Zelophehad’s Daughters

Equality

Posted by Kiskilili

I’m equal. I believe that. I’m just not sure what I’m equal to. (Quite likely not to the task of composing this post.)

When issues of gender in the Church come up, the term equality is sure to be bandied about, sometimes with little clear reference to anything in particular. Phrases such as husbands and wives are equal partners are repeated like a mantra. It’s a beautiful statement. I’m just not sure what it means, exactly. Equal partners with respect to what?

Obviously no two people are granted equal opportunities or abilities in this life. In addition to some apparent general trends in differences between the sexes, individual variation presents a kaleidoscopic array of relative strengths, interests, and proclivities. Simple empirical observation leads us immediately to rule out any interpretation based on personal traits or circumstances, such as husband and wife are equally resilient or husband and wife are equally friendly. Individual cases differ drastically.

The point, you reply, is that husband and wife have equal value. Regardless of how anyone is treated in this life, in some unfathomable way, in God’s eyes, all of us have the same worth.

I like this idea. But if we accept it, does it then cease to matter how people are treated in this life, since God loves them regardless?

Men and women are equal, we’re told. This is a fact whose validity no external circumstances can threaten. Women’s equal value cannot be diminished, and if they simply believed it, they would have no reason to question the institution’s apparently lopsided distribution of power.

A parallel argument might serve to illustrate the ridiculousness of this stance. One could suggest that since God loves all his children equally, according everyone a supreme value which nothing can diminish, slavery is therefore acceptable. If the enslaved can just recognize their eternal value they will have no motivation to question the system. Those who do question it, one might suppose, suffer from personal insecurity. They mistakenly place their trust in the world to give them value, rather than in God, who loves them whether they are “bond [or] free” (2 Nephi 26:33).

(Please note: I am NOT saying that Mormon women are effectively slaves. I’m choosing an extreme example to highlight why this line of reasoning does not hold water.)

Of course, I’d like to believe God loves slaves, and that no amount of idignity in this life can deprive them of God’s valuation in the eternities. But this does not present a valid argument against critiquing slavery as an institution.

Feminists like to point to the apparent contradiction between claiming that one spouse presides and the other hearkens, and yet that at the same time husband and wife are equal partners. Not such a contradiction, others counter–husband and wife have equal value even though they are called to perform different functions.

In this way, by advancing assertions about equality of value in the rhetorical context appropriate to discussing power, the issue is effectively skirted and the Gordian knot, if not untied, is slashed loose with a sword. But such statements do nothing to adress directly a fundamental question: whether husband and wife can, do, or should wield equal power in decision-making for the family and in their personal lives.

Or, when power is examined, another oft employed strategy is to tally points in an effort to demonstrate equivalence in the sheer amount of raw power each spouse wields, without addressing who has power over whom and why. Women have a natural fund of power over children that men lack, some assert, so men are compensated with more official power over everyone else in the family. It all adds up to a balanced equation.

Whether such stunts make sense or not, the question at the heart of the matter remains unaddressed: are men granted power of a sort over women, is this appropriate, and why?

I’m still not entirely sure what equality means (and the very problematics of the term itself seem to have created space to advance certain claims verging dangerously close to outright duplicity in statements along the lines of “men and women have equal opportunity to make covenants,” for example), but I would be interested in a discussion of power and subordination, in marriage and in the Church institution, without any reference to equality or attempts to keep score between the sexes.

Discussions about equality in value, as important as they can be, are often used to create a diversion from other issues. The implication of insisting that men preside over women is that, whether or not women are equally valued in some eternal scheme, they are not sufficiently capable or competent or trustworthy. Or perhaps that the only way to achieve unity between two individuals is to subordinate one of them.

87 Responses to “Equality”

  1. 1.

    Can you say a little about what you want the comments for this post to look like?

    On the one hand, it seems that you are trying to open a dialogue on your question “Are men granted power of a sort over women, is this appropriate, and why?”

    On the other hand, you use language such as “bandied about”, “mantra”, “skirted”, “stunts,” “create a diversion” etc., to describe the positions/arguments of those who might answer your question in the affirmative, which suggests that you aren’t welcoming dialogue on the subject.

  2. 2.

    I wish I had an answer – instead I can add what I’ve been thinking as well. In my friendships (I am a woman and most of my close friends are women), there is no need to establish a hierarchy or have one friend “in charge.” Yet, these friendships go very well. If a problem comes up or we have to decide something, I have found compromise or discussion always works. If this works between two friends, why shouldn’t it work in a marriage? Why must someone “preside”? Also, in the government, there is no explicit hierarchy of the sexes, and the government “works”. (No need to go into different opinions on if it really works or not; it functions, at any rate.) It seems completely odd to me to have one sex in authority. It would be like chosing something else as random but genetically decided like hair color. All blondes are in charge (oh wait, that was done to some extent and his name was Hitler). It just seems to make no sense unless the male gender is somehow superior. Are we willing to accept that? What if that really is the answer? Because I can think of absolutly no other answer that makes sense and still makes God fair.

  3. 3.

    That is an interesting thought, that most of the time that we are talking about equality Discussions about equality in value, as important as they can be, are often used to create a diversion from other issues and one I had not thought of before.

    There are a lot of other issues, aren’t there.

    Seems like all of life is a distraction sometimes.

  4. 4.

    Although this is not exactly what you wanted comments on, I wanted to add my two cents on how I think of phrases such as husbands and wives are equal partners. While they do have equal value, as you pointed out, that’s never how I’ve interpreted equality in these type of statements. I’ve always read it as having equal responsibility. As in husbands and wives are equally responsible for teaching their children. They are equally responsible for taking care of their family physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

    This doesn’t mean that they don’t have different responsibilities. I see this as similar to when you have a group project in a class. Different members of the group are responsible for different portions of the project, but all are equally responsible for completing the project. Husbands and wives have different specific responsibilities (and how exactly the responsibilities are divided is different in each marriage), but both are equally responsible for the well-being of the marriage and the family.

    As for the ever-contentious issue of presiding, I tend to ignore it, because I don’t like it. I don’t know if it’s the best solution, but it seems to work for me. Really, the only “presiding” I can think of that my husband does is that he asks someone to say the prayer at dinner (especially when we have people over). And well, someone has to be in charge of this. I was the “dad” in my college apartment because I was the one that asked someone to say the prayer. Someone had to, and I was more assertive than my roommates, so I became the “dad.” But I find it amusing that calling on someone to say the prayer automatically made me the “dad” — as if that’s the only “presiding” that most fathers do. (I don’t know how true that is — I just thought it was interesting.)

  5. 5.

    I like this post. It’s not too charged, and brings up things I think need to be discussed.

    Are men granted power of a sort over women?
    I’d say yes.

    Is this appropriate?
    I’d also say yes.

    And why?
    If I didn’t think that God loved his children and gave them commandments and covenants that truly were best for them, I’d say no to it being appropriate. But if God is God and is fair, then how things are set up must be appropriate. That’s the only thing that gives me a sense of peace about the disparity. (Well, that, and the fact that I’ve been lucky enough to not see the authority disparity be abused.)

    All the other questions are ones that only God knows the answers to. Maybe men in general are better at being in leadership positions. Maybe motherhood has similar power to priesthood. I don’t know. I would like to know, even if I didn’t like the answer. But for me the important part is that God loves us, and won’t keep us down, eternally.

    1 Nephi 11:17 And I said unto him: I know that he loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things.

    Sometimes that scripture is my mantra. Having faith is hard sometimes.

  6. 6.

    Are husbands in the church granted power over their wives? Are wives subjugated to their husbands.

    No.

    Are men granted power*** over women in Church government?

    Yes. But they are also granted power over men.

    In the Church are men as a group granted power over women as a group?

    No. Individual men are granted power over groups of men and women. And individual women are granted power over groups of women and children.

    Are women in the church subjugated to men?

    In a very limited sense, yes. And so are men. My bishop has the same power over me as he has over my wife.

    ***The power we’re talking about here is limited to Church activity. People who lead church organizations have the last word over what goes on in their stewardship. For example, bishops, though constrained by strict limits and guidelines, have the power to decide who can or can’t go to the temple, or who will teach what class and what will be taught. But nobody anywhere in the Church has power or authority to usurp any other person’s autonomy.

  7. 7.

    Great question, Julie. I’m interested in a discussion of women’s positions in the Church specifically that does not explain them in terms of equality (I think we’ve had the discussion centered on equality several times over!). But I don’t mean necessarily a discussion in these comments, just in general. As always, feel free to take this conversation whatever direction you deem appropriate.

    Amen, Rilkerunning! I agree with your sentiments completely. My problem is exactly yours–I see no good way out of the implications of teaching that husbands preside than that men are universally more competent than women. I’ve seen some attempts that interest me, though, even though I’m not currently convinced by them.

    Thanks for your comments as always, Stephen. (Your tone is a model to me!)

    I very much like your model centered on responsibility, Vada. It makes a lot of sense to me to assume both spouses are equally reponsible but that those responsibilities might be divided differently, depending on their individual interests, strengths, etc.

    Beautifully stated, Halcyon. I truly admire your faith in the face of recognizing the disparity. I personally have difficulty exercising that kind of faith. When Church teachings appear morally wrong to me or simply don’t make sense, leaving me torn between my conscience and doctrine God apparently (?) approves of, it’s hard for me to hold onto my belief in God’s love. Partly for this reason I end up choosing my conscience. But thanks again for that comment; it’s wonderfully stated.

