The Evolving Mormon Definition of Preside

dictionary definition of preside

Random House Websters College Dictionary defines “preside”

When I was single, my male counterparts in my student ward were repeatedly admonished to prepare to preside over their future homes. Such speeches troubled me.  What did that mean I was preparing for?  To step down as president of my own life and be demoted to a less responsible role?

I investigated the matter by doing a search of the term preside in the home at lds.org.  I found some scary results indeed and other less offensive articles that emphasized the equality of husband and wife.  I didn’t know what to make of this until I reorganized my results chronologically and saw that preside was a rapidly evolving term.

The oldest articles emphasized husband’s authority and wife’s mandated submission. The authors, who were almost invariably male, drew on examples from church and business hierarchy to explain why all organizations, even families, needed presidential leadership. It seemed as if they had not spent enough time at home to notice that families and corporations are not at all alike.  Perhaps this lack of perspective was a consequence of keeping the assigned president of the home out of it most of the time while only his wife labored inside the actual home.

Later articles suggested spouses should usually make decisions together, but gave presiding husbands a certain trump card to have their way when the two could not agree.

In the most recent articles I read, a radical new idea emerged that husbands and wives were “equal partners.” However, the paradoxical designation of husband as president continued.  If evolution continued at this rate, 24-year-old me predicted optimistically, that preside word would be out of Mormon dictionaries by the time I got married.

My prediction was off.  More than a decade later, the word preside lives on and doesn’t appear to be going away anytime soon.  It is just too hard for us Mormons to give up a word that is included in the Proclamation on the Family, a document that so many of us have printed onto pretty parchment paper and hung up in frames on our walls, making it more of a living scripture than any real scripture ever was.

It seems that we will keep using the term preside even if we have to completely redefine it in order to make the word compatible with modern Mormon marriages.  An article in the June 2012 Ensign redefined the word preside beautifully.  The article began with this cringe-worthy account:

As a marriage and family therapist in Victoria, Canada, I counseled with a couple, Bob and Mary (names have been changed), who often had disagreements when they tried to make decisions together. During one meeting Bob said to me, “I try to preside and get things done, but when I come up with ideas of what we need to do, she won’t sustain the priesthood!”

The author was appropriately mortified by Bob’s domineering attitude.  The rest of the article describes how he taught Bob the modern Mormon definition of preside, which currently involves such lovely concepts as egalitarian spousal decision-making.

I liked the marriage advice in the article, but I have mixed feelings about this way of dealing with that ugly preside word.  On one hand, perhaps redefining the word preside is the only way to get people like Bob to embrace egalitatian principles.  On the other hand, I wonder if Bob would have ever developed such a domineering attitude if the church had not confused him by telling him that he gets to preside at home.  Would dropping the word preside altogether be a more effective method to promote healthy, egalitarian marriages than trying to create our own definition for the word?  Or do we need to disguise modern, egalitarian ideas about marriage in outdated, patriarchal verbiage in order for such ideas to be accepted by the Mormon community?

For your reading pleasure, I have recreated my original experiment and included some of the quotes on presiding at home from lds.org, organized chronologically.

WARNING: Quotes at the beginning of this timeline make for painful reading.  Stick it out and the end is not so bad. However, I would argue that the status quo is still not good enough, since statements of spousal equality continue to be negated by problematic preside statements. And although church teachings on this topic have become more palatable over the years, it is an unfortunate truth that many old quotes live on, finding their way into more recent lesson manuals and speeches, even though they contradict the current doctrine of (almost) equal partnership in marriage.

February 1973 

…a Latter-day Saint husband or father presides over his wife and family in much the same way a bishop, stake president, or elders quorum president presides over the specific group to which he is called….Suppose you had two stake presidents, two elders quorum presidents, two Sunday School presidents, two Primary and Relief Society presidents presiding over each of the priesthood quorums, groups, and auxiliaries. How would the Church function? Would “law and order” prevail? Similarly, should two people preside over each other in a marriage, particularly when one holds the priesthood and has been divinely designated to preside?…When a wife challenges the right of her husband to officiate in the home, is it not a logical consequence that the children will challenge that right also?…

September 1982

…In the Lord’s system of government, every organizational unit must have a presiding officer. He has decreed that in the family organization the father assumes this role…the wife acts as a loving, knowledgeable counselor, helpmate, and partner…The husband must assume the role of leadership and see his wife as a knowledgeable counselor and partner in decision-making…If, ultimately, a husband must propose a course of action in the absence of complete agreement, he must sense the great responsibility in taking this role and should do so with great care…

