A Reading of President Packer’s “Presiding in the Home”

LDS Conference CenterDuring a great discussion of our most recent general conference, one very bright young woman in my class sincerely asked, “President Packer said that ‘the father presides at the table’ – and I just want to know what that means.” A very lively discussion ensued. The women in the classroom sat very still, intently listening, but unwillingly to chime in as a barrage of answers were given by the men – ranging from the mildly to the wildly sexist. I did my best to counter the barrage by explicitly pointing out the implications of the answers being given (which ranged from the comic to the frightening). But I was unprepared to discuss the details of President Packer’s talk and I don’t think I did much to help that young woman (though I did manage to offend several of the men, one of whom later commented in my evaluation that BYU did not appreciate my attempts to spread “extreme feminism” – I can only take that as evidence that our culture is craving significant clarification).

I’ve now gone carefully back through President Packer’s talk, and hope to be able to do a better job giving an answer.

What exactly it means for the priesthood or the father to “preside” in the home is a popular bloggernacle topic (see here, here, here, here, and here for worthwhile examples of the numerous T&S discussions) – in large part this is so because of the absence of any official definition or determinative discussion on the matter, together with the explosive potential of the phrase itself, and the long list of unrighteous-dominion-train-wrecks experienced by people in the church. The difficulty is finding a way to meaningfully clarify what it is to preside in the home without unrighteously elevating men over women. I think President Packer gives us one of the most enlightening and exciting discussions on the matter to date. He does so by first, making the substance of presiding a matter of bringing the power of the priesthood and manifestations of godliness into the home and family; second, making it largely a matter internal to the priesthood itself; and third, acknowledging a logistical significance that doesn’t carry normative prestige. So here’s another foray into the morass.

The main message of Pres. Packer’s talk is to inspire “every man [to stand] in his place” by taking upon themselves not simply the authority of the priesthood, but also exercising its power, specifically in preaching the gospel and blessing our homes. According to Pres. Packer, the church has done its organizational best and has “done very well at distributing the authority of the priesthood.” In doing so, however, the church has “raced…ahead of distributing the power of the priesthood.” Correlation is only an organizing force, and the organization of the church can only do so much to facilitate priesthood bearing families’ access to “all of the powers of heaven.”

Similar to several other talks given this past General Conference, Pres. Packer emphasizes (quoting Pres. Lee) that the church exists in large part “to assist the family in carrying out its divine mission,” the family being “the order of heaven.” With this backdrop, President Packer moves into a discussion of priesthood in the home, where “the presiding authority is always vested in the father” (here quoting Joseph F. Smith).

Again, as is often the case, President Packer is conspicuously inexplicit in defining this phrase. Instead, he cites concrete examples of what this means, letting the illustrations speak for themselves. Taking the liberty of abstracting from these examples in order to come to an explicit definition, my reading reveals three functions contained in the notion of presiding in the home:

  1. Administering the ordinances of the priesthood within the family by the father is one of the things that seals families together – not in terms of temple sealing (though I think the two are related), but in terms of bonding the family together and allowing opportunities for the windows of heaven to be opened, so that “the power of godliness is manifest[ed]” inside the home (see D&C 84:19-21). This is the practical effect of the various anecdotes Pres. Packer discusses, and for me it is the most profound aspect of presiding. There is absolutely no pitting of men against women or assignment of theological or social prestige in this talk. Nor is there any indication that women, who obtain a fullness of the priesthood within the temple, are themselves impotent to draw upon the powers of heaven (but that’s the subject of a separate post altogether). Nevertheless, families are brought closer together and unified in the gospel when the powers of heaven are drawn upon through the priesthood ordinances that are the specific provenance of fathers to administer in the home (“in the home” is an expansive phrase – the ordinance itself might well physically take place at church).
  1. The father oversees the administration of priesthood ordinances within the family. The father might not always administer the ordinance himself (e.g., in blessings of healing the father might invite others to seal (or even anoint and seal) the blessing; this practice is common, especially when it is a “repeat” blessing). President Packer and the prophets he quotes are adamant that the father presides in this sense, no matter who else is present or what ordinances are being administered (blessing children, ordinations, blessings of healing or comfort, etc.). This is the consistent theme highlighted in the examples. Even should the First Presidency themselves be present, the authority is that of the father – in the wake of the decisions made by individuals or the family as a whole – to oversee the administration of all those priesthood ordinances taking place in the home. This point likewise entails a significant responsibility that the father has to ensure that the needed ordinances are in fact administered. It also entails the far less significant but oft focused on logistical responsibility to call on others to pray – “at the table” (i.e., blessings on the food) or in other family settings (e.g., family morning and evening prayers).

By way of interpretation, it seems to me that in addition to logistical efficiency, this last point – the father being responsible to call on others to pray, etc. – embodies a success-through-redundancy strategy. The church first preaches to everyone, loud and clear, how important it is for each family to engage in family prayer, blessing rituals, family home evening, scripture study, and the like. It then repeats specifically to fathers the exact same message. This is simply to help ensure that it happens. There is certainly no prestige attached to the redundant imperative issued to fathers, and no violation or infraction takes place if the mother in actual fact is more active in seeing that these practices happen. The redundancy, repeating the same imperative to fathers that has already been issued to the family as a whole, is simply that – redundancy; it’s an attempt to increase the likelihood of these important practices being practiced.

This doesn’t mean that it’s not important or that it isn’t a duty – it is indeed an imperative that accrues to the notion of presiding that every father ought to take seriously and carry out. But we need to recognize the logistical aspect for what it is and not let it distract us from the much more substantive point of overseeing the administration of priesthood ordinances – and the power of godliness that comes with these ordinances – inside of the home.

