Zelophehad’s Daughters

What does “hearken” mean?

Posted by Melyngoch

This ended up a little longer than I’d intended, but I like my findings too much to trim it down. If you’re not totally entranced by descriptive lexicography, I can’t say I understand, because I don’t (what’s wrong with you?); however, I can suggest that you read the first two paragraphs, the bolded paragraph in the middle, and the last four or five.  You’ll get the argument I’m making, if not the methodology, or the fun.

~

The comments on Apame’s fine post below have turned me to this question, and rather than threadjack her understandable envy of those who get to fine-tune their own wedding vows, I thought I’d give it its own post. Because honestly, I’m not sure I know what this word means. The softness of “hearken” relative to “obey” is part of what makes me able to soldier on through the cognitive dissonance of going to the temple; the archaism of it lets me feel a little more free to interpret it however I want, than I would with a more current word. (When was the last time you used “hearken” in casual conversation? I wonder if my students would take it more seriously if I told them to please hearken to the syllabus.)

But this actually a huge problem, even if it makes me feel better: what am I doing covenanting to hearken to stuff, if I’m not even sure what “hearken” means?

So let’s try to work this thing out. The first place most people go when they want to know the meaning of the word is “the dictionary.” Trouble is, of course, there isn’t just one authoritative dictionary, and any dictionary worth its salt will recognize the  multiple meanings and senses of any word; and further, when you’re looking at an archaic word, you can’t just default to current usage to decide which sense is the relevant one.

The OED, which is my dictionary of choice because I like to get high on etymology, gives these definitions for “hearken” (excepting the ones marked as obscure, since I’m pretty sure that “hearken” in the temple doesn’t mean “eavesdrop”):

1. To apply the ears to hear; to listen, give ear
2. To apply the mind to what is said; to attend, have regard; to listen with sympathy or docility

Merriam Webster (which is not a historical dictionary and does not generally include senses which are out of use) gives:

1. [To] listen
2. To give respectful attention

So far, it seems that insofar as the word exists in modern usage, “hearken” means “listen [+]”; the [+] may include respect, regard, attention, sympathy, and/or docility. However, dictionaries are only a rather rudimentary way to determine the meaning of a word in context — the context is a lot more important than the dictionary. And the context in which “hearken” appears is more than the immediate textual context of the temple liturgy (which is a related issue, but needs its own post); it includes the whole context of Mormon language.

Good dictionaries depend on descriptive lexicography to produce (and distinguish) definitions: they gather evidence of usage and base their definitions on that, rather than on the personal instincts of the lexicographer. (This quality is what made the OED revolutionary against the tradition of Johnson and Webster.) So, to move past dictionary definitions (or, if we’re liking the hubris, to write our own dictionary, which is totally on my bucket list), we’ll need to do the same thing. How is the work “hearken” used in Mormon texts and contexts?

Scriptural language has an undeniable impact on the way words change (or don’t) in the linguistics habits of a religious community, so let’s start there. Such language tends to be conservative, retaining archaic words and structures, and with our attachment to the KJV, we’ve become attached to a lot of those archaic words and structures. (The Book of Mormon was translated into language which indulges that archaism, and the revelations of the Doctrine and Covenants are likewise set down in such language.) A search on lds.org returns 425 instances of the word “hearken” in LDS scripture; obviously I won’t be reviewing all of them here (though maybe Ziff would like to, and then make us several interesting charts!) You’ll just have to take my word that I’m aiming for the examples which have what lexicographers call high defining value — that is, they not only use the word, but say something about its meaning. Obviously you can replicate my study if you’re suspicious.

1 Samuel 15.22:

And Samuel said, Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.

Joshua 1. 16-18:

16 And they answered Joshua, saying, All that thou commandest us we will do, and whithersoever thou sendest us, we will go.

17 According as we hearkened unto Moses in all things, so will we hearken unto thee: only the Lord thy God be with thee, as he was with Moses.

18 Whosoever he be that doth rebel against thy commandment, and will not hearken unto thy words in all that thou commandest him, he shall be put to death: only be strong and of a good courage.

In Samuel, “hearken” is a synonym in variation with “obey”; in Joshua, “hearken” is used as in variation with “[do] all that thou commandest,” and in opposition to “rebel against thy commandment.” In these two passages, “hearken” very clearly incorporates obedience.

Mark 7.14-15:

14. And when he had called all the people unto him, he said unto them, Hearken unto me every one of you, and understand:

15. There is nothing from without a man, that entering into him can defile him; but the things which come out of him, those are they that defile the man.

“Hearken,” especially followed by a particularly strong constative speech act, means something close to “understand” here. This is complicated by a similar structure in Judges, however.

Judges 9.7:

And when they told it to Jotham, he went and stood in the top of mount Gerizim, and lifted up his voice, and cried, and said unto them, Hearken unto me, ye men of Shechem, that God may hearken unto you.

Jotham follows this with the parable of the trees choosing a king. In the first instance, “hearken” seems to mean “pay close attention so you’ll understand this,” but it’s fascinating that God will, conditionally, hearken in response. As the passage goes on, it becomes clear that the men of Shechem need to hearken in order to understand whether their choice of king was righteous or not, because if it was not, then “let fire come out from Abimelech” (v. 20). The sense of listening seems primary in this usage, but with very high stakes; if God hearkens to Shechem, then he won’t just be listening to them, but also responding favorably, i.e, not lighting them on fire.

Similarly, in Job 9.16-17:

16. If I had called, and he had answered me; yet would I not believe that he had hearkened unto my voice.

17. For he breaketh me with a tempest, and multiplieth my wounds without cause.

Job is not only questioning whether God is listening, but whether God will yield to his pleas.

But there are also contexts where “hearken” seems to mean, roughly, “pay attention.”

Acts 15.13:

And after they had held their peace, James answered, saying, Men and brethren, hearken unto me:

Or even, maybe, just “hear.”

Acts 12.13:

And as Peter knocked at the door of the gate, a damsel came to hearken, named Rhoda.

In the Book of Mormon, “hearken” is pretty much inextricable from obedience. There are no usages (with the possible exception of some which quote OT scripture) in which it clearly means to listen, without necessary consequent action that accords with the demands of whatever one is hearkening to.

Helaman 12.23:

Therefore, blessed are they who will repent and hearken unto the voice of the Lord their God; for these are they that shall be saved.

To “hearken unto the voice of the Lord” is in synonymic variation with “repent” here; again, that element of obedience, given that repenting entails obeying the voice of God.

Mosiah 22.9 is especially useful:

And it came to pass that the king hearkened unto the words of Gideon.

Gideon advises Limhi on a course of action; Limhi hearkens to him, and does what Gideon advises.

And in Helaman 11.14:

O Lord, thou didst hearken unto my words when I said, Let there be a famine, that the pestilence of the sword might cease; and I know that thou wilt, even at this time, hearken unto my words, for thou saidst that: If this people repent I will spare them.

Again we have God on the hearkening end of the exchange, and it’s clear that he’s not only listening, but that he’s sending down wars and famines where Nephi requests them — he’s doing what he’s asked.

So for refined scriptural senses of “hearken” we have:

1. Listen or hear
2. Pay attention
2. Listen and understand
3. Listen and do as commanded
4. Listen and do as requested

In the context of the scriptures I’ve examined, then, I’d posit that hearken means “listen and take action” (where the default action to be taken, if none is specified in context, is that one pays close attention or works to understand — that is, the listening itself becomes the action and is therefore intensified.)

Despite the esteem in which we hold King James English (and 19th century versions of King James English), Mormons don’t actually speak King James English (although arguably, our temple liturgy draws more on that language than on modern American English usage.) So, just for balance, as well as kicks and giggles, let’s see how the word “hearken” is used by GAs in the 21st century.  Again, there’s more material here than I can do justice to, but I’m looking for representative examples with high defining value:

Elder Hales, Ensign, Nov 2010:

For example, when we hearken to the Word of Wisdom, we escape the captivity of poor health and addiction to substances that literally rob us of our ability to act for ourselves.

Elder Eyring, Ensign, Nov 2005:

So, the great test of life is to see whether we will hearken to and obey God’s commands in the midst of the storms of life. It is not to endure storms, but to choose the right while they rage.

In both of these cases, hearkening is clearly closely related to obedience. But in the first, it’s used instead of “obey” — that is, listening doesn’t even enter the equation; the point is that one follows the WoW; only action is emphasized. In the second, we have some ambiguity: is the combination of “hearken” and “obey” progressive order or synonymic variation? That is, do you hearken (i.e., listen) and then obey (i.e., do); or do you hearken (hear and do) and also, as a closely related action, obey (hear and do)?

Elder Gonzalez, Aug 2010:

Whether the Lord speaks to us through prophets or through the Spirit—and He will do both—we must promptly reply, “Speak; for thy servant heareth.” Many of the revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants begin with a commandment to hearken . . . Of course, hearing the words of the Lord through His prophets is much more than merely listening to a talk. When we hear the words of the prophets, we realize that those words are the will of God and that we must be willing to follow them.

Elder Gonzalez slips in “hear” for “hearken” here, with the clear assumption that they’re synonyms. But for him, to “hear the words of the Lord” seems to change the meaning of “hear” — hearing is accompanied by a recognition of legitimacy and a willingness to follow. All of that seems to be added upon the “listen” meaning of “hearken.”

Elder Steur, Ensign, July 2002:

Second, we need to put ourselves into a proper frame of mind and heart. This comes by prayerful pondering and laboring in the Spirit. This labor is real labor. It includes the very active steps of seeking, hearkening, and studying the scriptures.

Here, “hearken” seems closer to the scriptural definitions 2 and 3 above: not just listening or hearing, but actively seeking understanding.

For recent GA-speak, we have these sense divisions:

1. Listen, as a prelude to action
2. Listen and take action
3. Understand

I don’t think this is substantially different from the senses derived from scriptural usage, above; it still seems that “hearken” boils down to “listen and do something about it.” (Even in the passage where I’m willing to paraphrase “hearken” as “hear,” it’s in the context of someone answering the door — which means she hasn’t just heard the knock, but has taken the action of going to see who’s there.)

Turning back to the temple-shaped elephant in the post, I don’t think there’s any way to argue that “hearken” in the temple” means nothing more than “listen” — it virtually always means more than that in Mormon usage. But what exactly is being added to “listen” is open to interpretation, though heavily dependent on the context of the temple itself.

I want to believe that the switch from “obey” to “hearken” is freeing, in that I think it opens up possibilities for more meanings, and slightly less troubling ones. I certainly appreciate that it may incorporate a more internal, cognitive process (listening and understanding, as well as doing) to the female response than simply taking obedient action: one can obey mindlessly, without needing to understand or think through what one is dong, but I’m not sure that the same is, semantically, true of hearkening. In fact, given what I’ve found and discussed above, “hearken” doesn’t seem to soften “obey” so much as it just adds to it — the obedience is still there, but framed and bolstered by the act of listening.

Although I don’t think that the context of the liturgy really allows this, let’s suppose that the sense intended in the temple’s “hearken” is “understand” or “pay attention,” without the sense of obedience. I actually don’t mind that at all; it actually seems like in a healthy marriage, one should pay attention to, and work to understand, one’s spouse.  But if that’s what we mean by hearken, there’s no reason it can’t go both ways, that husbands can’t hearken to wives. Why not make the covenant reciprocal? (Certainly that reciprocity is taught by the GAs as the current doctrine of marriage; for example, “Couples need private time to observe, to talk, and really listen to each other” — Elder Nelson, April 2006; my emphasis.)

But if we do mean “listen + obey” by “hearken” (and I think the context, in which Adam and Eve’s disobedience is the event that catalyzes the hearken covenant, strongly suggests this), then I wonder if it’s not just a little disingenuous that the word has been changed (although I am, as I’ve indicated, grateful for it.) Is this just a way of retaining that gendered structure of obedience, but trying to make it look and feel better for a culture that’s no longer so accepting of the expectation that women will obey their husbands? Am I being tricked into feeling better about making effectively the same covenant as I would have before the change?

Has the apologetic squawk of the chicken patriarch found a voice in even our most sacred spaces?

191 Responses to “What does “hearken” mean?”

  1. 1.

    I, too, have heard the squawk in the temple. This is a great analysis. I think anyone who reads this would be hard-pressed to make a good argument against your conclusion about what “hearken” means.

    Two things: First, I agree that the “softer” meanings associated with “hearken” make that covenant more empowering–or just less bad–for women. But herein lies the problem. It’s ultimately conservative. If they’d kept it as “obey,” that would just be unacceptable to so many people, that we’d see some radical change, either in doctrine and liturgy, or in people leaving the church in large numbers.

    Second, I just want to add a couple things to your discussion of contemporary usage and meanings associated with “hearken.” In my experience, we use the BoM LOTS more than we use the Bible in the Church, so I think it’s safe to say that whatever meaning we see in the BoM is going to be similar to how general church membership uses and understands the word. Also, like a commenter from Apame’s post, I was taught in church that “hearken” means “listen and obey.” So, sophisticated discourse analysis aside, I think we would not be overreaching to say that the equivalence of hearkening and obeying is actually being taught in the church quite explicitly.

    Okay, I’m done being long-winded.

  2. 2.

    It is interesting how these words acquire different connotations in time. For example the Latin root for “command” recalls the placing of important orders in a junior officer’s hands. I think it originally connoted a degree of discretion, how important the task was, and didn’t imply micromanagement. Similarly, the “keep” part of keep the commandments implies activity with lots of discretion. It is the active and self-directed end of the continuum covered by the verbs to have, to hold, and to keep. I think “hearken” obviously implies real listening and real understanding.

    However, each of the words I highlighted get used (mostly, even) in more constraining ways that are often not very thoughtful.

    One think I like is experiencing the temple in non-English languages. It is interesting that most of the time, the translation favors the gentler interpretation of words.

  3. 3.

    Thoughtful post.

    Let’s include Genesis in this discussion.

    I believe that this direction to Eve that she remember to hearken (the terminology is different in Genesis, but it’s there too) is counsel that she avoid making a mistake a second time.

    Satan had been successful not only in getting her to eat of the fruit (ultimately a good thing), but also in encouraging her to make that decision to do so without including Adam in it (not such a good thing).

    What is interesting to me is how the two of them respond when God asks them about eating the fruit. They are divided and accusatory. “She gave me of the fruit of the tree,” says Adam, separating himself from her. And Eve, having been pointed out singly, in turn singles out the serpent and explains her beguilement. Adam and Eve are not united in their response to God. They are divided. If this division continues between them it will be detrimental to their spirtual health. Jesus’ words were clear on this when he told us “if ye are not one, ye are not mine”.

    There had been no “we” in their response to God’s question. God’s counsel here is that she see the value of working with and talking with her partner to create unity in decision making and that she become the kind of person who wants that unity and connection rather than acting in ways that make division easy. God’s instruction here is that she develop the ability and see the wisdom of knowing and counseling with each other when making big decisions. It is a good lesson for both her and Adam.

