Zelophehad’s Daughters

Presiding Over Semantic Shifts

Posted by Kiskilili

Why allow ourselves to be buffeted about by the accepted meanings of words when language is under our collective control? If we all agree that, in our community, “defenestrate” means “smile,” and “moon rock” means “phonebooth,” what’s the big deal? Of course, outsiders might scratch their heads in befuddlement, but every religion employs its own unique parlance, and after a period of adjustment converts will be able to code switch with the best of them, using the terms one way in secular contexts in another way in religious contexts.

We’ve assigned new meanings to plenty of other terms–ordinance, sacrament, bishop, ward, endowment, God, hell–so why not preside?

In theory, I’m not opposed to making such a shift, but it will come as no surprise that I’m suspicious of the manner in which we’re undertaking this lexicographic coup. Below I’ll outline some of the reasons I believe this semantic shift is not being made entirely successfully.

For one thing, it interests me that all the other terms on the list are nouns. (One possible exception would be “endow.”) I’m not completely sure what to conclude from this, but I suspect it speaks to the fact that these terms are generally descriptive: we use them in constructing our unique vision of the eternities and of the way in which our particular services are conducted. They form part of the vocabulary of our doctrine. “Preside” occupies a more prescriptive space in our discourse, as we use it to refer to the role an individual is obligated to fill in particular circumstances. It seems to me that more tension over definition is bound to arise over the shift in a prescriptive term, since we use it to evaluate whether individuals are behaving in compliance with the community’s norms and values.

More significantly, most of the terms whose meanings we’ve revised are fundamentally religious terms. It’s only natural that every religion hold its own peculiar ideas about what God or heaven means. A term like “sacrament” or “bishop” is rarely if ever employed outside a religious context, so although our definitions clash slightly with those of the Catholics, it causes little confusion in intra-denominational discourse, as no individual belongs to both traditions simultaneously.

Terms like “ward” and “ordinance” are more interesting, since we’ve successfully hijacked their definitions to our own doctrinal and ecclesial ends although they continue to thrive in secular rhetoric, and few if any have difficulty understanding the switches in usage. It seems to me that the most significant reason we’ve been successful with these terms is that in neither case have we actually altered the term’s meaning; we’ve simply applied one definition to the near exclusion of others and allowed it to take on our own doctrinal sheen. “Ordinance” has a long history referring to rites or ceremonies, just as “ward” can refer to an administrative district even outside Church contexts (although we may inadvertantly be associating ourselves with mental institutions).

(Obviously, even in such cases as these, ambiguity sometimes inevitably results. When are “ordinances” in scripture rites, and when are they laws? A similar issue obtains with regard to the term “garment,” an archaic word for clothing to which we’ve assigned sacred significance. Certainly there’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s important to bear our own semantic idiosyncracies in mind when reading scripture, lest we assume “garment” necessarily meant to its authors what it means to us.)

Our shift in the term “preside,” however, is occurring on an entirely different scale and is bound to encounter a panoply of obstacles which, although not necessarily insuperable, are worth bearing in mind.

(A) The term is not exclusively religious, and continues to be employed outside Church contexts to indicate the exercise of authority. As a verb, its definitional waters are naturally murkier than those of a concrete term like “temple” or “garment” or even “ward,” and its “worldly” associations are susceptible to informing even its religious usages.

(B) This is doubly so because even in religious contexts, “preside” maintains its traditional definition in certain circumstances (ecclesial), whereas in other contexts (domestic) it is said to refer to something else entirely. Constant reiteration of the boundary between these usages will be necessary to prevent the two allegedly very different meanings from “contaminating” one another.

(C) “Presiding” in the home is sometimes said to mean the opposite of what “presiding” means in all other contexts. (In most situations it means to exercise authority; in the home it apparently means to not exercise authority.) In no other case have we yet successfully shifted a term to its opposite or near opposite meaning (such as using “heaven” to cover the semantic space occupied in most religious traditions by “hell,” for example).

(D) In the wake of recent endeavors to evacuate the term of its traditional associations and divorce it from the dictionary, the term has been left relatively empty with few positive semantic associations to take the place of its former meaning. We’re certain only that it doesn’t mean what it seems to mean; we’re left hunting for a logical possibility to fill the void. The Proclamation on the Family leads us to believe that presiding is (a) important and that it is (b) a male responsibility. A consensus is gradually emerging that “preside” means “call on someone to say the prayer,” although this hardly seems a weighty enough obligation to merit the phrase “by divine design.” It must be compatible with equal partnership, and yet cannot mean counsel together as equal partners, else a wife could just as easily be said to “preside.”