April 1988

…Yet the family needs someone to preside, and the Lord has designated the father to fulfill that role.…Having one person designated as the presiding officer suggests order—not superiority. All important deliberations and decisions within the family should involve the husband and the wife equally, both interacting with gentleness and love unfeigned…Insistence on the decision-making right is undesirable for either the man or the woman. The couple should discuss their differences, candidly consider the pros and cons, then make a decision both can live with…

July 1989

…In the order of heaven, the husband has the authority to preside in the home. That issue is not subject to review. How he presides, however, is subject to review, and to correction, if necessary. Sometimes a husband may believe that his role as head of the house gives him a right to be exacting and to arbitrarily prescribe what his wife should do. But in a home established on a righteous foundation, the relationship of a man and a woman should be one of partnership. A husband should not make decrees. Rather, he should work with his wife until a joint decision palatable to both is developed…

May 1998

…In the home it is a partnership with husband and wife equally yoked together, sharing in decisions, always working together. While the husband, the father, has responsibility to provide worthy and inspired leadership, his wife is neither behind him nor ahead of him but at his side…

May 1998

…Is yours a culture where the husband exerts a domineering, authoritarian role, making all of the important decisions for the family? That pattern needs to be tempered so that both husband and wife act as equal partners, making decisions in unity for themselves and their family…


April Young Bennett

April Young Bennett is an advocate, mother, professional, lover of the arts, hater (but doer) of housework and seeker of truth. Twitter: @aprilyoungb

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50 Responses

  1. Cowgirl says:

    I’d noticed the slow evolution of ‘preside’ as well. Here’s an excellent article on the etymology of the word president: http://www.babeled.com/2009/01/29/word-power-president/. Preside comes from Latin and means defend, guard, watch, protect. Maybe we can encourage the redefinition of preside to its roots.

    • April says:

      Hmm…what if the Proclamation on the Family, second edition, changed the word “provide” to “defend”? I think I like that better, but I will have to think about it more.

      • Cowgirl says:

        Yeah, me too. And over even that I’d prefer “parents preside together”. But I won’t get that. So, in the meantime, I can at least confuse/defuse men with ideas about how they preside by pointing out what it means. Or meant. Long long ago.

    • vanners says:

      I think what is being witnessed in the “evolution” of articles is actually a change of emphasis, not the definition. Look back to Joseph Smith’s day and you will find emphasis similar to today.

      What has changed over the years is the direction given in response to common attitudes. In the 70s men were content to take a back seat and let their wives (recently “liberated” in the world, and feeling confident in their authority) to take charge. This male laziness towards the responsibilities they had in the home – often slinking into their den, or hiding behind the newspaper rather than engage – needed to be dealt with.

      Later, there was a problem with power hungry men who used these earlier talks out of context to justify unrighteous dominion. Talks were given to correct this.

      With both sides of the pendulum now accounted for we are back to the direction given by Joseph.

      God doesn’t change. The message given is always one that is intended to move his children towards His principles. Therefore it is just as important to understand the context of a message as to comprehend the message itself.

  2. MB says:

    I’m curious as to when this notion of “father presiding in the home” first was preached over an LDS pulpit and by whom.

    A quick search of LDS scriptures just finds “preside” in reference to the responsibilities of presidents of quorums in relationship to their fellow quorum members. Nothing in reference to men and their spouses or children.

    That leads me to wonder if we are now struggling with the poor choice of wording that someone started decades ago and that just got picked up as sounding good at the time and snowballed from there. What if that unknown first speaker had said “minister to” instead of “preside over”? Would that have made a difference? Or would we instead be discussing the various meanings given to the word “minister” as our understanding of divine relationships developed?

    What if that first speaker had used “rule” or “manage” as various versions of 1 Timothy 3:4-5 word it in discussing a father’s care of his household? Interesting to note that that word translated as “manage” or “rule” is, in that passage listed as a prerequisite for being able to “take care of” the church. And that phrase, “take care of” is translated from the Greek word, ἐπιμελήσεται. I think that Greek word is only found in one other place in the New Testament. It’s used to describe how the Good Samaritan “took care of” the wounded traveler while he was still with him at the inn. So perhaps the adoption of the word “rule” or “manage” in 1st Timothy centuries ago is a type of the problematic and land-mine strewn nature of the LDS adoption of the word “preside” in the Proclamation today.