    I hope that you’re right, Tom, and that (speaking descriptively) most husbands in the Church do not have power over their wives. The way I read the official language in the Church laying out the relationship between husband and wife that should obtain, though, very much grants husbands power over their wives (whether individuals follow this advice or not). I recognize efforts have been made in recent years to redefine terms such as “preside” and to qualify clauses about hearkening (formerly “obeying”), but I remain wary of this tactic. Husbands are told to preside over their wives (in righteousness); wives are told to hearken to their husbands (in righteousness). In spite of the obvious fact that everyone is told to be righteous, I can’t avoid interpreting this sort of language as submission on the part of women.

  8. 8.

    I dunno, K. The overwhelming message I get from official Church communication is that husband and wife should be equal partners. So whatever the imperatives to preside and hearken are supposed to mean in practice, they are subordinate to the equal partner one. I know, it get’s tricky when we consider that the contexts in which we find preside and hearken (the Proclamation and the temple, respectively) might indicate priviledged status. But the ideal that is communicated in GC and the Ensign, which I consider the most reliable sources for the current attitude of Church leadership, is not that men should have power over their wives. As long as I’ve been paying attention I can’t remember seeing anything in those fora that suggest that wives should be obedient or subservient to their husbands.

    Incidentally, I don’t ever remember being told to preside over my wife. The Proclamation states that “fathers are to preside over their families . . .” which isn’t the same thing as saying that husbands are to preside over their wives. I know, the wife is part of the family but it’s very clear that in practice Church leadership doesn’t believe that “presiding over the family” should entail subjugation of the wife in any form, to any extent.

    It seems that there is a failure to communicate. Kind of. There is no failure to communicate the ideal of equal partnership. That one comes across loud and clear. But we don’t have a clear exposition of how equal partnership, preside, and hearken all fit together.

  9. 9.

    As much as I would like to say that the church truly values men and women the same, I simply can’t justify such an assertion.

    We often here statements championing the sentiment that a “husband and wife should be equal partners”, or that “men are given the priesthood to compensate for their inability to bear children.” As nice as these sentiments are, I have a hard time seeing them as anything but apologetic. Western civilization has been patriarchal for so long, that it is engrained in our society and our church. Just as our Church has denied religious rights to minorities in the past based upon cultural malignancies, so it continues to allow antiquated cultural preconceptions to taint its current policies. Men and women are not valued the same in the church, just look at the youth program. The YM are given the priesthood and prepared to serve missions; YW are conditioned to become good wives and mothers (not that those aren’t wonderful). When was the last time anyone attended a YM lesson where becoming a good husband was the topic?

    I know there are those who believe that all of these difficult Church policies are inspired, e.g. a husband presiding over his wife or women wielding virtually no power in the ecclesiastical hierarchy. I don’t believe such policies are inspired by God, I think they are inspired by centuries of social conditioning. It is my view that things will change when those who formulate these policies began to see how antiquated they are against the backdrop of general society.

  10. 10.

    Are men currently granted line authority to represent the will of the Lord in righteousness in the council of husband and wife in a way that women are not? Yes.

    However that authority extends only as far as what the Lord requires. As soon as a president’s preferences come into play, he is on an equal playing field with all the other members of the council. The inequality is only in the mantle and not in personality. This should be the pattern for presidents everywhere, in one form or another, or the term is meaningless.

    Note that the United States President is tasked with the responsibility to execute a law authored by others, not just make up law willy nilly. The only general exceptions are military (emergency) authority and foreign relations.

    The scriptures teach however, that no council makes a decision with binding authority except the members be unanimous. That technically means that presidents cannot make unilateral decisions, except in times of exigency (where anyone can if necessary) or administrativia. If husband and wife were the Congress, no law could pass unless both were agreed. Same if they were the Supreme Court, with respect to binding decisions.

    The most particular distinction of the husband is not superior personal authority in council (for that is sin), but the mantle of representation of higher authority, i.e. it is his job to represent the law and order of higher councils, like a judge. In council, the voice of justice.

    The wife, on the other hand, is the particular representative of all her children. In council, the voice of mercy. (Mercy is always a her, if you haven’t noticed).

    Now at-one-ment in council is where the demands of justice and the demands of mercy become one. Justice cannot override mercy, nor mercy justice, in righteousness. Of course, the at-one-ment of any council only occurs when each member bears the infirmities of the others (and those they represent) – which means patience, long suffering, love, and so on.

  11. 11.

    I agree with Jared E. I think an examination of church history reveals that not every church policy was inspired by God. I think Heavenly Father directs his church, but he doesn’t micromanage it.

    Changes like “obey” to “hearken,” and the recent (frequent) references to equality in GC talks show the new trend. I don’t think it will be long until the phrase in the proclamation will be the only leftover reference to “presiding.”

    Things are getting better and better for women with time as men realize the weakness of the old way. There is no hint so far of women ever having the priesthood, but I also don’t see that as an impossiblity. When President Hinckley was asked about that he said “I don’t think so,” not “no.” And, even if he said no, it could still happen one day. There was a time when General Authorities were positive that blacks would never have the priesthood.

    It’s important to remember that God’s children aren’t perfect, and he allows us to be that way. (Shocking statement- even GA’s aren’t perfect, and they’re the first to admit it.)

    As far as how I use the term “preside” in our family, it just means he’s the one with the priesthood. It doesn’t mean he’s in charge or anything like that. It just means that his responsibility is making sure that those who need blessings get them, etc.

  12. 12.

    The main difficulty for me is the language of “over” and “under”, i.e., men preside over their families, (lumping wives and children together, rather than distinguishing the wife as a separate, adult entity. She is equated with her children, not her husband). If men preside/rule over women (and other men), women are under them, or are in a subordinate position and they are not on equal footing.

    Tom used the words that really make me uncomfortable — the idea that men holding the priesthood have been “granted power over” others. Is that what priesthood ordination does — give a man power over another? Or does priesthood ordination grant a man the opportunity to give power to others — the power contained in saving ordinances, the power to heal, etc.? I think it is the latter and I would be more comfortable with using words to reflect that idea. (Tom, just an observation — no offense taken or intended).

    I think Jared’s point is on target. Policies and teachings claiming that men have power or authority over women are based on hundreds, maybe thousands, of years of social conditioning rather than being based in inspiration or revelation. For example, the laws and principles revealed to women through Joseph Smith were centered in an autonomous Relief Society. I believe the correlation of that organization under “priesthood authority” speaks to the comfort level of the people, not God’s will for women. I think in a number of instances, we are like the Israelites of old, who turned to the comforts of the familiar golden calf of Egypt rather than accept the higher laws God offered them through Moses.

    But, like Zud, I feel optimistic, and I look forward to the changes and growth in the church that are coming.

  13. 13.

    Great comment, Tam. I learned something from your reference to our wording “preside over.” Maybe we can help move things along by always wording references to the priesthood more accurately. For example, when teaching Gospel Doctrine or speaking up in Relief Society, or giving talks- we could say “men are to preside in the family, using their priesthood to empower their wives and their children through blessings, ordinations, and the power to heal.”

    I do feel optimistic for change, and I hope that any women who feel slighted or who worry that God loves them less will know better. This perceived subordination of women is uncomfortable both for women and men.

    I have no doubt that Heavenly Father cringes when he sees the pain caused to his daughters by mankind’s weakness.

  14. 14.

    Tam,
    I’m similarly uncomfortably with the ‘grant power over’ language. That’s why I put the last paragraph on my comment #6, to make clear that we aren’t talking about a usurpation of personal autonomy. But it is true that part of an ecclesiastical leader’s job is to direct the affairs of his or her stewardship and there is some power granted in that the bishop, for example, judges who is in good standing and decides who performs what tasks within the ward.

    I can see how saying that men preside over the family is problematic, considering that the wife is part of the family. But it is clear that as far as Church leadership is concerned equal partnership is the ideal and subjugation and oppression are forbidden. So whatever presiding over the family means, it doesn’t entail wives being subordinates.

    Ultimately I see the priesthood as an assignment to serve, not as an honor or as a means of wielding power over others. I wouldn’t mind if the priesthood were extended to women if that’s what the Lord wants, but I don’t think that having a male-only priesthood subjugates, degrades, or harms women. I’m fine with men and women having different assignments.

  15. 15.

    I am going to offer my experience as proof that husbands do have power over their wives. Generally it seems that my husband and I have an equal partnership; however, several years ago my husband felt inspired to make a decision that I completely disagreed with. He spoke to the bishop about the decision, and the two men decided that it would be the best thing for my family to do. Even with the bishop’s endorsement I knew the decision would be devastating to me and my children, and I argued fervently against it. I was compared to the murmuring women of the scriptures and my choice was dismissed. I was powerless and my choices were limited: divorce my husband or go along with the decision that he believed to be led by God.
    It is difficult for me to believe that God truly loves women, and that there is equality in the Church. Women are denied a straight forward relationship with God and, instead, are commanded to obey an imperfect men.

  16. 16.

    “I have no doubt that Heavenly Father cringes when he sees the pain caused to his daughters by mankind’s weakness.”

    I wonder what Heavenly Mother thinks of the pain caused to her daughters. For me the inequality begins at the point where god is consistently conceived of as a man. I wish there were language for divinity that could make it easier to connote a masculine/feminine partnership rather than male (or female)dominance. I suspect that if that could change, a lot of other things would follow and I could be a much happier camper in the church.

    Equality is a tough concept, just like “fair” is. So what could it mean in a heirarchical organization? Perhaps some sort of parity in treatment? People serve in their best capacities based on their talents, and are served based on their needs, perhaps.

  17. 17.

    There is no hint so far of women ever having the priesthood, but I also don’t see that as an impossiblity.

    A great case can be made that women already hold the priesthood, but only abstain from utilizing it due to current policy. In fact there are many examples in church history of women using the priesthood in ways which only men do now days, e.g. giving blessing, etc. I tend to think that the almighty drive toward correlation and bringing all activities under the direct purview of the priesthood has been a large contributor in this change in policy.