Confusion is the inevitable result. Of course, all religious systems “leak,” none offering a coherent airtight accounting for the cosmos, and it’s common to appeal to divine mysteries to explain the inexplicable. But this tack gets more purchase on philosophical problems and propositional truth statements; a prescriptive commandment can hardly constitute a divine mystery, or else how will God evaluate whether we’ve adequately fulfilled it?

The advantages to expending our energy to shift this term’s meaning (in one context exclusively), rather than abandoning it entirely, are obvious. Since second-wave feminism, statements once not uncommon in Church rhetoric that the husband is the head of the household and the wife obligated to submit to his will have become increasingly suspect and ideologically unpalatable, and a doctrinal displacement has occurred as a result. The Church, however, lacks any paradigm for processing change, and clinging to older terms while forcibly realigning their semantic associations is one way of masking that shift. In this way, earlier doctrine which now appears sexist can be reinterpreted in light of our semantic mutations, which, naturally, are applied retroactively.

But this approach comes at the price of clarity, and our usage of terms like “preside” only creates a further veil of fog around the issue. Reluctant to repudiate earlier doctrine such as that men have authority over their wives, it’s only natural that we’re left battling its ghosts in the terms we refuse to bury.

35 Responses to “Presiding Over Semantic Shifts”

  1. 1.

    I only skimmed so I don’t have a real response to the meat of your argument, but this caught my eye:

    Reluctant to repudiate earlier doctrine such as that men have authority over their wives . . .

    This has been repudiated in General Conference.

  2. 2.

    I see a lot of advocating of equal partnership, which I applaud, but little in the way of actively repudiating earlier doctrines which stand in clear contrast, along the lines of “the father is not the head of the household and does not preside over his wife,” for example, or “the wife is not obligated to hearken to her husband as her husband hearkens to God, but both are asked to hearken to God together.” I’m arguing that we’re redefining our terms essentially as a substitute for repudiating earlier more clearly patriarchal doctrine. But I admit I’m not sure which statement you have in mind specifically.

  3. 3.

    …statements once not uncommon in Church rhetoric that the husband is the head of the household and the wife obligated to submit to his will …

    Um, can you give me some actual examples of this? I have never heard it during my time in the church. I joined during President Kimball’s tenure, and everything I heard was about being “full partners.”

    I’m wondering exactly how far back we are talking about.

  4. 4.

    Wonderful post Kiskilili.

    (Naismith, go to lds.org and type in wives submit husband and you’ll get a bunch of examples. Here’s one from President Kimball: “And when women forget their pettiness and selfishness and submit themselves to their own righteous husbands as unto the Lord, and when they are subject to their husbands as the Church is expected to be subject unto Christ, then will the divorce rate reduce, and families will grow, and children will be happy, laughing children.”)

  5. 5.

    Thanks, Sue. (Ouch–that quote from President Kimball smarts.)

    Some more recent examples: in 1987 President Benson said:

    “The Apostle Paul points out that ‘the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church’ (Eph. 5:23). That is the model we are to follow in our role of presiding in the home.”

    I realize this was 20 years ago, and President Benson went on to soften his statement by asking husbands to include their wives in decisions, but I’m simply trying to document a long-held conviction in the Church that men should have authority of some sort over their wives.

    As recently as a few months ago, President Faust approvingly quoted sentiments such as “put Father back at the head of the family,” an indication to me that the doctrine that the father has authority has not exactly been delivered a coup de grace by the emphasis on equal partnership.

    I’m not arguing that the Church has ever asked husbands to dominate or abuse their wives. I’m arguing that the Church, right into the present, has made statements indicating husbands have authority in the home that wives do not (authority they’re asked to exercise righteously), and that our confusion over whether this is appropriate or not is mirrored in our confusion and “switcheroos” over the term “preside.”

  6. 6.

    Kiskilli, you are a treasure!

    I want a miniture Kiskilli doll, with a pull string, that says “In the wake of recent endeavors to evacuate the term of its traditional associations and divorce it from the dictionary, the term has been left relatively empty with few positive semantic associations to take the place of its former meaning.”

    Then whenever I am sad, I could pull out my kiskilli doll, pull the string, and giggle.

