Most Quoted Parts of the Proclamation on the Family

A recent discussion at fMh turned, as so many do, to a discussion of whether Church teachings about marriage emphasize more that the husband should preside or that the husband and wife should be equal partners. Given this question, I thought it might be interesting to look at whether the “presiding” part or the “equal partners” part of the Proclamation on the Family had been quoted more.

I divided the Proclamation up into its sentences. For each sentence, I searched to see how often it appeared on the Church website. I didn’t search only for each complete sentence, but also for phrases from each sentence, as some of them are likely to be quoted only in part at times (for example, the first one, since it’s so long). I tried to search only for phrases long enough to be unique to the Proclamation, but short enough to account for different ways parts of its sentences might be quoted. For each sentence, I assigned it the highest value for number of quotations that I found in searching for any of its phrases.

After the search tool gave me some odd results, I searched using Google. I’m not sure why, but Google gave me inflated results, claiming thousands of hits on for some of the phrases, but when I tried to go to the last page, reducing its counts dramatically, typically to fewer than 100. It would then tell me that similar results had been omitted, but that the search could be re-done with similar results included. This is what I wanted–everything–so for each search, I went to the last page of results and asked for a search with similar results included, and then went to the last page of those results to confirm how many matches there actually were (rather than taking the initial estimates of thousands at face value).

Here are the results. I’ve color coded each sentence based on how many quotations of it I found.

Red = 181 or more quotations

Deep pink =161 – 180 quotations

Violet = 141 – 160 quotations

Blue violet = 121 – 140 quotations

Blue = 120 or fewer quotations

Black = not included in the study

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We, the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, solemnly proclaim that marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God and that the family is central to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of His children.

All human beings—male and female—are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny. Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.

In the premortal realm, spirit sons and daughters knew and worshipped God as their Eternal Father and accepted His plan by which His children could obtain a physical body and gain earthly experience to progress toward perfection and ultimately realize their divine destiny as heirs of eternal life. The divine plan of happiness enables family relationships to be perpetuated beyond the grave. Sacred ordinances and covenants available in holy temples make it possible for individuals to return to the presence of God and for families to be united eternally.

The first commandment that God gave to Adam and Eve pertained to their potential for parenthood as husband and wife. We declare that God’s commandment for His children to multiply and replenish the earth remains in force. We further declare that God has commanded that the sacred powers of procreation are to be employed only between man and woman, lawfully wedded as husband and wife.

We declare the means by which mortal life is created to be divinely appointed. We affirm the sanctity of life and of its importance in God’s eternal plan.

Husband and wife have a solemn responsibility to love and care for each other and for their children. “Children are an heritage of the Lord” (Psalm 127:3). Parents have a sacred duty to rear their children in love and righteousness, to provide for their physical and spiritual needs, and to teach them to love and serve one another, observe the commandments of God, and be law-abiding citizens wherever they live. Husbands and wives—mothers and fathers—will be held accountable before God for the discharge of these obligations.

The family is ordained of God. Marriage between man and woman is essential to His eternal plan. Children are entitled to birth within the bonds of matrimony, and to be reared by a father and a mother who honor marital vows with complete fidelity. Happiness in family life is most likely to be achieved when founded upon the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ. Successful marriages and families are established and maintained on principles of faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work, and wholesome recreational activities. By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners. Disability, death, or other circumstances may necessitate individual adaptation. Extended families should lend support when needed.

We warn that individuals who violate covenants of chastity, who abuse spouse or offspring, or who fail to fulfill family responsibilities will one day stand accountable before God. Further, we warn that the disintegration of the family will bring upon individuals, communities, and nations the calamities foretold by ancient and modern prophets.

We call upon responsible citizens and officers of government everywhere to promote those measures designed to maintain and strengthen the family as the fundamental unit of society.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

My original thought, that the “presiding” part might be quoted more often than the “equal partners” part, was supported, but only just barely. The “fathers are to preside” sentence was quoted 145 times, the “mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children” sentence was quoted 146 times, and the “equal partners” sentence was quoted 135 times. This is likely not a meaningful difference.

There may be other interesting differences here, though. For example, I was surprised to see how often the “multiply and replenish” sentence was emphasized. I was also surprised that the “sanctity of life” sentence (a reference to abortion?) was quoted less often than surrounding parts.

What stands out to you?


  1. Interesting that the exceptions to the rule are downplayed. I am thinking of this line:

    “Disability, death, or other circumstances may necessitate individual adaptation.”

  2. It’s nice when geeky minds think alike:) While you were doing this analysis, I was looking at how often “marriage wives submit” and “marriage equal partners” appeared in church content. I looked at before and after 1980, with that being 30 years and considered a “generation” by some social scientists.

    Prior to 1980, the submit search term did appear more often, 94 times to 70 mentions of equal partners. Although 70 isn’t nothing, and so even back then, the equal partners idea was very much on the table.

    After 1980, there were only 53 references to submit, 140 to equal partners, for about a 1:3 ratio in favor of equal partners.

    Although those are not mutually exclusive, since of course some articles mentioned both, so that even the ones that were hits for “submit” actually stressed equality.

    For example, in April 1988, someone asked the question, “I’m confused about the principle of priesthood leadership in the home. Could you explain how priesthood leadership should operate in the family?” I admit the response was NOT from a general authority and was NOT official, but it seemed to reflect many of the LDS families at the time, and was written by an LDS expert in marriage. Some excerpts:

    I believe strongly in a marriage of equals, where husband and wife make decisions together, with neither partner dictating to the other…..