    You can find references to fathers presiding in Clarke’s Bible Commentary which was written in 1831 and Exposition of the Entire Bible by John Gill which dates from the middle of the 1700s. Is this just a phraseology that was picked up by LDS leaders at some point because it was already in the Christian nomenclature? Anyway, I’d love to know how the use of “preside” in LDS sermons in regards to husbands and their relationship to their families first appeared. It would be fun to try to figure out why.

    • April says:

      I have wondered where it started too. And I have often heard benevolent men substitute nasty scriptural words like “rule” for “preside” because they feel that it sounds nicer.

  3. Richard_K says:

    Please do not take my comments as a dismissal of the authenticity of your post. I believe I am as aware of the issues and sympathetic to the feelings so oft expressed here and elsewhere about the oppressive nature of ecclesiastical patriarchy, as least as aware and sympathetic as any self-avowed male feminist can be. That said, while the word ‘Preside’ certainly means all that you have enumerated in this post, to me ‘preside’ has an ironic duality.

    My wife went to BYU Campus Education week earlier this year, while I took a week off work to be just Dad. As a Social Worker, she is naturally attracted to the study of relationship dynamics. She noted that in nearly every seminar and workshop, wives and mothers of all ages would lament, “How can I get my husband to take the lead in planning and participating in Family Home Evening, take the lead in morning and nightly family prayers and scripture study, take the lead and give regular personal priesthood interviews to each of the children; in short, how do I get my husband to preside in the home as the priesthood leader I want him to be?”

    I kind of laughed out loud at the irony of how some want more of what others want less of, but I told my wife, “What makes you think these men are not presiding faithfully in their homes? Just look at how ‘presiding’ has been modeled for them.”

    To my knowledge, in every ward church-wide, every member of the Bishopric in attendance during Sacrament Meeting must sit on the stand, not just the one conducting the meeting. What do the others do? Nothing, or preside, depending on how you look at it.

    In our stake, each member of the Stake Presidency sits on the stand during every Sacrament Meeting he attends in his home ward. What does he do while up there? Other than be the first to get the Sacrament, nothing, or preside, depending on how you look at it.

    In my last ward, the Stake President instructed the entire Elders Quorum Presidency to sit on a row of chairs placed behind the instructor at the head of the room and face the body of the quorum for the duration of the meeting. What did they do up there? Nothing, or preside, depending on how you look at it.

    While I acknowledge that the last two examples are not universal in their exercise church-wide, I suspect they may not be altogether uncommon. The point I’m trying to make is: More often than not, to ‘preside’ means to ‘do nothing.’

    Perhaps when the perception that presiding has no function becomes official, then the evolution its meaning will have fulfilled the measure of its creation, and those that do preside and those who don’t will have access to the same honor: Nothing.

    • Annie B. says:

      Early in my marriage I wondered the same thing–how to get my husband to preside in our home. It’s not really any surprise because I was raised in a household where my dad very much did preside, often crossing over into unrighteous dominion. And he often cited LDS doctrine to back himself up. It’s not uncommon to expect things that you’ve been taught to expect.

      After a time I realized there was nothing wrong with me calling on someone to pray, or me conducting interviews with my kids, and it wouldn’t upset the balance of the universe as I’d been taught growing up.

      I realized I didn’t want my husband to preside (a.k.a be more like my dad), I just wanted him to care as much about what goes on in our home/family traditions as I do. I wanted him to step up and help with the child care-taking when he got home, and help with the dishes after dinner. I think we only confuse men *and* women by continuing to use the word “preside” and “equal partnership” when we describe marriage. Just like we continue to confuse people by comparing presiding in a bishopric or other church leadership situation to the husband pseudo presiding in a marriage. Because in a church leadership situation, even if someone else is conducting the meeting while the bishop sits behind, the bishop is still very clearly in charge and expected to be the final word. And that is not how a marriage should be.

      • Jason Campbell says:

        Great point and that is exactly what President Packer pointed out. The difference between presiding in a church capacity and presiding in the home. In a ward or stake the bishop or stake president listens and solicits opinions from all involved and tries to arrive at a consensus, however ultimately he has the responsibility of the final decision. It is completely different in the home because a mother is entitled to revelation and guidance for her children and family equally with the father and they must come to a consensus on decisions made.