    You may ask, so, why didn’t God say that to Adam too? I think there are two reasons. First, Adam obviously has, already, in this instance, paid attention to his partner’s thoughts and considered them, and discussed them with her. In Genesis 3:17 God says to him that “Because thou hast hearkened” (hearkening is a GOOD thing) “unto the voice of thy wife” the result will be mortality and the struggles of life and the learning that comes from that and the redemption that God will provide (also a very GOOD thing). And secondly, well, he was standing right there. When I counsel my 7 year old who needs admonishment and my 5 year old, all ears, is standing beside him, I don’t feel the need to turn to my 5 year old and say “and you too!” I know she’s heard it. I suspect Adam did as well. As God has said a number of times when declaring principles that apply to our interaction with others “what I say unto one, I say unto all”. (see, for example, Doc & Cov 25:16)

  4. 4.

    Haha. I started researching the same thing as you last night, Melyngoch. Jinx again! Except my research would have been less thorough and my analysis much less interesting, cuz I’m lazy like that.

  5. 5.

    It seems pretty clear to me that although hearken certainly includes obedience in a temple context, it is conditional obedience.

    MB, I like your viewpoint. It gives me some food for thought.

  6. 6.

    MB – if the roles and commandments are not tied up with gender per se, and only reflect the two individuals in Eden specifically, why do we all have to take that exact covenant upon ourselves, instead of a more egalitarian one? If it’s just great relationship advice for people in general, why isn’t that given to both partners in our modern liturgy?

    Our modern liturgy is not egalitarian, and does explicitly place women under men.

    That whole “men are not punished for Adam’s transgression” does not imply that women are not punished for Eve’s. In the Temple, we take the consequences and chastisement for her “mistake” upon ourselves, as MB describes above.

  7. 7.

    “why do we all have to take that exact covenant upon ourselves, instead of a more egalitarian one? ”

    Because we are slowly unwebbing ourselves from the 19th Century. The post-garden conditions God sets out in Genesis are descriptive rather than prescriptive. They are descriptive of reality in a low Telestial world. The mistake carried over into the Endowment. (In my very right opinion) ~

  8. 8.

    Why isn’t it given to both partners in our modern liturgy? Probably because the liturgy reflects the scriptural text, which is imperfect in its precision. They both are. That’s why they are not set in stone. Both have been retranslated and revised in the past and I expect that they will in the future.

    No, we do not take the consequences of “her mistake” upon ourselves. We are reminded of a principle of listening and including our partners as she was.

    The thing about symbolic story is that it is symbolic. You can read it in more way than one. If you choose to read an oppressive message into it, you will find it. Heck, you can read oppressive messages into just about anything if you want to. I certainly can. And some people do in this case.

    However, since I know deep in my soul that God is not oppressive I tend to discount any interpretations of symbolic liturgy that paint God’s law as oppressive that my mind may find, and assume that it is wrong and therefore open my mind to other interpretations.

    Certainly I wish that things were less easily interpreted in anti-feminist terms. I’d change some text if I were in charge of that. I suspect that they will eventually be changed.

    As an old English major I need to point out that “men are not punished for Adam’s transgression” is a phrase from the 19th century. Up until the 1960s it was a general literary custom to see “men”, understood to include “all mankind”, as a phrase that included all men, women and children. As women’s rights became an issue as the 19th century closed, the issue of a distinction of men and women in political rights brought to light the fact that women were, in fact, not being included in that umbrella on that front, and writers and editors began the slow transition of making the switch to distinguishing universality from sexual distinctions in essays and commentary and religious text.

    So, any time you find “all men” or “all mankind” in religious literature written before the 20th century you can assume that it means all men, women and children.

    And “Adam’s transgression” means “the Fall”. The conventional Christian take on what happened in the Garden (to which Joseph Smith was responding) was the Fall, brought about by the actions of both Adam and Eve, which fall caused death and sin to enter the world for which all of Adam’s children, male and female, were punished and suffered.

    So the wording in the article of faith is universal, not men only if you understand 19th century literary tradition.

    You can read consequences and chastisement into the words if you like. That is the thing about symbolism, it can be interpreted many different ways. But I see no reason to see that as the only acceptable or the final interpretation of that part of the story.

    Gotta run. I’ll address the “explicitly placing men under women” later.

  9. 9.

    Hearken is softer than obey. Obey is a high very contrast word it is the black in black and white – do it! while hearken is a much lower contrast word inviting one to engage their mind.

  10. 10.

    It is lower contrast than listen + obey. I think it’s more like engage your mind by hearing and considering then comply with action.

  11. 11.

    Whitney (#1):

    First, I agree that the “softer” meanings associated with “hearken” make that covenant more empowering–or just less bad–for women. But herein lies the problem. It’s ultimately conservative. If they’d kept it as “obey,” that would just be unacceptable to so many people, that we’d see some radical change, either in doctrine and liturgy, or in people leaving the church in large numbers.

    This is a super good point, and I think it elucidates nicely a big problem with chicken patriarchy more broadly — it mollifies those troubled by overt sexism, but without actually rejecting the sexist structures.

    Paul 2 (#2):

    It is interesting how these words acquire different connotations in time . . . However, each of the words I highlighted get used (mostly, even) in more constraining ways that are often not very thoughtful.

    Certainly language changes and the meaning of words is unstable over time — as I mentioned in the OP, part of the difficulty with a word like “hearken” is that we don’t necessarily have a clear native-speaker instinct for what it means, as we would a word like “obey,” because there are different historical meanings for it. But I also think it’s important to keep in mind that the meaning of words in current usage is inevitably going to differ from their etymology and their usage in the past — and that this isn’t a bad thing.

    “Obey,” for example, rests etymologically on the Latin prefix ob, “in the direction of” plus the verb audire, “to hear.” But I don’t think anyone would argue that the modern English verb “obey” means, or should mean, “to hear.”

  12. 12.

    Interesting post! Thanks for sharing this research. I think it’s fascinating to contemplate the evolution of “obey” into “hearken”.

    I find it most relevant, and troubling, that wives are required to hearken to their husbands, but their husbands are not required to hearken to their wives. If “hearken” means “listen”, then the unilateral “hearken” covenant seems even more sexist. Men aren’t even required to “listen” to their wives!?! Bizarre.

  13. 13.

    MB (#3):

    God’s counsel here is that she see the value of working with and talking with her partner to create unity in decision making and that she become the kind of person who wants that unity and connection rather than acting in ways that make division easy. God’s instruction here is that she develop the ability and see the wisdom of knowing and counseling with each other when making big decisions. It is a good lesson for both her and Adam.

    Although I appreciate and enjoy the attempt to read Genesis as reflecting a 21st-century egalitarian construct of marriage, and I can definitely see a certain heuristic value in it (if you’re arguing for egalitarian marriage, rather than an interpretation of Genesis), I’m not convinced that this works as an honest reading of the text at hand. Nowhere does God as them to work on their communication skills as a couple; rather, he tells Eve that her husband will rule over her.

    More to the point of the OP, it seems to me that you’re interpreting “hearken” to mean something that, as I argue above, I don’t think it can mean in that context. “Hearken” only ever means “listen to” when it’s followed by direct speech (and often still carries the implication that one will obey the direct speech); otherwise, in both scripture and modern usage, it carries an element of obedience.

    We may feel that Adam hearkening to Eve is a good thing, but I’m not convinced that the writer of Genesis 3.17 feels the same. (When I tell someone that things will be cursed as a consequence of their behavior, I don’t usually mean “Good job with that!”) It may even be our doctrine (depending on the decade) that it was a good thing, but I think we’ll have to pin that on modern revelation.

    You may ask, so, why didn’t God say that to Adam too? I think there are two reasons . . . secondly, well, he was standing right there. When I counsel my 7 year old who needs admonishment and my 5 year old, all ears, is standing beside him, I don’t feel the need to turn to my 5 year old and say “and you too!” I know she’s heard it. I suspect Adam did as well. As God has said a number of times when declaring principles that apply to our interaction with others “what I say unto one, I say unto all”. (see, for example, Doc & Cov 25:16)

    But there’s a difference between you reprimanding or instructing your 7-year-old, and you asking your 7-year-old to enter a contract with you. If I, as a kid, watched while my sister was required to promise, “I will do my homework every day before I go rollerskating,” I would absolutely definitely think, Whew! Off the hook on that one! Clearly Sis is so bad at getting her homework done that she has to enter this contract, but I’m such a good student that my parents have recognized I can do all the rollerskating I want, and still get my homework done.

    When you’re demanding a performative contract of some people but not others, you’re actually reducing the possibility that those others would assume themselves to be also covered under that contract. The hearken covenant isn’t just God giving Eve marital advice; she — with all the endowed women in the church — is speaking performatively, making a promise. We can’t just assume that God expects men to make the same promise, if they’re not actually required to make it.

  14. 14.

    Here’s the way I see the differences between “hearken” and “obey.”

    From what I understand, to “obey” is to do what you’re told because you were told to do it. There’s not necessarily any thought or consideration put into the act; it’s more just a matter of, “I was told to do this so I’m doing it.”

    However, to “hearken” means to hear, understand, and follow the counsel given not simply because it was given, but because you know, after considering it, that the counsel is right. I think it recognizes that you still have free will to disobey the counsel, but you’re choosing, voluntarily, to obey it because you know it’s right.

    As it relates to a man hearkening unto God, I think “hearken” means asking God to confirm to you that what His Prophet has said is correct and then, yes, being obedient, but being obedient because you know that is God’s will for you, not just because someone said you had to do it. I think it is similar between a husband and wife. The wife doesn’t just simply do what husband says without thinking about it because he’s her husband. She hears his counsel, thinks about it, I believe is entitled to know that her husband’s counsel comes from God and so she follows it, not because her husband said it, but because she knows it’s what God wants. I think the implication is that as long as the husband is hearkening to God’s commandments, his counsel to his wife will be in line with God’s will.

    And, as has been pointed out, for whatever reason there is no reciprocal covenant of the husband to listen to his wife. However, GAs have been extremely clear that this is a duty required of husbands.

  15. 15.

    This is fantastic work. Seriously.

  16. 16.

    And, as has been pointed out, for whatever reason there is no reciprocal covenant of the husband to listen to his wife. However, GAs have been extremely clear that this is a duty required of husbands.

    The GA’s may have said that men should “hearken” to their wives, but God hasn’t seen fit to add it to His requirements for men. I wonder why the GA’s aren’t communicating directly with God on this issue. If the GA’s haven’t had clear instruction from God, then they should wait until they hear from Him and change the temple liturgy so we can all be clear on the matter. What’s the hold up?

  17. 17.

    I love your analysis, Melyngoch! And your concluding line is pure awesomeness.

  18. 18.

    Melyngoch,

    Meh. So my 5 and 7 year old analogy didn’t work . Oh well. Five year olds can’t be trusted to get things, I guess. :-) I’l have to think of another.

    That said, as I mentioned, Adam has already shown his ability to hearken to his partner. God specifically mentions that he has.

    Traditional Christian tenets say that the Fall was a result of his doing so, that the Fall was bad, and therefore him hearkening to her was bad and the Fall was their punishment. On the other hand, Mormon theology maintains that the Fall was a result of both their actions, that the Fall was good and a blessing to them both, and therefore his hearkening to Eve was the right choice for him to make. So, in LDS theology him hearkening to her is good in God’s eyes as is her hearkening to him. So I don’t think we can make a case that he’s not supposed to do so as well.

    Which I think is referred to in your Nelson 2006 quote.

    Absence of some already-practiced righteous principle being specifically mentioned in a holy covenant does not mean that the covenant maker is excused from that particular principle or action nor that it is not expected of him. We should not assume that such is the case.

  19. 19.

    MB,

    The thing about symbolic story is that it is symbolic. You can read it in more way than one. If you choose to read an oppressive message into it, you will find it. Heck, you can read oppressive messages into just about anything if you want to. I certainly can. And some people do in this case.

    That’s so true. This perceived inequality from women is just that, “perceived.” It’s not really there in any really real sense. They are just choosing to see sexism, which means they could choose to not see sexism and be happy with how perfect everything is. How often these women forget that truly, “all is well in zion.”

    For that matter, if only people of color would have realized that they were reading racism into situations where there really was no racism, we could have avoided all the uproar of 1978.

    If people could just be happy with things as they are (well, except Joseph, of course. Well, and Jesus. But they are exceptions.) they would be able to be happy, and by being happy, they would effectively be able to be happy by being happy. Why would people then not want to be happy? Why choose to see inequality (which makes people unhappy) when you could choose to see equality (which makes people happy!).

  20. 20.

    Absence of some already-practiced righteous principle being specifically mentioned in a holy covenant does not mean that the covenant maker is excused from that particular principle or action nor that it is not expected of him. We should not assume that such is the case.

    I’m confused here. If women aren’t being punished for Eve’s transgressions by making the “hearken” covenant, and if women are already practicing the righteous principle of listening to their husbands, why then are women required to explicitly make a covenant to listen to their husbands, while their husbands are not? Are we to assume that women are less likely to without the covenant to hearken to their husbands than men are to their wives? I don’t understand.

  21. 21.

    And btw, it’s not just a “symbolic” story when women are actually making covenants that they will “hearken” to their husbands. Even if “hearkening” is softer than “obeying,” that nuance still only goes one way. If we were only talking about symbolism and theoretical application of that symbolism, that would be one thing, but we are talking about imperatives on behavior from the temple which are more than just symbolic.

  22. 22.

    So, any time you find “all men” or “all mankind” in religious literature written before the 20th century you can assume that it means all men, women and children.

    No, you can’t. That’s the excuse that’s made, and certainly sometimes it is used to refer to all of “humankind.” But often, it only reveals that the speaker considers “humankind” to really be “mankind”.

    The Endowment is actually a perfect example of this, in that women are held accountable for Eve’s transgression in a way that men are not.

    The problem with using “man” to refer to everybody is that sometimes it does, and sometimes it doesn’t, and the devil lies in the demarcation of those instances.

  23. 23.

    MB, I really would like to believe that there is supposed to be reciprocity in marital hearkening. I really try hard to believe that the hierarchy of covenants (God –> man –> woman) made in the temple is not actually God’s will, but the result of a church that got started in the 19th century and imbibed a lot of the gender rhetoric of the time, and hasn’t yet cleaned it all out.

    And I, too, believe in my soul that God does not value me less as a woman, or want to see me oppressed. But that’s exactly why I find the temple so difficult — it introduces some pretty painful cognitive dissonance. An awful lot is staked on the word “hearken,” and given its usage in liturgy, where the meaning of the words puts salvation on the line, deciding that it means whatever I’m most comfortable thinking it means just isn’t going to hold up.

  24. 24.

    FWIW, to my ear “hearken” includes an implicit element of obedience, so I think your analysus is correct.

  25. 25.

