I am going to put this as simply as possible, and let’s start with a definition. Patriarchy is a social system in which the father or eldest male is head of the household, having authority over women and children. Patriarchy also refers to a system of government by males, and to the dominance of men in social or cultural systems. I know that this is a true definition, having found it on Wikipedia. However, if you disagree, scroll down and I will include definitions from as many dictionaries as I can google. Patriarchy by its very definition is not compatible with equality.
Equality is the quality of being the same in quantity or measure or value or status. I realize that it has become politically correct to describe our LDS families as simultaneously patriarchal and equality-based. But this is linguistically impossible. (Whew. I’m having uncontrollable urges to type in all caps.) The Proclamation on the Family attempts to describe a family situation where fathers are responsible to preside and provide but at the same time both partners are obligated to help one another as equal partners.
In order to do this, Mormons attempt to change the definition of patriarchy to something that has little or no meaning. The patriarch in a family, they insist, does not hold the power or authority over his wife to the extent that it would negate her equality. Instead, he merely calls the family together for spiritual activities and invites a family member to say the prayer. As one blogger so succinctly stated it, “The patriarch is the presiderer, not the deciderer.” He further explains:
“Men and women are consider to be of equal status in the LDS church…Because childbirth and child-rearing tends to be spiritually sanctifying endevers for women, the priestood assigns men spiritual duties that they would not normally take on themselves… How does this presiding business affect decision-making? Not much. When my wife and I make a decision, we make it together. I would never just tell my wife, ‘I am the deciderer.’ In conclusion, God has given that men preside because of our lack of spiritual fitness. We need the exercize.”
Unfortunately, this blogger not only needs work on spelling words which begin with “e,” he also needs to look up the definition of the word “preside.” This word, far from softening the meaning of patriarchy, only serves to reinforce:
Preside — To occupy or hold a position of authority, as over a meeting. To possess or exercise power or control.
If the LDS Church is to move to a stance of equal partnership within the family, they really have no choice but to lose the words “patriarchal” and “preside” with respect to the position a husband holds in the home.
“But BiV,” you say. “We’ve been over this ground many times before. Why bring it up again?”
I bring it up because I fear that with the attempt to soften the rhetoric of patriarchy/presiding in the home and make it compatible with equality, our members are losing the sense that patriarchy is a social construct (see our definitions below). There is no necessity to consider patriarchy an eternal condition. I prefer to look at patriarchy as a negative effect of the Fall (thy desire shall be to thy husband and he shall rule over thee) which will be ameliorated in the eternal realm. President Spencer W. Kimball wrote a foreward to the Brigham Young University publication of Hugh W. Nibley’s discourse on the ideal of marriage in God’s Eden and stated:
“There is no patriarchy or matriarchy in the Garden; the two supervise each other … and [are] just as dependent on each other.”
We do not know exactly what Priesthood and Priestesshood will look like in a post-mortal condition. But we have been taught that equality will be restored. Elder James E. Talmage wrote:
“It is not given to woman to exercise the authority of the Priesthood independently; nevertheless, in the sacred endowments…woman shares with man the blessings of the Priesthood.” Talmage then hints at a greater sharing of priesthood in the next life: “When the frailties and imperfections of mortality are left behind, in the glorified state of the blessed hereafter, husband and wife will administer in their respective stations, seeing and understanding alike, and co-operating to the full in the government of their family kingdom.” (“The Eternity of Sex,” YW Journal 25 (October 1914): 602-603)
The shift to an equality-based home in recent times is commendable. I feel it more accurately represents the balance of power and oneness which will prevail in the eternal realms. A majority of two-parent LDS homes today are organized around an ideal expressed by Gordon B. Hinckley as follows:
“In this Church the man neither walks ahead of his wife nor behind his wife but at her side. They are coequals… Since the beginning, God has instructed mankind that marriage should unite husband and wife together in unity. Therefore, there is not a president or a vice president in a family. The couple works together eternally for the good of the family. They are united together in word, in deed, and in action as they lead, guide, and direct their family unit. They are on equal footing. They plan and organize the affairs of the family jointly and unanimously as they move forward.” ( Ensign, Nov. 1996, 49.)
If this egalitarian goal is to be accomplished, the competing words “patriarch” and “preside” must be eliminated from the description of family dynamics. They are not useful in encouraging the father to play a more active role in the spiritual life of his family. Instead, the rhetoric should change to more concisely describe the desired result. Why not urge fathers to become more involved in spiritual instruction, or to more enthusiastically model religious behaviors, if that is what we mean by “presiding?”
- A form of social organization in which the father is the supreme authority in the family, clan, or tribe (Random House Dictionary)
- A social system in which the father is the head of the family and men have authority over women and children. (The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language)
- A family or society in which authority is vested in males, through whom descent and inheritance are traced. (American Heritage New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy)
- Social system in which the father or a male elder has absolute authority over the family group; by extension, one or more men (as in a council) exert absolute authority over the community as a whole. (Encyclopedia Britannica)
- Social organization marked by the supremacy of the father in the clan or family, the legal dependence of wives and children, and the reckoning of descent and inheritance in the male line; broadly : control by men of a disproportionately large share of power (Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary)
- a society, system, or organization in which men have all or most of the power and influence (Macmillan Dictionary)