    In fact, if you haven’t read the round table discussion on correlation over at BCC, I recommend you do. There is a volume one and a volume two.

  18. 18.

    This is maybe a bit tangential, but I like your point that a personal witness of God’s love doesn’t necessarily entail acceptance of the status quo. I can see such an experience going in at least two different directions:

    1) I’m convinced that God loves and values me (and all his children)–therefore, even if I don’t understand all the practices of the Church, I can trust that they are good.

    2) I’m convinced that God loves and values me (and all his children)–therefore, I’m going to critique Church practices which seem to suggest otherwise.

    Whether you opt for #1 or #2 might largely depend on how closely you believe God is involved in the Church, and to what extent you see the Church as a product of its culture.

  19. 19.

    Lynnette,
    I like how you phrase the dichotomy. As can be seen from my comments above, I opt for #2. #1 seems to me completely untenable in my view. In a recent post of mine, I talk about how I wish we as Mormons would base our theology on Gospel assumptions, instead of revelatory assumptions. By Gospel assumptions, I mean things Christ actually said. Revelatory assumptions is meant to connote the inference that any policy instigated by the leaders of the Church must be inspired. Often I find members over-riding basic Gospel principles with ‘doctrine’ supplied by past and present church leaders.

  20. 20.

    Thanks for all of these very interesting comments. I only have a couple of minutes right now, but there are a few points I’d like to address briefly.

    Regarding the discrepancy between the message the Church conveys through its most official venues (liturgy, proclamation), and the drumbeat of equal partnership we hear over the pulpit–how do we decide to which texts we accord primacy? My interpretation is that the Church’s repeated insistence on equal partnership and the horror expressed that some men usurp authority over their wives are, in fact, evidence of a profound discomfort with the implications of some of our own most sacred doctrines. (The Church doth protest too much.) With the right hand our leaders grant men power over their wives, and with the left hand they tell them they have no such power; one hand evidently does not know what the other is doing.

    As long is this discrepancy exists and the boundaries of authority are murky and inconsistent, the Church really gives us no method for discerning a difference between unrighteous usurpation of authority and righteous presiding. The two are entirely of a piece.

    And as Anonymous illustrates so well, one spouse exercising what he construes as his God-given authority over the family most definitely entails subordination for the other member of this purportedly “equal” partnership. As much as the Church expresses shock that men might dominate their wives, it has simultaneously fertilized the seeds for that to happen.

    Add to the mix that revelation often is ambiguous, and as long as the father believes (or even claims) he is acting according to God’s will, he has very real power over his wife.

    (I’m sorry for that experience, Anon–it sounds truly miserable.)

    Men have power over women in the Church. Sure, they might abdicate it in favor of an egalitarian arrangement. They might counsel with their wives. They might genuinely use it to serve in the best way they know how. Or, they might exercise it unilaterally. This is one result of using the terms that we do (preside, hearken, etc.).

  21. 21.

    Excellent post, K. I think the bottom line is that many women have positive experiences in the Church because men choose to counsel with women and approximate an egalitarian relationship with them. But as Anonymous points out, the potential for abuse of male ecclesiastical power over women is high.

    I also wonder if this is a reason why male Church leaders don’t encourage women to establish careers outside the home. Women who have economic power and a social network outside the home and Church are much more difficult to “control”.

  22. 22.

    Wow, Kiskilili and Anon 1 and 2. Your comments really got me thinking. Anon, I’m so sorry for your experience.

    I guess my main conclusion is the # 2 from Lynettes post:

    2) I’m convinced that God loves and values me (and all his children)–therefore, I’m going to critique Church practices which seem to suggest otherwise.

    It is very important to me to teach my future daughter(s) to be equal partners with their husbands in the most real sense.

    If I believed that God wanted women to be controlled by men, I might actually try to come to grips with that, and allow His will to be my own. I don’t think that that’s what He wants, though. In fact, I personally believe that seeing it happen causes Him (and Heavenly Mother) a lot of pain.

  23. 23.

    K: “Men have power over women in the Church.”

    Only husbands who are not living up to the ideal. Wives in the Church—the ones that aren’t living up to the ideal—also have power over their husbands.

    The endowment and Proclamation don’t exist in a vaccuum. They are received in the midst of the equal partners “drumbeat” from the people with authority to declare the ideal in family relationships. In trying to understand what preside and hearken are supposed to mean, the first thing is to know that they don’t mean spousal subordination. Period.

    And now I’m repeating myself.

  24. 24.

    Anonymous, and Anon #2 touch directly on the major critique I have about the church structure. The power structure makes it possible for the rank and file men and women to have equal autonomy, feelings of worth, etc. I would like it best if the power structure and policy made it impossible or at least very difficult for the opposite to happen, for women to have limited autonomy, feelings of worthlesness etc. As it stands, in my opinion, it is not near hard enough (it is, in fact, rather easy) for a man to exercise unrighteous dominion, or feel that he is justified in treating women poorly.

  25. 25.

    Tom, if I’m understanding your position correctly, you’re saying that if the language about husband-wife relationships found in the Proclamation and liturgy seems to conflict with how these relationships are described in talks by GAs and the like, we should base our views primarily on the latter framework, and read the former only in light of it. But I think that the problem is that it’s not clear which message is in fact more authoritative–one could just as easily base their views on the liturgical language, and interpret what is said about “equal partnership” in light of it (perhaps resulting in situations such as the one described in #17).

    Starfoxy, nicely put.

  26. 26.

    The father presides over the family and is responsible to teach the children and provide the necessities of life for the family.

    This quote is taken directly from the family guidebook. Here is another quote taken only a few paragraphs later.

    The mother is an equal partner and counselor to her husband. She helps him teach their children the laws of God. If there is no father in the home, the mother presides over the family.

    How can the father “preside over” yet be and “equal partner?” I don’t know. In our family, my husband have different roles that together run the ship. That’s the way it should be.

    Anon, I, too, am sorry for your experience. I know one thing: God loves me, (I’m a woman.)

  27. 27.

    The father is an equal partner with his wife because no part of being a president means getting your way, it means representing others. In other words, if there is no direction from above on a subject, the weight of the opinion of husband and wife should be precisely equal.

    That is what the mantle of the priesthood means – not to magnify one’s own will but to magnify and represent that of the Father. The wife has a proxy responsibility as well – to represent her children in the council of husband and wife, theoretically to the nth generation.

    Now I think there are more egalitarian orders of the priesthood, most famously the Anointed Quorum and the law of common consent, but the idea that in the family order of the priesthood there will be no division of representation seems extremely unlikely, because it would result in chaos. The whole point of the family order is to delegate spiritual and temporal responsibility for the salvation of souls along family, and more particularly patrilineal lines.

    And that patrilineal family order will certainly be dominant in the eternities at least until ones one posterity is exalted unto the nth generation, whereupon the principle of celestial equality of all the exalted will be manifest. I beleive Joseph Smith understood this principle, and that is the reason for the Anointed Quorum, at type of the broadest council of divine government in the heavens above. After all, what is the point of one exalted person presiding permanently over other exalted persons, except when sustained by common consent?

    If the patrilineal order were the highest order of celestial administration the number of generations away from Adam would make all the difference in the world. That does not make sense, hence the principle of quorums, and a flattening of the patrilineal responsibility as generations are saved and exalted, to the degree that the highest level of celestial government runs more like a republic, or society of friends, and less like a feudal patriarchy.

    If one pursues the scriptures carefully, the change in mode of government (and priesthood) according to circumstance and maturity is all over the place. That is why there is more than one divinely respected mode of government, and more than one divine order of the priesthood. Some are better than others, but they require a greater level of spiritual maturity to succeed. A republic requires much more spiritual maturity on the part of the electors than a patriarchy, for example. Patriarchies are for kids, literally. And we are yet children, at least until we are exalted ourselves.

  28. 28.

    Lynette,
    Right. I priviledge clear, repetitive exposition by living apostles over stand-alone interpretations of the language of the Proclamation and endowment (also over words of past prophets, ancient and modern). I believe the whole point of having a living Church led by prophets is that they can communicate to us how the Lord wants us to do things right now. If the prophets say over and over that marriage is to be an equal partnership with no subjugation or subordination, then by virtue of my sustaining vote I’m obliged to take that as authoritative. If other directives appear to be in conflict with the official, ongoing communications of the prophets, I’ll look for an out. There are outs in the case of preside and hearken, and I don’t think they require much imagination (I will admit that hearken requires a bit more than preside).

    I do agree that it would be beneficial to make it harder for husbands to feel justified in subjugating their wives. It’s already pretty darn hard for people who are paying attention, but more could probably be done. For example, I would welcome an authoritative discourse on how exactly we should understand hearken in light of the directive to be equal partners. But honestly, from what I observe I don’t see much reason to believe that in general men in the church use the priesthood to justify subjugation of their wives. Of course, there are bad apples, and the prophets have spoken plainly against this kind of thing, so they probably see that there is some problem, but a widespread, accepted practice it’s not. Even my way old-school dad gets that he’s not the boss.

  29. 29.

    But honestly, from what I observe I don’t see much reason to believe that in general men in the church use the priesthood to justify subjugation of their wives.

    I’m not sure what you observe should be the standard for determining whether men use the priesthood to subjugate their wives. You’d be surprised at what goes on when you’re not around.

    As Anonymous #1 illustrates, there’s no practical check and balance on men telling their wives what to do (remember the whole “tie breaker” approach to presiding). The man’s personal revelation for what his family should do automatically trumps any personal revelation the wife may receive about what they should do.

