Abdicating Authority to the Algorithms

Supporters of chicken patriarchy like to cite calling on family members to say prayers as an example of a duty that the father in a family, as the presider and priesthood holder, must perform. I suspect this is a preferred example because it carves out a required role for the man, but it avoids the offensiveness of men’s supposed duties that fans of paleo-patriarchy might cite, such as the duty to be the final decider in matters of schooling, employment, or spending.

Because this is such a oft-cited example (in blog discussions at least), it is with some glee that I report that as the husband and father in my family, I have abdicated this duty to an algorithm. And not even one of my own making! One of my kids came up with it. And to be fair, calling it an algorithm is making it sound way more complicated than it is. It’s a very simple system. In case you’re curious, here’s how it works. Family members are ordered by age, and each family member is assigned a number from zero to number of family members minus one. The day of the month is then divided by the number of family members, and the remainder is matched up to one of the assigned numbers to find who gets to say family prayer. For blessings at mealtime, the meal number (1, 2, or 3; no allowance is made for things like second breakfast) is added to the date. For example, today is May 26th. There are five people in my family. To decide who says the blessing on lunch, we take 26 (day) + 2 (meal number), divide by 5 (number of family members), yielding a remainder of 3, so this means it’s my second oldest child’s turn (since the family is numbered 0, 1, 2, 3, 4 in age order).

Before you judge me too harshly for using an algorithm rather than relying on my own inspiration, consider another organization that uses algorithms to make religious assignments. Here’s a list of all men who have been called to the First Quorum of the Seventy and who have given at least one Conference talk since President Monson became Church President. They are listed alphabetically within each year of calling. Conferences in which each man spoke are indicated with an X. Men on the list who have subsequently moved on to other callings have their rows grayed out starting with the Conference at which this occurred.

Call yr Name 08 Oct 09 Apr 09 Oct 10 Apr 10 Oct 11 Apr 11 Oct 12 Apr 12 Oct 13 Apr 13 Oct 14 Apr 14 Oct 15 Apr 15 Oct 16 Apr
2008 Aidukatis X X
2008 Caussé1 X X X
2008 Corbridge X X
2008 Gavarret X X
2008 Godoy  X X
2008 Hamula X X
2008 Packer X X
2008 Pearson X X
2008 Pino X X
2008 Stevenson2 X X X X X
2008 Teixeira X X
2008 Watson3 X
2008 Zeballos X X
2009 Choi X
2009 Nielson X X
2009 Renlund4 X X X X
2009 Richards X X
2009 Ringwood X X
2009 Sitati X X
2010 Duncan X X
2010 Gong5 X X
2010 Kearon X X
2010 Lawrence X X
2010 Malm X
2010 Mazzagardi X X
2010 Uceda X
2011 Alonso X
2011 Ardern X
2011 Bennett X X
2011 Clarke6 X
2011 Cook X
2011 Cornish X
2011 Curtis X
2011 Haleck X
2011 Waddell X
2011 Wilson X
2011 Yamashita X
2012 Echo Hawk X
2012 Gay X
2012 Whiting X
2013 Dube X
2013 Dyches X
2013 Funk X
2013 Hamilton X
2013 Nielsen X
2013 Ochoa X
2013 Valenzuela X
2013 Vinson X
2014 Kacher X
2014 Klebingat X
2014 Martinez X
2014 Wong X
2015 Clark X
2015 Haynie X
2015 Keetch X
2015 Montoya X
2015 Stanfill X

1. Called to the Presiding Bishopric in March, 2012.
2. Called to the Presiding Bishopric in March, 2012. Called to the Quorum of the Twelve in October, 2015.
3. Given emeritus status in October, 2013.
4. Called to the Quorum of the Twelve in October, 2015.
5. Called to the Presidency of the Seventy in October, 2015.
6. Previously served in the Second Quorum of the Seventy.

There are some exceptions, but it looks like in general, the Seventies called in an April Conference then give talks in the following October Conference. If there isn’t enough space to accommodate them all, then some are pushed back to the following April, and the ones who are pushed back are the ones at the end of the alphabet.

The exceptions are potentially interesting too. Elder Bennett, for example, gave his second Conference talk an entire year early, in October 2015, while his peers called the same year likely won’t give their second talks until this coming October. Someone must like his work. Perhaps he should be considered an early favorite to be called to the Presidency of the Seventy or even the Quorum of the Twelve.

Anyway, getting back to my original topic, what do you think of handing some faith-related decisions off to algorithms? Are there any in particular that you would like to turn over to an algorithm? Any that you think definitely shouldn’t be turned over?


