An Insider's Look at Mormon Culture

I thought “The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” was trite when I first heard it 25 years ago. Doesn’t everybody know families are important and that parents should love each other and their children? A friend, N Sue Layted, suggested that the Proclamation was aimed at non-members who don’t have our family values. I suggested that N Sue make some non-LDS friends.

A closer reading of the Proclamation troubled me. Husbands and wife are equals, but the husband presides. How is that equal? The bishop presides over the ward. His counselors help but are not equal to him in authority. The Relief Society president presides over the Relief Society. Her counselors are not equal to her. How are husbands and wives equal if one presides over the other? A line from Orwell’s Animal Farm comes to mind: “All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.” If LDS culture interprets the phrase “presides over” to mean choosing who says the family prayer, it’s still inequality. But if the dictionary definition, “to exercise guidance, direction, or control,” or “to occupy the place of authority” is meant, Pandora’s box is opened no matter how frequently prophets urge men to use “love and righteousness” in exercising their leadership.

The rigid role definitions in the Proclamation are also problematic. Traditional SAHM roles aren’t workable for every family. Is it beneficial to families for the church to convey the impression that, except for “disability, death, or other circumstances,” there is only one way to raise healthy, well-adjusted children? Some fathers are more nurturing than some mothers.  It makes sense for the more nurturing parent, regardless of gender, to assume the larger role of care giving. And many women are more capable of earning a living than their husbands. Parents should feel free to divide the providing and nurturing roles in whatever way works best for their family.

The Proclamation has been revised without fanfare over the years. Gone is the controversial statement that all men should marry.  Literalist Mormons were extending that commandment to gay men—not a happy thought for a woman who might end up partnered with one.  

I suggest the next time the Proclamation is revised the phrase, “fathers are to preside over their families” should be replaced by, “parents should stick together to keep the kids from running the show.”


Comments on: "Husbands and Wives Are Equal, but the Husband Is More Equal" (1)

  1. This was discussed on another forum, which I felt was being characterized as it is “unfair” to all women and must be changed in the church, and like your title suggests, it is “more equal for men” suggesting it is not fair.

    I see that point, because it discriminates certain people from certain positions of authority based on gender. If it was a business or social organization, I would be against such.

    As a male priesthood holder, I tread lightly because I don’t want to seem unsympathetic to those feelings of inequality.

    However, to me, when I really think deeply about the context, it is about doing God’s work in the church, and completely loving others unselfishly. Church is different than a business or any other work where people are the source of decisions and the goal is earthly results.

    In that context, feelings of power or authority or position or title are all different. King Benjamin showed the example, that with authority is more responsibility to serve and love, not control and hold power over others. Christ showed the example of washing and serving and giving all for us, not commanding and bossing people around to gain a title and position in the world. He gave no heed to those temptations.

    So, my argument is that while there are different roles, and men hold the priesthood, if they ever use that to overpower or dominate over their wives, they are doing it wrong and amen to that priesthood. And so, my wife is completely equal to me in our family, even if there are different roles and responsibilities, they are all done in one purpose. I may preside in the home, but only so that there is order and I’m motivated to do my duty, which is to love and serve and teach, and to reach family decisions based on consensus, not through unrighteous dominion. But my wife is equal in the decision making process. Her value and worth is not diminished by not being able to hold the priesthood, in my eyes.

    So I realize it seems wrong a women can’t preside in a ward as bishop, but if you get past all the personal prideful feelings to hold such positions, there is no value or benefit a woman would have by holding that position, just like I will likely never be called as bishop in my life, but still find value and meaning in striving to be more Christ-like in all I do within the roles and positions I do hold.

    If the prophet received revelation tomorrow that women will hold the priesthood, I would completely support it. Without that, it is what it is, and everyone can grow closer to God the way it is now anyway, which is really what’s important and not what titles we hold.

    That is why I don’t think there is a problem with both existing: presiding and having equality in worth and happiness and importance in my family.

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