  30. 30.

    You’re right that my observation doesn’t prove anything. That’s why I offer it as an observation and not a conclusion. It’s entirely possible that this happens in every marriage. But if men using the priesthood to subjugate their wives were an accepted, common practice I would expect to have observed it or had conversations with men who thought that’s the way it should be or had it taught in elder’s quorum or something. If I never observe it or observe it very rarely or second hand on the internet, I’m not going to assume that it is happening all over the place just because it could be. So I stand by my observation: I don’t see much reason to believe that in general men in the Church use the priesthood to justify subjugation of their wives. Other people may see good reasons to believe this. I don’t.

    As Anonymous #1 illustrates, there’s no practical check and balance on men telling their wives what to do (remember the whole “tie breaker” approach to presiding). The man’s personal revelation for what his family should do automatically trumps any personal revelation the wife may receive about what they should do.

    There’s also no practical check on women telling their husbands what to do. Do we want the Church to interfere in people’s marriages, to adjudicate every decision and make sure that decisions are made according to the ideal? I don’t. I think the Church should teach the ideal and let people govern themselves. The problem with anon #1′s bishop is that he did interfere. He should have told her husband that they had to work it out themselves.

    The “tie breaker” approach to presiding is called unrighteous dominion. The prophets have made it clear that the husband does not have the last word. The man’s personal revelation does not trmp the wife’s personal revelation. When there is conflict, they have to work it out.

  31. 31.

    I agree with Tom that the bishop should have told them to resolve their issues on their own, or he should have helped them come to a decision together. I also agree that the GA’s have made it clear that men don’t get to have the last say. That’s why I think “preside” must just mean to be the representative of the priesthood in the family. He’s the guy who makes sure that any needs the family has for priesthood ordinances/blessings are met.

    Of course, that’s just my own conclusion, but since the brethren don’t explain “preside,” we all have to come to our own conclusions. Like I mentioned on Feminist Mormon Housewives, I think “hearken” is going to go the way of throat slashing. It’s just a matter of time.

  32. 32.

    So, on paper, the man is in charge, but in practice he has no more “authority” or “power” than the woman? The bottom line is that there’s a huge disconnect between what’s written and what is said. It’s confusing at best, and disingenous at worst.

  33. 33.

    Anon #2,
    What paper? Nowhere on the paper on which current official communication from the General Authorities is written does it say that husbands are in charge. There are instances, such as during the endowment, where things are communicated that can be, but don’t have to be, construed as putting men in charge of their wives. But when these things are understood in light of clear, current, repetitive direction from apostles that husbands and wives should be equal partners and that there should be no subjugation or subordination, it is clear that they should not be construed as putting husbands in charge.

    I don’t doubt that sincere, intelligent people are honestly confused by what they see as mixed messages. Maybe the Church could do a better job of communicating to help us sort these things out.

  34. 34.

    You’re right, Ziff. Probably more common is the wife that domineers by guilt tripping and witholding sex, and I can’t think of anything in church discourse that she could point to as justification for that. But in order for a man to feel justified in domineering his wife, he would have to be not paying much attention and/or have very selective hearing.

  35. 35.

    A wife who wants to dominate her husband,
    though, is going to come up empty if she looks to Church sources for justification.

    Ziff, I beg to differ. I think a woman who is inclined to be a tyrant in the home has plenty of ammo. I found the following quotes from the Ensign in search that took about 15 seconds:

    To value women includes respecting their special insights.

    Motherhood is near to divinity. It is the highest, holiest service to be assumed by mankind. It places her who honors its holy calling and service next to the angels.

    So often the service of women seems instinctive

    I think the message come through loud and clear that women are better than men, and that therefore their wishes are to be deferred to. And Tom is right to poin out that there is no check on a woman’s unrighteous dominion. Men get warned about it a few dozen times per year. I will lay money right now at 10-1 odds that this weekend in the general women’s meeting not a word will be said on this topic.

    I agree with the previous commenters that the experience recounted by anon # 1 is sad. I want to inquire if we think her experience is qualitatively different from the 10 or 15 men I know who work two jobs in order to live near their in-laws, at their wives’ insistence. They are smart, capable guys who have been offered jobs that would double their salary in a different state, but their wives veto the move on the grounds that “family is important” so they continue to work their crappy jobs during the day and go stock shelves at Wal-Mart at night.

    Frankly, I’ve been amazed that most of the people commenting here seem to think that bossiness is a male characteristic. It goes both ways, people. Section 121 applies to all of us.

  36. 36.

    Anon #2:
    As Anonymous #1 illustrates, there’s no practical check and balance on men telling their wives what to do (remember the whole “tie breaker” approach to presiding). The man’s personal revelation for what his family should do automatically trumps any personal revelation the wife may receive about what they should do.

    Tom:
    There’s also no practical check on women telling their husbands what to do.

    There is a difference, though, between a husband who wants to tell his wife what to do, and a wife who wants to tell her husband what to do. Such a husband can find plenty of ammunition for his argument in the Proclamation, in the temple, in the family guidebook jilopa cited, to back up his argument. A wife who wants to dominate her husband, though, is going to come up empty if she looks to Church sources for justification. Of course it’s possible to try to explain away the husband’s ammunition from church sources in light of other Church sources, but the fact remains that there’s a huge imbalance in statements about who should preside (if anyone): they all say the husband. So I think there’s little danger that Church rhetoric will be used by domineering wives to push their husbands around.

  37. 37.

    Anon # 2,

    In what sense is “guilt tripping” somebody not a form of unrighteous dominion? If Anon # 1 didn’t feel obligated to go along with what her bishop or husband said, why was there a problem?

    The most recent statistics indicate that if we include shoves and slaps, wives are slightly more likely to initiate domestic violence than husbands.

    The church is working hard to weaken the influence of hearken and preside. At the same time, it is setting the superiority of women in concrete.

  38. 38.

    Wow, this thread’s getting exciting! I’ve got to run to class, but I’ll just add that the rhetoric claiming women are superior is, I believe, a counterbalance to the disparity of power in the Church in favor of men. (I’m pretty sure it popped up as a result of second-wave feminism as the Church became increasingly self-conscious about its gendered power differential.) I’m not convinced it’s set in concrete, and I really think the way to attack that demon is to eliminate terms like “hearken” and “preside” entirely (though we may have to ordain women if we want to eradicate it entirely. ;))

    Also, the research I’ve read indicates that marriages in which one spouse physically mistreats the other are almost always lopsided in terms of power, and that lopsided marriages create a breeding ground for abuse. Sometimes it’s the spouse with less power doing the abusing and sometimes the spouse with more.

    And I do think it’s helpful to make a distinction between descriptive statements (women are angelic) vs. prescriptive statements (men should preside). The former attempts to state a fact (though patently false). The latter gives us a model for how we should behave (which some of us consider inappropriate).

    The bizarre situation we’ve spun ourself into is that we’re claiming women are more spiritual but giving men more power. Not so long ago it was because women were lesser that they couldn’t hold the priesthood and obeyed their husbands. At least that argument made sense!

    (I’ll comment more if I can find more time . . .)

  39. 39.

    the wife that domineers by guilt tripping and witholding sex and I can’t think of anything in church discourse that she could point to as justification for that

    Tom, Maybe this comment is a bit tongue in cheek, so I apologize if I’m misreading you, but I find it quite offensive. A wife “withholding” sex seems to imply that a wife has some sort of obligation to have sex with her husband. Then you imply that a wife needs to find justification for her decision not to have sex with her husband in Church-sanctioned discourse. (again, if you meant it as a joke – I apologize for misreading).

    Guilt trips, withholding sex, and “bossiness” never killed anyone. Women are frequently physically and sexually abused – even killed – by husbands and boyfriends because they can’t control their wives’ and girlfriends’ behavior. Any attempts to institutionalize such control through words like “presiding” and “hearken” are dangerous.

  40. 40.

    anon #2,
    re: witholding sex, I’m referring to the use of sex as a means of manipulation. It is wrong for a spouse to use their right to deny sexual intimacy as a way to control their spouse’s behavior. I agree with you that neither spouse has an obligation to have sex when the other partner wants to. There are many good reasons not to have sex at any given time (e.g. headaches, fatigue, not being in the mood, etc.), manipulating a spouse is not one of them. That is what there is no justification for in Church discourse.

    I do believe that as a general rule husbands and wives should have sex regularly if possible, or at least be physically intimate in a way that is fulfilling to both partners. That’s an important ingredient of a healthy marriage.

  41. 41.

    Shoves and slaps? Maybe. I’m talking about rape and murder.

    Check out these stats:

    On average, more than three women are murdered by their husbands or boyfriends in this country every day. In 2000, 1,247 women were killed by an intimate partner. The same year, 440 men were killed by an intimate partner

    Women are much more likely than men to be killed by an intimate partner. In 2000, intimate partner homicides accounted for 33.5 percent of the murders of women and less than four percent of the murders of men

    Three in four women (76 percent) who reported they had been raped and/or physically assaulted since age 18 said that a current or former husband, cohabiting partner, or date committed the assault.

    Intimate partner violence is primarily a crime against women. In 2001, women accounted for 85 percent of the victims of intimate partner violence (588,490 total) and men accounted for approximately 15 percent of the victims (103,220 total).

    http://www.endabuse.org/resources/facts/DomesticViolence.pdf

  42. 42.

    Those stats are terrible. The discrepancy exists because men are, on average. much bigger and stronger than women and a whole lot of them are scum, not because of a social order of patriarchy or whatever. If everybody lived up to the ideals of the Church, there would be no discrepancy—all the numbers would be zero. That would be true even if preside and hearken did mean that husbands were in charge of their wives (which they don’t).