  7. 7.

    Giggle away! ‘Cause I’ve been wanting a Lisa doll that says this when you pull a string (regarding the teaching that marriage to Joseph Smith ensured salvation for the family of the would-be plural wife):

    “Yet so problematic are the myriad twisted notions that must fall from such a system, the mind just boggles. I try to wrap my mind around it, I feel as though I’m trying to cling to fog. . . . The total lack of even the notion that women themselves might have souls worth more consideration than as a vehicle for male salvation.”

    Maybe we can trade? ;)

  8. 8.

    I’m simply trying to document a long-held conviction in the Church that men should have authority of some sort over their wives.

    And why is documenting that so important, except for being able to complain about it, as has been pointed out?

    I’m arguing that the Church, right into the present, has made statements indicating husbands have authority in the home that wives do not

    Well, sure they do. They have the authority of the priesthood. They get to baptize the children, bless sick family members. They get to serve other people with the authority they have.

    Why is that such a problem? I think it makes for a happier home and I’m grateful for the priesthood in my home.

    in 1987 President Benson said:
    “The Apostle Paul points out that ‘the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church’ (Eph. 5:23). That is the model we are to follow in our role of presiding in the home.”

    Fine, but let’s not rip that one section out of context. Right before it, he said,

    However, along with that presiding position come important obligations. We sometimes hear accounts of men, even in the Church, who think that being head of the home somehow puts them in a superior role and allows them to dictate and make demands upon their family.

    So he is clearly not claiming that men get to make decisions or wield power in the home.

    And right after it he said,

    The Apostle Paul points out that “the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church” (Eph. 5:23; italics added). That is the model we are to follow in our role of presiding in the home. We do not find the Savior leading the Church with a harsh or unkind hand. We do not find the Savior treating His Church with disrespect or neglect. We do not find the Savior using force or coercion to accomplish His purposes. Nowhere do we find the Savior doing anything but that which edifies, uplifts, comforts, and exalts the Church. Brethren, I say to you with all soberness, He is the model we must follow as we take the spiritual lead in our families.

    So I guess if you DON’T want a Christlike husband, it really is a horrible problem, since that is the model he is advocating.

    What kind of husband do women want, if not Christlike?

  9. 9.

    Naismith,
    I think my main question with presiding has little to do with the righteousness of the man doing it. It simply makes me wonder, “Why the man?” What is it inherently about my gender that makes me an unfit head? I think that when someone is called to lead, it is because they have certain qualifications that are usually good. So being unfit to be a head is not a good thing, in my opinion. It isn’t a problem with a Christlike husband. It’s feeling that I’m a little too unChristlike to be fit for it because I’m female, and that just doesn’t seem right to me.

  10. 10.

    Great post, Kiskilili. In social discourse, when terms become so loaded we tend to change them. Even with such loud insistence that preside doesn’t really mean, well, preside . . . the term keeps being used. If there weren’t still the thought that men are in charge, perhaps the term could fade away into oblivion. If it doesn’t mean anything remotely like the dictionary defitinion or common use, we really should stop using the word.

    Naismith, I’m glad that the presiding model works for you and your household. It doesn’t work for me. I have a wonderful husband, but if he felt like he were presiding over me we would have a problem, and vica versa. To your question about what kind of husband women want, what they want is not always what they get. I would personally like to see a model in which protections from abuse are built in, rather than a model which provides easy fodder for those with abusive tendencies.

  11. 11.

    What is it inherently about my gender that makes me an unfit head?

    Obviously, nothing. In President Oaks’ recent talk, he was very clear that women preside when a male is not available.

    I think that when someone is called to lead, it is because they have certain qualifications that are usually good.

    That hasn’t been my experience. It might also be that they have a need to learn certain things, grow in certain ways. Thus it strikes me as encouraging men to play an active role in family life, without speaking at all to goodness or qualifications per se.

  12. 12.

    have a wonderful husband, but if he felt like he were presiding over me we would have a problem, and vica versa.

    Well, I can only agree. Our marriage has been a partnership as far as anything that matters. It really doesn’t matter to me if my husband calls on people to say the blessing on the food; indeed, it just simplifies matters.

    I would personally like to see a model in which protections from abuse are built in, rather than a model which provides easy fodder for those with abusive tendencies.

    And what would that look like? A model that encourages paternal involvement just as much and yet avoids possibillity of abusive tendencies?

  13. 13.