        “In the Church there is a distinct line of authority. We serve where called by those who preside over us.
        In the home it is a partnership with husband and wife equally yoked together, sharing in decisions, always working together. While the husband, the father, has responsibility to provide worthy and inspired leadership, his wife is neither behind him nor ahead of him but at his side.”

        General Conference address 1998

    • Kirsten says:

      I can see where you are coming from with the idea that preside=do nothing. Another way to look at it is preside=delegate. Often those in authority callings simply pass on the work to someone else to do. Naturally a bishop cannot do everything, but I think there are times when he could have more of an active role in things, but chooses to have someone else do it. Perhaps some men think, “well, I preside, therefore my wife can plan FHE, get the family to pray, read scriptures, etc.” I agree with Annie B. I think what those women who said they wanted their husbands to “step up and preside” really want is for their husbands to care and be an active participant in things. It gets hard being the one to plan and carry out all of the family activities. Doing nothing gets you nothing…

    • April says:

      Richard K, your comment made me laugh. I have also noticed that “presiding” frequently equals “doing nothing”.

    • amber_mtmc says:

      Haha, I like how preside = doing nothing. The examples you provided really did have me laughing.

    • Ziff says:

      I think presiding only looks like doing nothing so often because we (Church members) are so well-practiced at being presided over. Imagine what would happen if a speaker started preaching that we need to pray to Heavenly Mother. Or what would happen if one of the young women jumped up to help the deacons pass the sacrament. You would see a whole lot of evidence of who was presiding. And it wouldn’t be the Relief Society President.

    • Michael V says:

      Priceless & very perceptive on “doing nothing” on the stand, “Presiding” !!

  4. DefyGravity says:

    Thanks for writing this up. Presiding is a concept I’ve struggled with for a while, and have yet to have anyone define it for me. My dad seems to think it doesn’t mean anything, except maybe to ask someone to pray (who is free to say no.) So my question is, if it doesn’t really mean anything, why is the church clinging to it so desperately? I think you laid the problem out well; church leaders seem to want to teach equality in relationships, but seem unable to drop the word preside. They seem to want preside to mean to be involved and invested in your family, but continue to use a word that creates a system of dominance. It seems like they’re stuck in a rut they can’t get out of, while some men use the concept of presiding to dominate and abuse their families. It’s a sticky situation.

    • April says:

      Funny you should mention that, because when I was studying this back at age 24, I asked my very Mormon Dad about how he thought “husband presides in the home” should be applied, and his answer was, “I can’t think of any way to apply that.” He recommended that I ignore that particular doctrine(?).

  5. Dave K. says:

    Very insightful article. Thank you. As I have wrestled with this issue, I have come to believe that what the church really needs is an express affirmation that women have an equal responsibility to preside. That is where we are heading, and in fact where many couples are now, but as a church culture we currently over-emphasize the need for “equality” at the expense of teaching the need for presiding.

    As a local leader in the church, I readily see the need for men to preside. In fact, I see many more instances where men need to step up and provide leadership and guidance than I do instances where men excerise unrighteous dominion. I love that the proclamation teaches men to preside. I wish it also taught that role for women. But just because it does not (yet!) does not mean we can’t move forward. We can refer to the RSP, YWP, and PP by their correct titles – “President.” We can teach those within their stewardship that these women preside and have equal rights to leadership and revelation in their sphere as any other president. And we teach our youth – both young women and young men – that they will each preside in multiple capacities during their lives – none more important than the home.

    • KLC says:

      Dave, I’ve had it with church leaders telling me I need to “step up”, meaning whatever bee they currently have in their bonnet. To all of you I say, “step back”, stop inserting your authority into my family and into my life, if I need your help I’ll ask.

      • Diane says:

        Dave K
        I support KlC comment, often times mens’ stepping up in the church especially over a single female sister comes at a price for single sisters. The price that I’m speaking of is “Unrighteous dominion” Leaders like yourself don’t see it as “unrighteous dominion,” because you think you want think of yourselves as being righteous men doing God’s work, and for some of men in the church, I might say that would be true, but, for a majority I say nay. Its very nuanced. But, I can tell you from personal experience, that when these men take the word”preside” to heart they really don’t want to be called to the carpet and local leadership usually supports them and this is why there is a majority of single sisters leaving or have already left the church.