Points one and two both emphasize the theme above concerning the normative priority of the family over the church. The church and its ecclesiastical and hierarchically structured priesthood authority exists as a means of distributing priesthood authority to the family and helping to inspire families to make use of the powers therein. The church is a servant to the family. This leads to the final function:

  1. The father serves as the point of contact between the family and local church authorities. This final point seems largely to be one of logistical efficiency and doesn’t appear to carry any norms of prestige (which is not to say that it won’t culturally entail significant social, normative effects). This aspect seems analogous to and perhaps part of the “channels” that wards sustain for efficient means of contact (e.g., when church is cancelled because of a serious snow storm, the Bishopric contacts the High Priest Group Leader and Elders Quorum President who then contact those in the quorum supervising home teaching, who then contact home teachers, who then contact their families, and in remarkably short time everyone in the ward has received four or five phone calls notifying them of the cancel; except of course for the Jones family, who undertake a heroic slogging through the snow only to find the church doors locked; the Jones family and correcting/improving our “channels” then becomes the primary focus of the next ward council). President Packer’s message implies that should the local church leaders need to contact the family as a whole or if the family has need to contact local church leaders, it is the father who is contacted or who has the responsibility to ensure that contact is made.

This point also highlights the priority of the family. It is only because the church exists to assist in building celestial families and societies that there is a need for a point of contact. The priesthood holder is able to serve as a logistical interface between the two. It should go without saying that there is nothing holy about this function, and it is easily adapted in the common scenario of a family without a priesthood-holding father.

Unfortunately, there is a tragic irony that practically results all too often. What Pres. Packer claims is a divinely appointed practice meant to bond families together as a celestial unit is misunderstood and too often becomes instead something that divides families. As President Hinckley repeatedly claimed (particularly, here), any interpretation of “presiding in the home” that leads to the oppression of women or division of family is simply wrong. This certainly includes the common and explicitly sexist and damaging claims that “presiding” means fathers have the final say or veto power, sit in a position of authority over women, are responsible for delegating or rearranging all family affairs, or any other interpretation that leads to unrighteous dominion. It also rules out sexist assumptions that men are spiritually pusillanimous and need the priesthood in order to be anxiously engaged in their families’ spiritual life.

(Another post unto is itself is why, in the face of such declarations over the pulpit, Mormon culture seems entirely insulated from the broader Western culture on this point. The young men in my class didn’t get their sexism from our society’s contemporary values, and they don’t get it from careful readings of our scriptures and general authorities – though obviously in our culture they might hear a chauvinism that’s not actually there. Why, then, is it such a pervasive Mormon cultural blight?)

The reality is, no matter how much we would like the phrase and its horrific cultural baggage to go away, the language of “presiding” is very close to canonical. It’s just not going to go away. One particular benefit that I see in Pres. Packer’s substantive interpretation of “fathers presiding” is that it helps us to make sense of what is, by some readings, a straightforwardly inconsistent church doctrine. We can either take The Family: A Proclamation to the World as blatantly contradicting itself, claiming first that “by divine design, fathers are to preside over their families” followed almost immediately by the phrase “fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners.” Or we can interpret these phrases in a consistent manner, recognizing the latter phrase as shedding light on the former, as instituting interpretive constraints. Doing so leads to the strengthening and not the destruction of the family. This, I believe, is exactly what President Packer’s recent address helps us to do.

58 comments for “A Reading of President Packer’s “Presiding in the Home”

  1. Ben
    May 25, 2010 at 2:01 pm

    I think this is a useful analysis. The problem is the choice of language, e.g. everyone else in teh Church who “presides” IS in a position of authority.

    “This certainly includes the common and explicitly sexist and damaging claims that “presiding” means fathers have the final say or veto power, sit in a position of authority over women, are responsible for delegating or rearranging all family affairs, or any other interpretation that leads to unrighteous dominion.”

    For example, our stake presidency a few years ago announced the Stake Goals for us, in a meeting in which we talked about presiding. Our Church models of “presiding” don’t seem to apply to the family model. Obviously, if I announced our joint goals to my wife without consulting her, as the SP did to the stake, that’s not an appropriate carry-over of “presiding.”

  2. Cynthia L.
    May 25, 2010 at 2:11 pm

    Doesn’t this parenthetical:

    (which is not to say that it won’t culturally entail significant social, normative effects)

    directly explain the mystery or confusion in this one:

    (Another post unto is itself is why, in the face of such declarations over the pulpit, Mormon culture seems entirely insulated from the broader Western culture on this point. The young men in my class didn’t get their sexism from our society’s contemporary values, and they don’t get it from careful readings of our scriptures and general authorities – though obviously in our culture they might hear a chauvinism that’s not actually there. Why, then, is it such a pervasive Mormon cultural blight?)

  3. James Olsen
    May 25, 2010 at 2:15 pm

    Ben: I agree. What I find so interesting is that for Pres. Packer, preside has nothing to do with “presiding over” one’s wife; instead, the husband presides over any other priesthood holder in attendance when performing ordinances for the family, presides over the performance of home ordinances, and presides in the sense of being the point of contact for the family unit vis-a-vis the church.

    Cynthia: I certainly think it has something to do with it. It’s one of the reasons I think we’re in need of significant clarification.

  4. May 25, 2010 at 2:49 pm

    “preside has nothing to do with “presiding over” one’s wife; instead, the husband presides over any other priesthood holder in attendance”

    Okay, you just made that talk a whole lot more palatable for me with that line right there.

  5. Ellis
    May 25, 2010 at 4:58 pm

    An excellent analysis.

    All children go through a time when they are sexist, usually beginning at about the age of nine. Some of them grow out of it and some of them don’t. It has to do with maturation not culture.

    There is a good deal of sexism and sexual harassment in our high schools because the youth become aware of each other as sexual beings.

    I think they learn attitudes and behaviors from their peers, perhaps because they lack role models. I also think that the common perception of Mormon men is one of them being oppressors of women. Those who advocate and broadcast this stereotype make it difficult to educate people out of the acceptance the negative stereotyping.

  6. DavidH
    May 25, 2010 at 8:01 pm

    I don’t think the preside problem in unique to Mormonism. I defer to historians, but I think in the conservative Christian world it largely derives from the Apostle Paul’s writings.

  7. z
    May 25, 2010 at 8:19 pm

    I don’t see how you get the assumption that there is no prestige attached to logistical or redundant duties. You seem to have assumed that without actually crafting an argument.

    I appreciate your efforts, but really this reads as one more liberal Mormon attempt to wring gender equality from a stone.

  8. Jerry
    May 25, 2010 at 8:32 pm

    I agree excellent analysis. Very well put together. I think the confusion comes from “Prosiding” the way the Bishop and SP do and the way it is to be done in the home. The Bishop has the last word and once he makes a decision there may be some whining but that’s the end of it often with no discussion. How many times do we hear “The brethren said” meaning those that proside have declared it so end of discussion? I hear this all the time and the bottom line is many men feel this is the way it is to be at home.