    Naismith, you’re more than a treasure, you’re, like, a moon jewel or some such really shiny thing that costs all the money in the world.

    I wish I had a Naismith shrine before which I could prostrate myself and chant your praises all the live-long day. And when I said, “Oh, ultra-expensive moon jewel Naismith, please show me wisdom,” it would say, “That hasn’t been my experience. It might also be that they have a need to learn certain things, grow in certain ways. Thus it strikes me as encouraging men to play an active role in family life, without speaking at all to goodness or qualifications per se.” Or, “Um, can you give me some actual examples of this?”

    But seriously, my experience has been like yours. It’s abundantly clear to me that equal partners really is the ideal and that husbands are not to have any kind of last-word authority and that wives are not to be subjects of their husbands.

  14. 14.

    What is it inherently about my gender that makes me an unfit head?

    Obviously, nothing. In President Oaks’ recent talk, he was very clear that women preside when a male is not available.

    Doesn’t that mean that he is the preferred, or better, “presider?” And maybe he is. I’m just wondering why. Do most men have traits that lend better to presiding than women? And if they do, I guess that’s not such a terrible thing.

  15. 15.

    So then what happens when I bring my Kiskilili doll to Tom’s Naismith shrine? ;)

    If the Church clearly and unambiguously wants to communicate that women and men are equal partners, and the marriage relationship is meant to be non-hierarchical, it seems to me that jettisoning the “preside” language altogether would be the simplest way to get that message across. Because the term is still used hierarchically in a church context, and because it was in fact used by earlier prophets to refer to a hierarchical relationship, I think the directive that husbands should “preside” is inevitably going to come with connotations of hierarchy. Sure, people can read all the subsequent explanations of how “preside” in this particular context is something different–but if egalitarianism is truly meant to be the ideal, why not just make every effort to make that clear from the outset?

  16. 16.

    OK, so I’m trying to follow along with this line of reasoning:
    1) To preside in the family does not mean that the man is in a position of authority over the woman, despite talks and prior prophetic statements about wives submitting to their presiding husbands. It now means something else – something different from what it has traditionally meant in our OWN religion.
    2) Presiding is in the proclamation so that men can feel good about selecting the person who gives the prayer (or other non-threatening tasks or functions that in no way infringe upon equal leadership).
    3) The husband and wife are equal partners in every way. Except that the husband presides. But it doesn’t mean he’s in charge. It means something else. Something unrelated. We are not quite sure what. At least I am not quite clear what.
    4) Presiding isn’t a big deal, but women shouldn’t do it if men are available. For some reason.

  17. 17.

    I put this in the other thread, but wanted to move it here, because I’m curious what people think:

    That seems a long way to go to explain away the presence of presiding. My question is – what do we lose if we just stop saying that the husband presides? Why is it necessary for a husband to preside? Why not just leave it at: “in these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners.” What is gained by the presiding concept?

    Since presiding seems to be problematic, and they continually are having to explain what they REALLY mean by presiding, since they are not using the traditional definition, why does the church cling to it? What is the purpose of retaining that language – of retaining the image/model of the man in the leadership position? Of retaining that last vestige that yes, we are saying work together, yes, we are saying you are equal, but yes, the man presides?

  18. 18.

    What is gained by the presiding concept?

    aye, there’s the rub, huh? to me, this is exactly the kind of question we should ask…but not in a mad way, but really, really wanting to know and understand. our leaders aren’t stupid, so, indeed, why won’t they let go of it? is it possible that they aren’t supposed to, as in divine guidances and all of that.

    i don’t see this ever going away, so i think it behooves us to seek to truly understand it.
    i say that presiding +is+ a big deal, not as a power play for men but somehow in the bigger picture it has a place for some reason. the trick is figuring out why. and it might take a lifetime plus to do so, but it’s seems like a worthwhile goal to me.

    I think that when someone is called to lead, it is because they have certain qualifications that are usually good.

    this may, hands down, be the bottom line key reason why some people (wrongly, imo) take issue with the idea of men presiding. they +think+ it’s a slam on women. i am absolutely totally and completely convinced it is not. do i pretend to understand it all? nope. but i’m convinced that changing the model/image/etc. isn’t the answer.

  19. 19.

    You feminists really can twist yourselves into knots, trying not to allow men any role of authority.