        At 47 I was perfectly capable of running my own single household and for any unrelated man trying to tell me how to run that household simply because he has priesthood is horse manure and I don’t have a problem saying it.

        April, this is very thought provoking. thank you

      • I’m confused. When did DaveK, or any of the quotes in this article, say anything about presiding anywhere but within marriage? No one has said men should be presiding more outside their marriage. DaveK was simply giving his own experience in what he was hearing from the women of his ward/stake, which, if is a good sampling of the Church as a whole, is a good reason for the Priesthood session of conference to bring it up so often.

        It has been given repeatedly in conference that in the case of a single sister, -she- is the presiding authority in her home, not whomever may happen to come by with the Priesthood. It has also been given more and more often, as the post shows, that the parties in a marriage are to be considred equal partners, and that “preside” in this context does not at all have the same meaning as in the Church.

        We should not drive the conversation into something it isn’t.

    • KLC says:

      Also, the correct title for the RSP, YWP and PP is “sister”, just like the correct title for the bishop, YMP and EQP is “brother”, although I’m fine with calling the HPGL “exalted leader”. Consult the New Testament for more information.

    • Annie B. says:

      I think that’s a great point actually. Teach that husbands and wives should c0-preside in their home. I think that would actually help eliminate situations that Diane and tresut mention. If church leaders understand that women are as much the spiritual authorities in their home as men are, or co-presiders, then maybe home teachers or bishops would be less likely to think they need to insert themselves as the priesthood-holding sponsor of that household when there is not a husband present.

    • April says:

      I agree with Dave K. The proclamation mandate for fathers to “preside” would not offend me if it said, “fathers and mothers preside together.”

  6. Diane says:

    Frank,

    Just because I’m speaking as a single sister does not mean this conversation of the word preside does not impact me or my existence when I still a member of the church.
    The fact of the matter is you are correct single sisters should “preside” in their own home, but, in my case my home teacher, always thought he “presided,” and he in as much told me so in an email when he said that he had the right to tell me things because and I quote,” He was once the Branch President and is allowed to tell me things” those were his words, not mine. So, yes, my statement in the conversation is very much relevant because I’m sure, I’m not the only single/ married/ divorced sister where this has happened. And where local leadership have refused to do anything about the issue, precisely because of the word”preside”

    • tresut says:

      I also had a home teacher that had that same miss guided idea. My way of dealing with his unwanted advice/counsel was to politely say “that is an interesting thought” and then proceed to do whatever I was planning on doing. I was a mature, intelligent, educated divorced mother with two good kids (now single adults attending college) that I had raised by myself. I did not need my home teacher’s approval for any of the plans I had for my children. There was not ONE time when I went against his advice that things did not turn out well. I really think as women sometimes the best way to deal with these stupid situations is just to let it go in one ear and out the other. Continue doing what we know we should be doing. Have confidence in yourself and toss aside bad advice even when it comes with the “presiding” heading.

  7. Annie B. says:

    Excellent point. And really interesting to see the quotes from different dates lined up chronologically like that. I’m so glad that more recent teachings emphasize that a marriage is an equal partnership. Although it is still very disheartening to see remnants of the “husband presides” ideology in temple covenants and elsewhere in doctrine. I sometimes wonder if they keep the “husbands preside” idea because it’s one of the biggest ideologies that justifies Joseph Smith carrying on with polygamy without Emma’s consent. And of course, if church leaders acknowledged that husbands and wives preside equally then D&C 132 would have to be recanted.

    I agree that the next step in the right direction would be to stop designating the husband as the presiding authority of the home, *OR* designate both husband and wife as equal presiding authorities in the home. I actually think the latter is preferable. How much less confusing that would be for both men and women. It would still hold men to their responsibilities as husbands and fathers (many already claim that’s the sole purpose for the ideology anyway) but it would also empower wives to preside where husbands either aren’t able to, or are not present. How wonderful would it be if church leaders recognized that a single mother is just as capable of presiding with Godly authority and sanction in her home as a single father is, without an outside priesthood authority thinking he needs to step in and fill the role of priesthood holder of the home.

    • April says:

      While I like the idea of applying the preside word to both men and women, I would like to see it applied more broadly than to just single women or women whose husbands are not present. I want to be empowered to co-preside even when my husband is around. Actually, I am empowered to do that, but I would like the church to acknowledge that power, and not say that my husband is the real president.