  9. Mark Brown
    May 25, 2010 at 9:53 pm

    James, I think this post is a good effort but it doesn’t get the job done. If we accept your arguments at face value how do we explain active, temple-going LDS families where the mother and father alternate in calling on someone to pray at meals? Is that man shirking his duty? And I don’t get the last point about the father being the point of contact between the family and the institutional church. Going with your example, if church is called off because of snow and the EQP (or, heaven forfend, the RSP) called the family’s number and the mother answers the phone, can the EQP relay the message to her or must he ask to speak to the man of the house?

  10. May 25, 2010 at 10:30 pm

    President Packer’s message implies that should the local church leaders need to contact the family as a whole or if the family has need to contact local church leaders, it is the father who is contacted or who has the responsibility to ensure that contact is made.

    The thing about this is that this point of contact business extends far beyond cases involving the whole family, and into cases involving individual family members. Otherwise why would bishops still be asking a woman’s husband if they can give her a calling? When it goes beyond the father having authority to speak for the group and into the father having authority to speak for any and all members of that group then it is no longer a simple matter of organizational logistics, but more a matter of property rights.

  11. Stephanie
    May 25, 2010 at 11:15 pm

    I think this is probably the best explanation of preside I have read to date. I have thought for a while that presiding is related to priesthood responsibilities.

  12. Deborah
    May 26, 2010 at 2:15 am

    Starfoxy, when I was called as the RSP, my husband was asked if he would and could support me. When He was called as the Bishop, I was asked if I would and could support him. There was no asking permission to call me. I think that went out a long, long time ago.

  13. May 26, 2010 at 2:37 am

    The people who crow about the alleged “oppressive” nature of men presiding in the home do not understand the following statement also given in President Packer’s talk:

    “I include the sisters because it is crucial for everyone to understand what is expected of the brethren. Unless we enlist the attention of the mothers and daughters and sisters—who have influence on their husbands, fathers, sons, and brothers—we cannot progress. The priesthood will lose great power if the sisters are neglected.”

    Just because a woman does not preside does not mean she does not have access to priesthood authority. The authority to act in God’s name attends to her through her prayers and covenants, and the presence of the Holy Ghost. She can and DOES act in God’s name with real, divine power. THAT is what her influence is. President Beck already told women this years ago in the Mothers Who Know talk, but women were too busy being angry to see that.

    Motherhood is a priesthood office. It does hold the priesthood, but God’s power attends to covenant motherhood and honors every woman’s efforts in her family with a very real power for great good.

    To preside in the home allows for men to be the priesthood holder of that home. Women have the responsibility to magnify the effects of that priesthood. The two compliment and rely on each other implicitly.

  14. May 26, 2010 at 2:40 am

    Shoot.

    It does *NOT* hold the priesthood, but God’s power…

    My bad :)

  15. Jay
    May 26, 2010 at 7:47 am

    I don’t have a problem with Elder Packer, but I think there is a larger issue here in that, increasingly, many members of our church do not live in the kind of idealized LDS family that he is talking about. Unfortunately, because they don’t live in that kind of family, they don’t feel welcome at church, they don’t feel they belong, they don’t feel that anyone is speaking to them or caring about them. And perhaps worst of all, they feel that in the eyes of the church, they have no value as individuals, only as members of a family. To them, who presides over whom or what are pretty meaningless questions.

  16. May 26, 2010 at 7:59 am

    I can only take that as evidence that our culture is craving significant clarification

    Amen.

    Or we can interpret these phrases in a consistent manner, recognizing the latter phrase as shedding light on the former, as instituting interpretive constraints.

    Part of the problem is that the priesthood is like a call to be a janitor or a footwasher, the only dominion it has is the flows down hill type, not the control type, and people just are unwilling to embrace that. It is the sad nature of all men … (cf D&C 121).

    Deborah — nice comment. My experience as well, but then I’m only 54 so I don’t have the same range of experience that some of the older bloggers here have.

  17. May 26, 2010 at 9:05 am

    I think it should be noted that a father presides in the family even if he doesn’t hold the priesthood. A family is a family regardless of the priesthood authority held by whomever. I don’t think a father, or anyone should think they have any influence over anyone simply because of the position they’re in, after all “No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood”. Influence comes by the Christ-like attributes they possess.

  18. May 26, 2010 at 10:21 am

    Deborah, I’m 27 and I have encountered that practice in my life time.

  19. May 26, 2010 at 10:48 am

    Starfoxy, I’m sorry that you experienced what you did. It is counter to the counsel provided to leaders in the handbooks and training. The counsel is to do as Deborah has suggested. That the behavior exists does not mean it is right, nor that it is sanctioned.

    In fact, when my wife was recently called by the stake president, only after she accepted the call did he ask me if I’d support and sustain her in it.

  20. Deborah
    May 26, 2010 at 11:49 am

    Paul, that was actually my experience too. After the call was issued, the support was asked for. Thirty years ago in a small Wyoming town, My husband was asked permission to give me a call. He aid, “You had better ask her.”

    Steven, I am 56, so I’m thinking I’m not one of the older bloggers. :-)

  21. wilt
    May 26, 2010 at 12:26 pm

    I’ve long understood “Presiding” in a gospel context as seeking unity. If unity is not currently found, more loving, kind, gentle conversation is needful. Nothing imposed nor any form of coercion would be appropriate as someone presides over fellow children of God.

    Just a thought from an old man.

    wilt

  22. Stephanie
    May 26, 2010 at 12:26 pm

    I think it should be noted that a father presides in the family even if he doesn’t hold the priesthood.

    This is where I get hung up. I can understand that to preside means to be responsible for priesthood ordinances and responsibilities in the home. But, I do not understand why a father who does not hold the priesthood would preside. So then what does preside mean?

