Monday, September 5, 2011

Presiding with equal partners

The proclamation on the family is clear: "By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness...."

But it's also clear: "In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners."

How does Dad preside when Mom is an equal partner?

We discussed this topic in our high priests' group yesterday, and although we did not resolve it, we had some good thoughts.

In his talk "Priesthood Authority in the Family and the Church," Dallin Oaks helps us understand the relationship between partnership and presiding. He says that although the structure in the church is hierarchical (we follow our "file" leaders), in the family it is patriarchal. He quote the partnership line from the Proclamation as I have above, and he quote President Kimball who urges wives to have a full partnership with their husbands, not a limited or silent one. He reiterates that the concept of partnership between husbands and wives is not the cultural norm all around the world, but that it is ordained of God. And he quotes Doctrine & Convenants 121:

No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; By kindness, and pure knowledge (verses 41-42)

declaring, "When priesthood authority is exercised in that way in the patriarchal family, we achieve the 'full partnership' President Kimball taught."

As I listened to the discussion, I thought about what I've heard about how the Quorum of the Twelve functions -- that they and the First Presidency consider matters of policy for some time, that they have open discussions, and that they often carry over those discussions for weeks in order to allow all members to come to consensus. This certainly seems to be the process described in Edward Kimball's biography of his father's presidency of the church (Lengthen Your Stride) when President Kimball discussed his revelation regarding extension of the priesthood to all worthy male members of the church (see OD2).

And I thought of an example in our family from the past week. We have a particular delicate issue that my wife and I are trying to works through with one of our children. There is no easy answer, and we are not personally equipped to resolve it on our own. We have discussed the matter a number of times over the past months, and in the last few days it has become more acute. We agreed to pray separately and together. We have been discussing the promptings we have received (some in the moment we need them). Our path to consensus has been bumpy. At some moments we've been completely aligned and at others we've appeared to be diametrically opposed to one another. But we continue to counsel together to find a solution.

In this matter, I would never assume that as "presider" I had the sole right to revelation on the matter. Nor would I want to "delegate" the matter to my lovely wife -- not because she is not capable, for she is! -- but because I would not want to ask her to bear the burden alone.

We have not come out on the other side of the tunnel, yet, and we may not for some time. But I'm grateful for an equal partner who is sensitive to the promptings of the Spirit and who is gracious in how she shares the burdens of parenthood.


  1. Paul: Quick thought-
    The world talks of matriarchal orders and patriarchal orders. Maybe we are supposed to be living in an order superior to those traditional cultural orders as defined by the world.

    D&C 131:2
    And in order to obtain the highest, a man must enter into this order of the priesthood [meaning the new and everlasting covenant of marriage]

    Perhaps we need to aim for a new, better, everlasting order that we can only attain by working together.

  2. MMM, an interesting thought. I found it intriguing that Elder Oaks' view of the patriarchal order seems to shift from the world's view of a patriarchal order in favor of the partnership that you describe.

  3. I really like MMM's comment. I believe this -- that the 'order' that we are supposed to aim for is supposed to transcend any other order that 'the world' may understand.

    I think the Spirit makes that possible.