    Absence of some already-practiced righteous principle being specifically mentioned in a holy covenant does not mean that the covenant maker is excused from that particular principle or action nor that it is not expected of him.

    Then why does anybody at all need to make any covenants? Why isn’t “be good!” sufficient commandment for all situations?

  26. 26.

    *analysis*

  27. 27.

    And I, too, believe in my soul that God does not value me less as a woman, or want to see me oppressed.

    Yep. Which is why I had to ultimately reject the temple. If I believe in a God, it has to be one that is not misogynistic. If a ritual is inherently misogynistic, I cannot believe it is from that God.

    Then again, I could just be seeing inequality where it doesn’t exist in order to make myself unhappy, as I so desperately wish to be. Or, I might just be subject to the crazy whims of my feminine hormones. Drat it all, how can one ever be sure of anything?

  28. 28.

    Ziff (17) — Thanks! I like even better how Whitney follows it up in the first line of her comment.

    James (19, 21) — That’s a great response to the claim that the temple is symbolic so we can interpret it however we want. (Which always reminds me of Dave Barry trying to argue that Moby-Dick is actually the Republic of Ireland.) Just because it has an element of symbolism doesn’t mean the stakes are real — women are making real covenants relative to specific individuals.

    nat (22) — This is a bit tangential, but it’s always seemed to me that in the debate over gender-netural language, Mormons — who are so invested in gender — should actually be working harder to avoid gendered ambiguities in language, such as saying “man” when it’s unclear whether we mean everyone or not. Because there are plenty of cases where we do just mean men (or just women) — so using “mankind” in a context where men will be asked to do different things than women are is just fraught with the danger of gender confusion.

    ECS (12, 16) — Thanks for articulating this so nicely. This is totally my feminist linchpin, the thing I’d like to see changed first and foremost. If we’re serious that current revelation precedes anything from the past, and current discourse about gender is benign in a way the temple liturgy is not, then why not change the liturgy to reflect what the GAs are now teaching about gender?

  29. 29.

    I think it would also be interesting to examine the the meaning of “as.” In this covenant, the “as” usually gets interpreted as a conditional–hearken “only insofar as” he hearkens to God. But I think there’s a case to be made that it actually means “in a like manner”–hearken to him in the same way he hearkens to God.

    But in any case, I find the former interpretation, while certainly more palatable, nonetheless problematic. There’s a significant difference between the person who gives counsel, and the person who decides whether or not to obey that counsel. Despite the fact that she can reject what her husband says, a woman is not on equal footing with a man in this relational model.

    Going back to a recent discussion here, there is a difference between the bloggers and the commenters on this site. The bloggers get to set the topics of discussion. If we’re feeling benevolent, we might be influenced by the suggestions of commenters. But we’re not on equal footing. If you’re a commenter, you don’t have to participate if you don’t like a discussion. Your freedom isn’t taken away. You can say no–you can leave. You don’t have to follow us to hell if that’s where we’re headed. ;) But that isn’t the same position as getting to decide the topics in the first place.

    In the hearken set-up, a woman isn’t ever the actor who initiates things. Her freedom lies only in the way she responds. And that’s a more limited freedom.

  30. 30.

    Absence of some already-practiced righteous principle being specifically mentioned in a holy covenant does not mean that the covenant maker is excused from that particular principle or action nor that it is not expected of him. We should not assume that such is the case.

    I think that’s a fair point. I think I’m expected to say, act with charity, or keep the Sabbath day holy, even if I haven’t made specific covenants to do so.

    But one of the problems I see in this particular instance is that I’m not sure husbands hearkening to wives is clearly established as “an already-practiced righteous principle.” Don’t get me wrong–I’m not at all saying that husbands aren’t told to listen to their wives and take them seriously. But I’m not sure they’re being told to “hearken” to them with the overtones of obedience that exist in this covenant.

    I would also argue that admonitions, even in the most official of settings (GAs speaking in GC), don’t carry the same theological weight as liturgical promises.

  31. 31.

    2 Nephi 9:28b-29

    When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not. And they shall perish.
    But to be learned is good if they hearken unto the counsels of God.

    I take this to mean: to be learned is good as long as you’re aware of God’s views too, even where they differ from your own. You’re certainly not obligated to agree with God’s position or follow his counsel, simply to give it a fair hearing and then do what you think is right.

  32. 32.

    Lynnette,
    #30.
    I didn’t mean that men in general are already practicing this principle. Only that Adam had done so just prior to this conversation with God.

    And James, #19. Your sarcasm was uncalled for and not appreciated.

  33. 33.

    So I would love to see the ZDers parse Valerie Hudson’s recent FAIR presentation “The Two Trees”:

    http://www.fairlds.org/FAIR_Conferences/2010_The_Two_Trees.html

    Especially noting how she describes why Eve has to “hearken” to Adam. I know a lot of women who take comfort in this interpretation but it still leaves, imo, a lot to be desired. (Not the least of which is that nothing like this is being preached from the General Conference pulpit).

  34. 34.

    James, just so you don’t feel unappreciated, I rather enjoyed your satire in #19.

  35. 35.

    At least one of my BYU religion professors/instructors (Rex Reeve?) explicitly defined “hearken” as “listen AND do.”

    And I say “amen” to ECS and nat kelly above.

  36. 36.

    MB,

    You’re probably right. Satire is a pretty “low” genre. I bet Jonathan Swift will NEVER get his temple work done.

    Anyway, I’ll set that aside and be more direct. There is a problem of sexism in the church. That doesn’t mean that the church isn’t “true” or anything like that, simply that there is a problem that has not been fixed as of yet. Arguing that the potential misogyny seen in the church and specifically in the temple ceremony isn’t really there in any direct or substantive manner elides the lived experiences of so many people. Arguing that the sexism is just a matter of arbitrary interpretation only serves the purposes of the dominant ideology and further alienates the already marginalized. There may be progress in the church towards a more egalitarian dynamic between the sexes, but we’re not there yet, as evidenced by the proliferation of “The Angel in the House” type expressions which are often seen by members of church as an indication of the equality of women, but such a sentiment could not be further from the truth. If we men are the ones putting women on pedestals, then we retain the power of removing them as well.

    My point is that to say that we are already at an egalitarian moment between the sexes in the church is to overstate the progress that has been made. The current ceremony and Adam and Eve narrative in general clearly lend themselves to a more misogynistic interpretation than to an egalitarian one. While I agree with you that this will probably change in the future, it does not change the fact that we should actually recognize the problem and hope for a better world.

    Oh, and nat kelly, thank you for expressing your appreciation. You’re a gem.

  37. 37.

    The Endowment is actually a perfect example of this, in that women are held accountable for Eve’s transgression in a way that men are not.

    This is awesome – well put, nat kelly.

  38. 38.

    My favorite “harken” reference is Gen. 21:12 when God says unto Abraham “in all that Sarah hath said unto thee, harken unto her voice…: The harken covenant wouldn’t bother me if it went both ways.

  39. 39.

    I second the suggestion of Tulip in comment # 33. I find Hudson’s Two Trees to be highly speculative, and she claims that certain doctrines are clear whan they are far from clear, in my opinion. In addition, she does some fancy footwork with interpretation of Old Testament Hebrew.

    So, just in case the ZDs have anybody hanging around with time on her hands who has also studied Hebrew Bible, Hudson’s work is overdue for a critical treatment. Please please please.

  40. 40.

    James,

    I obviously was not clear. I do not believe that the potential misogyny seen in the church isn’t there. I do not believe that the temple ceremony doesn’t cause confusion and discomfort for feminists like me. It does.

    I would be the last to say that we are already at an egalitarian moment between the sexes in practice among the saints. We are not there.

    I simply wished to enlarge the scope of possible understanding of the story of Genesis beyond the obvious ones that are, understandably and rightly, annoying and which cause dismay and are subject to interpretation in misogynist ways. Discussion of the story beyond the immediate phrases in the liturgy is helpful.

    I objected to your immediately assuming that I was advocating something that I was not, painting me in your mind as an “angel in the house” advocate and using sarcasm to devalue my comment. That galls me.

    And then to include the 1978 revelation in your comments, an event I worked and prayed for in the face of racism among fellow church members in the years leading up to it. (I am an old lady)..well, that just really took the cake.

    I will assume that you are apologizing and let my objection drop.

  41. 41.

    Melyngoch,

    Nowhere does God as them to work on their communication skills as a couple; rather, he tells Eve that her husband will rule over her.

    Speaking of Hebrew phrases (#39) The Hebrew phrase in Genesis rendered here as “rule over” (msh’l bet) is probably not correctly translated. When msh’l (usually translated as “rule) is used with bet (a word usually translated as ‘with’, ‘in’, ‘by,’ or ‘at’) the more accurate translation is “rule with”.

    That leads to some interesting conjecture. In LDS liturgy it might be considered that a poor decision was made to use a KJV translation that is inaccurate in creating temple liturgy. Or it might, as Thomas Parkin conjectured in #7, be a description of telestial ways of living in the telestial sort of world Adam and Eve will be part of, not prescriptive of the way they should ideally live. Or it might be something else. Interesting to think about.

    I note that in initiatory, which discusses celestial life, the preposition is “with”.

  42. 42.

    Or, Mark (39)

    Is that just fancy footwork with Hebrew?

    Need a Hebrew scholar….

  43. 43.

    MB,

    Well played. I do apologize for insulting you. I admit that I wasn’t engaging you in a very honest or productive fashion: I was mostly entertaining myself at your expense by fashioning your nuanced response into a derivative caricature of many I encounter in the church.

    Instead of responding in a substantive way to your comment about interpretation and the potential problematic implications of what seemed to be your position, I decided to have a little noir fun, and it wasn’t in the best of taste. I think you were right to call me out on it.

    Mea culpa

  44. 44.

    I went through my endowment 5 months ago the day before I got married. I have not been able to return since, and honestly, don’t know if it’s worth the mental effort to ever go again. Personally, I have no problem hearkening unto my husband. I have a problem with the fact that he doesn’t have to hearken back.

  45. 45.

    James,
    No hard feelings.
    I will look forward to more substantive exchanges of ideas with you.
    I will be interested in your thoughts.

  46. 46.

    From comment 41:

    Speaking of Hebrew phrases (#39) The Hebrew phrase in Genesis rendered here as “rule over” (msh’l bet) is probably not correctly translated. When msh’l (usually translated as “rule) is used with bet (a word usually translated as ‘with’, ‘in’, ‘by,’ or ‘at’) the more accurate translation is “rule with”.

    Sorry, MB; unfortunately I think this idea is “fancy footwork,” wishful thinking on the part of certain leaders. mašal b- means, very clearly, to rule over.

    Just for fun, let’s play lexicographer some more:

    Judges 8:23

    And Gideon said unto them, I will not rule over you, neither shall my son rule over you: the LORD shall rule over you.

    I’m not sure how to read this except that Gideon is rejecting being made king.

    Genesis 37:8

    And his brethren said to him, Shalt thou indeed reign over us? or shalt thou indeed have dominion over us? [emphasis added; this is the phrase we’re looking for] And they hated him yet the more for his dreams, and for his words.

    This passage is especially useful because we see the phrase parallel to “reign over us.” Joseph’s brothers hate him not for dreaming that they will all rule together, but that he’ll rule over the rest of them.

    Deuteronomy 15:6

    For the LORD thy God blesseth thee, as he promised thee: and thou shalt lend unto many nations, but thou shalt not borrow; and thou shalt reign over many nations, but they shall not reign over thee.

    Since an explicitly non-reciprocal condition is set up here, it’s hard to understand how it could mean “rule with.”

    Proverbs 16:32

    He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city.

    I think it’s likely that he that is slow to anger is basically equivalent to he that ruleth his spirit, which casts doubt on the possibility that he, together with his spirit, is ruling something else.

    I would be interested in seeing even one passage (besides Gen 3:16, supposedly) in which the phrase means “rule with.” I think we’re left with the uncomfortable fact: Adam rules over Eve, like a king over a kingdom.

  47. 47.

    So, just in case the ZDs have anybody hanging around with time on her hands who has also studied Hebrew Bible, Hudson’s work is overdue for a critical treatment. Please please please.

    :) Hudson’s on my hit list. So is Beverly Campbell.

    We’ve talked about doing a Sunstone panel critiquing chicken feminism, actually, although this year might not be the best.

  48. 48.

    From what I remember of the Spanish version of the endowment, the word hearken is translated simply as “escuchar,” which means to listen.

    Part of what bothers me is that there is no good way to clarify the issue of the definition in any official way. It feels there is a (perhaps unintended) gag rule on the issue: We’re instructed not to write to general authorities about doctrinal issues. Local bishops and stake presidents are not well-equipped to handle these questions. Speaking about this with a temple president, at least in my experience, is completely unhelpful. There is no written material published by the church that addresses this issue in the temple liturgy.

    In short, thanks Melyngoch and ZDs for raising the issue here, since many other avenues (outside the Bloggernacle) are closed.

  49. 49.

    Listen and do as requested

    I think that is a subsumed “when told the truth, someone who listens to it honestly will comply” ..

    The other point, one I have made before, is that it can be read as a limitation, that is, hearken only to the extent the other hearkens, do not be led astray by them.

    After all, as a result of the fall, a woman’s heart will turn to her husband, and he will rule over her. That is not the original status in the garden, where Eve was a helpmeet or equal to Adam, but a symptom of the fallen world.

    So, what should the terms and meanings be in that context?

  50. 50.

    In the garden women are existentially subordinated (Eve is created from and for Adam). In the world women are socially subordinated (Eve must hearken to Adam, with whom God interacts). I don’t think either one is the ideal, or that they’re unrelated.

    It’s also not clear to me why righteous women should have to commit themselves to the Fall–if that’s all Eve’s subordination is: a consequence of mortality to be remedied in the eternities. Do righteous people covenant to waste away and die as a condition of mortal life, while the unworthy masses are permitted to live as long as they please? There are so many holes in our explanation of the story we may as well be on a miniature golf course.

  51. 51.

    After all, as a result of the fall, a woman’s heart will turn to her husband, and he will rule over her. That is not the original status in the garden, where Eve was a helpmeet or equal to Adam, but a symptom of the fallen world.

    AKA: Women being punished for Eve’s transgression….

  52. 52.

    .

    [Too lazy to read all the comments (merely skimmed them) but kudos on the post. This is my kind of scripture study.]

  53. 53.

    not clear to me why righteous women should have to commit themselves to the Fall–if that’s all Eve’s subordination is: a consequence of mortality to be remedied

    … by anyone who embraces the gospel.

    It strikes me that the fallen world is something we should overcome, not submit to or comply with.

    Either we go with Nat Kelly and embrace the concept that Eve (and all women) should be subject to the natural man (who is an enemy to God and has been since the beginning) or we can take the position that the gospel is to aid to overcome that.

    The corollary I would draw to that would be that women are to escape the natural/telestial order where they are subjected to men who rule over them, and they should listen to men only when the men are listening to God and otherwise go about their way ignoring them and talking to God themselves.