  23. James Olsen
    May 26, 2010 at 1:18 pm

    As a preface to individual responses, let me reiterate the two things I’ve tried to do: First, give a reading of President Packer’s talk – that is, explicitly state what I see the talk as doing. Pres. Packer claims that he is teaching us (men and women) what it means for fathers to preside in the home. I’m quite confident in defending the things I specifically pull from the talk that speak to this, and having read it as carefully as I can, I can’t find anything else worth noting on the subject. Second, I’m giving a reading of this talk because in addition to its being the most recent counsel we’ve received on the matter, I think it gives us a way to walk the tightrope – allowing “to preside” to have a substantive but non-oppressive meaning. I think it would be nice to drop the phrase altogether, but I’m convinced it’s not going to be dropped, phased out, or even explicitly, determinatively defined. That leaves us as members a choice:
    1. Assume blatantly sexist (i.e., unrighteous) definitions/readings (one can do this either by endorsing these definitions in thought/practice, or by becoming merely cynical like Z in #7), which likewise assumes that the authors and signatories of The Family: A Proclamation were ok blatantly contradicting themselves.
    2. Give a deflationary reading of presiding, one that entails no sexism or contradiction, but likewise entails no substance – that is, makes it a completely superfluous phrase. One way of doing this would be to assume that talk of presiding simply comes from an epoch in the church where we were simply sexist, but that we’ve now moved on, making the phrase is useless.
    3. Attempt to give a meaningful and substantive reading of the phrase that avoids the problems of #1.
    4. Simply ignore the matter and do what’s right.
    I’m obviously trying to do #3 and claiming that this is likewise what Pres. Packer is doing. I find #1 entirely unpalatable, and #2 in conflict with the actual statements of church documents and our general authorities (particularly since it continues to be the focus of GC talks like this one), and simply unable to do #4 (it’s an issue deep under my skin and hard to ignore; and in general, I reserve #4 as an option only after all other attempts to make sense of a matter have failed).

  24. liberty
    May 26, 2010 at 1:32 pm

    Stephanie,

    I hope I am not misunderstood, but my answer would be that fatherhood and motherhood are such sacred positions or roles that the priesthood honors and supports those who are trying to righteously serve in those capacities. Priesthood SERVES any who are trying to build their families in the home. If the father were not present, the mother presides.

    If you are endowed, think about the endowment covenants. Men do not preside because they are male or pack a load of testoserone, fathers and husbands preside when they are attempting to emulate the attributes of our Father in Heaven.

    I hope this focus on the role of fathers will help many men remember that their most important role is at home with the family.

  25. James Olsen
    May 26, 2010 at 1:42 pm

    Jerry, et al: I think that the understanding of a Stake Pres presiding being applied to family affairs is indeed a huge problem – and one that’s hard to solely fault members on given the lack of clarification. Understanding presiding to be a matter internal to the priesthood (the father presides over all other priesthood holders in the administration of ordinances to his family), that is, “presiding in the home” rather than “over the wife and family” would clear this up.

    Mark Brown: I fail to see why a husband and wife deciding to split up the logistical duty of calling on persons for prayer would be a problem or be in conflict with anything I’ve said. Nor does making the man a logistical POC need entail awkward and silly forms of protocol.

    Starfoxy: You make a great point – presiding certainly ought not entail authority over individuals and their choices and callings – but as Deborah, Stephen M and Paul point out, your anecdote is (or at least, officially should be) an anomaly. The anecdotes from my own life follow Deborah’s & Paul’s examples. I hope members will have the chutzpah to denounce any practice that follows the clearly problematic scenario you describe.

    Paradox: I think you’re on to some important things, but it would take a lot longer to work it out than can be done here in comments, and likewise needs to address the various things that appear, on the surface at least, to entail some problems. But I tried to acknowledge what I think is at the heart of your comment above, when I mentioned women receiving the fullness of the priesthood in the temple and the impact this has in the home.

    Jay: in this case, my option #4 above (just ignore it and live right) might be the best option. Alienation is a serious problem, one that demands action by both the institution and the person alienated if they’re after a healthy resolution (I posted on this subject here: http://timesandseasons.org/index.php/2009/08/alienated-in-zion/).

    Wilt: I agree that presiding – whatever it means – fails when it divides rather than unifies.

  26. liberty
    May 26, 2010 at 1:53 pm

    As a sidenote on the discussion of how leaders in the church should extend calls to sisters, my wife expects me, as her eternal companion, to know her needs and the load she carries so that if a leaders asks if he can extend a calling, I can essentially explain what is going on and even tell that leader “No.”

    One role of a husband is to protect his spouse.

  27. Raymond Takashi Swenson
    May 26, 2010 at 1:57 pm

    I am reminded of the experience of Lehi and his family when Nephi’s steel bow broke and they were going hungry. Nephi could have asked for his own revelation to guide his hunt for food, but he went to his father, and asked Lehi to ask God, through the Liahona, where he would find wild game he could capture and bring back. Lehi responded to that request that called him to fulfill his role of
    “presiding in the home”. It reaffirmed the order of the family, an order that was important to its unity and ability to reach its longer term goals of reaching the promised land.

    I think the importance of a father being reminded, by his wife and children, that he has a duty to preside in the home, is to ensure that he is making the full contribution that he is capable of to the family’s unity in seeking goals that are more important than the individual accumulation of power over others.

    Maybe I am one of those who make assumptions that James criticizes, “sexist assumptions that men are spiritually pusillanimous and need the priesthood in order to be anxiously engaged in their families’ spiritual life.” From my observations of the father’s role in Japanese families, it appears to me that learning how to “preside in the home” in the role of a D&C 121-style priesthood holder is a wrenching dislocation for Japanese men from their accustomed role and priorities, just as it has been for many American men, and for LDS converts from other cultures.

    Some men might naturally fall into the role of being a gentle, loving father who places his wife on an equal footing with himself and places his children ahead of his own career ambitions. But it seems to me that, with all of the cultural inertia we inherit, and the active pull of businesses that want to be the first priority of their employees, and the groups of men who want to recruit young men into their customs of giving priority to recreational pursuits over spending time with wives and children, and the sheer necessity in some careers to be away from home for long hours in a day or llong stretches of days (including the military), the Church uses the priesthood and the commitments and discipline it imparts to draw men toward a more Christ-like standard of behavior that is definitely NOT the equilibrium point of all the demands our societies make on men.

    The priesthood organization speaks to the same tendencies to join groups and pledge loyalty that other organizations depend on, from the Elks to the Marines, in order to draw men toward a more selfless pattern of behavior. Mormons don’t need to have priests and nuns as examples of self-sacrificing righteousness; we build that self-sacrifice right into the institutions of the family and the local congregation.

