This Still Really Happens? A Sacrament Talk On Obedience Goes Terribly Wrong


A couple of weeks ago in Sacrament Meeting, a couple in their late thirties or early forties gave talks on obedience to God. The man’s talk was progressing along typical lines, and I was half listening as usual when I suddenly was shocked into attention.

He blithely stated (I’m paraphrasing here), “I really admire my wife because she’s so obedient. For example, whenever I ask her to do something, she obeys immediately and without question.”

What! He did NOT just say that! My mind screamed. How could someone so shamelessly admit that his wife obeys him over the pulpit? And in a talk that was supposed to be about obedience to God!

This incident brought up a few issues for me that I am still trying to wrap my mind around. Firstly, When the outrageous statement was made, my husband and I looked at each other with wide eyes. There was a flurry of whispers between us. And then we looked around the congregation to see if others were equally shocked and appalled. But as my husband later said, it was like a bomb that went off, but no one heard. The lack of reaction from everyone else makes me now wonder, am I an abnormal Mormon because I think it is incredibly unwise, insensitive, and just jaw-droppingly awful to publicly voice such an idea, even if you privately think it? (In my mind, such a statement about women is almost equivalent to saying something racist in public, given the historical oppression that both women and people of color have endured. For goodness sake, even if you think that way, don’t admit it publicly.)

Secondly, just how prevalent are ideas like this? Do any of you actually know couples that conduct their marriages like this? And I’m not talking about 80 year old couples. These speakers were relatively young and professional.

Thirdly, why haven’t people such as the speaker moved along with the times? And is it wrong of me to expect them to? I realize that there have been statements about women obeying their husbands from Church leaders of the past, and of course, there is the unfortunate (from my perspective) hearken covenant in the temple. But most youngish couples I know consider those past statements as reflective of their historical time period. These couples I know are much more likely to focus on the equal partnership idea that is now so often talked about in General Conference. And even if these couples agree that the man presides in some fashion, none of the ones I know interpret presiding to mean getting your wife to obey you.

In conclusion, I’m dazed, appalled, and almost a tiny bit amused by this incident. (Don’t ask me why.) I’m probably coming off as super-judgmental here, which I feel guilty about. I really am a pluralist who believes in different strokes for different folks, but there are some places I draw the line, at least publicly. Do any of you understand where I’m coming from, or am I expecting unreasonable things from people?

Caroline

Caroline is a PhD student in Women's Studies in Religion and mother of three.

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  1. Téa says:

    I understand where you’re coming from, Caroline. Had I been the one hearing this utterance in Sacrament meeting, I’d be sore from my eyes popping and jaw dropping–and I know my husband would be just as floored.

    First issue–I would hope that there were others who would be similarly outraged, but maybe they were zoned out/more distracted than the two of you =) Or they’re used to being quietly amused/shocked when others make a variety of wild or insensitive statements.

    Second & Third–Thinking about it, I do know some younger couples whose relationship dynamic is off-balance by the standard of equal partnership. It’s generally a case of “well, this is how my/his dad and mom did it and it works for them”. In other words, the wife is at his beck and call unless she’s on doctor ordered bedrest.

    I suppose the fact that I’m friends with women whose husbands lean/lie in that camp effect shows I’m somewhat tolerant of that stroke for them. I have to wonder if they don’t understand that being/having a Stepford Wife *isn’t* cause for admiration.
    I think “what a shame for both of them” if that’s the (best? only?)compliment he gives her over the pulpit.

    In conclusion, if you’re abnormal, count me in =D

  2. Ian says:

    It seems a little weird that he would say something like that over the pulpit. I think htat there are many young couples that have that kind of dynamic in their marriage. It amazes me too. A friend of mine just got a divorce over it (she’s not a member of the church).

    I think though, that from a certain point of view, my wife is pretty obedient to me as well. Of course, I would never ask her to do anything unreasonable. On the same note, I am pretty obedient to my wife as she would never ask me to do anything unreasonable.

  3. AmyB says:

    Is there any possibility that he was joking? I would have been just as outraged and appalled upon hearing that statement. My husband has done considerable scripture searching on the topic of obedience and has come to the conclusion that one does not obey people, one obeys laws/commandments.

