated the issue fairly clearly. (If a woman doesn’t have to follow her husband in unrighteousness, in what sense does he have the last word?) I’d almost be relieved for someone to come up with the ‘money quote’ where 20th century Elder or President XYZ said, “Women should submit to their husbands decisions because presiding means that they have the last word” because it would make me stop wondering why so many people seem to think that that is Church practice when I cannot find any (official) support for it. I think we are looking down the barrel of one of the most egregious cases of folk doctrine and cultural assimilation and it has become so ingrained that we can’t even see that it isn’t officially taught.

  95. Kaimi Wenger on July 12, 2006 at 3:09 pm

    Julie writes:

    “There is no room in my brain for a ‘full partner’ who doesn’t have an equal vote with the other ‘full partner.’

    Sure, that requires a bit of linguistic stretch. But then, so does a definition of “preside” that doesn’t include a component of being “in charge.”

    And there’s the rub. You’re very willing to nibble around the edges of the word “preside” and find novel ways to read the concept of “preside.” But you put a lot of force on a straight-up reading of these other texts. I see no ex ante reason why our flexible definitional focus should be given to “preside” rather than to “full partner.”

    (And if you’d like legal examples of full partners who don’t get the last word, I can point out a number of them. :P ).

  96. Julie M. Smith on July 12, 2006 at 3:11 pm

    “But then, so does a definition of “presideâ€? that doesn’t include a component of being “in charge.â€?”

    I’m OK with a component of being in charge. I define ‘in charge’ as ‘having the ultimate responsibility for.’ I just don’t define ‘in charge’ as ‘having the last word.’

  97. Mark Butler on July 12, 2006 at 3:19 pm

    I don’t think presidency entails having the last word except in times of mortal exigency either. The authority of a president in a council is derived from others – they either honor him, or they do not. If they are right, and he is wrong that is to his condemnation. Of course there has to be some benefit of the doubt, especially in procedural matters, or nothing would ever get done.

  98. Téa on July 12, 2006 at 3:21 pm

    Julie Equal partner language–by itself–suggests a fungibility that I think would be detrimental to LDS families.

    I don’t understand the detriment here, Julie, could you elaborate? Equal partner language in my head runs something like “A family needs both a mother and a father as equal partners, both are needed and important.” Is that different from the equal partner language you see conveying that men and women are interchangeable?

    Going back to the visual of columns with headings of presiding in the home (aka duties of the husband), equal partnership in marriage, presiding at Church, and duties of the wife, my issue is reconciling the existence of with a need for four separate columns. It may be one of those things where it’s better for me to say, “well, this is the way it is taught. I don’t know why.”

    m&m’s quote about Elder Eyring eventually finding gold flakes in the sand of confusing counsel comforts me. The sand doesn’t magically turn to gold in our hand, but we are to gently shake our hand and look for the gold flakes to rise out of the detritus. I think discussions like this one have the potential to aid in my personal sifting.

  99. Kaimi Wenger on July 12, 2006 at 3:27 pm

    Julie,

    I’m not much of a gender-role traditionalist myself, but I suspect that traditional gender-role proponents harmonize that idea with the “equal partner” language, along the lines of “yes, we’re equal partners. She’s in charge of the kids, and I make the decisions.”

    And I _know_ it isn’t officially taught. But at the end of the day, we’re not in tabula rasa land. We’ve got 150+ years of history and well-ingrained culture. Given that accumulated baggage, ambiguous and open statements are not going to change the landscape. Until/unless church leaders _explicitly_ disavow the common ideas about presiding which you attack, those ideas are going to continue to be the norm.

  100. Julie M. Smith on July 12, 2006 at 3:32 pm

    Tea, if women and men are completely equal in the roles they take on, then one of them is perhaps nice to have around, but ultimately unnecessary. I think one function (but probably not the main one) of giving men and women different roles is that it serves as a reminder to us that both are necessary to the ideal family.

    Another problem with equal partners language is that the financial and structural realities of the modern/fallen world mean that extremely few couples will be equal partners in child raising and home management. (Although many plan on it, very few actually pull it off.) Since we are starting from an inequitable relationship, the addition of presiding language then becomes an effort toward creating equity in terms of responsibility.

  101. Julie M. Smith on July 12, 2006 at 3:34 pm

    So: regardless of what presiding means in the Church or the home, at T & S it means the ability to make unilateral decisions to do whatever you want. So I’m closing comments. I want to thank everyone who commented, particularly those who didn’t agree with me. I wouldn’t bother blogging if it weren’t for the chance to refine and defend my thoughts. And I especially appreciate the fact that there was no contention or hostility in the discussion of a hot-button topic. Thanks to all.