(Note: these are mostly my raw notes from a class I attended at BYU Education Week. I haven’t included much of my own insights and feelings, so feel free to chime in with some of your own observations, and quotes, etc from other sources I haven’t mentioned)
(EDIT 1/20/2013: A fellow blogger, Heather @ Women in the Scriptures recently posted an excellent piece about what it means to "preside" which I think goes hand in hand with the ideas in this post, and would be an excellent read if you are looking for more of what that means: find the post here
The priesthood structure in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is patriarchal. That is exactly what it is, and it is designed to be that way by God. But what that means is sometimes confusing, and leads a lot of men (and women) to think that men are somehow superior to, more important than, or the “ruler” of some kind – basically that men should lead and women should follow. This understanding is an inaccurate understanding of what patriarchal order means in the Church.
Last summer I attended BYU Education Week and attended a class about the patriarchal order and leadership in marriage. I haven’t typed up my notes for the blog yet, and I figured I should since I learned a lot of good things.
The instructor talked about three doctrines involved in the understanding of patriarchal order. We talked a little bit about other doctrines that have to be taken together to get the whole picture – for example, grace and works, justice and mercy, etc. If you look at only one of the doctrines, then you miss the picture and you get an incomplete understand of the full doctrine.
In order to understand the patriarchal order in the Church, we have to look at three doctrines:
1.) Men Preside
2.) Men and Women are Absolute Equals
3.) Gospel Leadership Means Service
The first doctrine, “Men Preside” at first sounds like men are in some way above women. The Merriam-Webster definition of preside states “to exercise guidance, direction, or control.” I think the first two are the most suitable in this situation – that a father presides to exercise guidance and direction, not necessarily control. The definition also includes “to occupy the place of authority.”
Elder Deal L. Larsen said, “In the Lord’s system of government, every organization unit must have a presiding officer. He has decreed that in the family organization the father assumes this role. He bears the priesthood ordination. He is accountable before the Lord for this leadership.”
Our instructor also mentioned that the patriarchal order has its divine spirit and purpose. We may not know exactly what that is in this life. We may know ever really know why men preside and not women, but we know that’s the way the Lord has instructed us to do it, and I do not think that it takes something away from women to not preside. I think it’s more about order.
Some responsibilities associated with presiding are
- lead with love, gentleness, and kindness
- preside at family prayer, family meals, and family home evening
- teach correct principles
- give father’s blessings
- conduct father’s interviews
- participate in children’s discipline
- sacrifice for the well being of the family
- set a good example
- live a family centered life
I don’t see anything in this list that would suggest that a man is “above” a woman in presiding. It is simply the order of things. And just because something is in this list does not mean that women cannot also do it. Even presiding at family prayer, family meals, and family home evening – at times a mother may preside in these instances.
Presiding implies taking initiative. The husband, in presiding, initiates gospel living in the home. He should not be the one dragged along by his wife or children.
Satan takes a lot of divine things and twists them around. He takes things that are sacred and beautiful and makes them profane and obscene. He has done the same thing with the patriarchal order and convinced men (and women) that since a man presides over his family that somehow means that he is more important than his wife, or he has the final say, or his wife’s input is not as important.
If we look only at the doctrine that men preside, our doctrine certainly appears chauvinistic and oppressive. We can’t stop here, we have to look at the other very important doctrines.
Men and Women are Absolute Equals
The second doctrine in the patriarchal order is “Men and Women are Absolute Equals”.
Remember, brethren, that in your role as leader in the family, your wife is your companion. As President Gordon B. Hinckley has taught: “In this Church the man neither walks ahead of his wife nor behind his wife but at her side. They are coequals.” Since the beginning, God has instructed mankind that marriage should unite husband and wife together in unity. Therefore, there is not a president or a vice president in a family. The couple works together eternally for the good of the family. They are united together in word, in deed, and in action as they lead, guide, and direct their family unit. They are on equal footing. They plan and organize the affairs of the family jointly and unanimously as they move forward.
While the husband may preside spiritually over the family (which really just means that he has a responsibility to guide and direct his family – basically show his family how to live the gospel and how to return to Heavenly Father), the wife stands by his side at the head of the family. She is not like the husband’s child. She is to stand with him, united “as they lead, guide, and direct their family unit.”
We talked about a few different kinds of “leaders” in a family.
The Dictator – there are actually two different types of dictators. There is a tyrant, who terrorizes his wife into doing what he wants her to do. “You will do this.” And then there is what our teacher called the “benevolent dictator”. This is the man who comes to his wife when it is time to make a decision on something, such as buying a new car, and says “Honey, what kind of car do you think we should buy?”, listens politely, and then goes out and buys whatever he wants to buy.