    The idea of a husband or wife being “obedient” to the other, and additionally, that any of us should “obey” church leaders makes me cringe. I feel very stronly about my agency and will not cede the authority to decide for myself over to anyone.

  4. Starfoxy says:

    I agree that there are many younger couples who have similar dynamics. I think the root cause for much of this is because they saw their parents act like this, and also because the ‘wife as homemaker’ teachings lend themselves to this sort of thinking. It’s very common to me to see a woman who is a SAHM mom thinking of the things she is asked to do as a mother as things she does just for her husband. For instance a woman might think “I need to have dinner ready for dad when he gets home,” instead of “I need to have dinner ready for all of us so when can eat when we are all at home.” Just that change in wording reflects a huge change in attitude. My mom never made dinner for her family or herself, she *always* made dinner for my dad.

  5. Dave says:

    Marriage is a flexible institution — so yes there are some couples who take a very traditional, conservative view of marriage and I guess it works for them. Announcing it at the pulpit in a sacrament talk in the 21st century might be a little gauche, but in a church that still has D&C 132 in the canon, it’s hard to call anything out of place over the pulpit.

    I also think it’s wrong to read too much into what one hears in Sacrament Meeting. Since just about anyone is invited to give LDS talks, however uninformed and uninspiring, of course we hear a few zingers. I’m surprised we don’t hear more. Who really cares how one Mormon couple among thousands chooses to define their respective marital roles?

  6. Caroline says:

    Hi Tea,
    Glad to know I’m not the only one shocked by such a comment. 🙂

    Ian,
    I think I’m fine with couples being obedient to each other (though the word does set my teeth on edge) as long as it’s mutual. So it sounds to me like you and your wife have what I would consider a healthy relationship.

    Amyb,
    I wish joking were a possibility. But I have no doubt at all that he was entirely serious. I like the idea that we obey commandments/laws, but not people. Though I imagine one exception might be God?

    Starfoxy,
    I think you may be right that the “wife as homemaker” idea does feed into the idea of women obeying husbands. Ugh.

    Dave, yes, the perils of having a lay ministry do include hearing crazy things from the pulpit. I supppose I care in this instance about the way this couple defined their marriage roles because I just find it offensive to all women. (I’m not sure yet why I’m not able to isolate it and just find it offensive to that particular wife.) And I would hate for new members/visitors to get the idea that this is the ideal of Mormon marriage.

  7. Robin says:

    It wasn’t that long ago that one of our sacrament meeting speakers told us that when he and his wife were still dating, he made her stop wearing high heels because men can’t marry women who are taller or smarter than they are. Didn’t get much of a reaction in our ward either, not even from his wife, who I thought had been seriously dissed. Clearly, old habits (attitudes) die hard. And I don’t mean to sound flip here. I think it’s a sad commentary.

  8. jana says:

    robin:

    that’s nearly as bad as a couple I know where the husband told his wife that if she didn’t keep wearing the same small size of clothing that she wore when they married (I think it was a size 4), she would get no new clothes. She had several children and worked _very_ hard at the gym to maintain her slim shape.
    such demands, IMO, are abusive.

  9. claire says:

    Jana, that makes me ill.

  10. Barbara says:

    To me, the most important aspect of this conversation is whether the “obedient” wife feels subservient. It is one thing to love someone and strive to make them happy and serve them with love and respect – whether it be a spouse, children or the Lord. It is an entirely different thing to render that service with a feeling of subservience. The question we should be asking is not whether she is obedient, but how she feels about that obedience.

  11. amelia says:

    while i agree, barbara, that the wife’s perspective on the matter is important, i think that it’s not the end of the discussion. even if someone is accepting of a role, that doesn’t mean the role is right or good. it simply means that the person has found a way to accept the role–either by thinking it through or because it was just always already okay.

    while this woman (or other women in a similar position) may not consciously identify their position as one of subservience, the fact remains that it is one of subservience. to be expected to obey another person is to be below them in some way. if that relationship is not reciprocal so that the husband is also expected to obey the wife, then there is an inherent inequity. and that, i have no doubt, creates serious subconscious side effects–side effects that perpetuate themselves as this couple functions as teachers and role models in their family and ward.