    Kiskilili — I think we differ on the conclusions we draw from the narrative. My conclusion is that of all in creation, Eve is established as equal to Adam. Then the fall, and the world we find ourselves in now, where women are subordinate to men.

    The question the narrative addresses is whether or not that is the order of Heaven surviving in the fallen world, or a part of the fallen world that the order of heaven should remedy and counteract.

    From the narrative, the conclusion I draw is that it is a condition we will encounter, women being subordinated, but not one that we embrace.

    That women should not obey, but should listen, and in listening, feel free to judge, and discard as chaff, things that are said as not of God.

    To each their own reading and conclusions of course, but that is how I see the duty we assume.

  54. 54.

    I guess my position is that if the ultimate purpose of the covenant is to teach Eve to overcome subordination, at the very least, this is not being conveyed clearly. And the meaning of “hearken,” which Melyngoch has demonstrated contains an expectation of obedience, is only part of the problem.

    The other part is the structure:

    In putting them under covenant, God addresses only Adam directly, reinforcing the notion that Adam stands between God and Eve (think about the contrast between “you” and “she”).

    Adam is a priest to God, Eve a priestess to Adam.

    Adam hearkens to God, Eve to Adam.

    If God is trying to communicate that the structure should specifically NOT be God–Adam–Eve, but that this arrangement should be rejected or transcended, perhaps he needs a new press secretary–one fluent in English (or any other human language)–to get the message across. Because someone seems to have seriously bungled it.

    First God told Eve not to eat the fruit when he wanted her to. Then God told Eve to be subordinate when he wanted her to be equal. At some point, it seems like maybe “hearkening” doesn’t even need to mean “listen without necessarily obeying” so much as “don’t pay any attention to at all.”

  55. 55.

    Kiskilili — guess we just see it differently. What do you think God intends (vs the problems of transmission)? God addresses the entire group, it is just Eve who tells Adam what she will (and will not) do.

    Though this, and some other things, triggered some thoughts I have at:

    http://ethesis.blogspot.com/2011/05/slavery-mitzvah-priesthood-and-feminism.html

  56. 56.

    Though the ultimate purpose of covenants is to bring us back to God. Not to overcome subordination or anything else.

    First God told Eve not to eat the fruit

    Again, he addressed the entire “room” so to speak — both of them — not just Eve and not just Adam (but the two of them, as an equal couple) when commanding them not to partake of the fruit.

  57. 57.

    My last comment was snarky. I don’t think the purpose of the covenant is to overcome subordination but to reify it. My point is that it’s ridiculous to suppose the subordination is merely a description of the natural world we’re expected to transcend if it’s also enjoined on Eve by covenant. And I also don’t think the purpose of the covenant is to bring Eve closer to God, but to move her further from God by putting Adam between them.

    Oddly, in Genesis, God only issues the command not to eat the fruit to Adam, before Eve is created. But that’s neither here nor there.

  58. 58.

    K,

    unfortunately I think this idea is “fancy footwork,” wishful thinking on the part of certain leaders. mašal b- means, very clearly, to rule over.

    Thanks for your input. As to the Hebrew, I think we non-Hebrew scholars are hobbled just using English translations.

    I’ll put the mašal b notion in my “maybe, maybe not” drawer for now until I can find a good ancient languages friend to enlighten me.

    And one question: Certain leaders? I wasn’t aware of any leaders originating or espousing that. Are you? Sources? I found it in a commentary on Genesis written by a scholar who referred to Brown, Driver and Briggs’ definitive Hebrew and English Lexicon http://www.logos.com/product/1796/enhanced-brown-driver-briggs-hebrew-and-english-lexicon as the source for that idea.

  59. 59.

    Melyngoch

    Am I being tricked into feeling better about making effectively the same covenant as I would have before the change?

    I don’t think so. It is clear to me that when it comes to covenants with God one is only held responsible for what one understands to be truth, what one understands about law, and what one understands about that covenant. (Which is entirely different from covenants made in a US legal system, thank heavens.)

    I think rather it is that, when confronted with that covenant which,obviously from all the preceding discussion, can be understood in multiple ways, we become more aware of our desires in regards to what we envision relationships should be in the eyes of God.

    And that reveals our hearts to ourselves. If we do not even know what the desires of our hearts are, (and just think, instead, about what some other human being thinks they should be) we cannot begin to think about whether or not our desires are truly in accordance with the principles of faith, hope, charity, etc. or whether they are all that they could be or whether there is more that we should include or explore. We do not really know ourselves or our hearts and therefore inadvertently hinder one of the main purposes of our being here.

    The lack of detailed precision in most covenants with God (along with celestial allowance mentioned above in my first paragraph) allows room for changing comprehension of what goodness it possibly may encompass as one’s comprehension takes on new vistas, challenges and understanding of nuances and of what one doesn’t yet know. It allows for individualization of covenant making in a setting that seems like group covenant making. It allows for further growth as well as commitment with altered or new understanding as that comprehension changes. It requires that communication with God be frank and honest beyond the ritual covenant making itself.

    That’s not to say I don’t agree with the frustration expressed above in comments about the ambiguity of the phraseology or the multiple ways it can be read. I agree with that. I just thought your question about being tricked needed to be directly responded to.

  60. 60.

    I’ll make it easier for you than that.

    BDB, p. 605–entry on mashal (I’ve changed the citation style to [chapter]:[verse] where the original uses regular type and superscript; I’ve also skipped some information on grammatical forms and Hebrew quotes, partly because I can’t make Hebrew work on WordPress)

    rule, have dominion over, reign [list of forms]
    1. human subj., rule, have dominion over [preposition “b-“–indicating the preposition “b-” means “over” in this case] Gn 3:16 4:7 24:2 (all J), 45:8, 26 (E), . . . 37:8 (E); Dt 15:6 [twice] Jos 12:5 (D); Ju 8:22, 23 [twice] 9:2 [twice] 14:4 15:11 2 S 23:3 . . . I K 5:1 2 Ch 7:18 9:26 23:20 Is 3:4, 12 19:4 Mi 5:2 H 1:14 Je 22:30 La 5:8 Jo 2:17 Pr 16:32 . . . 17:2 19:10 22:7 [Ps] 19:4 105:21 106:41 Dn 11:43 Ec 9:17; rarely other preps.: [its attestations with other prepositions are listed] 2. of heavenly bodies, c. [“b-“] Gn 1:18. 3. of God, c. [“b-“] Ju 8:23 Is 63:19 [Ps] 22:29 59:14 89:10 103:19 I Ch 29:12 2 Ch 20:6; abs. [Ps] 66:7; . . . Is 40:10 . . .

    (The rest of the entry gives information on the root in another form that generally functions as a causative.)

    In short, BDB agrees with me. (Well, really the reverse.)

    I think what happens is that people look up the preposition b- and try to find a definition amenable to their reading. But prepositions don’t work that way. They’re slippery. They don’t translate well across languages. BDB will tell you that b- can rarely mean “along with,” but it doesn’t mean it can mean that in any context. Frequently prepositions belong to particular phrases: for example, in English we have drugs for headache, where in German they have drugs against headache. But it’s not that gegen means “for” anytime you prefer the translation “for.”

    Another example: the Hebrew verb nilkham means fight in battle and frequently takes the preposition b- with enemies. In English we leave it untranslated or translate it “with” or “against.” But it would be a serious mistake to suggest b- here means “along with” simply because that’s a possible definition. The preposition and verb belong together and have a consistent use, in the same way we talk “on” the phone in English without sometimes meaning that we’re sitting on the phone talking to a live person. The phrase should be understood as a unit–you generally don’t talk “at” or “into” the phone, and “on” here doesn’t mean physically atop.

    Anyway, there’s both my reasoning and the data.

  61. 61.

    K,

    Thanks.

    The reference I have says BDB p.89-90. Want to put that up too for me?

  62. 62.

    1999 edition, published by Hendrickson, if that helps.

  63. 63.

    I think we non-Hebrew scholars are hobbled just using English translations.

    I know! I’d really like to be competent in every dead language as soon as possible, but Hebrew is unfortunately low on my list. Happily, Kiskilili is exactly the Hebrew, Biblical, and ancient Near East scholar I’m not. (Maybe we can have a United Order of scholars; I’ll bring the allegory, medieval epic, and Gossip Girl.)

    But I have noticed that in every English translation I’ve checked (NRSV, Revised English Bible, NIV, etc.), that verse uses “rule over.” So the Hebrew scholars out there doing the translating seem to be in consensus.

  64. 64.

    Sure! Actually, it’s the entry on b-, and it runs from page 88 to page 91. There’s lots and lots and lots of stuff here, so maybe I’ll just summarize the definitions:

    I. 1. in (with a gate it may be translated “through” in English; with a mountain, “on”)

    I. 2. among (with some verbs it indicates that only part of the object is affected)

    I. 3. within

    I. 4. into

    I. 5. with expressions of time, in or on (since in English we say “in” a year but “on” a day)

    I. 6. in a state

    I. 7. introduces a predicate (as, etc.)

    II. 1. at, by

    II. 2. on

    II. 3. used with verbs of touching, approaching, etc.–(BDB refers you to the entries on these verbs for a translation–basically, the preposition generally doesn’t get reflected in the English)

    II. 4. aganst [with words implying hostility]

    III. 1. with

    III. 2. with in the sense of by means of

    [these two entries run from 89-90; the root mashal does not appear here, nor does Gen 3:16]

    III. 3. at the cost of

    III. 4. it may mark what in English are objects

    III. 5. through, on account of

    III. 6. with, of in the sense of a material (as in “of gold”)

    III. 7. although, in spite of

    III. 8. with, by with terms of measurement

    IV. The preposition “is used also with certain classes of verbs, though the explanation of its use may be sometimes doubtful”–in other words, I think, we can’t explain it in terms of the definitions laid out above but have to understand it idiosyncratically. Among many other verbs, mashal is listed here.

    V. The preposition with the infinitive construct “forms a periphrasis for the gerund”–in English these are generally rendered wih 1. temporal, 2. causal, or 3. concessive conjunctions.

  65. 65.

    MB (#59)

    Am I being tricked into feeling better about making effectively the same covenant as I would have before the change?

    I don’t think so. It is clear to me that when it comes to covenants with God one is only held responsible for what one understands to be truth, what one understands about law, and what one understands about that covenant.

    To be clear, I don’t feel like God is tricking me — I’m just not sure how to interpret God’s will on this (and I think I need a litmus test beyond whatever I, with all of my own cultural conditioning and assumptions, feel good about.) The institution that mediates (partially) my relationship with God, however, is doing something with semantics that I don’t quite know how to interpret. The change in language is meaningful, but I’m not sure what the meaning is.

    I see the appeal of approaching covenants as something individual between me and God, where I’m responsible only for my own understanding and desires. But I’m not sure how far I can responsibly push that — the Church as an institution is still mediating that covenant in that the language is provided me (I don’t get to make up my own temple vows to reflect what I feel like covenanting to), and it’s not my call, given that the language isn’t mine, to decide it means whatever I feel like.

    Words can have a wide range of meanings, but they’re not infinitely flexible — language works because we’ve all agreed to roughly the same meanings for the same words. And what I’m trying to get at, in the OP, is that I think the range of meaning available for “hearken” has to include a strong sense of “obey.” So while I might, personally, feel better imagining that by “hearken” I mean “I’ll work hard on our communications skills,” I don’t think the context supports that. This is, in part, why I end up feeling the cognitive dissonance so strongly on this point — my own desire to nudge the meaning of “hearken” to something more palatable conflicts sharply with my knowledge that whatever is meant by the word, it’s not what I want it to be.

    In the end, I end up not taking the language of the temple that seriously, because it’s the only way I can take other aspects of it seriously at all.

  66. 66.

    Thanks, K.

  67. 67.

    Either we go with Nat Kelly and embrace the concept that Eve (and all women) should be subject to the natural man (who is an enemy to God and has been since the beginning) or we can take the position that the gospel is to aid to overcome that.

    If that is what we want to overcome, why in the hell do our highest rituals place us in binding covenants to carry it on?!

    Stephen, I like you, but this just doesn’t make any sense.

  68. 68.

    Nat, I guess we just don’t interpret this the same way. I don’t see the rituals the way you see them, as I see them as an escape from the natural world, not an embrace of it, and that colors how I see their meaning.

    Maybe I spent too much time studying heroquests when I was younger, and other rituals. Logic is not always the strong point of the meaning of many rituals.

  69. 69.

    I think the covenant is about goat cheese. If you try to approach it logically, you miss the layers of meaning. Then as a result you miss some of the layers in your seven-layer dip.

  70. 70.

    Re: #44

    I think that one of the problems is that there is nothing in the YW program or temple prep that prepares a girl for this temple moment!

    It flies in the face of everything I was taught during my YW years and in General Conference and other meetings.

    That makes it a bit shocking for girls once you get to the temple. I doubt guys even notice it at all.

    After being told for years about my divine nature and individual worth, it is some definite dissonance!

  71. 71.

    I agree completely with Fairchild, and I think the situation is extremely unfair. You have maybe two seconds to decide whether you’ll submit to your husband for eternity or accept damnation. Some indication in temple prep of the way the ceremony structures gender relations would be welcome.

  72. 72.

    .

    That makes it a bit shocking for girls once you get to the temple. I doubt guys even notice it at all.

    Speaking for myself, I must vehemently disavow your doubt.

  73. 73.

    Melyngoch, this is a post after my own heart. And it makes me really miss having easy access to the complete OED.

    As someone who used to attempt to interpret the temple text in order to make it less painful or damaging for women, I sympathize with the urge to do so. That said, I really believe it’s an enormous mistake to do so because it pushes the destructiveness of the text’s content underground and, by doing so, it dismisses the very real experiences of those hurt by the endowment (even if that is not the intent of making such interpretations). A couple of points in response to MB’s arguments in favor of this kind of reading:

    a. It’s impossible to read the endowment as exclusively symbolic. It is certainly true that it is a text full of symbolism and it would be a mistake not to remember that when dealing with it. But it is also true that it is a text that requires performance on the part of those consuming the text. I can’t just go to the temple and sit back and watch and think and interpret. In fact, I’m specifically prohibited from doing so, since I have no access to the text prior to the requirement that I participate as a covenant-maker. As such, I think it’s not only a mistake to interpret it as exclusively symbolic but also really dangerous to do so. Dangerous because it denies the power of the text to shape and inform lived attitudes for millions of people. I may be able to cast a more positive light on the covenant, but doing so will not change the fact that this covenant has real life consequences and that those consequences cause real life harm because it is not exclusively symbolic, but also performative.

    b. As tempting as it is to re-read a text in an anachronistic fashion, it’s a problematic approach. I understand wanting to reinvent texts–especially texts with such power as the endowment has in the real lives of its consumers. And I don’t deny that such reinterpretation happens all the time. But when we consciously reinterpret in order to make a text more palatable, we run the risk of allowing the damage the original text causes to continue except we push it under the surface. Which is, in my opinion, almost more insidious than keeping the original destructive implications in plain view. In some ways, I find myself wondering if chicken patriarchy isn’t more destructive than outright patriarchy for precisely this reason. In my opinion, MB’s representation of Adam as having already demonstrated his good ability to hearken to his wife is just this sort of anachronistic misinterpretation. And it’s one that ignores the strictures of the surrounding text; as Melyngoch points out, it’s a little disingenuous to think that Adam’s ability to hearken to Eve when she offers the fruit is a Good Thing which results in him not having to have the need to hearken explicitly stated to him with a subsequent covenant to do so when God is punishing him for doing so. The text makes it pretty clear that Adam listening to and doing what Eve proposes (notice that in this instance, “hearken” does mean both listen to and do) is not a good thing in this instance and it gives absolutely no indication that Adam is exempted from making a covenant to hearken to his wife because he already does so. And to reinterpret the text from the perspective of a 21st century church moment in which church leaders increasingly emphasize spousal partnership is to gloss over the remaining potential of the text to cause serious damage (largely because of the disjunction in rhetoric of the 21st century church and the older text represented in the temple).

