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.”