    To understand presiding, we ought to look at the pattern of presiding in our religion. First, there is the presidency in Heaven, or the Celestial Realm. There is a president and two counselors. They are one, in mind and will. We don’t have many clear diary accounts of their counseling together, which might be helpful to us. But we do know that when they act, they are one in will and intent. Nowhere do we find any indication that HF coerces or lords over his counselors. The idea makes reason stare.

    Then we have the presidency of the mortal Church upon this earth. A president and two counselors who, after counseling together, always act in unisyn, united in purpose and intent. Again, we have to imagine their counseling sessions, for the most part, but we know they are united when they act. Yet, they tell us that when the president has declared the decision on a matter, the counselors have no (further) right to deny it or argue against it.

    We have examples of mission presidencies, regional representative presidencies, stake presidencies, Bishoprics, branch presidencies, quorum presidencies, Relief Society presidencies, Young Women’s and Young Men’s presidencies, and Primary presidencies. Each is supposed to follow the pattern of behavior set by the first two presidencies mentioned.

    Finally we have the family presidency. The male is called to preside. The wife is called as first counselor and the Holy Spirit is called as the second counselor. They are to follow the example of the Presidency of Heaven and the Presidency of the Church in how they preside. Is that easy to do? No. Most of us need a lot of training and practice. But why do feminist mormon housewifes strain at the concept? By the way, we ought to consider the family presidency in Heaven, with HF as president, and HM as first couselor, and Hmmmm, as second couselor. We aren’t given much detail about that presidency, but you have to be able to understand that it exists and operates there. God is a god of order, and His house is a house of order. He has demonstrated that He uses patterns and types in all things. Study the pattern, or the type, as see.

    As the the qualifications issue, I would remind you of something President Kimball said. He was asked “When will the sisters get to bear priesthood?” He answered, “When men bear babies.” This statement is a model of brevity, I believe. It does indicate that women will never bear the Aaronic and Melchizedec Priesthoods. But it also points out that women have their full share of load to bear, and why should they feel deprived of a full burden without the priesthood to bear also? I believe that women have the greater share of power and authority, and of burden, upon the earth, because “the hand that rocks the cradle leads the world.” No church president has ever claimed to have done anything but that which his mother taught him, with a little help from his father’s example, maybe.

    My final thought is that the Lord will have a humble people, and each of us must become personally humble and teachable, to qualify for higher glory. You could ask why women aren’t selected to preside; but you could just as easily ask why women need to learn humilty by serving as counselors to their husbands. Then again, the answer may be as obvious as looking at the pattern in Heaven. If you are one day exalted, would you not expect that your husband there will serve in the role that our HF now does? And the females there will serve in the role that your HM now does. Which of you will then be presiding? If that isn’t what you want, then maybe that isn’t the kingdom and glory that you want.

  20. 20.

    Finally we have the family presidency. The male is called to preside. The wife is called as first counselor and the Holy Spirit is called as the second counselor.

    If you want to believe this, and if your wife goes along, that’s fine. That is NOT what the church has taught (at least in the last 20 years). It certainly is not what Elder Oaks taught in his 2005 General Conference talk.

    For one thing, in the church a presidency is dissolved the minute the president dies or is released. Not so in the family. If the dad dies, mom presides.

    For another thing, a marriage partnership is a full and equal partnership at least during the time of President Kimball, NOT a situation in which the wife is a mere counselor and only the husband gets to make the final decision.

    Ugh, shudder.

    Okay, okay, I’ll admit that such attitudes exist in the church, having now seen irrefutable evidence!

  21. 21.

    Along with Kiskilili, Lisa dolls, and Naismith shrines, I want a Sue action figure– loved your summary in #16. It had me start my day with a smile.

    Recently, my husband and I have been reading “Lengthen Your Stride: The Presidency of Spencer W. Kimball” by Edward L. Kimball. The section regarding the revelation that lifted the restriction of the priesthood for blacks is very enlightening. It demonstrates both the awareness of difficult issues had by church leaders and the weighty responsibility they have to deal with them. Several previous administrations talked about lifting the restriction, so such discussions occurred for decades before it actually happened during Kimball’s administration. President Kimball says that the biggest fight he personally had in lifting the restriction was against himself– his lifelong indoctrination that blacks couldn’t have the priesthood because of inheritance and worthiness issues.

    I think the same thing is happening when it comes to women’s issues. We have several millennia behind us indoctrinating us that women are subject to men and it’s taking some effort to sort out what’s mortal culture/tradition and what’s divine guidance. Maybe that’s why we’re redefining words like “preside” and “patriarchy.”