  74. 74.

    I know I already gave y’all a nice long comment, but I can’t let this tidbit go without comment. In her initial comment, MB says:

    There had been no “we” in their response to God’s question. God’s counsel here is that she see the value of working with and talking with her partner to create unity in decision making and that she become the kind of person who wants that unity and connection rather than acting in ways that make division easy. God’s instruction here is that she develop the ability and see the wisdom of knowing and counseling with each other when making big decisions. It is a good lesson for both her and Adam.

    This is a lovely idea. I would be really happy if I could believe that in the temple we are instructed to work as partners with our spouses, that we need to counsel with each other. But this interpretation simply does not acknowledge the unavoidable realities of the endowment text as presented in the temple. There is absolutely no textual evidence that Adam and Eve are considered equal partners in a marriage in this particular text. After Eve makes her covenant to hearken unto her husband as he hearkens unto God, she becomes absolutely silent. She never again has any opportunity to participate in a conversation with either her husband or God’s messengers. Further, she becomes invisible in the language employed by her husband. Adam never uses a first person plural pronoun; he exclusively uses first person singular pronouns. Eve becomes nothing more than a pretty face standing behind Adam (literally behind in that her position throughout the remainder of the film makes physically manifest her submissive position in the relationship as dictated by the last covenant she actually vocalizes). She never receives instruction from God’s messengers herself except insofar as she’s present and not deaf. I suppose I could attempt to make MB’s argument about presence and hearing constituting instruction, but the instruction God’s messengers give is performative (just as the instruction given church members in the temple is); it involves action not just passive listening. The fact that Adam receives all the active instruction and Eve receives none of it reinforces the hierarchical structure set up in the hearken covenant. The fact that the women in the audience then get to perform the signs and tokens is not reassurance to me that God does intend his daughters to learn the same things his sons learn; it just contributes to the cognitive dissonance between what gets represented in the text and the rhetoric outside the text.

    If the endowment were meant to demonstrate the importance of mutual hearkening between husband and wife, it would reinforce the importance of such unity throughout when in reality it treats Adam as an individual subject performing the knowledge he receives and Eve as nothing but a passive witness who has no need to participate with her husband in considering, learning, and performing the knowledge God sends. All that underscores in my mind is that women are second class citizens in the world of the temple endowment. text.

  75. 75.

    I agree completely with Fairchild, and I think the situation is extremely unfair. You have maybe two seconds to decide whether you’ll submit to your husband for eternity or accept damnation. Some indication in temple prep of the way the ceremony structures gender relations would be welcome.

    This is such a great comment. I remember my mom telling me before I went to the temple that if you had been paying attention in church and doing what you were supposed to, than nothing would be surprising. However, I was really surprised and caught off guard when this covenant came up. I just appreciate Kiskilili’s and Fairchild’s comments so much because I haven’t seen a lot of evidence that other women find this covenant surprising. I thought that I found it surprising because I have been ignoring or reframing what I had heard about gender roles at church. Maybe this is true to some extent, but there is certainly a disconnect between the temple and what is taught over the pulpit.

    On further reflection, I can understand why my mom would give this council. The rhetoric surrounding the marriage relationship that was common when my mom got married was much more consistent with this covenant. The General Authorities spoke more about a husband and wife functioning like a Bishop and his counselors or the Prophet and the apostles in that the counselors offer their input, but the Bishop makes the final decision. While this type of rhetoric has all but disappeared in General Conference today, the covenant stills hangs around.

  76. 76.

    I just discovered that my husband truly thinks that when it comes right down to it, he does have the final say in any matter and that in a scenario where we can’t work something out together I should obey him because he has the priesthood power in our relationship. I am heartbroken that the man I thought valued me as equal, in discussing this post with me, has revealed that at his core he does not in fact believe our marriage is meant to be egalitarian.

    I have been trying to wrap my head around that this weekend (and am in tears typing this), this fundamental shift for me in how he views me, how he has always viewed me, and how blind I’ve been to it. I am offering my genuine, albeit sorrowful, thanks to the ZDs for writing these posts about hearkening, giving me this opportunity to learn this fact.

  77. 77.

    I’m so sad for you. Hugs!

    The sexism that really stings comes not from the jerks, the abusers, etc., but from the men who love us the most.

  78. 78.

    my heart is breaking along with yours, sadly anon. I’m so very sorry. How I wish the church leaders and its members understood the incredible pain the inherent sexism in church structure, theology, and rhetoric causes.

  79. 79.

    Arrrrrgggghhhh. I don’t know what to say, Sadly Anon. Like z and amelia, I’m really sorry. It’s horrifying not to be fully validated by the people we love and trust, which is the insidious non-abusive side of patriarchy.

    I think I can at last partly understand your pain, even though my situation is pretty different, because the temple really shipwrecked my belief in a loving or just God. I still believe in God–it’s like I lost faith in my own soul. I’m truly sorry. But saying that just doesn’t seem like it’s enough.

    This is one reason I find chicken patriarchy loathsome. It can only pretend to eradicate patriarchy–when it comes down to it, it still places women at the sufferance of men, while making it harder to point to injustices. Charming overingenious reinterpretations of what is a blatantly patriarchal text might make us feel better, to the degree we’re able to convince ourselves of them, but they can’t cut off the fuel supply to any man looking to exercise authority over his family. Or even simply to good-hearted men who take their responsibilities seriously and pay attention to the liturgy. I just can’t believe our contortionism is benefiting women more than it’s harming them.

  80. 80.

    Thanks for your comment, Beatrice. The temple was absolutely cold water in my face. It’s not that I was unaware of patriarchal values in the church. But all the chicken patriarchy seduced me down a blind alley. Somehow I’d convinced myself accepting patriarchy was optional in our church. It seemed too obviously incoherent and unethical to be inspired.

    The temple changed everything for me. We really do, we absolutely do accept patriarchy.

    I can understand how the situation has developed–liturgy is a fixed text so it’s changing at a much slower pace than what we hear over the pulpit–but I still think the situation is unconscionable. Either teach people preparing for the temple that women need to submit to men, or change the liturgy.

    I remember reading Ephesians 5 in a NT class at BYU and learning that it “really” indicated a sort of gender equality, and as much as I wanted to believe that reading, I just knew it didn’t make sense. I remember aching for someone to have the guts to just own up to what it actually said–and to say that it was wrong. It would have been so much more satisfying, and more powerful. That’s what I wish we could do with the temple.

  81. 81.

    anon,

    I just discovered that my husband truly thinks that when it comes right down to it, he does have the final say in any matter and that in a scenario where we can’t work something out together I should obey him because he has the priesthood power in our relationship.

    You raise a tough issue and I have a sincere question for you: in a situation where a husband and wife couldn’t work something out together, how would you propose that a resolution be reached?

  82. 82.

    Take turns, flip a coin, keep trying?

  83. 83.

    Mike, you work together until you resolve it. This is the approach taken by Quaker meetings. They confer and discuss until there is a unanimous decision made. This requires that everyone find some way in which they give ground. It is the only reasonable method of making decisions when multiple parties have equally important commitments to and interests in a situation.

    This does not strike me as a tough issue at all. It strikes me as a very simple one. The two partners that form a couple have equal rights and interests and obligations when it comes to making decisions about their lives; they therefore have equal voices and they thoughtfully discuss and consider every decision until they reach a mutually agreed upon conclusion. That will take many different forms because every decision will involve all kinds of dynamics, but it will never take the form of one putting down their foot and asserting their absolute right to make a final decision for both of them.

  84. 84.

    Seek God’s guidance?

  85. 85.

    I like z’s response. I’m not convinced there’s a practical reason one partner should, as a matter of course, submit her will to her partner’s. And I can see a lot of practical reasons that she shouldn’t.

  86. 86.

    amelia,

    Mike, you work together until you resolve it.

    I understand what you’re saying but anon’s comment was addressing “a scenario where we can’t work something out together.” I think that situation assumes that “keep trying” isn’t really an option. And, while it may be rare that a couple could reach an impasse like that, it is definitely possible, and it raises the question of what the best approach to that situation might be.

  87. 87.

    Well, I think the “seek consensus no matter how long it takes” approach becomes problematic when one person favors the status quo and the other favors change, the status quo person can just hold out as long as they have the stomach for the conflict, which could be a really long time. And some decisions are time-sensitive– how do you resolve a disagreement on whether to flee a tornado warning? But that doesn’t make Man Wins a better system.

  88. 88.

    The randomness of a coin toss would be a hell of a lot better than the inequity and arbitrariness of the “I’m the man and have the priesthood therefore what I say goes” approach. At least it wouldn’t bear the stamp of approval of a capricious God/church who says one thing one day and changes his mind the next and allows for the kind of heartbreak sadly anon has had to confront.

  89. 89.

    Another problem is that if one person ultimately has the final say, that affects the relationship much more broadly–it’s the background to every disagreement, and provides incentive for the person with the final say to allow things to get to a point “where they can’t be worked out.”

    I just have a hard time believing it’s not possible on a practical level for a marital couple to function without a designated dealbreaker, because a heck of a lot of people seem to be pulling it off.

  90. 90.

    Mike,

    Keep trying is always an option. Always. There is always something each partner can find to give on, including simply giving up the argument altogether and accepting the other’s decision. The point is that there should never be an imposition of one partner’s will on the other without the other consciously choosing to go along with her/his partner’s preference as a means of preserving their relationship. Ceding a decision in this way would not be a matter of one partner having the right to make the ultimate decision regardless of what the other partner wants because it would only happen after honest discussion with each partner giving everything they can. Only then would the partner more capable of living with the other’s position (a position which would have moved towards the center as a result of discussion) cede the decision. If neither partner can consciously and in good conscience accept the other’s position, the marriage should be over. I know that sounds extreme, but the only situations in which I can imagine a decision reaching the point at which there is no possible compromise are situations of such urgency and importance that two people who cannot compromise in good conscience probably shouldn’t be married to each other.

  91. 91.

    z, I understand that there are practical obstacles to the continue seeking compromise approach. That said, no one has any discussion in a vacuum and the pressures of a time limit would factor into the discussion. And if the status quo seeking partner continued to pull that kind of stunt, it would ultimately lead to the relationship ending. At least it would if I were married to that person. I’m very sorry but i see no reason why anyone should put up with that level of manipulation and control. I would consider such an approach as a common practice in decision making abusive.

    Your fleeing a tornado because of a warning example is a perfect case in point: talk about it and try to reach a compromise about the point at which you will leave your property or even whether you’ll leave your property. But when the rubber hits the road, if I’m thinking I might die because of a tornado that’s coming and I truly, truly fear for my life and my husband simply refuses to leave, I’d probably leave with out him. Or I’d decide that I’d rather risk the consequences of staying and stay. One way or the other, I would be an active, respected, equal partner in the decision making. I have the right to leave him to his confrontation with death or to stick with him and accept that confrontation, too.

    On the other hand, were he to say “But I’m the man and have the priesthood therefore I’m deciding that we’re staying and to make sure it happens I’m locking you up in the basement” without allowing me to reach my own conclusions about whether and why to leave or stay–well, I think it’s pretty obvious that such a situation is about dominance and control and not at all about the kind of relationship a “celestial” marriage should be.

    There’s also the fact that a huge number (probably a significant) majority of decisions can be considered in the abstract as hypotheticals. I doubt anyone lives in tornado country and doesn’t discuss the pros and cons of leaving their property when a warning is issued before an actual warning is issued. In a marriage in which both partners are equals and have respected voices in decision making, such discussions would happen before the shit hit the fan as much as possible. And then when confronted by a real situation in which there are time constraints there would at least be a pattern of real conversation and give and take re: decisions, rather than a cave man “I’m the man” attitude.

  92. 92.

    Well yeah, I mean, I don’t really disagree– I just think there’s a lot of space between “you’re so stubborn I’m divorcing you” and winning by prolonging the status quo.

    Ultimately, what backs up the Priesthood Card? The threat of physical violence as in your example? Outer Darkness? In a sense, women who feel constrained by it are trapped by their own beliefs.

  93. 93.

    there should never be an imposition of one partner’s will on the other without the other consciously choosing to go along

    I agree. For the women who willfully agreed to harken and there are many she may seek personal revelation, he may seek personal revelation and if they don’t agree he may seek revelation for the couple or family and God settles it.

    If neither partner can consciously and in good conscience accept the other’s position, the marriage should be over.

    I disagree.

  94. 94.

    Women can’t seek revelation for the couple or family, huh?

  95. 95.

    Did I say that?

  96. 96.

    Agreed. The distance between someone winning by refusing to give in and seeking a divorce is a big distance. That said, I think the repeated use of that approach (stubbornness in refusing to compromise) would cover that ground pretty rapidly for me.

    You’re right that too often the Priesthood Card is backed up by the woman’s own belief that her spouse does have that right. So the physical violence of my example actually represents a kind of spiritual constraint, sanctioned by the institutional church. Such spiritual constraint is equally abusive as physical violence, in my opinion. It should not be tolerated. And it certainly should not be upheld as an appropriate means of navigating difficult decisions.

  97. 97.

    Well, Howard, you did say if they disagree he seeks revelation for the couple, which gives him quite a lot of power. After all, if God’s will were so crystal clear, why would they both seek revelation and still disagree?

  98. 98.

    By implication. Feminists take careful note of gendered pronouns to avoid this sort of confusion.

  99. 99.

    97 I don’t know I don’t think it comes up very often.

  100. 100.

    You raise a tough issue and I have a sincere question for you: in a situation where a husband and wife couldn’t work something out together, how would you propose that a resolution be reached?

    Well for starters, if it has anything to do with the children, mom gets the final say because the proclamation on the family says that she is primarily responsible.