  43. 43.

    Tom – agreed. But we live in a fallen world, and any additional advantage granted to men over women contributes to statistics like these.

  44. 44.

    Anon # 2,

    I pretty sure the numbers you cite do not reflect practicing LDS. Following your logic, then, would lead us to think that the emphasis on hearken and preside actually decreases the incidence of domestic violence. I’m pertty sure that isn’t what you mean to say.

  45. 45.

    Hi, Mark!

    I’m curious about your own domestic violence statistics–are they only among LDS? (I.e., LDS women are slightly more likely than LDS men to initiate domestic violence.)

  46. 46.

    Here’s one statistic – Mark Hacking, a returned missionary and practicing Mormon, murdered Lori, his pregnant wife in 2004.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lori_Hacking

  47. 47.

    Thanks for the quotes, Mark (#36). I genuinely am interested in hearing what the situation looks like from the other side of the “special angelic women” discourse, and I appreciate your willingness to help me understand how terribly demeaning and unfair that is to men. I sincerely hope you continue commenting on it and challenging it, because I appreciate your thoughts.

    I doubt it will come as any surprise to you that these sorts of statements make me cringe. (“Motherhood is near to divinity”? Give me strength–mothers sometimes kill their own children; infanticide has been practiced for millennia, and not so infrequently it’s the mother who’s practicing it. This is just conflating an ideal, wonderful mother with the norm, and does nobody any good. What are people supposed to believe if their mothers abused or neglected them? And “the highest and holiest calling of mankind”? I don’t know whether to laugh or cry! Mothers aren’t normally men . . .)

  48. 48.

    K.,

    I’ll try to dig up the book tonight and cite sources.

    Anon #2,

    I take exception to your attempt to make the church complicit in Lori Hacking’s murder.

  49. 49.

    Mark IV, you brought up the fact that “hearken” and “preside” might actually prevent domestic violence. I’m pointing out that membership in the LDS church and a temple marriage didn’t prevent Lori Hacking’s murder. And I’m sure they didn’t cause it, either. Lori’s husband murdered her. Mark Hacking is responsible for his own actions.

  50. 50.

    So maybe something we can all agree on is that in some marriages women have more power than men, just as in some men have more power than women, and neither is the ideal situation. Women sometimes behave very badly. Men sometimes behave very badly. But whatever mixed messages the Church is sending, it is not teaching us to murder, rape, slap or shove one another.

    And to steer the conversation back a little, I’m not convinced that how individual Church members behave is the best index of what the Church teaches to begin with; the relationship between what is said, what people hear, and how people then act is obviously quite complex.

  51. 51.

    Sorry for the mixup then, Anon # 2. The assumption on this thread seemed to be that certain words the church employs serve to solidify men in a position of authority over women. While there are too many regrettable lapses among LDS people (Mark Hacking), the rate of demestic violence among active church members is lower than the rate in the population at large. The lower rate might be attributed to any number of factors, but it seems to argue against the hearken and preside conditioning people are assuming here.

  52. 52.

    No worries, Mark IV. I apologize for my combative tone on this thread. Domestic violence issues are a hot button topic for me. As such, I’d be very interested in reading your stats for domestic violence of active LDS. I don’t think I’ve ever seen these stats. Although, I do remember reading an article in the NY Times a few months (year?) ago that said Utah’s child abuse rate is well above the national average.

  53. 53.

    I suspect there’s a general understanding in Church culture that men and women are to wield equal power in marriage, and that this influences how individuals read official texts. And we often think about how Church teaching affects members’ behavior, although members’ behavior likely also affects Church teaching, and Church interpretation of its more canonized doctrine.

    But even if every marriage in the Church were egalitarian, I would not consider the discussion over. If the Church had made up the terms “preside” and “hearken” and employed them in a single circumscribed context, and the terms had no life outside that context, I might concede that it could convincingly regulate their meanings. (The husband should grockle to the wife, and the wife should snicket to the husband.)

    I’m less persuaded by attempts to redefine “preside” and “hearken,” partly because their redefinitions have so little to do with how they’re used outside the Church, but even more because within the Church itself “preside” very often means “be in charge” while “hearken,” in our own scriptural texts, clearly indicates obedience.

    To construct an obviously ridiculous parallel–if the Church’s official liturgy/proclamations included an injunction to practice misanthropy against our neighbors and enemies, but as this view became increasingly less tolerated the Church explained that misanthropy toward one’s neighbors was a special kind of charity, where misanthropy toward one’s enemies meant dislike and distrust, I would be equally skeptical. Certainly, misanthropy is not a common word, so one could argue that, given its prominence in our (hypothetical) discourse, it belonged to us, and its etymology (“human hating”) was irrelevant. But how would we placate Brother Curious when he wondered what it meant about his view of God that God allegedly chose this term, fully aware of its common usage at the time the liturgy was revealed? And how would we convince Sister Inquiring Mind that no one would ever confuse the one more traditional use of misanthropy with the other redefined use, and behave inappropriately?

  54. 54.

    OK, I found my reference for the domestic violence figures I cited upthread somewhere.

    Archer, J. Sex differences in aggression between heterosexual partners: A meta-analytic review. Psychological Bulletin, 126, 651-680.

    Psychological Bulletin is a publication of the American Psychological Association. This article was published in 2000.

    I haven’t looked at the raw data, but here is the summary:

    A review of the extensive research within heterosexual couples reveals that women commit more acts of violence against men than men do against women. Almost everyone finds that result surprising. After all, we have heard of battered women’s clinics but not battered men’s clinics. The explanation is that most researchers defined violence to include slaps and shoves. Men commit more serious acts, inflict more injuries, and are certainly more likely to kill their partners than women are.

    I have no stats on the incidence of violence among LDS couples. But given that a)violence is much greater among non-married couples living together and b)violence is much greater in homes where there is substance abuse, I think it is reasonable to believe that there is less violence among active LDS than the overall popoulation.

  55. 55.

    K., my apologies. I really, really need to learn to read more carefully. I just re-read your original post where you explicitly state that you don’t want to get into a scorekeeping demonstration between men and women. I’ll try to stay on topic.

  56. 56.

    K,
    I think most members who look very closely at the Church have to come to terms with the fact that the Church has changed/is changing. That realization causes some people to lose faith in the Church and others to experience some turbulence but still maintain faith. All we can do is do the best we can to seek the truth and follow God.

    I think our conception of God should be based on communion with God and should be independent of the Church. If one is convinced that certain details of Church structure or government are not reflective of God’s love, then the Church’s claim to divine sanction should come into quesiton, not God’s love. (Of course, another possibility is that one’s conclusion that details of the Church are not reflective of God’s love is mistaken.) That the Church changes says less about God than about humans.

    Re: hearken and preside, what if the use of preside and hearken serve an important purpose? Maybe it is best that men and women be given different assignments and the assignment of men be to preside over the family. Presiding over the family still has meaning, even if it doesn’t entail wifely subordination. The hearken covenant can still have an important meaning, again, even if it doesn’t entail subordination. If every marriage in the church were egalitarian, I would call that proof that the Church was doing a very good job of regulating the meanings of the words and the conversation would be over, for me at least. When things don’t have concrete negative consequences, I can’t muster much concern about them.

    As it is, not all marriages meet the ideal, but I believe the ideal is clear and it seems that the Church is doing a pretty good job of making sure that people don’t think that preside and hearken entail subjugation.

    To be honest, and let me make clear that I say this without contempt for anybody, the most concrete negative consequence of the use of those two terms that I can see is that it bothers feminists. The words just don’t mix well with aspects of the feminist worldview. Oil and water. Or, better, nitro and glycerine.

  57. 57.

    “Motherhood is near to divinity. It is the highest, holiest service to be assumed by mankind. It places her who honors its holy calling and service next to the angels.”

    I feel a bit uneasy with this quote (and the subsequent conclusions drawn in #36), but not for the same reason as Kiskilili. Instead, it’s because I see a critical disparity in church teachings regarding the level of spirituality of men and women, which I think gets at the heart of the whole matter (the idea of men having authority over women). It’s true, women and motherhood are frequently called “divine” and women are equated with “angels.” We even sing in RS, “The errand of angels is given to women…” (Hymn: As Sisters in Zion). Many people are fond of saying that women are more spiritual than men. But angels are God’s messengers; they are not God’s themselves.

    Men and their roles, on the other hand, are not compared to angels; rather, men are promised all that the Father hath (Godhood), a blessing apparently tied to priesthood ordination (D&C 84:33-40). On the face of it, women appear to be excluded from this promise. Is there a place in scripture or other authoritative discourse that indicates specifically that Godhood is attainable by women? If so, why isn’t that bit of wisdom quoted more often instead of all the angelic stuff?

    Further, men are often equated with the Christ by being called “saviors” for their families and by being represented in the temple ceremony as the mediator between their wives and God. Angelic though women may be, many of us are left wondering why we have to hearken to our husbands while they hearken directly to God. The implication that men are candidates for Godhood and have a role comparable to the Christ, seems to place them in a spiritually superior position to angelic women. The scriptures, church lesson manuals, doctrinal commentaries are replete with similar messages of men’s higher spiritual status — it’s what women are taught indirectly every Sunday, despite the angelic rhetoric.

    In addition, there’s very little female discourse taught in the church. If women are so doggone spiritual, why are none of the lesson manuals, doctrinal commentaries, or scriptures written by women? Why are there no quotes from female church leaders in RS/Priesthood lesson manuals? Why are there so few talks in conference given by women or articles in the Ensign written by women? Can men comprehend a world where all authoritative spiritual teachings came from women, and how they might feel excluded or dismissed?