  28. DavidH
    May 26, 2010 at 2:03 pm

    I think the implementation of family governance patterns is solely a matter between the husband and wife, taking into account advice from all sources, including the Church and including personal inspiration.

    I like Elder Scott’s recent counsel:

    “Elder Scott then addressed family leadership. Describing the unity of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and the decision making process, Elder Scott told of how decisions are not made until all agree. He likened this process, used by the Quorum of the Twelve to decide Church issues, to the process that should occur when a husband and wife are making decisions. Until both agree, no decision should be taken. With patience and prayer, an answer will come, but neither party moves forward without the agreement of the other. He stressed the absolute importance of this principle between a husband and wife, saying that, if followed, this principle would eliminate all casiques (mayors) in the house.”

    http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/58845/Elder-Richard-G-Scott-Life-in-harmony-with-teachings-of-the-gospel.html

    I think any of the approaches outlined by James, including deflating “preside” of meaning, is fine, if agreeable by the spouses.

    For what it is worth, in my home, my “presiding” consists of designating the prayer giver and FHE lesson giver.

  29. BryanP
    May 26, 2010 at 4:25 pm

    Not having grown up in the church, I did not have the concept of “presiding”, but just that dad and mom worked side by side to get things done. Fortunately when I joined the church I had good and bad examples of priesthood authority. Lessons from bad examples are just as valuable as the good. Let’s just say that I was taught that the priesthood authority was a call to serve your spouse and children. In relation to Elder Scott’s comments in response 28, I never forget the counsel I was given in my patriarchal blessing and that was to communicate with my wife because she is my counselor. Oh the disasters I’ve avoided by following her counsel. Priesthood authority is presiding with love. That pretty much leaves out the control freaks.

  30. Martin
    May 26, 2010 at 6:52 pm

    I second Deborah in #12. As I’ve served in the bishopric, we’ve always met with both husband and wife regardless who was receiving the calling. We always asked the other if he/she could sustain his/her spouse. This wasn’t just pro-forma — if the spouse had not agreed, the calling would be put on hold and back to bishopric meeting we’d go (‘course, I never had this happen).

    I do know of a couple times when we’d counsel with the husband before considering a calling for his wife, but this was after she’d had a baby and we wanted know if things had settled down enough that the calling wouldn’t be too taxing. We weren’t asking him because he was the priesthood leader — we were asking because we didn’t want the wife to feel pressured before she was ready. We’ve also counseled once or twice with the wife before extending a calling to her husband, and these were in the cases in which the husband had been recently baptized and when there’d been hardship in the family.

  31. z
    May 26, 2010 at 7:59 pm

    I just don’t see, James, how if the priesthood is as logistical you describe it, it’s a big enough deal to motivate men in all the ways it is said to do so. You can call me a cynic if you like, but I’m just pointing out what I see as shortcomings in your argument. If you have a substantive response, I’m all ears.

    I also fail to see how oversight of administration of priesthood ordinances and prayers isn’t a form of power over women. Such oversight would include the power to determine what form, content, and timing is acceptable, and that’s a significant source of control over the religious practice of the family members.

    For example, I’d love to hear from DavidH in #28– if that’s all it takes to “preside”, why is it such a huge giant deal? Bottom line, I don’t see how anyone can craft a definition of “preside” that is robust enough to justify the emphasis placed upon it, yet trivial enough to argue that women aren’t being deprived of anything important.

  32. Mark Brown
    May 26, 2010 at 10:09 pm

    Mark Brown: I fail to see why a husband and wife deciding to split up the logistical duty of calling on persons for prayer would be a problem or be in conflict with anything I’ve said. Nor does making the man a logistical POC need entail awkward and silly forms of protocol.

    Well, I agree it is silly and awkward, but those were the examples you came up with.

    This is where our discourse on the topic of presiding in the home breaks down. We are told that it is a very important think to do, but no specific steps are given as to how one should preside. There are general instructions about being a good man who loves and sacrifices for his family and who has an equal partnership with his wife, but that’s about it. And any man, church member or not, should do that anyway, so what is the point of connecting it to the priesthood?

    Then, when we get to what, specifically, we need to do to be good presiders in the home, the only answers we get are things like call on people to pray and give fathers blessings and be the point of contact for the church. And any question as to whether that is really something that only the priesthood holder can do is answered with something like “Don’t be silly.” Well, of course it’s silly, because that is where we are starting.

    I think the best and most honest option is option 2. It doesn’t bother me that this would require the Brethren to contradict themselves, since the position they are now trying to maintain places them in contradiction with general authorities of previous generations, including very recent ones. It is an eye-opening experience to read Ensign articles from the 1970s and see where members of the First Presidency were encouraging Old Testament-style patriarchal presiding.

    In my opinion, we really are trying to give life and relevance to a term that has already become superfluous.

  33. jen
    May 26, 2010 at 10:51 pm

    “As a sidenote on the discussion of how leaders in the church should extend calls to sisters, my wife expects me, as her eternal companion, to know her needs and the load she carries so that if a leaders asks if he can extend a calling, I can essentially explain what is going on and even tell that leader “No.”

    One role of a husband is to protect his spouse.”

    I expect my husband to remember that no matter how well he knows my needs and the loads I carry, he still isn’t a mind-reader. Maybe it’s just because I’m hyper independent, but I don’t want anyone asking my husband if I can handle a calling. Because honestly, he doesn’t know. My sweet husband once was asked about a calling and he told them that with everything I had going on right then, it wouldn’t be a good idea. But the fact was, I really would have loved that calling. But by the time I found out about the conversation, they had already asked someone else, so I couldn’t go back and tell them that I would take it. That’s one of the reasons that the “spokesperson” definition of preside bothers me a little, even though that’s what my husband and I have sort of decided it means. I much prefer to be dealt with directly. I’ve had wards that worked both ways. Some would come up to me and ask me where DH was, and then go find him and ask him something that had to do with me. In other wards, the leaders would just talk to the person they saw first. I don’t know. My husband and I do operate very independently of each other. Maybe I need to learn to rely on him more. ;)

  34. May 27, 2010 at 2:35 am

    Bottom line, I don’t see how anyone can craft a definition of “preside” that is robust enough to justify the emphasis placed upon it, yet trivial enough to argue that women aren’t being deprived of anything important.