    Also, a lot of couples make decisions based on who cares more, or who has expertise. In my family, I have final say on anything financial, he has final say on anything mechanical.

    But really, after 30+ years of doing this, I agree that it is hard to imagine what could cause an impasse. I don’t think the tornado example holds water.

  101. 101.

    Howard, you implied it when you said:

    For the women who willfully agreed to harken and there are many she may seek personal revelation, he may seek personal revelation and if they don’t agree he may seek revelation for the couple or family and God settles it.

    I know you have the qualifier “willfully” on making the hearken covenant, but i would argue no one really has the option to “willfully” make that covenant. No temple goer is given an adequate opportunity by the church to thoughtfully and prayerfully consider whether she should make the covenant before finding herself confronted by it in circumstances so pressing that were she to refuse to make it she may face pretty devastating consequences.

    And even if a woman “willfully” made the covenant, that doesn’t change the fact that you ultimately argue that it’s up to the man to seek revelation for the family unit in order to overcome an apparently insurmountable obstacle.

  102. 102.

    98 Your answer has stretch marks on it.

  103. 103.

    Unless of course she reads feminist LDS blogs.

  104. 104.

    I call troll. Moderator?

  105. 105.

    Naismith says:

    Also, a lot of couples make decisions based on who cares more, or who has expertise. In my family, I have final say on anything financial, he has final say on anything mechanical.

    This is exactly the kind of thing I’m getting at in calling for always finding a compromise. There is always some means of doing so. Often it takes the forms that Naismith mentions here–who cares more, who has the skill to deal with the situation, etc. I just cannot imagine many situations in which no compromise is possible. And the only ones I can imagine are extreme enough that I truly don’t think two people who cannot reach a compromise on them should remain in a relationship–because the impossibility of compromise would, in my mind, signal a basic discrepancy in core values.

  106. 106.

    98 Your answer has stretch marks on it.

    I don’t even know what that means. It’s about to give birth?

  107. 107.

    Amelia you are arguing duress and i agree but her choice may come later the ordinance simply proceeded her commitment.

  108. 108.

    Well for starters, if it has anything to do with the children, mom gets the final say because the proclamation on the family says that she is primarily responsible.

    For the nurture of their children.

  109. 109.

    Well, some of us don’t really ever choose to commit to that because it’s a ridiculous idea.

  110. 110.

    Does anyone else find the site crashy this evening?

  111. 111.

    Unless of course she reads feminist LDS blogs.

    This is a great point and one of the reasons I love feminist it raises peoples consciousness.

  112. 112.

    It works all right for me. Is it not loading at all or are things jumbled?

  113. 113.

    Agreed, Howard. We’re doing what little we can to prepare future temple-goers to walk into the experience with their eyes open.

  114. 114.

    It wasn’t loading and one time I got a different site that said Company Name at the top.

  115. 115.

    It might have been over-loaded by crazy people. ;) (I’ll let you decide who you are.)

  116. 116.

    The only duress I’m arguing, Howard, is the duress of being compelled by social, emotional, psychological, and spiritual forces to make the hearken covenant in the first place. That duress robs it of any validity after the fact. Accordingly, your argument that because she covenanted to hearken to her husband he should therefore be the one seeking revelation through which God resolves the unresolvable conflict holds no water for me.

    Claiming God as umpire doesn’t work for me. Both partners have the right to seek revelation for their family. Neither’s experience doing so should trump the other. If they don’t both independently receive the same revelation, they’re back to the compromise drawing board.

  117. 117.

    Amelia how does that duress robs it of any validity after the fact?

  118. 118.

    Howard, how is it fair if it doesn’t?

  119. 119.

    In all the melee, I did want to respond to sadly anon and say that does sound heartbreakingly painful, and I’m so, so sorry. I hope this isn’t the end of the conversation about this issue for you and your husband. I know so many decent, caring LDS men–not patriarchal tyrants at all–who just don’t really see why this set-up would be a problem–and I know it can be a hard thing to communicate. It’s a sobering reminder that in all our fireworks and arguing about whether this covenant is justified and what it’s supposed to mean, there are people living with very concrete consequences.

  120. 120.

    We have agency and to the extent we are conscious autonomy this allows us to remake our covenants as frequently as we like.

  121. 121.

    Remake them, or rewrite them?

  122. 122.

    I think I get what Howard’s trying to say– continuing to participate in the patriarchal system without renegotiating is a ratification of a contract that, though invalid due to duress, becomes valid through ratification.

    I’m unclear on what renegotiating or repudiating the covenant would involve, though. It’s not like you can send a registered letter to a deity.

  123. 123.

    Good question certainly we can remake them. Certainly we can rewrite them between spouses. Can we rewrite them with God?

  124. 124.

    I’m unclear on what renegotiating or repudiating the covenant would involve, though. It’s not like you can send a registered letter to a deity.

    No, which is part of what’s so intensely galling about the situation. You’ve agreed to become the agent of your own subordination, and you’re trapped.

    For me, though, resigning my membership–specifically as a way of annulling my covenants (I was very explicit about that in the letter I sent)–really was emotionally freeing. It’s extreme, but I do feel that I’ve formally repudiated that covenant. I honestly felt like I’d belatedly stood up and said “no” to what I should never have said “yes” to.

  125. 125.

    Yes I can see that it is galling but I don’t believe one needs to resign to change your covenants.

  126. 126.

    sadly anon, you have my sympathy.

    Speaking from a man’s perspective, I will say that I am not surprised that your husband thinks this way. In my priesthood quorum composed of former mission presidents, stake presidents, high councilors, etc., the attitude you describe is quite common. It is always good to get input from the little woman, and even indulge her occasionally, but when it comes right down to it, the priesthood holder has responsibility for the family and he needs to man up and make the hard decisions.

    The other attitude that gets expressed frequently can be summed up in the advice a temple sealer gave my son at his wedding. He said that he and his wife have an agreement. She makes all the small decisions and he makes all the big ones, and thank goodness, so far they have only had small decisions. This is a variation on the idea that “If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy”.

    I really don’t think the church is serious about equal partnership in marriage. If it is, it is doing a lousy job of communicating.

  127. 127.

    I really don’t think the church is serious about equal partnership in marriage. If it is, it is doing a lousy job of communicating.

    That’s why I adore Mark Brown.

  128. 128.

    Howard, I don’t see that we have another mechanism. Because the covenant isn’t just directly between you and God; it’s mediated by the church. Similarly, you might decide in your mind that you’re divorced, but you nonetheless have go through a certain social ritual to actually get out of a marriage.

  129. 129.

    Howard, I do think it’s entirely possible to redefine covenants for oneself after the fact. I redefined the hearken covenant I made as null and void because it was made under duress. I also think it’s possible for a couple to redefine what that covenant will mean between them, though that may become complicated by the necessity of compromise, which could take a very long time, leaving a lot of room for pain and conflict in the meantime.

    That said, I just don’t think that any agreement made under duress can stand as legitimate. If I put a gun to someone’s head and extract a promise from them that they will obey their spouse, I do not think they are under any obligation to actually obey their spouse in the future. The church essentially puts a gun to women’s heads and extracts a promise to hearken unto their husbands. Spiritual death, emotional and psychological trauma, social ostracism–take your pick. Any one of them could be as powerful and as potentially destructive as the gun. It doesn’t make a difference that some women don’t feel compelled. Their not feeling distress does not change the circumstances in which they enter the covenant.

  130. 130.

    I’m rather behind on this conversation, but I did want to address a comment to Sadly Anon. I’ve been in a somewhat similar place, and it wasn’t the end of my marriage. In fact, my husband is pretty great and our marriage is pretty great. There are a lot of things we don’t see eye to eye on, but that’s really more in philosophy than practice, and it turns out I’m willing to agree to disagree (and just not discuss things) philosophically as long as things are good in practice. I honestly don’t know what my husband would say if I asked him if he had a priesthood trump card. My guess is he would think something along the lines of, “Well, I don’t think that would ever happen, but I guess if you’re forcing me to say who would make the final decision if one of us had to, I guess it would probably be me.” Which would translate to an out-loud answer of “Um, I guess so.” But the fact is that it would never actually happen, so whether or not he thinks it’s possible he’d hypothetically have the final say is moot. It’s not that I don’t care that he feels differently than I do, or that it doesn’t matter. But it turns out he’s entitled to his own opinions, just like I am, and I can either accept that my husband has those (different opinions), or I can leave him. I’ve decided that my frustration with him not being able to see the problem with having a presider or someone having the final say is very far outweighed by the reality of him being a great husband and a great father and a great partner.

    I touched on a similar subject in a post I wrote a while back:
    http://zelophehadsdaughters.com/2010/06/04/how-presiding-works-in-my-marriage/

    I hope that you and your husband can work things out so that you can both be happy, and I hope you can find peace with whatever decisions you make. If you ever want to talk about it, I’d be happy to (you can leave a comment on here and I’ll e-mail you, or, if there’s no e-mail listed for me (I’m not sure if there is) you can e-mail any of the ZD e-mail addresses and they’ll forward it to me).

  131. 131.

    Hi Mike,

    Your question was addressed in a talk (A Partnership of Equals) given by Elder and Sister Osguthorpe at the BYU Women’s Conference back in 2008:

    Elder Osguthorpe: As a church leader I once asked brethren in a priesthood meeting if they had any questions. One asked, “So what if you and your wife have a decision to make, you both pray about it and get different answers. Then who makes the decision?”

    He looked as if he were asking me the impossible question.

    But I responded immediately, “That’s actually not a difficult problem. When you’re making decisions as a couple, you don’t move until you both agree. You are an equal partnership.”

    He then asked, “You mean that you both compromise and meet in the middle?”

    I responded, “I don’t like the word compromise in marriage. It fits well in politics, but not in a celestial marriage. A compromise might mean that neither one of you is satisfied with the decision, because you have both given up what you most wanted. In politics, neither party may feel good about the final decision. Neither may want to implement the new law, because neither agrees with it fully.

    Sister Osguthorpe: Both parties go forward, but with reluctance. They carry out the decision “grudgingly.” In a marriage, you cannot implement a decision for the family if either one is doing it grudgingly. Moroni taught that we cannot give a gift grudgingly or it is counted as evil (Moroni 7:8). That is not a celestial marriage. When husband and wife disagree, they need to talk and pray until they both know that the decision is the right decision. To do this, they need to ask what the Lord wants them to ask and say what He would have them say.

  132. 132.

    Thanks Kiskilili. You rule.

    Naismith (100),

    Well for starters, if it has anything to do with the children, mom gets the final say because the proclamation on the family says that she is primarily responsible.

    I appreciate your willingness to apply the proclamation but I’d like to gently suggest that real life situations are more complicated than this. For example, I personally know a family where the husband, or provider in proclamation-ese, has been offered a better job in another state. The wife has exercised a veto on the move because she thinks the children would be going to schools which are not as good as their present ones.

    This example demonstrates how the dividing lines between the spheres of providing for the family and nurturing the childfren overlap and are often blurry, and that is why our insistence on “separate but equal” ultimately fails. When it comes to most matters in family life, the spheres aren’t really separate.

  133. 133.

    Amelia I agree with everything you wrote in 129 and I am sympathetic to it however in spite of that a woman may in naivete or enlightenment choose to abide by that covenant and many do.

  134. 134.

    And now I adore Mark Brown, too, because of this:

    This example demonstrates how the dividing lines between the spheres of providing for the family and nurturing the childfren overlap and are often blurry, and that is why our insistence on “separate but equal” ultimately fails. When it comes to most matters in family life, the spheres aren’t really separate.

    I simply could not say it better. The continued insistence on the church’s part that such separation is not only possible but ideal is a little ridiculous.

  135. 135.

    Agreed!

  136. 136.

    133: True, Howard. Some women do choose to abide by the covenant for a variety of reasons. And I don’t deny them the right to do so. I simply expect the right to ignore it. I suspect most members of the church would deny I have that right. I also expect that it would be perfectly acceptable for women troubled by having to abide by the covenant to seek out the advice and thoughts of other women and, should any of them talk to me about it, for me to be able to advise that they simply dismiss the covenant as something made against their will. Without me or her suffering consequences.

  137. 137.

    sadly anon for this … when I was younger, I used to listen to general authority talks on tapes (back in the 80s before some of you were born, sigh, I’m old) and one of my favorites was about a man who took his wife to see a general authority.

    Tell her that I have the priesthood and she has to do what I say

    But you don’t

    Yes I do, here is my card showing when I was ordained.

    But you don’t

    Followed by a talk about how D&C 121 means no man has the priesthood who attempts control by any method other than persuasion.

    Though I am convinced that we need more than that to make the point.

    I’m becoming convinced we need a completely different set of metaphors and a complex reiteration of the gospel to overcome the sin that enwraps us from our contexts.

    No idea of how to bring that about, though.

    We need more truly holy people. Prophets.

  138. 138.

    Many years ago, when my husband and I were at an impasse regarding my non-attendance at the temple due to this issue, he proposed that in proxy endowments going forward he would make the same hearken covenant when I made the hearken covenant. Every time we get to this part of the ceremony we look at each other, and he subtly confirms to me that he has repeated the words in his head and that he is still on board with an egalitarian marriage model.

    Of course, this doesn’t negate the fact that during my own endowment something different occurred, but it has been a way to push through through the dissonance and the pain, at least some of the time.

  139. 139.

    I should add that in the example I gave of the husband with the better job offer and the mother with concerns about the new school district, they did eventually come to a mutually agreeable decision. But for a long time they were locked into an idiotic, dysfunctional discourse because they were arguing about roles, and whose role was most important. It was only when they put aside their stereotypes and the accompanying arrogance that they were able to address the situation as rational, loving adults.

  140. 140.

    As a few people have mentioned, the limiting language in the hearken covenant is sometimes portrayed as having a mollifying effect. And for that matter, the wiggle room in the definition of hearken is the same. That is, in the context of a specific egalitarian relationship, the covenent could in theory be implemented in a non-subordinating way.

    But in practice, it is often used to reinforce patriarchy and subordinate women, as anon in 76 points out — and for that matter, as any number of women who have been subjected to ecclesiastical abuse can attest.

    Thus, it is sort of a reverse Madison. Madison famously said that if all men were angels, no government would be necessary, and if angels governed men, we would not need to impose checks and balances.

    Similarly, if all men (male pronoun deliberately left unchanged) were angels, then the problematic asymmetric power structure of the hearken covenant would not be an issue, as it would never be abused.

    But since all men are not angels, the asymmetry is highly troubling, because it raises the question — if the man chooses to abuse that power, who is there to keep him in check?

  141. 141.

    But since all men are not angels, the asymmetry is highly troubling, because it raises the question — if the man chooses to abuse that power, who is there to keep him in check?

    This is an especially important question when we remember that in this context “abuse” is usually of the “benign,” unspoken, subsurface variety inherent to chicken patriarchy, rather than the overt violent variety. And that the current institution of the church is such that this kind of abuse is almost always backed up by the church, its leaders, and the general membership.