      • Annie B. says:

        I agree that if we apply “preside” to both husband and wife we should apply it in all situations, not just single women/mothers.

    • April says:

      That is an interesting idea about presiding as an excuse for Joseph Smith’s extramarital behavior. Particularly considering that since they stopped giving men a trump card to make decisions alone sometime in the 90’s, I would argue that current doctrine already condemns such actions.

      • Annie B. says:

        Yeah, that’s probably true about the trump card cease in the early 90’s. Although that still leaves the language in the temple covenants, the proclamation on the family, and other scriptures, which many people feel hold more weight than even countless marriage and family classes and conference talks. My husband tends to go back and forth between “Well I’m not forcing polygamy on you so why is it a big deal that the temple ceremonies, proclamation on the family, and scriptures still designate me as the presiding authority in our home?” and “I’m commanded to preside so I don’t become a wayward lost sheep and I’m trying to live up to that by claiming priesthood authority in this situation.” So in my own marriage at least, it’s obviously still pretty confusing.

      • Annie B. says:

        But now that I think about it, most members aren’t even aware that J.S. pulling the priesthood holder trump card is how polygamy wend down. Or aren’t aware of (or don’t acknowledge as valid) any of the records that support that chain of events, like sealing record dates between J.S. and plural wives that preclude any recorded mention of polygamy by J.S. to Emma, and numerous letters and journal entries of J.S’s plural wives confiding that their marriage was not known of by Emma. Those sources seem to have been swept from acknowledgment from the main body of the church even though in earlier days they were often cited in LDS church publications as faith promoting stories of hardship and faith.

        I sometimes wonder if very high up church leaders are aware of all those things and are just wrestling with how to reconcile it with current teachings.

    • DTR says:

      Many are already familiar with this statement from 2004, but it bears repeating.

      There is not a president and vice president in a family. We have co-presidents working together eternally for the good of their family . . . They are on equal footing. They plan and organize the affairs of the family jointly and unanimously as they move forward.
      –Elder L. Tom Perry

  8. amber_mtmc says:

    Great post, April. The Mormon notion of “preside” was very confusing to me when I first got married. My husband is a very egalitarian-focused man but felt conflicted in supporting my wants/needs and following the Church’s guidelines. I felt like I couldn’t voice my opinions regarding what I wanted to do because I needed to listen to his Priesthood guidance. It was frustrating for both of us.

    I feel like applying the term preside to families often places women in childish roles with their domineering husbands. (I realize this is not an original idea within the Bloggernacle.) The small change you mentioned, going from men preside to husbands and wives preside together, within the PoF would explain things so much better within the marriage dynamic, IMO.

  9. Emily U says:

    April – I really enjoyed your experiment and your writing about it. I fail to see any usefulness in the word “preside,” but if we are stuck with it then I agree with you and DaveK that including mothers in the presiding would make things right.

    The idea that every organization needs a single leader is alive and well, as we all know. Not too long ago someone in my ward said “every ship has a captain, every orchestra has a conductor, every football team has a coach, so…” To which my answer is, well, if your family is the size of a ship’s crew, full orchestra, or football team, then maybe you do need a presider. But that’s not how human families are!

    I think if we got rid of the word preside that would go a long way to getting rid of this kind of thinking. And I think the rank-and-file membership would go along with it. My impression is that the membership so reveres the general authorities that they will easily endorse new ideas from them. I hate the excuse that the general authorities can’t introduce a concept until the members are “ready” for it. Why not? Why not show leadership, and be the ones holding a candle on a hill?

    • MB says:

      I vote we replace “preside” altogether in all situations that are not quorum related (we still would have to deal with it in quorums as that’s the word used in that context in the Doc. & Cov.)

      What to use instead? How about “love and serve”. You could replace “nurture” in the proclamation with that as well if you think it would help.

      “Love and serve” might succinctly cover Jesus’ remarks in the New Testament about misguided ideas on leadership as well as much of the last part of section 121, both of which are essential to the discussion at hand.

  10. Ziff says:

    Great post, April! I particularly like how you looked at the changes across time. Certainly the examples you put up show well the change from frank, open presiding being preached, to more of a chicken presiding, if you will.