    Amen, amen, amen.

    My six-year-old came home from church last Sunday telling me, “when we turn 12 we can have the power of the priesthood.” And he was taught this because it’s no big whoop?

    As for the janitorial analogy, you’ve got to be kidding. I’ve hire janitors before. They never made executive decisions for the organization.

  35. May 27, 2010 at 6:13 am

    As the presiding father, I asked my wife if she would be willing to handle the responsibility for asking people to say prayers, etc. Neither of us had/have an issue with the counsel Packer gave. I get the backlash, but then again I think the backlash against Moses was much more justified for leading people out into the wilderness to get run down by soldiers, starve, get bit by flying fiery(?) snakes, etc.. And his solution, after talking to the God of the universe was to look at a snake on a stick?

  36. James Olsen
    May 27, 2010 at 8:04 am

    Z: “one more liberal Mormon attempt to wring gender equality from a stone” is not a mere pointing out of shortcomings in my argument. And I think you still misunderstand the nature of what I’m doing. I’m not giving a formal argument; I’m giving a reading. This means I’m trying to make more clear and more explicit what’s already in Pres. Packer’s talk in a way that’s enlightening. In doing so, I’ve got a couple of constraints: 1. I need to account for every (relevant) aspect of the talk; 2. Do so in a consistent manner; 3. Do so within the larger context of the church and the other things that have been said about it (i.e., repeat #1 & 2 in the greater context). In order to do this, yes, of course, I have to interpret. This is what I explicitly do, for example, when I talk about the success-through-redundancy.

    This means: 1. I don’t have a formal argument that can be inadequate. My conclusions are not motivated by premises leading to a logical conclusion, but by how successful I am at doing steps 1-3. The motivation for my claim that no prestige attaches to the logistical side of preside is simply the fact that it’s unwarranted given what has been said about it, that it contradicts other things that have been said, and that we can universally agree that such prestige would be unsavory.

    Consequently, you cannot legitimately object by merely stating that my argument’s not good enough. If I failed to adequately perform steps 1-3 you can point out why, or you can try to convince us that steps 1-3 are themselves inadequate, or explain why the act of giving a reading is itself unhelpful or unenlightening.

    Nothing I’ve said implies that men control independent of women the “form, content, and timing [that] is acceptable” for ordinances of the priesthood in the home; rather I’ve stated the opposite.

    You are certainly welcome to shrug your shoulders and say, “Well, it just doesn’t seem to work for me.” That’s certainly a legitimate response. But again, that’s not a legitimate objection and demands no response.

  37. James Olsen
    May 27, 2010 at 8:21 am

    Mark Brown: I’m not saying that having a specified POC for each family is silly and awkward, nor having a built in order to how we go about choosing prayers, etc (though maybe it is, as you think, superfluous for righteous couples; but the same could be said of any commandment or directive). While these things are entailed in Pres. Packer’s discussion, as I note, I don’t see him claiming anything holy about the logistics; and placing too great an emphasis on them leads, as you note, to potential silliness and awkwardness. This fact is another reason not to treat the logistics as holy.

    But in your jump to option 2 (the deflationary route), you’re ignoring several things I’m claiming are both substantive and important: 1. The importance of having priesthood ordinances taking place inside the home; 2. The reinforcement of the priority of the family over the church – both on earth and in the heavens. This is what I’m claiming is at the heart of Pres. Packer’s discussion of what it means for fathers to preside.

    Yes, our language and stance is in stark contrast now to things that were said in earlier generations – which is the case with other issues as well. Once again, we can deal with this a couple of ways: 1. Claim the older generation was right and lament the shift; 2. Claim that the older generation was simply wrong and thank God that we are now able to see our former blindspots/errors; 3. Claim that there was an important core to what the older generation said, which, if we prescind away the unfortunate cultural trappings, can continue to be a meaningful aspect of our practice and understanding today.

    Once again, it seems to me that the latter option is what Pres. Packer is doing.

  38. May 27, 2010 at 9:38 am

    I really liked this analysis. Thank you.

    It illustrates something that has been bothering me for awhile. When I was married, I expected my husband to help with a lot of that interfacing that you mention. Now that I’m no longer married, I find myself the priesthood leader of the family (even though I’m not, obviously, ordained to the priesthood, it is clear that when the father is absent, the mother leads.)

    Unfortunately, I have little to no idea how to do that, and because the information structure is so male-oriented in the way you describe, I feel at a bit of a loss.

    Interesting.

  39. Naismith
    May 27, 2010 at 10:15 am

    I also fail to see how oversight of administration of priesthood ordinances and prayers isn’t a form of power over women.

    Because it is a matter of serving them, not holding power over them.

    Such oversight would include the power to determine what form, content, and timing is acceptable, ….

    Well….no. That isn’t implicit; I don’t know if it is common. A father who fails to provide a father’s blessing when asked (or come up with a very good, prayerfully obtained answer why not) is not doing his job, IMO.

  40. Deborah
    May 27, 2010 at 3:00 pm

    I think James said somewhere in here that every husband and wife together has to decided what this means in their family. I think this involves a lot of time in prayer asking our Heavenly Father what his will is in our lives. I know the “gospel” isn’t sexist-maybe a few individual leaders are,and the Lord certainly isn’t. Ask him what is appropriate, and he will tell you.

  41. May 27, 2010 at 4:53 pm

    Do you mean the talk at http://www.lds.org/conference/talk/display/0,5232,23-1-1207-2,00.html ? If so, it appears that the title is actually “The Power of the Priesthood”, not “Presiding in the Home”.

  42. Crick
    May 27, 2010 at 5:29 pm

    Re: Jerry
    But according to D&C 121 and various manuals, Bishops and Stake Presidents are not supposed to preside from a dictatorial position but are to seek counsel and unanimity. Yes, if unanimity cannot be found on an issue that needs resolution, then its true that being a presider puts one in a position of power. But I find it hard to believe that God, through his servants, decided to use the word “preside” in an entirely different context in the family.