    Despite the lovely statements regarding the spiritual heights of womanhood, the “meatier” parts of the church seem to indicate that such heights are still less than that of manhood, and I think that’s why we persist in using the words “over” and “under” when talking about men, women, and their respective roles. There appears to be a problem inherent in the teachings we currently have — perhaps it’s simply a result of incompleteness. But as I said before, I’m optimistic for change and growth in the church, and when I read the posts here it serves to boost my optimism.

  58. 58.

    I should also acknowledge that it’s not only feminists who could potentially find preside and hearken hurtful or confusing. I just can’t remember any people that I didn’t know to be feminsts expressing as much. I have, however, seen many self-identified feminists do so.

  59. 59.

    Kiskilili, great, thoughtful post. You’ve created quite a stir!

    I wasn’t going to post, was just enjoying the great comments, but this jumped out at me.

    Anon #2 (#37)
    “…I find it quite offensive. A wife “withholding” sex seems to imply that a wife has some sort of obligation to have sex with her husband.”

    Why is that offensive? I’m going to go out on a very personal limb and say that of course a woman has an obligation to have sex with her husband. And a man has the same obligation to his wife. I prefer to look at is as a privilege–but that’s just semantics. We owe each other love and loyalty and caring and frienship–and intimacy!

    I’ve spent a good bit of my married life hearing woman (LDS perhaps more than others) make snide comments about sex with their husbands. (I’m not suggesting that Anon #2 made these, the topic just slaps me upside the head.) And I just don’t get it.

    My husband and I respect each other and If either of us were ill or had a serious issue, the other would completely understand. But outside of such very rare occurrences, why would one spouse *ever* want to deny the other?

    Why in the world does a woman have to be exactly, perfectly “in the mood” or have everything “just right” in order to give her husband pleasure and affection? If my husband invited me to lunch, I would gladly go, even if I wasn’t terribly hungry. And he’d do the same for me. Why don’t we apply the same kindness and generosity to romance?

    In fact, why isn’t the fact that a husband wants to be close to his wife enough to get her “in the mood”?

    “Guilt trips, withholding sex, and “bossiness” never killed anyone.”

    Perhaps not, but they can sure kill a relationship and love and affection. Honestly, I think this is one of the most mean-spirited things women can do and using sex as a weapon–against their husbands–is just nasty. And I think the women are really missing out as well. Major lose-lose.

    Or may be I just got the best husband.

  60. 60.

    Thanks for your very articulate comment, Tam; I agree with you completely. The problem with all this insistence on women’s alleged innate superior spirituality is that it simply is not reflected in the Church structure or most official texts. I think the intention of making those claims is to balance all that out (though it does it extremely awkwardly and probably causes more problems than it solves). Like you, I’d like to believe that the current discourse is inconsistent enough that the situation will have to resolve itself eventually.

  61. 61.

    No worries, Mark! I don’t expect to be able to completely dictate where the thread goes–where would be the fun in that? :)

    Thanks for the citation. The findings of that study really are interesting. As I said in a previous comment, the research I’ve read indicates that when physical mistreatment occurs in marriages, it is virtually always the case that one spouse has more power than the other (but not necessarily the spouse doing the abusing). No doubt women sometimes have power over their husbands and physically abuse them. But often, women who shove their husbands are under their husbands’ control. The situation is clearly complex.

    I admit, however, that I am very leery in general of “battles of the sexes,” and I’m especially wary of setting up a competition to determine who is hurting whom more in an open forum such as this, partly because I don’t think quantifying individuals’ personal pain to incorporate it into a grand scheme is the most sensitive way of addressing the issue. (How many shoves and slaps adds up to beating someone senseless? How much emotional manipulation equals a rape? Pain is so extremely individual and personal, and all of it is worthy of acknowledgment (although some clearly calls for more serious intervention and requires more time to heal).)

    Obviously people have strong feelings on the topic, no doubt born of a wide range of personal experiences. Since I don’t believe virtue should be gendered, I think it’s fair to speak in general terms about how spouses should appropriately treat one another and thereby avoid implying unfair stereotypical conclusions (such as “men injure women much more seriously than women injure men–therefore men are scum”) that no doubt do not apply to most husbands.

    In other words, even if we were able to reach a definitive conclusion about which sex does more harm to the other, I don’t think that information would be helpful.

  62. 62.

    Thanks for your comments, Tom. I appreciate your willingness to engage these issues thoughtfully.

    I’m not quite sure exactly what you understand “preside” and “hearken” to mean that involves no subordination; perhaps you could elaborate further. (Wives are told specifically that they are “under” their husbands; husbands are taught to preside “over.” “Subordination,” after all, is Latin for “ordered under.” In what way, then, would it be possible for women to be under their husbands without being subordinate?

    And I’m not talking in real life, though that’s worth discussing in itself–I mean in theory. How exactly do you make sense of the ideal that the Church teaches?)

    As it is, not all marriages meet the ideal, but I believe the ideal is clear and it seems that the Church is doing a pretty good job of making sure that people don’t think that preside and hearken entail subjugation.

    I have to disagree with you that the ideal is clear and everyone understands that “hearken” does not mean, for example, consistently putting someone else’s counsel ahead of your own (an obvious form of subordination). Like Anon #2, I think the situation is confused at best.

    Maybe the Church is doing a pretty good job. But I think it could do an infinitely better job by jettisoning these terms entirely.

    I agree with you that it’s almost exclusively feminists who find this language troublesome, although I think this statement is practically tautological.

    And regarding negative consequences, I guess I view my own loss of trust in God as a concrete negative consequence worth addressing.

  63. 63.

    Kiskilili,

    And just to be clear, I certainly don’t want a war of the sexes here where we keep a tally of who has the most demerits.

    It appeared to me that just about everybody on the thread was drawing a pretty direct line from priesthhood structure –> hearken and preside–> men have power and women have none. That is certainly a valid analysis, but it isn’t the only one.

    I don’t view the language of female superiority as simply an awkward reaction to the inequity of priesthood office, though that may explain part of it. I actually think it is rooted in our most sacred rites and it gets reinforced often enough from the pulpit that it is entirely reasonable for an LDS woman to believe she is entitled to wield authority over her husband. If our families and marriages are to be based on inspiration, who better to receive it than the partner who is “most spiritual”? Men in the church are constantly taught to defer to their wives, to the point that a woman can reasonably conclude that deference is nothing more than her due.

    Regendered scriptures can sometimes give us a fresh perspective. Bearing that in mind, lets look at section 121:39:

    …it is the nature and disposition of almost all women… to exercise unrighteous dominion.

    The human tendency to unrighteous dominion is troubling in itself. when it is combined with an attitude of moral superiority, nothing good can result.

  64. 64.

    I’m not quite sure exactly what you understand “preside” and “hearken” to mean that involves no subordination; perhaps you could elaborate further. (Wives are told specifically that they are “under” their husbands; husbands are taught to preside “over.” “Subordination,” after all, is Latin for “ordered under.” In what way, then, would it be possible for women to be under their husbands without being subordinate?

    I’m not familiar with an instance where women are told specifically that they are “under” their husbands. The father presiding over the family doesn’t have to entail him presiding over his wife. Elder Oaks describes presiding over the family in this way:

    This family authority includes directing the activities of the family, family meetings like family home evenings, family prayer, teaching the gospel, and counseling and disciplining family members.

    Does a father “directing the affairs of the family” preclude a fully equal partnership between husband and wife? I don’t think so. He doesn’t specify here what the wife’s role as equal partner to the presiding husband would be, but it’s not hard to imagine a role that is not subordinate. For example, the father may be in charge of directing the affairs of the family, but mother and father together decide what those affairs are, what will be done, who will do what, etc. If mother and father disagree on any of these points they must discuss and negotiate and come to an agreement—neither one has last word authority. Once something is decided, the father directs it, oversees, makes sure it happens according to plan, etc.

    I don’t think the other parts of Elder Oaks’s conception of preside can easily be construed to entail any subordination of the wife, they’re just different assignments.

    As for hearken, as I recall you don’t like Julie Smith’s reading of it, but I find it reasonable, especially when we interpret it in light of the authoritative “equal partners” drumbeat.

    When it comes right down to it, I don’t have a real firm grasp on what preside and hearken are actually supposed to mean. I would say that whatever people come up with is fine with me as long as it doesn’t entail spousal subordination or subjugation.

    Maybe the Church is doing a pretty good job. But I think it could do an infinitely better job by jettisoning these terms entirely.

    Maybe. But maybe they’re important. I’m not going to speculate here as to how or why their use might be beneficial in helping the Church fulfill its mission. I might be able to come up with something based on evolutionary theory or something, but it would only be a just-so story. It’s all so complicated.

    And regarding negative consequences, I guess I view my own loss of trust in God as a concrete negative consequence worth addressing.

    Naw. You don’t matter.

    But seriously, yeah, the outcome of your experience is negative (so far). But determining causation is squishy. Most of the people I’m close to have not lost trust in God as a result of their encounters with the Church’s teachings on gender roles in marriage (nor have they done any subjugating or been subjugated as far as I can tell). So I can’t conclude that the Church’s teachings alone cause people to lose trust in God. People lose and gain faith for all kinds of complicated reasons.

    Incidentally, I don’t quite get why the Church’s teachings cause you to lose trust in God. The Church is not God.

  65. 65.

    It’s all so complicated.

    Agreed. So why don’t the GA’s explain to us how presiding and patriarchy are compatible with an equal partnership?

    Along these lines, the plain meaning of “family” includes wife, husband and children. If fathers preside only over children, then why not say just that?

  66. 66.