    What I found bizarre about October’s Conference is that it seemed like lots of General Authorities went out of their way to talk about husbands “presiding as equal partners with their wives,” as though putting “presiding” and “equal partners” together enough times will somehow clarify the opposing terms. I agree with all y’all who would prefer that it be said that wives preside too if we’re going to say husbands preside. I suspect GAs don’t want to make this change, though, because probably a lot of them still believe in old-fashioned preside = rule over, and they don’t want any darn women presiding too. That would ruin all the fun.

  11. Saint Mark says:

    We’ve talked about this issue on our site and I think my understanding of “preside” is not that it is an archaic and “nothing” term. To me, “preside” means to serve, to coordinate service in the home, to support, to encourage, to love, to apply D&C 121, to persuade, to inspire, to counsel with my wife and move forward in unity, and to lead. Does this mean my wife cannot have revelation or inspiration for our family? No. Does this mean she cannot teach an FHE lesson or gather the family for scripture study? No. Does this mean I can alleviate some of the stress and demands on her own time by being a helpmeet to her as well? Yes.

    It’s true that “preside” has many negative connotations but I think men and women can instead seek the godly in its meaning and its application. Just because a term or phrase is absent does not mean it does not exist, i.e. women can protect and provide for their families as well. So why can’t they preside, too? (see The Family: A Proclamation to the World)

    • April says:

      None of the words you used to describe what preside means to you are found in the literal definition. If you refer to the image of the actual dictionary definition I included in my post, you will see words like place of authority, control, and management. I find the word preside to be completely incompatible with an egalitarian spousal relationship not because of its negative connotations, but because the actual, literal definition of the word really is incompatible with egalitarianism. It is, literally, a word about hierarchy. That said, I agree with you that if people only applied it in the way LDS church leaders have been using it in their sermons during the past decade or so, it would not be a problem. Of course, in that case, you are applying the definition that they have made up, not the real English language definition. Which brings us back to the original question of my post: Does it make sense to try to change the English dictionary, or should we just stop using the word because it doesn’t mean what we want to say?

  12. Meg says:

    I like what you’re saying here. Though my parents filled more traditional family roles, they always have had a very equal marriage. As a teenager, there was one experience I had within my family that will forever mean “preside” to me.
    One day, I got into a pretty harsh fight with my mom. My dad sat us down, listened to both of us, and mediated the problem with power, skill and grace. My mother, though completely capable of this in her egalitarian marriage, never did this.
    To me, that is the image I see when I think of a father “presiding”. Not in trumping, or in making all the decisions (because heaven knows that would never have flown), but in being the one to maintain order and mediate while everyone discusses; and maybe even passing judgement when the situation calls for it.
    My dad wasn’t raised LDS, so I don’t know where he learned that, but I think that’s what it means to preside. And if we, as a church, are teaching that that is a priesthood responsibility, I hope the men are being taught those skills in their quorums and trainings.

  13. Dan says:

    What about the role of children. Shouldn’t they have an equal voice in the home? The role of mom and dad seems obvious but kids have rights too. Just because the parents came first, why aren’t my ideas and my voice just as reasonable. why can’t I have a vote in the family? I am often just as smart as my parents and am often more right. how can they claim the right to preside if it just means that everyone gets the same voice.

    • Olea says:

      Yep. I work with small children, and the only way it makes sense to me to keep the word “preside” is to take the “master is servant” approach. If we have marriages where each tries to out-serve each other, that sounds like a good start to me. (Obviously not in the sense of scoring points, in the sense of “I’m so grateful for this person, how can I make their life easier?”). And not just marriages, but everyone within the family. Parents should serve children so much more, because children are more vulnerable. Family structures often allow children’s voices to be ignored. We need to work against that, with the first putting themselves last, and helping the last become the first.

      Just like good management means that managers focus on the goal [making a kick-A iPhone | family unity] and provide every resource they possibly can to meet that goal.

      But I’m all for ditching the word, too 😉

  14. James F says:

    Thanks for this!! I’ve been wondering for a while about the inherent contradiction of ‘preside’ and ‘equal partners’. The only reasonable explanation that I’ve heard is that the Proclamation was written by a committee, not a single author. It makes sense to me that the Brethren may have different opinions about patriarchy in the home. This helps put the current teachings in historical context.

