Zelophehad’s Daughters

Presiding: Pink vs. Blue

Posted by Kiskilili

Actually, there are three kinds of presiding. At least.  The Chicken Patriarch may have crossed the road to get to his other preside, but his wife occupies yet a third space vis-a-vis this most vexed of terms.  Or so it would appear from the model laid out by Elder Oaks.

There’s a lot of blurring of boundaries in this talk; in spite of the purported attempt to demarcate differences, it’s often unclear what’s being discussed (priesthood? authority? partnership?). Elder Oaks makes an effort to disambiguate domestic presiding from its ecclesiastical cousin, but there’s evidence throughout of semantic leak from either side.  For example, the hierarchical structure of the Church is now designated a “partnership,” borrowing the language of the home (“the concept of partnership functions differently in the family than in the church”). One is not an instance of presiding where the other is a partnership; both seemingly involve both presiding and partnership.

Further, in the section contrasting the hierarchy of Church governance with the non-hierarchy of the home (designated by him, in a creative comandeering of the language, “patriarchy”), he insists priesthood authority in the home be exercised by invitation, not domination (citing D&C 121:41-42).  In context, this is an illustration of the non-hierarchy in the home, the supposed thesis of this section of the talk: “When priesthood authority is exercised in that way [following D&C 121:41-42] in the patriarchal family, we achieve the ‘full partnership’ President Kimball taught.”  But then, as if in afterthought, he avers that this is even more the case of the exercise of authority ecclesiastically. (“These principles [taught in D&C 121] . . . are especially necessary in the hierarchal organization of the Church.”)  So why is it not, here too, an illustration of a lack of hierarchy?

(The lack of coherence in this section of Elder Oaks’ address seems to result from a rhetorical artifice whereby he contrasts abuse and oppression with gospel-centered patriarchy.  The implicit point is that the latter is acceptable—good, even—because it’s specifically not abuse. The trouble is that this secondary contrast does not map well onto his primary contrast between hierarchy in the Church and (not?) in the home—surely he does not mean to imply abuse characterizes Church structure!   The result is that he changes key abruptly in the cadence, seemingly neutralizing the very point he’s supposedly illustrating—that presiding in the home is different from presiding in the Church. In point of fact, they seem to be the same.) 

The waters are muddy. But piecing together indications given throughout the talk, I think we can schematize Elder Oaks’ model of presiding as follows:

                                         exercise of priesthood              superordinate status

Men in the Church:                      x                                                    x

Men at home:                              x                                                    o

Women at home:                        o                                                    x

Observe that when women preside in the home, unlike men (?), they are in charge: “When my father died, my mother presided over our family. She had no priesthood office, but as the surviving parent in her marriage she had become the governing officer in her family.” Here “presiding” is equated to “governing officer.” 

My question is: Why can’t both husbands and wives preside together in the home? The term has mutually exclusive application for each of them. From this talk it appears the wife should be the presiding authority and the husband the equal partner.

17 Responses to “Presiding: Pink vs. Blue”

  1. 1.

    If his mother had died first, his father would have been in charge at that point for the same reason: only one governing officer would have been left.

  2. 2.

    Hmm. So it’s that “presiding” and “being the governing officer” mean the same thing for women, but unrelated things for men. Or would his father have been the governing officer regardless by virtue of his presiding, even if his mother hadn’t (hypothetically) died?

  3. 3.

    (This post is my lawyerly attempt to parse out Elder Oaks’ lawyerly parsing. What I actually think is going on is that he’s trying to mask a doctrinal shift through lexicographic coup–where earlier leaders indicated presiding in the home was identical to presiding in the Church, he attempts to introduce a new meaning of “preside” that would theoretically allow a sharp distinction between the two. But the distinction is not at all clear, because at every turn he betrays the fact that he continues to associate “presiding” with “being in charge.” I don’t think the talk is successful in advocating a clear difference between hierarchical presiding in the church and equal partners in the home. But it does throw up a screen of plausible deniability–presiding is not about “being in charge,” but it’s also not about “not being in charge.”)

  4. 4.

    It’s not successful in my mind. It’s just an exercise in more mental gymnastics :)

  5. 5.

    Since Elder Oaks didn’t use the phrase in charge, shouldn’t we be a little more careful with the quotation marks?

  6. 6.

    All I can tell you is that my husband presides and we are equal partners. We seem to be able to do it. I doubt I can express it any better than the Proc. or Elder Oaks. Sorry.

  7. 7.

    But if you can’t express it, how do you know what it is? That is, how do you recognize that you’re doing it?

  8. 8.

    What is he doing that is presiding? What are you doing that makes you equal?

  9. 9.

    Presiding is like being the reporting companion in a VT companionship. An added responsibility that mostly involves reporting to church or God.
    After 18 years of marriage I can say that it is equal because it feels equal. We act like partners. We’ve worked on it. I think it requires lots of practice to put the needs/wants of your partner along side yours in importance and have the trust in your partner that he/she is doing same to the best of their ability.

  10. 10.


    This is a fantastic post. I’m in the Marriage and Family class for SS and just today we discussed the men “presiding.” After reading about 5 quotes it still wasn’t clear to me what it meant to “preside” since all of the quotes emphasized an equal partnership. I pushed for about 5 minutes on the fact that it would be much more accurate to say the parents presided together but was unanimously disagreed with by both the men and women in the class. My question was: If women “presided” in the family, would our current families operate any differently? If not, then stating that the father “presides” seems like an empty statement that does more harm (in the form of an excuse for unrighteous dominion) than good.
    Elder Oaks’ talk gets at some of the issues — it’s not keys, and it’s not the priesthood that confer the presiding power. But your final question hits it on the head, and I still don’t know the answer. My hunch is that your #3 is close to it — for whatever reason church leaders are now attempting to redefine what was originally meant by “preside” because of changing social mores.

  11. 11.

    Thanks, Nate! Your question–(how) would things be different if women presided?–gets at the heart of the problem. Keep fighting the good fight in SS!

  12. 12.

    Nate S. just called to tell me about this post and his day in SS (he’s my BiL) and he ended with, “You feminists have your work cut out for you.”


    I actually think the debate over the term ‘preside’ is a good issue for feminists to start with. It’s a pretty obvious puzzle and it helps people see how the church is working slowly towards greater equality between the sexes.

    (very slowly, that is)

  13. 13.

    Kiskilli, it is clear that what you really need is just for PDD to mansplain this whole preside thing to you.

  14. 14.

    Oops, Kiskilili misspelled your name. I would say sorry, but PDD never apologizes.

  15. 15.

    Ha! PDD is my presiding authority, so I defer to him when he tells me I’m an equal partner.

  16. 16.

    I actually think the debate over the term ‘preside’ is a good issue for feminists to start with.

    I guess I would like to see feminists define “equality” first. If the goal isn’t defined, how can you know what you are working toward?

    A lot of Mormon feminist writings seem to imply that women can be equal only when they do the same things as men (ie., bless babies, sit in the front of a congregation).

    Whereas I see things like birthing a baby, breastfeeding, sensing when a family is in need, etc. as manifestations of great power, equally important albeit different.

    Whenever my husband got a bonus at work or whatever, he would always say something like, “What do you want to do with your half?” He acknowledged that his name happened to be on the paycheck, but we both contributed to our family income, in different ways, as equal partners. (And no, I’m not totally naive–I am entitled to half his pension should we divorce.)

  17. 17.

    Oops, Kiskilili misspelled your name. I would say sorry, but PDD never apologizes.

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