    Dictionary.com’s first definitions (and the others are basically the same) says,
    PRESIDE:
    1. to occupy the place of authority or control, as in an assembly or meeting; act as president or chairperson

    Hearken:

    1. to give heed or attention to what is said; listen

    We can redefine these terms all we want, but in the English language this is their intended meaning. I can’t help but see that one would be “over” the other. To see something else I think you’d have to use some crazy semantic gymnastics.

  67. 67.

    Incidentally, that definition of hearken does not imply subordination in the least. We wouldn’t have to redefine that one. I suppose that’s not much comfort to people who are bothered by it because there’s still the fact that women covenant to hearken and men don’t. But by that definition men are directed to hearken to their wives all the time, just in different contexts using different words. So while there may be hearkening asymmetry in the ordinance, there isn’t in the Church overall. Everyone is commanded to hearken to their spouse.

  68. 68.

    I can’t help but see that one would be “over” the other. To see something else I think you’d have to use some crazy semantic gymnastics.

    That’s the straightforward reading if we analyze the language in isolation. But the words aren’t used in a vacuum. They’re used alongside clear, unmistakable directives from Church leadership to the effect that neither husband nor wife be “over” the other. So if we sustain the Church leadership, we’re obliged to take their directives as authoritative and find meanings for preside and hearken that don’t entail subordination, even if that means that our meanings diverge from Webster. Off the top of my head I can’t come up with an example where we as a church have similarly created meanings that diverge from Webster, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if there is a precedent for this sort of thing.

  69. 69.

    Everyone is commanded to hearken to their spouse.

    Not really. Women are required to hearken to their husbands, but there’s not a reciprocal covenant for husbands to hearken to their wives.

  70. 70.

    I acknowledged that there is assymetry in the covenant. But, again, the covenant is not received in a vacuum. If hearken means to give heed or attention or to listen, then husbands are often commanded by prophets to hearken. If anyone fails to hearken to their spouse they are sinning.

  71. 71.

    Okay, I’m still trying to sort out my thoughts, but this is where I’m seeing a possible problem: we have these two words, “preside” and “hearken,” and essentially all Church leaders have given us is a negative definition, what they don’t mean (and a bit confusingly, what we’re told they don’t mean is precisely what they do mean in other contexts.) But when it comes to a positive definition, a concrete explanation of what these words do in fact mean in the context in which we’re using them, not much has been said. In such a situation, I’d say it’s plausible to think that people might revert to definitions from elsewhere to fill that hole, even with Church leaders explicitly saying those definitions aren’t appropriate.

    If the Church told me that the word “red” was now going to refer to the color green, I think I’d find it very difficult to wipe out all my previous associations with the word. And if the Church said that “red” no longer meant “red,” but they never clarified just what “red” was supposed to mean now, I’d find it even harder. If we’re going to re-define the words to mean something radically different, I think we at least need a strong positive definition to counter all the other associations the words already have.

  72. 72.

    Lynette,
    I agree. Despite my insistence that the terms can and are being used in a way that doesn’t entail subjugation, and my belief that they may be serving a useful purpose that might not be obvious to us, it seems that the current state of affairs may be sub-optimal, especially on the communication front. I would very much appreciate a clear, positive explanation of the practical meaning of the language in question. I got excited last year when Elder Oaks said his topic was the priesthood in the home and in the Church because I had been wondering what exactly I was supposed to be doing to preside over mine and my wife’s family. I was disappointed that there wasn’t more practical, positive exposition of what it meant. [That's not to criticize Elder Oaks, I did appreciate his talk. It just didn't turn out to be what I thought it was going to be.]

    Jilopa,
    Re: the changing Church, it seems that changes in the Church happen for a couple of different reasons: 1) because of fallibility, and 2) in response to a changing world. I think that even if the Church throughout its history were always 100% where God would have it, it would still change in order to best fulfill its mission within the context of a changing world. Of course, we know that it’s not always 100% where God would have it, and it’s probably safe to assume that at this moment it’s not 100% where it should be.

    So that’s my response to your comment. Here’s me going on a tangent, not respondinig to anything you or anyone else on this thread said or implied:

    I am very uncomfortable with the notion that the fact that the Church is imperfect and changing gives us license to pinpoint what exactly in current policies of the Church are wrong and then preach our new and improved version of the way things should be saying, “It changed before, so the next way it should change is in this way that suits me.”

  73. 73.

    I think our conception of God should be based on communion with God and should be independent of the Church. If one is convinced that certain details of Church structure or government are not reflective of God’s love, then the Church’s claim to divine sanction should come into quesiton, not God’s love.

    Thank you, Tom. You very nicely stated exactly what I was thinking. You also mentioned another very important piece of information: the church changes. Like you said, this may cause some to question their faith, but for me, it reminds me that the church is lead by men who are imperfect and shaped by their opinion and biases. I’d like to believe that all church publications are inspired and purely words of God, but they are not. If they were, the church would be exactly the same as it was when Joseph Smith was here. The church is constantly shaping and reshaping. These changes are good and necessary.
    I believe this topic is still “under construction.” The word “preside” has a negative connotation. One day, they won’t use that word. God doesn’t intend for women to feel less than men. He doesn’t intend for men to be above women. He intends for us to compliment the husband and work by his side.

  74. 74.

    Tom,
    Your post reminds me when I saw Elder Haight speak several years ago at Ricks. He spoke briefly about when blacks received the priesthood and how he was in the temple when that revelation came to the president of the church. He said it was a revelation for which they were all waiting.
    I’m sure many at the time of this great revelation were, in fact, waiting for its arrival. It was an obvious progression the church needed to take, and this change coincided greatly with the teachings of the church.
    I know perhaps the magnitude of the topics are not the same, but I can’t help but feel that women’s equality is a natural progression the church needs to take, and therefore will take.
    Yes, this change would suit me because I am a woman. I also feel it would suit the church and, like you said, would be a good response to a changing world.

  75. 75.

    I appreciate all the thoughts about the church changing with the times, but I think this brings us into dangerous territory. We are fond of saying that we are “in the world but not of the world,” so we are we so influenced by the world? It doesn’t seem to be what a church led by God would do. Also, I am rather a stickler on sticking to doctrine, and I feel like we have a strange dichotomy between “doctrine” and what I call “comforting fluff.” I have heard it said a lot that motherhood is the highest calling, etc etc, and being a mother, I agree. However, I sometimes put this in the “comforting fluff” category. I know there are stories in the Ensign relating to motherhood, but in the scriptures (revelation from God, in my mind), the only time motherhood is mentioned (with the exception of Naomi), is when they are mothering a future man-leader. After going through postpartum depression and nearly not coming out the other end, I looked to the scriptures for comfort, and found some. However, how happy would I have been to read what Nephi’s wife (or Sam’s or Mormon’s or anyones’ wife) did when she went through the same situation. When reading the scriptures I do not come away feeling that motherhood is the most important thing. If I didn’t know the church intimately, I would think we’re really into war. (Based on the Book of Mormon). So what I mean by all of this is just this: We have a lot of comforting talks given to make up for this, but the Lord does not “cater” to women (I do not mean that this detracts from His perfection, and cater might not be the best word but another escapes me). And my burning question then is, “Why is this?” I think men clearly lead the Church – I don’t think that is up for discussion. So why are men the focus of the Gospel and women come up secondary (referring to scriptures and leadership, mostly). Because women have always been illiterate? Wouldn’t a God centered society (like Nephi’s) have changed that if it were so? Any other ideas?

  76. 76.

    I know perhaps the magnitude of the topics are not the same, but I can’t help but feel that women’s equality is a natural progression the church needs to take, and therefore will take.

    The magnitude of the topics are the same. Isn’t the reason women don’t hold the priesthood essentially because of Eve’s transgression? Isn’t this similar to the justifications given for denying the priesthood to the blacks? Is this an incorrect correlation? If it is, where do I err?

    Yes, this change would suit me because I am a woman.

    Actually I would suit me too (I am male), then I could get some assistance from my wife in completing my Home Teaching :-)

  77. 77.

    Wouldn’t a God centered society (like Nephi’s) have changed that if it were so? Any other ideas?

    Excellent question. In my view there are only two answers to this: either this is the way God intended it, or God allows things to continue as such because it fulfills his plan in some way. Can anyone think of another reason?

    Obviously from my above comments I do not believe everything the church does is inspired, but obviously the Lord allows those thing to continue, even if they are harmful to people. Why is this?

  78. 78.

    Someone suggested the idea of having communion with God without the Church. Now that is possible to a degree of course, but in the long run that is a pale shadow at best. The body of Christ is the Church. And it is impossible to have full communion with Christ without having communion with his Church, which is manifest on earth in similitude of the way it is manifest in heaven.

    For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ.
    (1 Cor 12:12)

    But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels,
    To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant.
    (Heb 12:22-24)

  79. 79.

    [...] I’ve been following a thread on Zelophohad’s daughters about equality in the church. I second the concerns and disappointments regarding this topic and pray for more equal roles in the church. President Hinckley’s talk discussed some of these issues, but reminded me the important role women play in the church, even if the leadership is predominantly male. [...]

  80. 80.

    “Men in the church are constantly taught to defer to their wives, to the point that a woman can reasonably conclude that deference is nothing more than her due.”

    You could be right that there are women exercising authority over their husbands and grounding it in claims to superior spirituality (I don’t think I’ve personally encountered this, though my associations are likely not a representative sample and your comments are a good reminder of that). I completely agree with you that leaders would do well to address instances of one spouse wielding power over the other generally, rather than berating the men alone. Women are just as capable of men as unrighteous dominion.