    Call me an optimist, but I do see this conflict as “going away” much as the blacks and the priesthood conflict has been sorted out. It’s clear that there has been a shift away from male domination/female subjection ideology since the restoration– why shouldn’t we think the shift will continue in that direction? It doesn’t seem unlikely that, eventually, the word “preside” will have a clear alternate meaning or it will be replaced with a different word or wording.

  22. 22.

    “The male is called to preside. The wife is called as first counselor and the Holy Spirit is called as the second counselor.”

    Wow–that sounds really blasphemous to me–putting a member of the Godhead in an inferior position to a mortal man and woman.

    Howabout putting God (or the Holy Spirit) as the president of the family and the husband and wife as counselors?

  23. 23.

    Howabout putting God (or the Holy Spirit) as the president of the family and the husband and wife as counselors?

    Just so long as the husband is the first counselor, and the wife the second counselor. :)

  24. 24.

    Oh dear; it looks like I’m going to have stick my Ziff action figure into a guillotine. ;)

  25. 25.

    By the way, we ought to consider the family presidency in Heaven, with HF as president, and HM as first couselor, and Hmmmm, as second couselor.

    Personally, in my lifetime of Church membership, I’ve never heard of the government of heaven being outlined on the contemporary Church model. On the contrary, the discourse of recent decades has shifted toward a distinction between church and family government (as in Elder Oaks’ recent talk already referenced by Naismith) and we hear next to nothing about HM or heavenly government in general. I think your Hmmm second counselor suggests some of the limitations of your model.

    But why do feminist mormon housewifes strain at the concept?

    Actually, we’re not the Feminist Mormon Housewives, although we’re very fond of them and flattered to be mistaken for them. Try the next blog over. The pink one.

    But we might be straining at your particular version of this concept because, well, it does sound a lot like your particular version, not like anything I’ve ever heard out of a prophet’s mouth.

  26. 26.

    If you are one day exalted, would you not expect that your husband there will serve in the role that our HF now does? And the females there will serve in the role that your HM now does. Which of you will then be presiding? If that isn’t what you want, then maybe that isn’t the kingdom and glory that you want.

    This is the conclusion I’ve reached as well–there are a number of indications women are relatively silent and subordinate for eternity, which is why at the present time I’ve concluded “that isn’t the kingdom and glory that [I] want”; I’ll likely be happier with less so-called “glory” in a lower kingdom.

    But I don’t think Trueheart’s sentiments are an aberration particularly, or clash with what the Church teaches.

    Even in Elder Oaks’ talk he couples “preside” with “authority” when discussing the domestic situation. What does he mean? If fathers preside over the entire family, and presiding gives them authority over children, does it give them authority over their wives as well? He skirts that question entirely.

    “The authority that presides in the family–whether father or single-parent mother–functions in family matters without the need to get authorization from anyone holding priesthood keys. 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.”

    He doesn’t exactly specify how the married mother operates–isn’t the implication that, since she is not the presiding authority of the home, she does have to get authorization to conduct family meetings, to teach the gospel, to discipline family members? Would the father not then have authority over the mother?

    And if a single mother “presides” as “governing officer,” when a father presides, wouldn’t he also be a “governing officer”?

  27. 27.

    I found the juxtaposition of these two ideas rather funny.

    In no other case have we yet successfully shifted a term to its opposite or near opposite meaning (such as using “heaven” to cover the semantic space occupied in most religious traditions by “hell,” for example).

    This is the conclusion I’ve reached as well–there are a number of indications women are relatively silent and subordinate for eternity, which is why at the present time I’ve concluded “that isn’t the kingdom and glory that [I] want”; I’ll likely be happier with less so-called “glory” in a lower kingdom.

    Are you *sure* we haven’t turned heaven into hell? :)

  28. 28.

    Heh heh–good point! I do have my reservations about heaven. :)

  29. 29.

    “If you are one day exalted, would you not expect that your husband there will serve in the role that our HF now does? And the females there will serve in the role that your HM now does. Which of you will then be presiding?”

    Actually, it seems to me that heavenly roles are pretty opposite from current family structure.
    Here, the women tend to the children and the men are away working. In heaven, the only parent available to help me, teach me, nurture me, seems to be my Father, so I can only assume my Mother is off working, providing, creating, and achieving :)

  30. 30.

