It all started when the visiting General Authority opened up the small group meeting for questions. My heart started beating a little faster and a little harder. I knew I had to ask.
In a gentle, deliberately non-confrontational voice I questioned, “Is the Church’s policy to not ordain women to offices in the Priesthood doctrinal or an administrative choice? And, if not administrative, what is the doctrinal basis?”
How was I to know that two simple and sincere questions would lead me to calling out the Church on their use of the phrase “preside over” in The Family: A Proclamation to the World?
His response to my questions was less than satisfactory. It was doctrine because the scriptures only talk of men serving in leadership positions. When the Lord’s true church was on the earth there is no mention of women serving in leadership positions.
“What about Deborah in the Bible?”
“But?” I queried.
His response was a sermon on the Proclamation. I wasn’t sure of the connection between my question and his response. But that’s okay. I got my answer. It wasn’t doctrinal. And the Church wasn’t ready to admit it.
Then came the surprise invitation. The visiting Elder was concerned he hadn’t answered my questions and he wondered if I would like to meet with him to talk about it further.
The visit lasted more than an hour. He was a patient, kind and empathetic listener. But again, the answers were not terribly satisfying. At the end of the visit he handed me his business card and invited me to contact him if I wanted to talk again.
For the next few days I considered this invitation. I knew there was one more thing to say. But could I really say it? Gathering my courage, I composed the email:
Dear Elder _____,
I liked when you told me (quoting “The Family: A Proclamation to the World”) that husband and wife are equal partners. It is what I believe also. Unfortunately, it is a direct contradiction to the statement that “fathers are to preside over their families” found two sentences earlier within the same document.
As you mentioned, language is a living thing and meanings of words change with time. Perhaps there was a time when “preside over” meant something good, noble and positive. However, in today’s world this phrase has extremely negative connotations. Even the dictionary definition of preside is in direct opposition to idea of equal partnership.
When the word “preside” (which means to exercise control) is placed in front of the word “over” the message in the Proclamation is that husbands and wives are not equal partners at all. The husband is clearly given the role of ruler, with his wife and children being subject to his direction. Even if the man is to preside over in “love and righteousness” the message is that the man is above the others in his family. Clearly, if one person is ‘over’ someone, the other person is ‘under.’
Perhaps a clearer, more accurate description of the role of fathers could be considered, for two people cannot be equal partners if one has the stated purpose of exercising control over the other.
One thought I have is that perhaps what is meant is something more along the lines of “fathers are to give to give structure, stability and counsel” to the family. Or perhaps there’s another way for the intent of this statement to be expressed without placing one parent above or below another.
I realize you did not write the Proclamation, and that you are not in a position to update or edit it. However, you do have the opportunity to work with those who do have this responsibility. And you do have the opportunity to teach, explain and clarify the principles of the gospel to many people. I hope you will take into consideration the unintended message that is being given within the document “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” and find a way to clarify so that others may more easily feel the love of God within the church’s teachings.
A few hours later I received his response.
Your comments underscore for me the urgency not only to clarify the meaning of the Proclamation on the Family but to clarify for all the church, old and young, male and female, what it means to preside in the gospel sense.
And then he proceeded to explain, very clearly, what it means to preside in the Lord’s way. Three paragraphs. Still less than satisfying. It was infuriating actually.
Calming myself down, I opted to reply. Even if he didn’t get it, I needed to say it.
Thanks for your response. However, I feel that my point was not really understood.
I understand the Church’s interpretation of the word “preside.” I have studied the doctrine. I have no question about how the leaders of the Church would like to see this concept implemented in real life.
My point is, just as you mentioned on Saturday, that word meanings can change and evolve. And the words “preside over” no longer mean what you and I believe the Lord intended. In our society the meaning has evolved to imply something totally different than what the Church is trying to teach. And by continuing to use this language in modern documents many people (both men and women) become confused, hurt and angry.
You have indicated that you feel a need to clarify this teaching. I believe a very simple way to clarify is to choose a word or phrase that accurately conveys the intended meaning.
It reminds me of the Primary song “When Grandpa Comes.” In early versions of the Primary music books the opening line stated “It’s always fun when Grandpa comes, when Grandpa comes we’re gay.” Later (in about the 1980’s?) the line was changed to “It’s always fun when Grandpa comes, when Grandpa comes, Hooray!”
The Church Music Committee obviously understood the meaning of “gay” in the 1980’s and knew it no longer carried the author’s original intent. They could have left the lyrics as they were and instructed all the English speaking music directors to teach the children very clearly that “gay” in this situation did not mean “gay” as the world used the term. Instead they opted to accept that the meaning of the word had changed and it was time to choose different words in order to convey the original intent of the song.
I think that you and other leaders of the Church can teach and clarify the meaning of “preside over” all you want, but the phrase still has a negative connotation to most women and will remain license to abuse for some men. So again, I suggest that you and your colleagues take into consideration the unintended message that continuing the use of these words carry.
And his response?
Your comments are true and powerful. They leave me wondering what it would take to change the very frequent use of the word “preside” in our literature, but at least as it applies to families. Maybe if we at least change it in the Family Proclamation that would be a start. I like your ‘fathers are to give structure, stability, and counsel to their families.’
I believe your point is important enough that I am going to see if I can get it heard a bit more broadly.
Now that was satisfying.
Florence has lived long enough to be called old and is inquisitive enough to feel young.