    But even the weakest definition of “preside” would seem to me to grant men recourse to a counterbalance of power in that relationship. Sure, women can probably seize on GA statements about how very special they are to exercise more power than they should in the home. But obviously men can do the same; it’s just as easy (if not easier) to produce statements indicating men have control as women–Brigham Young, for example, told men to govern their families through their superior intelligence, and this statement passed Correlation’s muster in the 1990s! Men have been told repeatedly that they are the “head” of the home; how far of a stretch is it to think that the head might be the ultimate authority?

    And we’re focusing almost exclusively on “unrighteous dominion,” but the very phrase implies that “righteous dominion” is possible. My original question centered on instances of “righteous dominion”–what exactly about the situation would make it appropriate for men to exercise even righteous dominion over their wives?

  81. 81.

    Hi, Tom!

    I’m still not sure I’m understanding. So husband and wife decide behind the scenes, as fully equal partners, how to direct the affairs of the family; then the husband is the official spokesperson presenting those affairs to the rest of the family? Or they decide together what to do as a family, but it’s the husband’s official role to do the grunt work to make sure it happens? Or something else?

    My original question still interests me: whether they’re equal or not, what about the situation warrants distribution of responsibility between the sexes in exactly this manner (if we can ever even decide what manner it is)?

    We end up in the strange position of claiming it’s important for some reason that we hold onto the specific terms that we have, and yet that people should be free to define those terms however they see fit. Why would it then be important to cling to the terms?

    “I don’t quite get why the Church’s teachings cause you to lose trust in God. The Church is not God.”

    By exactly what hermeneutic do I ascertain which aspects of the Church are endorsed by God and which are not?

    I completely agree that we as a Church create meanings Webster may not acknowledge. But most of these concern ecclesiology, giving us little opportunity to use the terms outside our own Church contexts (our bishop is different from a Catholic bishop, for example). This is not the case with either “preside” or “hearken”–they are words we encounter outside the Church and (apparently?) are expected to understand quite differently in those non-Church contexts.

    Additionally, those traditional meanings are also used within the very Church itself. Sometimes preside involves being in charge (a bishop over a ward), and other times it does not (a husband and wife). Sometimes hearken means obey (the scriptures), where other times it means nothing of the kind. To me it sounds like we’re entering a bog.

    And it’s true that hearken means “listen”–but in the context of the “law of obedience” can we really suggest the term does not carry connotations of listening with the intent of doing? Men are commanded to obey God and women are asked to pay attention when their husbands discuss football???

    “Everyone is commanded to hearken to their spouse.”

    I’m still left with my original question–if this is what’s meant, why is it not phrased this way? What does it mean that it’s phrased another way?

  82. 82.

    I’m still not sure I’m understanding. So husband and wife decide behind the scenes, as fully equal partners, how to direct the affairs of the family; then the husband is the official spokesperson presenting those affairs to the rest of the family? Or they decide together what to do as a family, but it’s the husband’s official role to do the grunt work to make sure it happens? Or something else?

    Like I say, whatever. As long as husband and wife go about it as equal partners.

    My original question still interests me: whether they’re equal or not, what about the situation warrants distribution of responsibility between the sexes in exactly this manner (if we can ever even decide what manner it is)?

    I don’t know. I just know that, per se, differential distribution of responsibilities based on gender isn’t anything to be too concerned about.

    We end up in the strange position of claiming it’s important for some reason that we hold onto the specific terms that we have, and yet that people should be free to define those terms however they see fit. Why would it then be important to cling to the terms?

    Elder Oaks conception of presiding over the family that I quote above isn’t heavy on specifics, but neither is it exactly without substance:

    This family authority includes directing the activities of the family, family meetings like family home evenings, family prayer, teaching the gospel, and counseling and disciplining family members.

    Personally, I’m not particularly attached to the terms themselves, or even to the particular division of responsiblities that the Church upholds as the ideal. I don’t have a testimony that it’s best for the father to be primarily responsible for making the money, for example. And I’m not prepared to make the case that current Church policies and teachings vis a vis gender are the best of all possible options. But they easily could be. I don’t see any compelling reasons to believe that the Church’s teachings are harmful to women or that they make women into second class citizens.

    By exactly what hermeneutic do I ascertain which aspects of the Church are endorsed by God and which are not?

    The same way you ascertain all spiritual truth: by communion with God. I’m not sure that asking whether specific things about the Church are right or wrong is the best approach. If you doubt God’s existence or His love, the place to start is not with analyzing the Church, But with conversing with God and being open to a response. I believe in God primarily because of experiences with prayer, not because other people say he exists.

    I’m still left with my original question–if this is what’s meant, why is it not phrased this way? What does it mean that it’s phrased another way?

    I don’t know. I’m sorry I’m not very helpful. All I’m really doing around here is contradicting people who say that the Church teaches subjugation and devaluation of women. And here I go again: I know that we are not to conclude from the phrasing that women “are not sufficiently capable or competent or trustworthy.”

  83. 83.

    “I just know that, per se, differential distribution of responsibilities based on gender isn’t anything to be too concerned about.”

    I don’t know whether it is or not; I have difficulty assessing the situation when I’m asked to take light for darkness and bitter for sweet.

    So we don’t know what exactly the Church does teach about gender and power, only that it is not teaching what it seems to be teaching, because it’s using words to mean things that they don’t ordinarily mean, but we’re not sure what they do mean? I guess I’m left wondering how we keep our covenants when we’re not even sure what we covenanted to do.

    I appreciate your insistence that we not conclude that women are less capable or competent based on the language of the Church. But I still don’t understand how we get to that conclusion.

    Again, if we’re free to interpret the terms the Church uses however makes sense to us, why cling to those terms specifically?

  84. 84.

    So we don’t know what exactly the Church does teach about gender and power . . .

    We don’t have every detail of every aspect of marital relations and family roles spelled out for us, but a lot of what the Church teaches is very clear: husbands and wives are equal partners, husbands are primarily responsible for making money, wives are primarily responsible for day-to-day care of the children. Men and women have different assignments in the family and in the Church. That they have different assignments doesn’t say anything about their relative worth, value, competence, etc. Why do they play different roles? I don’t know for sure, but I don’t care that they do. I would care if I thought it meant that the autonomy of one gender or their ability to live happy, fulfilling lives were compromised. They aren’t.

    . . . only that it is not teaching what it seems to be teaching . . .

    It only seems to be teaching subordination of women if we analyze preside and hearken in complete isolation rather than in the context of the whole of the body of current Church teaching. I don’t see any reason to focus on that part in isolation and not on the whole.

    . . . because it’s using words to mean things that they don’t ordinarily mean, but we’re not sure what they do mean?

    They still have meaning even if they don’t entail subordination. Hearken doesn’t have to be synonymous with subordinate obedience in order to have any meaning, even outside of the context of the Church. Maybe better words that don’t have as much potential for sending mixed messages could be substituted. For now we’re obliged to understand the current language to not mean subordination of one spouse to another.

    I appreciate your insistence that we not conclude that women are less capable or competent based on the language of the Church. But I still don’t understand how we get to that conclusion.

    By listening to the words of the prophets and taking their words as authoritative.

  85. 85.

    We’re not making any headway here. I’ve already answered pretty much all of the quesitons you’re asking as well as I can. I appreciate your struggles to understand. Keep on keepin’ on.

    I feel like my marriage and many marriages I’ve observed closely are both in line with what the Church teaches as well as partnerships in which neither spouse has power over the other, at least that’s what we’re striving for. I think they are, or at least approach being equal partnerships largely because of church teaching and not despite what the Church teaches. That’s my experience, for what it’s worth.

  86. 86.

    We don’t have every detail of every aspect of marital relations and family roles spelled out for us, but a lot of what the Church teaches is very clear: husbands and wives are equal partners, husbands are primarily responsible for making money, wives are primarily responsible for day-to-day care of the children. Men and women have different assignments in the family and in the Church. That they have different assignments doesn’t say anything about their relative worth, value, competence, etc.

    This is interesting in itself, but the focus of my question was not what roles each spouse plays specifically, but who has power and why. The part that’s not clear to me is what equal power means in the context of one spouse presiding where the other hearkens. The two models are contradictory. They just don’t fit together well.

    It only seems to be teaching subordination of women if we analyze preside and hearken in complete isolation rather than in the context of the whole of the body of current Church teaching. I don’t see any reason to focus on that part in isolation and not on the whole.

    I’m not denying our leaders are teaching equal partnership. But that’s not all the Church teaches. All Church statements simply cannot be understood as a unitary whole. I could just as easily argue there’s no reason to focus on the “equal partnership” rhetoric in isolation, since, given the language of our most sacred liturgy, “equal” simply cannot mean the two of them counseling together as full partners. I could say that “equal” has a special meaning to Mormons that Webster does not recognize that entails an imbalance of power. (I’m not going to make this argument for obvious reasons–my point is only that it could be just as easily accomplished, meaning: very awkwardly.)

    By listening to the words of the prophets and taking their words as authoritative.

    But why are their words authoritative in a way that the language of the temple, for example, is not? Why am I under oath to do something so different from what Church leaders are currently teaching?

    Hearken doesn’t have to be synonymous with subordinate obedience in order to have any meaning, even outside of the context of the Church.

    No. It often means “listen,” but ordinarily with connotations of “listening with the intent of doing.”

    But it’s hard for me to really believe “hearken to counsel” is another way of saying “pay attention when your husband is talking to you,” with no overtones of obedience to that counsel, especially since the parallel covenant men make explicitly entails obedience. In its own context there are unavoidable overtones of obedience. And I literally can’t understand what obedience means that involves no subordination–obedience means subordinating one’s own will to another’s.

  87. 87.

    Yes, we do seem to be going in circles. :) I’m glad we’re in agreement that many LDS spouses strive for a partnership in which neither has power over the other, and that this is a positive development.

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