  142. 142.

    Amelia wrote:

    I simply expect the right to ignore it. I suspect most members of the church would deny I have that right.

    Simply exercise your right and ignore them if they disagree.

  143. 143.

    amelia,

    Keep trying is always an option.

    In theory yes; in the hypothetical, no. Your answer doesn’t address the question.

    The randomness of a coin toss would be a hell of a lot better than the inequity and arbitrariness of the “I’m the man and have the priesthood therefore what I say goes” approach.

    I can’t believe you really think this way. You’re willing to let a coin toss determine whether you’ll move your family to Wisconsin for the new job, or whether you’ll have another child?

    Becca,

    “That’s actually not a difficult problem. When you’re making decisions as a couple, you don’t move until you both agree. You are an equal partnership.”

    (a) While good advice, I don’t think that quote addresses this issue. I think it’s another iteration of “keep trying.” (b) It also doesn’t address the “time sensitive” situation, such as husband’s potential new employer needs an answer today.

  144. 144.

    Mike, if it were choosing between a coin toss or being dictated to by my spouse simply because he’s male, then yes. Absolutely. I would make every single life decision based on a coin toss before I would allow for that kind of sexism to control my life. Of course, it’s a little bit of a non-point for me since 1. I would never marry a man who thought his holding the priesthood gave him the right to be the ultimate decision maker; and 2. I’m actually enough of an adult that I can have a reasonable conversation and discussion with the person I love in order to make decisions together that are acceptable to both of us without having to rely on some antiquated, sexist, arbitrary, disgusting power play.

    I think both the advice Becca quoted and the keep trying approach i’ve suggested are perfectly viable approaches to making difficult decisions. I simply think the premise of your question–that there’s a situation in which making a decision together is utterly impossible but in which the relationship should continue is a highly unlikely premise.

    For me, it comes down to this: if you’re married to someone with whom you disagree about a major life decision that affects both of you and your family so significantly and you can’t find a way to reach a decision together without one asserting their right to dominate the other, then you really shouldn’t continue being married to that person. I’m not suggesting that reaching these decisions jointly is easy; nor that doing so will not involve sacrifice on the part of one or the other or both; I’m simply saying that two people who love each other and whose interests and needs are interconnected should be able to find their way to a decision without one playing the God-said-I’m-in-charge trump card. The fact that the temple endowment grants men the right to play that trump card is disgusting. This kind of inequity should not be inscribed in our liturgy.

  145. 145.

    amelia,

    if it were choosing between a coin toss or being dictated to by my spouse simply because he’s male, then yes. Absolutely.

    I think this perspective is unreasonable and irrational and that you’re maintaining it because it conveniently bolsters your position. I don’t think a rational adult would make decisions affecting their family in this way.

    I simply think the premise of your question–that there’s a situation in which making a decision together is utterly impossible but in which the relationship should continue is a highly unlikely premise.

    It’s not my question. It’s the hypothetical posed anon. And frankly, for all the comments, I’ve not seen a different proposal made, other than, “keep trying,” which doesn’t address the issue.

    Lynnette,

    I just have a hard time believing it’s not possible on a practical level for a marital couple to function without a designated dealbreaker, because a heck of a lot of people seem to be pulling it off.

    I think this is another way of refusing to address anon’s hypothetical.

    There are really only a few options if an actual impasse was reached in a marriage:

    1) husband makes final decision;
    2) wife makes final decision;
    3) decision arbitrarily made;
    4) third party intervenes.

    You all hate 1, and 2 is a matriarchy, which you couldn’t accept because it isn’t “egalitarian.” 3 is absurd, and 4, as anyone who has asked their parents to mediate a dispute with a spouse can attest, is a bad idea and one that mature adults should be able to avoid.

  146. 146.

    Mike, I think part of what amelia is getting at is that the premise behind your question is faulty, which is why it bears reformulating. You assume that an impasse in a marriage is inevitable; she (along with me, and most of the married people I know) seems to feel that in a “good” marriage (i.e., one not already plagued with larger problems), you work these things out.

    Giving either person in the relationship a trump card seems like a cop-out to me — like you don’t have to do the hard work of coming to an agreement you can live with, figuring it out together, because you can just decide that you’re at an impasse (I mean, who decides when it’s an impasse and not an ongoing discussion?) and say, “Well, as the dude with the Priesthood, I’ll just preside this one right off the table,” and you end the discussion.

    I can think of very few marriages I’ve been acquainted with in which the husband wielded the deciding power, and these are not marriages that anyone wants to emulate. A lot of very successful marriages seem to muddle by without the hierarchy. (Most of my friends outside the Church, for example, would find the notion of a male decider offensive and absurd — and their marriages don’t automatically descend into chaos.)

  147. 147.

    Melyngoch,

    You assume that an impasse in a marriage is inevitable;

    No, I don’t assume anything other than what was stated by sadly anon:

    I just discovered that my husband truly thinks that when it comes right down to it, he does have the final say in any matter and that in a scenario where we can’t work something out together I should obey him because he has the priesthood power in our relationship.

    In other words, sadly anon says that if she and her husband were faced with such an impasse, he feels she should obey him, not that such an impasse is inevitable.

    I think no one is addressing the issue because, in all honesty, I don’t think there is an argument for a better system. If a true impasse were reached in a marriage – yes it’s unlikely, but that’s why it was framed as a hypothetical – the options for resolution are limited. Anon, and others, have expressed dislike of my #1. My question is which of #2-4 do you like better, or is there a #5, 6, etc., that aren’t listed?

  148. 148.

    There are really only a few options if an actual impasse was reached in a marriage:
    1) husband makes final decision;
    2) wife makes final decision;
    3) decision arbitrarily made;
    4) third party intervenes.

    Seriously? You have no imagination.

    5) one party or the other or both adjusts their desires and interests and goals so that a decision can be reached.

    I know, I know, I’m “avoiding the question.” But that’s because the question is stupid. If you go into your marriage assuming you’ll eventually come to an impasse where you just can’t come to an agreement, then yep, that’ll probably happen. I’d rather go into a marriage assuming that if we’re both committed to managing decisions and agreements as equal partners, that’ll happen instead.

  149. 149.

    I said:

    if it were choosing between a coin toss or being dictated to by my spouse simply because he’s male, then yes. Absolutely.

    And Mike responded:

    I think this perspective is unreasonable and irrational and that you’re maintaining it because it conveniently bolsters your position. I don’t think a rational adult would make decisions affecting their family in this way.

    You’re missing my point, Mike. I think that a man holding a trump card because he’s a man or because he holds the priesthood (which he only holds because he’s a man) is as unreasonable and irrational, as absurd, as making a choice based on a coin toss. Given the choice between the absurd decision-making approach of a coin toss which does not rob me of my status as a human being equal to my spouse or the absurd decision-making approach of ceding my status as an equal human being by acknowledging my husband’s right to a trump card by virtue of his sex/priesthood, I would choose the former every single time. It may be absurd, but it does not rob me of my humanity. So yeah, I may be saying that I would make decisions by coin toss in order to bolster my position but I don’t find that problematic since you’re asking me to consider a choice between two equally irrational, unreasonable, absurd options. Plus I acknowledged that this would never be my reality. I just wouldn’t marry a man who would even consider taking the absurd approach of playing a trump card in decision making, so I would never have to suggest the absurd approach of a coin toss in order to counterbalance his absurdity.

    And a big amen to Melyngoch #146.

  150. 150.

    Melyngoch,

    I know, I know, I’m “avoiding the question.”

    Well, at least you admit it. I’ll take that as progress.

    Seriously, though, as unlikely as that scenario may be, it was important enough to anon to ask her husband about it. She was clearly disturbed by the answer. So, what’s a better option?

  151. 151.

    And no, the patriarchal husband taking an unplanned trip to Nilbog is not an option.

  152. 152.

    and an even bigger AMEN to this:

    I know, I know, I’m “avoiding the question.” But that’s because the question is stupid. If you go into your marriage assuming you’ll eventually come to an impasse where you just can’t come to an agreement, then yep, that’ll probably happen. I’d rather go into a marriage assuming that if we’re both committed to managing decisions and agreements as equal partners, that’ll happen instead.

  153. 153.

    Mike, I think you are pretty far out there. Even the quorum of the 12 operates on a principle of unanimity. There are plenty of instances where decisions were put off for years because only one of the 12 was not comfortable with it. Dallin H. Oaks has written a book called The Lord’s Way, and he gives many examples from his work in the 12 and also in a stake presidency. In a specific instance I remember, the SP and the other counselor both thought a new chapel should be built at location A, but br. Oaks thought it should be at location B. After a couple of years he realized that his intransigence had cost the church hundreds of thousands of $$$ in increased costs of land acquisition and building. When he apologized to the SP, the SP said that the money was nothing compared to the loss of unity that would have resulted if he had pulled rank and demanded that Br. Oaks get with the program. BTW, he recommends that couples do the same thing, and that if a decision cannot be reached without the man pulling rank, it is better to simply defer the decision.

  154. 154.

    Or how about #6, the person who makes the most money makes the decision?

    (This was actual advice given to me at my wedding. Non-Mormons sure give different marriage advice.)

    Or #7, the person who has the most invested in that decision, or the most expertise in the domain, regardless of expected gender roles, gets the final say-so in that decision, though not necessarily every other? So yes, in your proposed situation where the couple is at an impasse and the husband’s potential new employer needs an answer immediately, it might be sensible for the husband to have the final say-so in the decision. I would hope, though, that you wouldn’t say that the husband should also have the final say-so if the couple is at an impasse and the wife’s potential new employer needs an answer immediately.

    Of course, in my marriage we’ve never reached any impasse like that, mostly because we’re committed to cooperating as rational adults and making joint decisions, even when that takes a lot of work. There is no trump card–it’s a relationship, not a card game.

  155. 155.

    Not that amelia and Melyngoch need my help here, but I’ve been married for nearly 15 years and have three children and we’ve never had an irresolvable disagreement. Just doesn’t happen. It helps that we knew before we married that we agreed on most things and saw the world in a similar way.

  156. 156.

    amelia,

    Plus I acknowledged that this would never be my reality. I just wouldn’t marry a man who would even consider taking the absurd approach of playing a trump card in decision making

    I’m sure you don’t mean to, but do you realize what you’re saying about “sadly anon’s” husband, and marriage? You just wouldn’t make the same “mistake” that you think she apparently made? I would be careful about judging someone else’s marriage too harshly.

  157. 157.

    Mark Brown,

    BTW, he recommends that couples do the same thing, and that if a decision cannot be reached without the man pulling rank, it is better to simply defer the decision.

    Again, this is another way of saying “Keep trying.” Good advice, but not really relevant, and doesn’t address the time-sensitive decision.

  158. 158.

    Seriously, though, as unlikely as that scenario may be, it was important enough to anon to ask her husband about it. She was clearly disturbed by the answer. So, what’s a better option?

    the point of asking such a question is not that the situation is likely or even conceivable and therefore we need to find alternatives to the priesthood/male trump card; instead such questions are designed to reveal how someone actually thinks about the dynamics of their relationship. Not to get at practical solutions to a highly unlikely situation. The reason this question and the answer given is so disturbing is because it reveals an unexpected truth and because it puts the lie to the church’s rhetoric of egalitarian marriage partnership. Not because it’s impossible to find a better solution to an unlikely situation.

    And Melyngoch is not actually avoiding the question with her alternative #5. She’s directly responding to the question. The question is: what happens when we’re in a situation “where we can’t work something out”? I’ll tell you what happens: you step back. Take a break from the discussion. Reconsider the situation. You adjust your expectations and desires. And your spouse does the same thing. And you make another go at it. That’s a perfectly legitimate answer to the question, even if you can’t admit it. What you don’t do is play a stupid trump card and therefore exercise dominion because your sex justifies you in doing so. You don’t do that anymore than you resort to the absurdity of a coin toss or invite trouble by asking a third party to resolve your situation. Precisely because any of those options aren’t actually about making a decision together as a couple about some important aspect of your life together.

  159. 159.

    There are really only a few options if an actual impasse was reached in a marriage:

    1) husband makes final decision;
    2) wife makes final decision;
    3) decision arbitrarily made;
    4) third party intervenes.

    Like Melyngoch, I’m skeptical about how often this is happening in actual marriages, so this seems a bit of a red herring. (Even Vada’s more traditional husband, I note, doesn’t sound like he thinks this is going to happen.)

    But for argument’s sake, those aren’t the only options. How about, couples make an agreement early on in their relationship that if such a time-sensitive situation arises in which “keep trying” really isn’t an option, one spouse or the other will get the final call, depending on what it involved (wife gets final call with regards to x; husband with regards to y). I’ve seen couples work that way. Another possibility is an understanding that you won’t move forward on something unless both agree, meaning the default would be the negative (and whichever spouse was against it would trump).

    In a lot of time-sensitive situations, such as a tornado, it would seem to make sense to have the person with more information (e.g., the one who saw the tornado coming), make the call. In such a situation, it could actually be harmful to have one person always be the decision-maker.

    But what’s crazy is that we’re talking about this as if it were a game of chess. What are the logical possibilities if you move queen to knight four? But this is a relationship, and using this kind of language to talk about relationships really misses the boat. What I hear from anon and others in this thread is less a concern about the logical possibilities of unlikely hypothetical scenarios, but rather about the nature of the relationship in which they’re in. The hypotheticals come up because the way in which they get discussed shed light on how the partners view the relationship. Anon isn’t upset because such a situation has actually happened, in which her husband played final decision-maker–rather, because of his belief that that’s his role, and how that impacts their relationship.

  160. 160.

    A trip to Nilbog is ALWAYS an option. I’ve found it resolves all kinds of difficulties.

    But more seriously,

    So, what’s a better option?

    Instead of believing you’re at an impasse, believe you’re at a tense, difficult moment in the conversation, but that you can move beyond it, without anyone imposing their will on anyone else. Once you’ve labeled it an impasse, you’ve shut down the discussion. And once you’ve labeled it an impasse of the type which the man is going to have to resolve, you’ve shut down any responsibility on his part to continue talking and compromising.

    What I hear as heartbreaking in anon’s situation is that he seems to believe that there could ever be a situation in which he has the right to end the conversation and make the decision himself. That’s terribly unfair; that does not speak to partnership and equality. (And if you’re still reading, anon, I’m so sorry — this sounds terribly wretched, and I do hope you can continue to talk with your husband about this, as Vada suggests above.)

    And with that, I say good night. Last night I dreamed that several regicides led to me taking the throne of what might have been a medieval kingdom, though it definitely had a ferris wheel, so I’m hoping to get back to that.

  161. 161.

    Petra,

    Or how about #6, the person who makes the most money makes the decision?

    Seems like the “arbitrary” category (husband loses job, wife works for minimum wage so now she’s in charge until husband’s employed at a higher rate, etc.)