    I think that the philosophical arguments related to this discussion raise a lot more hackles than the real-life practical questions involved. We are very concerned about the symbology of who is in charge (e.g. who asks who to pray) and yet as a practical matter many women in and out of the Church take charge all of the time, are weary of doing so, and wish their husbands would do so. And oth men and women wish their spouses and children would counsel with them.

    I think President Hinckley’s words on Larry King Live are instructive…he did use the words “in charge” saying he thought the man should be put back in charge, but balked at fathers “bossing people around”.

    Perhaps the most interesting thing about the Priesthood is that according to D&C 121 its power over people is not inherent in itself but comes from those followers harkening to it. It ought to work in a way that those under its direction should “flow” to it or “hearken” to it rather than be coerced to it. I don’t have a problem with someone being put in a presiding position for the most arbitrary of reasons where that person’s dominion flows to them instead of them dominating with a cattle prod.

  43. May 27, 2010 at 7:00 pm

    I’ve always been troubled (annoyed? nonplussed?) with equating priesthood position to “janitorial” or similar duties. Yes, I know service is involved in priesthood positions. But even though every priesthood position involves “work that assists others,” the fact remains that priesthood leaders are the decision-makers and direct and/or approve everything that happens.

    I think this goes right to z’s comment:

    Bottom line, I don’t see how anyone can craft a definition of “preside” that is robust enough to justify the emphasis placed upon it, yet trivial enough to argue that women aren’t being deprived of anything important.

    On one hand we teach and preach the wonders of the priesthood and on the other — when it’s uncomfortable to address equity questions — well, the priesthood is just pretty much cleaning other people’s toilets!

    I’ve been a lawn mower and a dishwasher. I’ve also been a CFO. Both involve service. But I bet there isn’t one of us that can’t tell the difference between deciding which toilet gets cleaned and doing the actual cleaning.

  44. May 27, 2010 at 7:30 pm

    Interestingly, the thing that stood out to me really strongly in your reading was your description of the classroom dynamic while discussion was taking place. I’m actually surprised nobody else has mentioned it because I think in a lot of ways it is directly related to the broader issue. Why weren’t any of the women participating? Really. Why? This is sad to me and, as an aside, could not leave me more thrilled with my decision to go to an all-women liberal arts college in the east. In a discussion about a subject on which no one is really clear and which has very different implications based on gender it’s a shame that none of the women saw it as necessary that they take part. I think there are probably several main reasons for this and it would take to long to get into them. But their absence from the discussion illustrates to me how important female perspectives are often lost in the church without much if any recognition of that loss.

  45. z
    May 27, 2010 at 8:14 pm

    Maybe they were just waiting to hear what the men would say. It’s really fascinating for me to hear men discuss this issue, especially when they are naive enough not to realize their own appalling sexism, and speaking to a male teacher.

    Naismith and James, maybe the more productive approach would be to try to define “oversight.”

  46. May 27, 2010 at 8:56 pm

    I wrote a long response at http://zionlist.blogspot.com/2010/05/presidency-in-home.html; just thought it was better as a standalone thing because of length and generality.

    Does this place not have pingbacks? I don’t see it on here. Would be good to have.

  47. msg
    May 27, 2010 at 11:21 pm

    Lots of husbands are just so focused on their career and rightly so that I think having them “preside” in the home is a way to encourage them to actively participate in the family instead of thinking they’re tired after work so it’s okay to be passive and let the wife just handle things at home. And how women have always been told the home and children are their first and foremost responsibility in life the men could think it’s okay for them to be step aside and let her do everything and it’s a big job for just one spouse to handle everything.

  48. May 28, 2010 at 12:20 am

    Interestingly, the thing that stood out to me really strongly in your reading was your description of the classroom dynamic while discussion was taking place. I’m actually surprised nobody else has mentioned it because I think in a lot of ways it is directly related to the broader issue. Why weren’t any of the women participating? Really. Why? This is sad to me and, as an aside, could not leave me more thrilled with my decision to go to an all-women liberal arts college in the east. In a discussion about a subject on which no one is really clear and which has very different implications based on gender it’s a shame that none of the women saw it as necessary that they take part. I think there are probably several main reasons for this and it would take to long to get into them. But their absence from the discussion illustrates to me how important female perspectives are often lost in the church without much if any recognition of that loss.

  49. Curious
    May 28, 2010 at 12:53 pm

    “(If the father be absent, the mother should request the presiding authority present to take charge.)”

    What’s your take on this part of the Joseph F. Smith quote Pres. Packer used in his talk?

    I’ve always assumed that if the father is absent, the mother presides and chooses who should administer the blessing, etc., but this makes me think I’m (gasp) wrong.

  50. Bob
    May 29, 2010 at 7:55 pm

    47: To me, you are right. As a teenager, I was the only Priesthood holder in the household (my father had none). I would never have taken over. When I returned from my Mission, my father was out of the household, but I felt my mother was still in charge even though I was an Elder.

  51. May 30, 2010 at 2:28 am

    I’m actually surprised nobody else has mentioned it because I think in a lot of ways it is directly related to the broader issue.

    Gogo, this was the first thing I noticed in the post. I thought the response completely typical of general LDS settings and so didn’t even think to discuss it.

    My opinion is that the general female silence is due mostly to the fact that, frankly, men (on such issues in the church, at least) don’t take well to being challenged this way. The passivity, IMO, is a learned technique that generally just serves women better if they want to be active and well thought of in the church. There are all sorts of labels attached to women who step out of their places — and those come from other women as often as from men. So keeping quiet keeps you in good standing with other church members.

    It’s been so interesting to see how the internet (and the bloggernacle in particular) has worked in this regard. The anonymity seems to have given so many women a place to speak out without dealing with the fallout from being a radical whatever. As someone who’s never been anonymous, I have always gotten a lot of feedback — as in lots and lots of people IRL who approach me and say, “I’m so glad you said X” or “I feel the same way! I thought I was the only one!” I’m sure I’m not alone in that.

    From my experience I’d guess that pretty much every ward in the church has a larger-than-most-would-imagine mostly-underground group of women who know who is “safe” to talk to about such issues. (Meaning those who won’t label you a heretic our outcast for your ideas.) You’ll never hear it come up in Sunday School and only alluded to in Relief Society (unfortunately mostly with male-bashing “jokes”), but it’s there.

  52. May 30, 2010 at 2:47 am

    BTW, read this example of women afraid to speak up to men that just came up this week.