    A man and a woman should each have an equal opportunity to resolve disagreements. It is not right for the man to think that, since he is “the head of the home,” his opinion is the right one. “The head of the home” can be wrong; yet many men endeavor to get what they want by pulling rank. In some cases, the woman is the one who insists that her view should always prevail, and the man, out of deference to her, complies. Insistence on the decision-making right is undesirable for either the man or the woman. The couple should discuss their differences, candidly consider the pros and cons, then make a decision both can live with.

    In this connection, a friend of mine prefers the phrase “unity with the priesthood” instead of the more familiar phrase “supporting the priesthood.” She said: “When we think in terms of supporting the priesthood, we conjure up in our minds the image of the priesthood being up there, and we women being down here supporting it. ‘Unity with the priesthood’ conjures up a more equitable image in my mind. I value the priesthood highly. And I think that women and men together need to support each other and to move in a unified way toward the same exalted goals.” (Cynthia Lynch, This People, Nov. 1985, p. 59.)

    If this kind of equality in marriage makes so much sense, how do we explain the well-known scripture from the Apostle Paul?…..

    As the head of the Church, Jesus was the humble servant of all. He served others constantly, loving them and sacrificing for them. In fact, he suffered all things and gave his life for them. If a husband is a loving servant to his wife, then her “submission” to him is very different from what we imagine in a situation of authoritarian control. A wife would only submit to the kind of righteous leadership exemplified through complete service and sacrifice….

    That’s the kind of thing that I remember hearing a lot back then, and shaped my marriage.

  3. Meant to say this first–it was a brilliant analysis, and I love the use of color coding. It makes it so much easier to follow, and this isn’t done near often enough in published journal articles that are often limited to B & W.

    It never occurred to me to look at the impact of the proclamation, because I remember that meeting so well and it seems ‘new’ from my aged perspective. but yes, it has been what, 15 years this weekend, and certainly long enough to make an impact.

    Content analysis is so helpful in providing a context for how much influence various ideas had.

  4. Wow, what a great analysis. I was also surprised to see how much the multiply & replenish phrase was quoted. When I’ve told non-LDS Christian (I should say liberal protestant) friends that Mormons consider marriage & reproduction a commandment, they are shocked. I mean total disbelief. It seems so outside the point of Jesus’ teachings to them, and they can’t believe a church would get so involved in personal decisions like that. I have to say the commandment sounds more and more odd to me. Seems like most married people want kids without God telling them they have to, and in my experience people who choose not to have them do so for very good reasons (and it’s better for everyone that they don’t).

    Anyway, that was a bit of a tangent. But as I said, nice analysis.

  5. Nice analysis, Ziff. I’m surprised that the line “The divine plan of happiness enables family relationships to be perpetuated beyond the grave” was quoted so infrequently. The doctrine of eternal families is huge in the church.

  6. This is a great numbers-based analysis of how this document is used.

    I just don’t know how they can continue to make both claims. “Preside” means to come first; to exercise guidance, control, or direction; to have authority or to moderate. You cannot preside and be equal with the person you preside over. Preside and equal are mutually exclusive terms.

  7. Ziff, here is something I think I’ve noticed about the way we use the proclamation, but I’m too lazy to put in the work like you have.

    It seems to me that immediately after its release, we heard a strong emphasis on separate roles. But lately, at least for men, there has seemed to be an additional emphasis for helping out in the home and encouragment for men to pitch in in the nurturing department. Is this just me, or have others noticed it too?

  8. “You cannot preside and be equal with the person you preside over. Preside and equal are mutually exclusive terms.”

    That’s right. I think the reason we still hear both ideas expressed, almost simultaneously, is that we are in a transition period away from the preside model to true equality. I think, as comments have shown, that this process has been going on for decades, not for years. It is generational – multi-generational. I think it is a change that is actually much nearer completion than beginning. ~

  9. This is so interesting! I wouldn’t have guessed that the first paragraph was the most quoted, though I guess it makes sense with the “marriage between a man and a woman” line. (If you want to do another analysis someday, my guess is that Church explanations of opposition to SSM usually cite this line, rather than anything in the scriptures or Conference talks or what-not.)

    Now if you were to analyze the lines most quoted in the Bloggernacle, my money would be on the fathers presiding bit. 😉

    I see that eternal gender beats male and female in the image of God, though not by much.

    From a feminist perspective, I would actually propose that the lines about “heavenly parents” followed by “worshiped God as their Eternal Father’ are the most troubling. More so than the much-discussed preside/nurture issue. Because it’s essentially saying that we have two heavenly parents, and we worship one of them. (I realize that this doesn’t outright preclude worship of HM, but the way it’s set up is pretty telling.) And there’s no equal partners line to even kind of mitigate it.

  10. Franchise, if people so frequently are “doing it wrong,” perhaps we should change the use of words which are by strict definition mutually exclusive. That is probably the cause of some of the confusion and the resulting flawed application.

    Interesting point about the specific references to our divine parents, Lynette. I tend to feel (hope?) that when we worship God, that includes Heavenly Mother. But you’re right, the specific language used throughout our faith, the ubiquitous reference to “Heavenly Father,” does not support that belief. And while there has been an (all too slow and incomplete) shift in the way marital relationships are described, there is much less reason to hope that the references to the objects of our worship will likewise change.

  11. Franchise, that’s like saying “control” and “collaborate” are only exclusive when people are doing it wrong. The logic is broken. I agree with Derek’s statement that if the language causes that many people to do it wrong, then the instruction manual needs overhauling so that mostly people do it right.

    Until Mormons are encouraged to pray openly to their Heavenly Mother alongside a Heavenly Father (or the polytheism is abandoned completely), nobody will believe lip service paid to the idea that Mormon spouses are equal.


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