  1. We do something similar for choosing prayer. Also, person who says dinner prayer gets to sit at the head of the table.

  2. In our house, whoever cheats and takes a bite of dinner before the prayer, is then the self-designated pray-er. And as my boys are fairly young, there’s always a cheater. No priesthood necessary.

  3. My wife suggested that I return and report that the prayer algorithm works great in her seminary class. It is, perhaps not surprisingly, very similar to your family’s algorithm.

    When my wife and I first got married, couple prayer was often preceeded by, “I said it last night!” “No I said it. Remember I prayed that God would smite my enemies.” “That was two nights ago.” “Yeah but we didn’t say prayers last night because you fell asleep while I was watching Simpsons reruns.” “Hmm…”

    So, what would any righteous priesthood do? An algorithm! She’s M/W/F and 2nd/4th Sundays; I’m T/T/S and 1st/3rd/5th Sundays. Praying 4 extra Sundays a year, I am either more righteous or more in need of blessings depending on whom you ask.

  4. We finally got to the point, with six kids, each kids had a day, the oldest gets Monday down to the youngest getting Saturday. They pray for everything that day. Mom and Dad get Sunday and then she and I just rotate with me starting with whatever prayer. The problem comes down when whoever’s day it is being absent. Then I just pick at random or whoever is next oldest.

  5. This is genius. My math brain kids will love this system.

    (also, can I tell you how it made me squee with glee that our Exponent 2 random number generator picked YOU for one of the prizes? Numbers love you back, man.)

  6. I know our ward have long had a spreadsheet keeping track of who has given a sacrament meeting talk and when. But it doesn’t get any more complex than that, seems to be used as a guide only.

  7. Thanks for citing more examples! I’m glad my family isn’t alone in doing such a thing. MTodd, I love your description of how you and your wife reminded each other of who prayed last. And erinmalia, that’s awesome! The hungriest person with the least impulse control says the prayer. Sounds good to me! TopHat, the sitting at the head of the table too is a nice touch! I like the idea of shuffling seating too. My family typically sits in the same places, although if my five-year-old daughter changes seats, I always change to follow her so I can sit next to her and prod her to eat dinner and not get distracted. Tnerb, that’s great! I guess that’s very much like our system except that it’s repeated every week instead of every month. I know my kids have argued about the fairness of months of different lengths assigning some people to pray more than others with our system.

    Hedgehog, I’ve heard of the spreadsheet approach to tracking speakers too, although I haven’t seen it. I guess it might be harder to keep a system up with a group as large as a ward, with people always entering and leaving.

    Violadiva, thanks for letting me know! I won! I won! I won! I won! A major award! I hope it comes in a box marked “fra-gil-e.” 🙂 No, seriously, thank you! That’s great! I take care of the numbers, and they take care of me.

  8. How about an algorithm to determine who speaks in sacrament meeting. Give each adult member a number from 1 to however many adults there are. Assign each member a number between 0 and 1 to rank them by how interesting they are (.01 for a dull old high priest like me and .99 for Emily who always gives highly entertaining talks and has personality enough for three people). Multiply these numbers together, add 30 (Steph Curry’s number), divide by the number of weeks in a year (minus two for stake conference and two for general conference), subtract 7 (Mickey Mantle’s number), take the square root, multiply by 100, and who knows what you’ll come up with. But it will be something to keep the bishopric busy. Then they can call someone randomly on Saturday evening and ask them to speak the next morning.

  9. If you have one of those lottery ping pong ball machines you could run it like the NBA draft lottery. (I think your system is great; to me there’s no point to inspiration as to who in a rotating group should give a routine prayer.)

  10. We have 3 kids. Our oldest always says breakfast prayer. Our youngest always says lunch prayer. Our middle always says dinner prayer. Bedtime is determined by who didn’t get to say a prayer earlier, or a standing rotation on who says “extra prayer.”

    We rotate which kid gets to choose FHC prayer. Whoever picks first always goes for benediction. The second person always picks invocation, which leaves the grumbling third kid with bedtime prayer.

    For couple prayers at bedtime, I have odd days and my husband takes even days. It’s worked for 14+ years.

  11. Love your algorithm! We currently just have volunteers or random assignments by either my husband or myself. I turned the family gift giving at Christmas to an algorithm though and it makes me very happy. I believe that mathematics is the language of the universe and consequently that God is a master mathematician though so I think he’d approve, especially if it helps with peace and harmony at home.


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