Reluctant Leader – this is the man who doesn’t really want to lead a family. He would rather let his wife take care of everything while he goes out to play (or stays in to play, as the case may be). The wife has to step up and lead the family because her husband won’t.
Figurehead – this is the leader who gets pushed out of the way by her wife. He appears to be the leader in the family, but the wife takes everything over without even consulting him (this, I might add, would be when the wife is the dictator). This man may want to be the leader in the home, and when questioned the wife may actually say he is the leader, but in reality she does it all. A lot of times this comes because the wife has an attitude of “I can do it better than you” rather than letting the husband lead the way he knows how, and encouraging him. In Father, Consider Your Ways, the twelve apostles counseled husbands (and wives) that fatherhood and the associated leadership “is not a matter of whether you are most worthy or best qualified, but it is a matter of law and [divine] appointment.” I think a lot of women might do well to remember that. It’s not about our husband’s being the best at being a husband or father, it’s about them being called. Just like it’s not about the Relief Society President being the best for the job – it’s about the Bishop having called her to be the president, and us sustaining her in that calling.
But none of these types of leaders are in harmony with gospel doctrine. The doctrine says that we should be equal partners. So what does that look like?
Equal Partners – both partners have veto power. Decisions are unanimous. If husband and wife don’t both agree, then the issue is tabled until they can agree. Honestly this is hard because sometimes it means that nothing gets done. Look at the United States Congress – and they don’t even have to have a unanimous vote! But that doesn’t change the fact that in order to be equal partners you must both agree. And sometimes that involved compromise (which is not a bad thing). Marion G. Romney reminded us that “Neither [husband nor wife] should plan or follow an independent course of action. They should consult, pray, and decide together.”
Another example our instructor used was that of two signatures on a check. Every decision requires two signatures – the husband’s, and the wife’s. He also mentioned that this is how the quorum of the twelve apostles works – all decisions have to be unanimous before the decision is official.
Gospel Leadership Means Service
The third doctrine we have to consider is that “Gospel Leadership Means Service”. “But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant.” Christ presides over His Church this way – as our servant. Elder Neal A. Maxwell taught us that we should be a “leader-servant”. The question a gospel leader should ask is “How can I help?” rather than “How can I help myself?” The father, as the leader of the family, is this “leader-servant”.
It’s almost important to remember that the presiding done by a father in the home is a spiritual leadership, rather than a governmental or political leadership. That is what Elder Perry meant when he said there is no “president” in the family. There is a man who is a spiritual leader, which means he is a “leader-servant”.
Joseph F. Smith taught men how to treat their wives, “Parents … should love and respect each other, and treat each other with respectful decorum and kindly regard, all the time. The husband should treat his wife with the utmost courtesy and respect. The husband should never insult her; he should never speak slightly of her, but should always hold her in the highest esteem in the home, in the presence of their children.”
President Boyd K. Packer also taught men about serving their wives and children.
It was not meant that the woman alone accommodate herself to the priesthood duties of her husband or her sons. She is of course to sustain and support and encourage them.
Holders of the priesthood, in turn, must accommodate themselves to the needs and responsibilities of the wife and mother. Her physical and emotional and intellectual and cultural well-being and her spiritual development must stand first among his priesthood duties.
There is no task, however menial, connected with the care of babies, the nurturing of children, or with the maintenance of the home that is not his equal obligation. The tasks which come with parenthood, which many consider to be below other tasks, are simply above them.
Those outside the Church think that ordination to the Priesthood means “power” in the worldly sense. The true meaning of the Priesthood in the Church means service and protection. President David O. McKay described Priesthood power like the power of a reservoir of water,
We can conceive of the power of the priesthood as being potentially existent as an impounded reservoir of water. Such power becomes dynamic and productive of good only when the liberated force becomes active in valleys, fields, gardens, and happy homes. So the priesthood, as related to humanity, is a principle of power only as it becomes active in the lives of men, turning their hearts and desires toward God and prompting service to their fellowmen.
…I say that because the priesthood you hold means that you are to serve others.
The Priesthood has no power until it is used to serve others.
How have you seen the principle of patriarchal leadership twisted by Satan? What blessings come to families when patriarchal leadership is practiced correctly, when husbands and father are servant-leaders and equal partners with their wives? Do you feel like patriarchal leadership is practiced correctly in your home? In your ward?