    Kiskililith,

    How’s this for a different radical reinterpretation:

    Maybe “preside” does mean the same thing in the home as it does in the church. However, maybe that’s not really a problem. After all, what exactly does preside mean in the church?

    Well, let’s consider Sacrament Meeting. Every week’s program is the same.

    Presiding: Bishop so-and-so. Or perhaps a visiting Stake Presidency member.

    Conducting: Someone — maybe the Bishop, perhaps the Second Counselor, who knows?

    The Presiding figure really doesn’t do anything by virtue of presiding. The meeting is run by the Conducting person, whoever that is that week. Everything happens the same way — hymns sung, talks given, etc. — regardless of whether a Stake President or Bishop or anyone else is presiding.

    So presiding, in the context of our Sacrament Meeting, is essentially an honorary formal designation with almost no real-world impact. The presiding figure is a figurehead, a little like the Royal Family in England.

    And hey, maybe that’s not such a terrrible regime when moved to the family context. The man presides, in some formal and honorary way; meanwhile, decisions are made by the couple, with equal input. A little annoying, yes. But not really all that objectionable on substance.

    (I’m not sure I believe this argument, myself. But it’s appealing, on some levels, no?).

    Additional, unrelated nit-pick: I’m sorry, but your “but the other redefined words are all nouns” argument is not one that I feel I can sustain. ;) Or seal, for that matter. Or home-teach.

  31. 31.

    Sure, it’s appealing on some levels. I’m not really that invested on calling on people to say the prayer. :) My question is: does the father preside over the family, or over family meetings only?

    If the latter, than a comparison to sacrament meeting is apt, and the father is essentially a figurehead who generally delegates responsibilities and is ultimately, if not always directly, accountable that things operate smoothly.

    If the former, than a more appropriate analogy would be to the way the bishop presides over a ward, and I would argue that the bishop actually does have a certain amount of power in the lives of members in the ward.

    As far as I can tell, the father presides over family meetings because he presides over the family generally, just as the bishop presides over sacrament meeting because he presides over the ward.

    (Thanks for the verbs–I was trying to think of some and coming up empty-headed. I’m not sure I’ve heard the phrase “home teach” outside the Church, though, but I believe Lynnette attended a university where they sponsored Visiting Teachers.)

  32. 32.

    Interesting point about the honorary position of presiding, Kaimi. Growing up in the family of Zelophehad, we often joked about how our family councils and family home evenings were presided over by our father, but they were conducted by our mother.

  33. 33.

    I find it difficult to believe that “presiding” means sitting around overseeing the action while other people do the work. But, on the other hand, this concept of presiding seems to aptly describe the way people in positions of power “work” in the real world. Behind every great man is a woman (doing all the work), etc., etc.

    The trouble with the concept of passive presiding, however, is that “presiding” is a word infused with power and authority. High Councilor So and So presiding on the stand may not actually be _doing_ anything as he presides, but he certainly is recognized by the congregation he oversees as being endowed with the power to act in God’s name.

    And if presiding is devoid of any real meaning, then why are men required to spend energy doing something that means substantively nothing, and women are left wondering why they are categorically deemed unfit to preside?

  34. 34.

    The Church, however, lacks any paradigm for processing change, and clinging to older terms while forcibly realigning their semantic associations is one way of masking that shift. In this way, earlier doctrine which now appears sexist can be reinterpreted in light of our semantic mutations, which, naturally, are applied retroactively.

    This is the most important part of your post, Kiskilili, and I think it sums up neatly what is going on. Our religion stresses precedent and we are reluctant to overturn it. I will observe that we are like the legal prosession in the way we cling to old-fashioned terms. Champerty, anyone?

  35. 35.

    The trouble with the concept of passive presiding, however, is that “presiding” is a word infused with power and authority. High Councilor So and So presiding on the stand may not actually be _doing_ anything as he presides, but he certainly is recognized by the congregation he oversees as being endowed with the power to act in God’s name.

    Good point. Even if a presiding person at a meeting doesn’t appear to do anything, this is likely just evidence that the people running the meeting are successfully following the presiding person’s wishes. Just have one person violate that, say by claiming in a talk that he has received revelation from God that the Church is to be dissolved, and it will quickly become clear that the presiding person has power to do more than just sit and observe.

    I guess what I liked about Kaimi’s comment is that it does describe how church meetings, and certainly family gatherings, often function.

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