  53. loop
    May 30, 2010 at 11:47 pm

    The explicit definition of presiding with its three functions is bogus. Here is why: All three rely on the assumption that the husband/father holds the priesthood and/or has interaction with the church. But the fact is the husband/father presides over the home even if he lived in the Great Apostasy and therefore could have done none of what you listed.

    The role of the husband/father to preside over the home must be defined, explained, and understood in terms which may include circumstances where the home is completely absent of priesthood authority.

    Once that is done, THEN, we add in anything that is an appropriate addendum to our understanding of what it is to preside. Such as the examples you gave. They are correct in priesthood homes only, and even then they are grossly insufficient because they cannot stand alone.

    Think of a house with a garage. We can call the house a house whether it has a garage or not. It can stand on its own and be called a house. Or the owner can add a garage to it and still simply call the entire structure a house. What matters is the house itself, in its definition, and not what may or may not be added as an extra element. The garage however, cannot be appropriately called a house, or even part of a house when it stands completely in isolation. Such is your example. You have tried to give us the garage only, while calling it the whole house.

    So, we must define what it means to preside without the priesthood. And then add to that definition, whatever responsibilities the priesthood adds unto it.

    Here is another thought. Women are not called to preside. Only the father/husband. Therefore, the definition must apply to the presiding authority and to no one else. Otherwise you would simply have a distinction without a difference. There must be a differentiating factor, otherwise you have a ridiculous redundancy in the presence of a distinction without a difference.

    As of yet, I have heard no public explanations which satisfy my criteria.

    Please do not attack with knee-jerk emotional reactions or culturally conditioned responses.

  54. mop
    May 31, 2010 at 4:18 am

    Loop, DC 107:85-87 gives several (similar) examples of what it might mean to preside. Haven’t read over all the comments to see if this has been repeated.

    I think the most important thing to note, is that you have to start with faith and then go from there. Nothing in the gospel can really satisfy anyone’s criteria if we don’t start and end with faith.

  55. Naismith
    May 31, 2010 at 7:04 am

    The role of the husband/father to preside over the home must be defined, explained, and understood in terms which may include circumstances where the home is completely absent of priesthood authority.

    I think that Elder Oaks made great strides toward that end in his Oct 2005 talk on “Priesthood Authority in the Family and the Church.” Of course he was raised in a single-parent family, and it seems that in last general conference there was another general authority who reported a similar upbringing. Anyone recall?

    Anyway, Elder Oaks said,

    When my father died, my mother presided over our family. She had no priesthood office, but as the surviving parent in her marriage she had become the governing officer in her family.

  56. Naismith
    May 31, 2010 at 7:31 am

    My opinion is that the general female silence is due mostly to the fact that, frankly, men (on such issues in the church, at least) don’t take well to being challenged this way.

    I didn’t get the memo on that one. Certainly, part of it is how they are being challenged, whether it is respectful or whatever, but that’s true of all our human interactions, in the workplace and so on.

    A few years back, I was teaching the story of the faithful woman who touched the Savior’s hem in sunday school when a visiting high counselor observed, “Just think, any of us could have that kind of miracle if we just had faith.” I responded that I couldn’t quite agree with him, because faith was only one ingredient required for a miracle. I had the class turn to the “Miracles” entry in the Bible dictionary, and read the three things–with “need” being one. It specifically doesn’t say desire, but need. He nodded, and didn’t seem upset that I had argued with him.

    And that’s pretty much been the response I’ve gotten when I’ve been forthright but respectful to leadership on a wide variety of issues.

    The passivity, IMO, is a learned technique that generally just serves women better if they want to be active and well thought of in the church.

    Really? Omigosh, I’ve blown it for 30 years.

    Seriously, what a pathetic way to live one’s life. Why would anyone care what others think? They don’t get inspiration to lead your life. You know you can’t make everyone happy. When I was pregnant with my fourth child, my non-LDS mother told me I was stupid to get pregnant because it would delay my return to career. My LDS FIL told me that the baby would be born with a defect. But we felt strongly that this child was waiting for us, and she made the dean’s list at college. So we’re glad we ignored all those other people.

    There are all sorts of labels attached to women who step out of their places

    Yeah, and in my experience, one of the most common labels for women who speak up is “Relief Society President.” Men prefer to deal with women who don’t play passive-aggressive games. In a talk in regional conference, Sister Julie Beck talked about this; that in her position she is on certain boards, and she would just defer to the men. One of them got exasperated with her, and told her that she was to think for herself, and they counted on her input.

    Now, I do note that this said, “step out of their places” not “speak up” per se, which was the original issue. I can see it more of a problem if a woman wants to stand in a prayer circle for a baby’s blessing, etc. But just speaking up is much less of a problem than often feared.

    — and those come from other women as often as from men. So keeping quiet keeps you in good standing with other church members.

    But can it get in the way of one’s good standing with the Lord? What if Esther felt she shouldn’t speak up?

  57. loop
    May 31, 2010 at 10:31 pm

    Mop, you are exactly right in your comment about faith. We have an obligation to act in faith and to be faithful. Many of us desire to be faithful to correct principles and thus strive to clearly understand them. Sometimes this striving includes looking for a clear definition, description, or explanation. Such is the case in our search to understand what it means to preside in the home, especially for the husband. This search stems from a desire to be faithful.

    As an aside, i didn’t state clearly in my last post, that of course the wife/mother of the home presides in the absence of a husband/father.

  58. June 3, 2010 at 6:10 am

    I appreciate this discussion of the organizational benefits of assigning, in a convenient and consistent manner, a point person when interfacing with an organization. In fact, if it were reversed I think there might be backlash that women were being assigned “secretarial” duties.

    In my own marriage, we encounter the complication of my husband has requested if me that I take the role of the point person when interfacing with the church. Based on Packer’s talk, The Proclamation and the sentiments of this post, he’s within his purview as the one who presides in the home to delegate this responsibility to me (who has a more flexible schedule, and is more organized in this realm of responsibility). The problem is that a wrench is thrown into the whole plan because all of a sudden the person assigned by the organization has passed the assignment off. The ward is continually confused by this dynamic.

    Perhaps a more elegant solution is a box on the ward database which indicates by a click who is the designated first contact decided when husband and wife counsel together.

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