Wednesday, September 14, 2016

He Presides... With Equality?

Today I asked on an open forum (to LDS and non-LDS alike) if  one person is assigned to preside can there be equality in a two person relationship? Equality being defined as the quality or state of being equal : the quality or state of having the same rights, social status, etc. I was looking for logic, a study of semantics, and anything but mental gymnastics.

I'll spare you the subsequent discussion, but from it I came to the following conclusion and observations:

IF this relationship is to work there appears to be 3 possibilities:

  1. Equality achieved so long as partners take turns with authority
  2. "Preside" needs to be redefined
  3.  "Equality" needs to be tossed out and replaced with something else, something like "functional," or "efficient"
(Interestingly, only from the straight white male commentators came the suggestion that "equality" itself needs to be redefined, which I refuse to list here.)

I'd like to dive into the second option here. 

Already we have seen an evolution of terms defining men's authority from God. First we were told Adam would "rule" over Eve (Genesis 3:16). Later, we've been reassured (by President Kimball) this word means to "preside." Preside itself is defined as: To be in charge of something. The intransitive verb means "exercising guidance, direction, or control." In one of my many lessons on The Proclamation I was told it is a man's duty to do the "3Ps," Preside, Provide, and Protect. (Women have the letter N, for nurture.) I think it's worth examining each of these Ps individually as their differences may further elucidate what our expectations are within a male-female union. 

Preside: Many Latter-day saints take this to mean the husband is the head of the house. He is the ultimate authority, and so on. My brother-in-law, much to my pleasant surprise, noted that this thinking comes from the letters of Paul, which uses imagery that is meant to be "descriptive NOT prescriptive." In other words, when Paul describes the man as being in charge, he is using standards for a relationship with which his audience would be familiar at that time in order to paint a picture. He was not, however, endorsing this setup as a fixed principle. If it were not so, if Paul's words are to be taken as prescriptive, then in the very next chapter (Ephesians 6) would any of us argue servants/slaves today should still serve their masters "with fear and trembling"? I doubt it. 

Whether or not you agree with this interpretation of Paul, it stands to reason that one cannot call two people equal when one is at the top and the other is beneath. Instead, as I have earlier suggested, I believe we call upon words like "submit" and "sustain" when referencing women because they are coming from a higher realm (pre-mortally) and must condescend (enter a less dignified level, waive privileges of rank) to function in the lower offices of man's earthly priesthood. With this arrangement, presiding takes on the meaning of maintenance. Even in the janitorial sense. Man, as a presider, is charged with the upkeep of the offices of the Aaronic and Melchezidek priesthoods. He is to ensure the doors are open, authority is granted to work within them, and all members of his family have obtained the proper ordinances therein. Anything beyond this would seem (to me) out of the bounds of what God had intended. 

Provide: I was told this specifically means men are to make the money. That they are to toil and sweat in the fields as a result of The Fall. As it stands, my husband does work to provide for our family, but right now he's sitting on a cushioned desk chair in an air conditioned office in front of a fancy computer screen. He is hardly dying to get bread on the table. How come he gets to be exempt from the repercussions of The Fall while so many other people are sweating it out in the fields? And what about those scenarios where dad stays home with the kids and mom has a career? Are those couples frustrating gospel truths?

Again, I think we need to update our interpretations of these expectations. If you ask me (and this is my blog), providing means doing all that you can within your power to meet the needs of your individual family unit. This often involves anticipating the needs of others and preparing for hardships as we can no longer count on life being a breeze. Women are charged with this expectation, too, but I think it needs to be said specifically to men who naturally think in "I" terms over "we" (see Moses 5:10).

Protect: Many will tell you that because men have physiological advantages over women, protection is limited to muscle power over would-be threats. While there is something really hot about that imagery, I think there's more it than that. 

Lately I've been going back to this concept of the temple endowment being a further endowment for women, and that would imply they were given key tokens and signs prior to coming to earth. We know that when Lucifer fell, he took a third of the host of heaven with him, and I would imagine women were in that number. Is it possible or even likely that these fallen females shared with Satan the key words and tokens given to them premortally? The more I think about it, the more I believe it. To me, this would explain how certain phrases and images (tokens, signs) seemed to confirm to Eve that she could trust Satan in the garden. Because she was the first to eat the fruit and that setup was, essentially: the right message; wrong messenger, the solution was for Adam to offer protection as one not vulnerable to this specific type of attack. He must stand between the Adversary and Eve. 

How does that protection work? I believe not every name/sign/token was given prior to Lucifer's exit. I think some key pieces were administered at the veil of mortality to woman (preparing her for life on earth) and away from Satan's eyes and ears. Once a husband acknowledges that power within his wife, he will safeguard her by doing all he can to keep the Spirit in their environment. When temptation is placed before him he will consult with her to gather strength and push it away. He will pray continually for both their sake and sacrifice to obtain the blessings of peace in their home. 

Another possibility, when Satan observes man and woman, he knows the latter can see him perfectly, he is unable to make a surprise attack. Man is more likely to appear like a fledgling calf, just getting its eyesight. It then seems that while woman would be a prize catch, man is the easy hunt, which runs counter to what we would look towards for protection. Yet perhaps man is meant to be the decoy, and we are counting on him to sprint away unharmed. Those who condition themselves for the race against capture do so by making and keeping priesthood covenants; pride, abuse, greed, and lust make for spiritual carcasses on the field.

Closing thoughts:
With each of these terms and definitions I have arrived at conclusions that are guaranteed to be counter to what most LDS people are thinking on this subject. Some women love putting their man in charge as head of the house. They have a spirit of deference, which frankly I don't have (but would make my life a lot easier, let's face it). I've used this space to gather ideas and clarify thoughts that help me in my situation. I need to reconcile my insights from the temple with the cooperative paradigm of equal partners I'm shooting for in marriage. In other words, this is how Monique strengthens home and family. 


  1. Hi Monique. Thank you for your blog. I have a lot in common with you. Like you, I'm a convert, a liberal, a feminist and a doctor. I struggled mightily with the role of women in the church prior to getting baptized. I thought I had resolved all of it. But then, I went to the temple. My first experience was emotionally violent and I left feeling that God did not love me simply because I was a woman. My testimony has been severely damaged. It's been two months and I'm doing all of the "right things" that we are told to do in Sunday school. But still I struggle. I will consider your posts and take them to the temple. Thank you for sharing your perspective. I wish there was a way to talk though these issues with you. - Kristy

    1. Kristy, are you on LDS women physicians on Facebook? I would love to chat!