    Or #7, the person who has the most invested in that decision, or the most expertise in the domain, regardless of expected gender roles, gets the final say-so in that decision, though not necessarily every other? … I would hope, though, that you wouldn’t say that the husband should also have the final say-so if the couple is at an impasse and the wife’s potential new employer needs an answer immediately.

    This is an interesting idea, but, then who does, and if it’s the wife, how is that egalitarian, and who decides who has the most expertise? What if there’s an impasse about that?

    Of course, in my marriage we’ve never reached any impasse like that, mostly because we’re committed to cooperating as rational adults and making joint decisions, even when that takes a lot of work.

    Congrats. That’s why it’s called a hypothetical.

  162. 162.

    Wow, something like ten comments appeared while I was writing my last post.

    Seriously, though, as unlikely as that scenario may be, it was important enough to anon to ask her husband about it. She was clearly disturbed by the answer. So, what’s a better option?

    How about for him to say, we’d keep trying? It doesn’t sound to me like she’s worried about the hypothetical so much as about what it means for her husband to say what he did.

  163. 163.

    I would also like to add that I really, really hope we aren’t basing our sacred ritual and covenants on highly unlikely hypothetical scenarios.

  164. 164.

    Mike, no, you still don’t get it. If the couple is at a place where they can’t make a decision, it is important to NOT make a decision. The ticking clock is scenario is a distraction. A man who would make an important decision unilaterally using that as an excuse would deserve the well-earned contempt and mistrust from his wife, and would probably do permanent damage to his marriage. The new job just isn’t worth that price.

  165. 165.

    Mike, when I say I wouldn’t marry a man who would take that approach, I’m saying I would have this conversation before I married someone. I’m not saying that someone who married a man trusting that he would treat her equally in all things because their relationship to that point supported her in that conclusion, only to discover otherwise later, made a mistake. I don’t know sadly anon, her husband, or her marriage and I would never say she made a mistake; that was your interpretation of what I said, not what I actually said. As Vada illustrates in her comment (#130), sadly anon is certainly not alone in being married to a man who would take this approach or in discovering the fact after entering the marriage. And many of those marriages are very good marriages precisely because the partners in them are rational, reasonable, loving human beings who work together to make decisions–even when they seem to hit an impasse–, rather than actually resorting to the absurdity of a male/priesthood holder trump card no matter how much it’s believed in. I don’t believe those marriages are mistakes. Far from it. I believe loving marriages between two adults who work together to build the best possible life for themselves are good, beautiful, wonderful things to be celebrated regardless of underlying differences in belief. I have no doubt that when I marry, I’ll discover upsetting things about my spouse after entering the marriage. And those things may cause very real, very serious pain like the pain that sadly anon is experiencing now. And I expect that if my marriage is built on love and respect and equality, I’ll be able to work through that pain. I just don’t think that the institutional church and its liturgy should maintain inequalities that create these problems; I’d rather that such problems arise out of basic, flawed human nature than that they bear the stamp of approval that comes with God’s Truth ™.

  166. 166.

    Anon in 76, let me add to others and say I’m truly sorry you’ve run into this discovery about your husband and how he views your relationship.

    Melyngoch (#146):

    Giving either person in the relationship a trump card seems like a cop-out to me — like you don’t have to do the hard work of coming to an agreement you can live with, figuring it out together, because you can just decide that you’re at an impasse (I mean, who decides when it’s an impasse and not an ongoing discussion?) and say, “Well, as the dude with the Priesthood, I’ll just preside this one right off the table,” and you end the discussion.

    I really like your point here, Melyngoch. I think a central problem with the argument about what to do in a hypothetical situation in which wife and husband are at a total impasse is that it assumes some kind of ideal impasse form that can be known and recognized immediately. Of course reality is messier than that, and as several people have already mentioned, there’s always the option to back off, to reframe, reconsider, and discuss more later. In short, I think the process of trying abstract this hypothetical scenario into a form that can be easily debated has lost this important element.

    In reality, I think any potential impasse is potentially breakable by further discussion. If you don’t think it is, then as Melyngoch points out, this brings up the question of who gets to decide what constitutes an impasse that cannot be resolved. And if you put that power in one person’s hands, it only allows them to push any potential disagreement to a close all the more speedily by playing the “I declare an impasse” card, followed by the “I get to make the decision when we’re at an impasse” card. It doesn’t seem like a workable solution unless you’re okay with having the card-holding spouse completely dominate the other spouse.

  167. 167.

    Lynnette (#89):

    Another problem is that if one person ultimately has the final say, that affects the relationship much more broadly–it’s the background to every disagreement, and provides incentive for the person with the final say to allow things to get to a point “where they can’t be worked out.”

    Yes! Great point. I think Amelia has said this too (I’ve lost track of who all said what in this conversation) but it’s not just an issue of the decisions where the partners can’t agree after protracted discussion. Once one spouse holds this trump card, it potentially colors every possible point of disagreement, because the only question is how often the card-holding spouse chooses to play his (I use the term advisedly) card and how often he’s “benevolent” and lets his spouse’s choice count too.

    I think the warning in D&C 121 is relevant here:

    “it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.”

    Or in other words, give a man a trump card and he’ll take the whole deck.

  168. 168.

    153

    Mike, I think you are pretty far out there. Even the quorum of the 12 operates on a principle of unanimity.

    Mark we’ve discussed this before church government operates both with and with out unanimity. According to the CHI during a disciplinary council the stake president should make every effort to resolve the concerns and achieve unanimity but he alone makes the decision and asks the high councilors as a group to sustain his decision and they cannot veto that decision.

    Should a disciplinary council decision be tabled due to a lack of unanimity if so how long and for what sins and what about a returning member after excommunication?

  169. 169.

    Congrats. That’s why it’s called a hypothetical.

    Mike, you call it a hypothetical, not actual, situation, thus tacitly accepting it’s “absurd.” But then you reject solutions you consider “absurd,” like coin tossing. I maintain that the solution can be as absurd as the problem.

    I might also point out that you’ve reframed Sadly Anon’s problem to be not knowing what to do in an impasse, so that patriarchy appears to be the solution. But actually, patriarchy is the problem.

    Finally, even hypothetical patriarchy hurts people, as Sadly Anon’s comment illustrates. It’s not that an impasse has been reached. It’s that the dynamics of the relationship have changed in light of the fact that her husband does not view her as an equal partner.

  170. 170.

    I appreciate quotes like Becca’s 131. But they’re also the sort of thing that lead to women feeling betrayed in the temple.

  171. 171.

    Should a disciplinary council decision be tabled due to a lack of unanimity if so how long and for what sins and what about a returning member after excommunication?

    Howard, in the book I mentioned by Elder Oaks (The Lord’s Way), he actually addresses your specific example. A man had been ex’ed and his previous church office or transgression required that the First presidency give approval for re-baptism. Long story short, the president and one counselor felt that the time was right to restore blessings, the other counselor did not. The result was that they waited several more years until the counselor agreed.

    The takeaway lesson for me is that even in a hierarchy, a priesthood holder doesn’t have an automatic trump card which he can throw out on the table anytime he feels like. It is time we started taking the scripture seriously when it tells us the only way we can use the priesthood is through persuasion, meekness, patience and longsuffering.

  172. 172.

    Alright, I think this topic is pretty much beaten to death, but in case there’s any life left…

    Kiskilili,

    Mike, you call it a hypothetical, not actual, situation, thus tacitly accepting it’s “absurd.”

    Wha?!?!? So, all hypotheticals are necessarily absurd? Truly, you have a dizzying intellect. I disagree with you and honestly have no idea how you reached that conclusion.

    But then you reject solutions you consider “absurd,” like coin tossing.

    I disagree that they’re better than the status quo, but I do not deny that someone is free to live their life this way.

    I might also point out that you’ve reframed Sadly Anon’s problem to be not knowing what to do in an impasse, so that patriarchy appears to be the solution. But actually, patriarchy is the problem.

    Close, but not quite. Sadly Anon said that her husband’s patriarchal views bothered her. My question was if you truly reach an impasse in a marriage (i.e., “keep trying” is not an option), there are a very limited number of options to resolve the situation. If Sadly Anon doesn’t like patriarchy as an option, my question, originally intended for her, was which option do you prefer and why is it better? Matriarchy is equally “non-egalitarian,” coin tossing, taking turns, etc., is absurd, and two adults should be able to make a decision without a third party intervening. So, my question, and also kind of my point, was that while not everyone is going to be happy with patriarchy, there isn’t a magical egalitarian alternative for resolving an actual impasse in a marriage, particularly in a time sensitive situation.

    And, in discussing this with my spouse, she brought up a point I hadn’t thought of: the husband, significantly more so than the wife, is responsible for the overall well being of his family. The Proclamation provides that the husband is to “provide the necessities of life and protection for their families.” That is a very broad responsibility. Mom is pretty much limited to nurturing the kids. And if things go wrong, father, as the Church-recognized leader of the family, is going to have some splainin to do. Kind of like that line in “A Bug’s Life” where the princess tries to pass the blame for failure onto someone else and Hopper says something along the lines of “When you’re the leader, everything is your fault.”

    So, it makes sense that the person responsible is the one who is able to make the final decision. Maybe the “inequality” (though I wouldn’t call it that) or what I would call “differentiation” between the sexes within the Church is rooted in responsibilities, not authority. I think Anon was looking at the issue from the perspective of “Husband thinks he gets to make the final call so he must think he’s better than me.” From husband’s perspective though, I bet he’s thinking more along the lines of “If things get screwed up, I have to take responsibility, so I should get the final say.” What kind of sense would it make to hold husband primarily responsible (and the Proclamation makes this clear) and then give the wife the ultimate say, or the ability to essentially have the ultimate say by being able to deadlock a decision indefinitely?

  173. 173.

    Hypotheticals that would never actually happen are absurd. My point is that since the hypothetical isn’t practical, why must the solution be practical?

  174. 174.

    But why should we accept that husbands have more responsibility? I reject the FamProc.

  175. 175.

    Kiskilili,

    Hypotheticals that would never actually happen are absurd. My point is that since the hypothetical isn’t practical, why must the solution be practical?

    OK, but it has happened to me. And what my wife decided to do was go with option #1 even though she hated it. I felt bad about that so I actually chose the option that my wife wanted (that I really didn’t want). We both look back on that now and agree that I didn’t make a good decision. But I guess you live and learn.

    But why should we accept that husbands have more responsibility? I reject the FamProc.

    My conclusion is based on a premise that fully accepts the Proclamation. If you reject that premise, I would expect that you will disagree with my conclusion.

  176. 176.

    I love it when, in discussions about patriarchy, men say “My wife says….”

  177. 177.

    So, my question, and also kind of my point, was that while not everyone is going to be happy with patriarchy, there isn’t a magical egalitarian alternative for resolving an actual impasse in a marriage, particularly in a time sensitive situation.

    So you’re arguing that there’s no possibility of unity except unequal distribution of power. Since plenty of people seem to find resolutions to their disagreements without resorting to patriarchy or matriarchy, I’m skeptical.

  178. 178.

    Mark Brown,

    I love it when, in discussions about patriarchy, men say “My wife says….”

    As hard as it is to believe Mark, some women actually support the status quo in the Church.

  179. 179.

    I just want to say thanks for everyone’s sympathy, and to Vada for the link.

  180. 180.

    Mark Brown that isn’t what happened in my case.

    You addressed part of my 168 question so what about the rest? Let’s say a priesthood holder has committed serious sin but with mitigating circumstances the disciplinary council is split (which is not at all uncommon) how long shall he wait for a decision?

  181. 181.

    So you’re arguing that there’s no possibility of unity except unequal distribution of power.

    No he isn’t.

  182. 182.

    Mike, which status quo, exactly, does your wife support? The one which says that wives and husbands are equal partners in marriage, or the one that says the man should take charge and the woman should do what he says?

    This is not a sarcastic question. If you polled my priesthood quorum right now, I think there would probably be about a 50/50 split, but there would also be all kinds of interesting interpretations as to what equal partnership means. Even in my own family, I find that our children and their spouses understand this teaching differently than my wife and I do.

  183. 183.

    I think we’re just about at the point of formulating a tautology: Couples who embrace patriarchy tend to appeal to patriarchy in resolving disputes. Couples who are ideologically opposed to patriarchy find other ways of resolving disputes. But there’s no reason to suppose patriarchy is an unavoidable marital necessity.

  184. 184.

    Couples who reach an impasse could seek counseling to attempt to resolve it. But would they have to go to two counselors one male one female?

    If not maybe God would do. Or does he always side with the male?

  185. 185.

    When I was on my mission, my trainer (contributor Beatrice) and I used to talk about the teaching that the designations ‘senior’ and ‘junior’ companion exist so that, in the event of a dispute, the senior companion can use his/her authority to break the tie (the junior must hearken to the senior). Neither of us could imagine a scenario in which a disagreement would escalate to the point that we wouldn’t be able to come up with a mutually agreed-upon solution. In fact, it was only in the most unhealthy companionships that people attempted that kind of an arrangement. Yet we were also told, as sisters, that we should consider the senior-junior companionship as a template for our future marriages.

    This has remained extremely troubling to me. I can’t see any way around the idea that, institutionally and structurally, the church teaches that women are perpetually ‘junior’ to their husbands. Discursive and rhetorical sleight-of-hand cannot make that a relationship of equals.

  186. 186.

    An unavoidable structural problem here is that the two-person dyad is inherently prone to deadlock.

    The solution is clearly group marriage. If the norm is three-person marital units, the deadlock problem goes away entirely.

    (This would also work for a five-person unit, or seven, or in the case of Brigham Young, fifty-seven . . . )

  187. 187.

    Galdarag, this is exactly what my experience on the mission was. I was never in a companionship where the sr/jr distinctions were invoked in any meaningful way; certainly when I was the greenie I naturally deferred to my trainer’s experience in making plans, and when I was the trainer, my greenie did the same (at least for the first few weeks) — but there was never a point in which I or any of my companions said “I’m the senior companion, so . . . ” In fact, I spent one transfer with a companion who had been in the MTC with me, and the mission president described us as “co-seniors,” which seemed to me a tacit admission that the hierarchy in the companionship was unnecessary. (“Co-seniors” with no junior is a meaningless term.)

    I think Kiskililil’s summed up the difference of opinion quite nicely:

    I think we’re just about at the point of formulating a tautology: Couples who embrace patriarchy tend to appeal to patriarchy in resolving disputes. Couples who are ideologically opposed to patriarchy find other ways of resolving disputes.

    We’re rather far afield of the original topic (why does no one ever want to discuss descriptive lexicography with me?), and I think we’ve beaten this new topic to a pulp, so I’m going to close comments and send you all over to Lynnette’s more recent temple thread, before Kaimi tries to move us all to Nilbog to marry a goblin tribe.

  188. 188.

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    […] this discussion if you’re interested; in sum, Kiskilili  comments,  “I would be interested in seeing […]

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