  15. Ryan W says:

    I appreciate your attempt to list quotes that give the appearance that the Church is evolving on the definition for men presiding in the home, but I don’t understand how you overlooked a more recent quote from April 2010 general conference from Pres. Packer.

    Pres. Packer

    “President Joseph F. Smith made this statement about the priesthood in the home: “In the home the presiding authority is always vested in the father, and in all home affairs and family matters there is no other authority paramount. To illustrate this principle, a single incident will perhaps suffice. It sometimes happens that the elders are called in to administer to the members of a family. Among these elders there may be presidents of stakes, apostles, or even members of the first presidency of the Church. It is not proper under these circumstances for the father to stand back and expect the elders to direct the administration of this important ordinance. The father is there. It is his right and it is his duty to preside. He should select the one who is to administer the oil, and the one who is to be mouth in prayer, and he should not feel that because there are present presiding authorities in the Church that he is therefore divested of his rights to direct the administration of that blessing of the gospel in his home. (If the father be absent, the mother should request the presiding authority present to take charge.) The father presides at the table, at prayer, and gives general directions relating to his family life whoever may be present.”

    https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2010/04/the-power-of-the-priesthood?lang=eng

    • I wasn’t attempting to give any certain appearance. I was just explaining an experiment I conducted in the year 2000, when I was a member of a single student ward with questions about the meaning of the term, “preside in the home.” I think it would be very interesting to recreate this experiment, updating with quotes from the last 15 years. Maybe I will do that for an upcoming post.

      I think that this quote you posted illustrates a few important things:

      1. Not everyone in church leadership redefines preside in the home in the more egalitarian way advocated by other church leaders. By keeping the phrase, even if some church leaders redefine it, room is made for non-egalitarian ideals to continue to be taught from the pulpit.

      2. The way we use old quotes in our modern curriculum and talks also allows old ideas to persist. In this quote, words of a long-dead church leader are brought back to life, overruling more recent ideas from more egalitarian-minded leaders and absolving the current speaker from taking personal responsibility for the un-woman-friendly content of his talk, since he is just quoting someone else. This kind of issue is a big problem with the Presidents of the Church manual series as well.

      3. This quote is particularly egregious because of this line: “If the father be absent, the mother should request the presiding authority present to take charge.” Not only does this say that a mother does not preside in her own home in partnership with her husband, but it adds that even if the husband is not present, she still does not have the privilege of presiding in her own home, but instead requests that someone else take charge as presiding authority.

      • Ryan W says:

        When The President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles uses “words of a long-dead church leader”, he is re-affirming the doctrine taught in the old quote. He is not absolving himself from responsibility, he is stating nothing has changed.

        The reason I used his quote was because you quoted Pres. Packer in the second to last quote in your evolving list.

        Your second to last quote from Pres. Packer:

        “…In the home it is a partnership with husband and wife equally yoked together, sharing in decisions, always working together. While the husband, the father, has responsibility to provide worthy and inspired leadership, his wife is neither behind him nor ahead of him but at his side…”

        When he says equal, he is not talking about equally presiding. If he did mean that from your 1998 quote of him (which I don’t think he did), than he corrected it by the 2010 quote that I provided.

        The Church is not a grass-roots organization, it never has and never will be. It has always been a top down from the begging of the world. The top being Jesus Christ.

  16. danebarbchap says:

    well said. My husband and I have been struggling with this over 30 yrs! Perhaps each couple must study this out and very openly, sincerely, unselfishly and honestly come to an agreement. Isn’t that what intelligent beings do? Well, after 30 years we are sharing together again tonight and this will add to our discussion. Thanks.

  1. January 6, 2013

    […] KLC, commenting on April’s post “The Evolving Mormon Definition of Preside” at the Exponent: Also, the correct title for the RSP, YWP and PP is “sister”, just like the correct title for the bishop, YMP and EQP is “brother”, although I’m fine with calling the HPGL “exalted leader”. Consult the New Testament for more information. […]

  2. September 2, 2015

    […] then fine. But then, can it institutionally at least be consistent about this instead of hedging?  Others have written about the history and evolution of the term “preside” in the church as it relates to women and men, where the church in more recent years has attempted to present as […]

  3. July 23, 2016

    […] and policy certainly did their part to help this guy’s male chauvinist attitudes to thrive.  While LDS rhetoric about men presiding at home has softened over the years, LDS authorities continue to teach that men preside in the home.  The inclusion of this rhetoric […]

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