A recent blog by mmiles at By Common Consent compares an article in the April 2013 Ensign stating that equality in marriage is God’s plan with a Feb. 1973 Ensign piece claiming that patriarchal rule in marriage is God’s plan. Both pieces proved their arguments with quotes from scriptures and Church leaders. Since the Ensign is an official Church publication and does not print pieces disagreeing with Church positions, one can only assume that the Church position on marriage has evolved during the past 40 years.
My first reaction to reading this blog was that it’s evidence of the fluidity of Mormon doctrine. Continuous revelation means the current prophet takes precedence over past prophets—a benefit to the Church in a rapidly changing world. Patriarchal authority in marriage is about as popular in the 21st century as polygamy was in the 19th and 20th centuries. A church embracing either is likely to shrink to the size of the Shakers who insist that celibacy is God’s plan.
My second reaction to this blog was, “What about the Proclamation on the Family?” Will the phrase, “By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families . . .” be quietly erased from the text—or will the word “preside” be redefined in Mormon rhetoric to mean equal representation?
My final reaction to the 180 degree switch on marriage roles from the tenure of Spencer W. Kimball to that of Thomas S. Monson is that it demonstrates the need for Mormons to make our own decisions rather than to blindly follow the leaders. The author of this blog ends his piece with the statement, “The eternal truths of today might not be the eternal truths of tomorrow.” An interesting thought for Mormons who are conditioned since Primary to “Follow the Prophet.”
How would it feel to be a woman who has endured a patriarchal marriage with an overbearing husband for 40 years to pick up her current Ensign and read that equal partnership is now God’s plan? Church leaders, including the prophet, are not infallible. Individuals are entitled to their own inspiration in making life decisions. If eternal truths do exist, they are in the realm of principles such as integrity and human dignity rather than positions on social issues.
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.”