  12. a spectator says:

    Unfortunatly, I think there are couples of ALL ages who have a marriage such as this. At BYU, I saw numerous men displaying these kinds of attitudes and seeming to search out women who could fit that role. They seemed to be the kind who wouldn’t marry an RM sister, and instead wanted someone younger, less ambitious, less traveled, less educated, less academic, less experienced. I thought of this as a way they had to ensure that their wife was somehow inferior and therefore less likely to question. Seems far from ideal to me.

    It seems that the close of your Sacrament would have been a perfect opportunity for the bishop to stand up and briefly say something about obedience that would make it clear that it is not part of a spousal relationship. I think this is necessary not for the members of your ward (who probably don’t put much stock into what each other say) but for visitors for whom this is their introduction to us. Sad if that opportunity was not taken.

  13. Caroline says:

    Barbara, like Amy, I do agree that the wife’s perspective is important. (And I have talked to this woman before. It has indeed been difficult for her to deal with this attitude of her husband’s.)

    But I also agree with Amy that it’s disturbing even if she has peacefully accepted it. I firmly believe that everyone should be striving towards respect and true partnership in a marriage, and if a woman is obeying her husband, I just don’t see that happening. (I feel bad about judging this system of marriage as worse than my ideal system of marriage – I’m a pluralist after all – but I just can’t help feeling that it truly is morally Wrong from a God’s truth perspective.)

    Spectator, ugh. I’m glad I was not around that type of environment when I was single. Would have made me VERY angry. And I agree that it would have been wonderful for the bish to get up and say something about equal partnership in marriage afterwards, for the visitors’ and new members’s sake if for nothing else.

  14. dangermom says:

    I think my eyes would have popped out of my head had I heard that in Sacrament meeting–but then I’m often distracted by the kids, so maybe I just wouldn’t have heard it at all. Maybe the rest of the congregation just wasn’t listening?

    I can’t say that I know of anyone who lives that way. I’m sure some do, but I don’t know about it. But I’m not all that observant.

  15. Island Queen says:

    Wow! I would’ve been shocked too! This is a great topic. I too struggle with that. My DH – as wonderful as he is – comes from a very male dominant cultrue. We butted heads the first 2 years of our marriage so much that I thought .. “What did I get myself into?”. Now things are much better and we both pick our battles more carefully. His views have changed a lot. It comes from maturity sure, but also comes from living in America and seeing our way here.

    It is still a struggle though but thankfully his ideas don’t come from a religeous point of view – I don’t think it would’ve worked out if he demanded I obey him because he had the Priesthood (I’ve heard of women [older than me] who have hubby’s like that).

    I’m curious to know if the wife smacked the husband in the car or at home in private? … or at all.

  16. Thoroughly Mormon Millie says:

    Hubby and I would have fallen off our pews in shock and cracked jokes all the way home, had this information been revealed in our Sacrament meeting.

    “Obey,” in a marriage? The word “obey” denotes a parent-child or a master-animal relationship: one gives orders, the other takes them. How can two married people possibly obey each other? By taking turns?

    No wife submits to her husband without first choosing to do so (and vice versa). If a woman is married to that kind of Neanderthal and puts up with it, that is her choice, but I don’t want to hear complaints from her or bragging from him – especially from the pulpit. I’m sure there are couples in my ward who practice the “obey” thing, but I don’t want to know who they are, and if I did, I certainly would not choose them for friends. They might give Hubby the wrong idea.

  17. Noelie says:

    I know sometimes my exhusband would come up against the wall of thinking that he had the right to demand that I “obey” to his way of thinking. It would be an interesting struggle during these usually heated moments, as it would lead to situations like him locking me in a room until I could “behave”.

    This makes him sound worse that he is, struggling as he does against understanding his world because of severe braindamage due to epilepsy, but obedience is an interesting idea. What is it that we should be “obedient” to? His every whim, or his righteous requests?

  18. Anonymous says:

    Think about the covenant we make in the endowment in the temple with respect to Adam and Eve and the word hearken. Isn’t Eve supposed to hearken unto Adam?Hearken means to listen, to heed, or, in other words, to obey! Read the family proclamation. I think it is wonderful that a woman can place enough trust in her husband to hearken to his council! The problem here is that if it were a woman giving this talk and saying that her husband was obedient because when she asked him to do something, he would do it without question, there would be no problem. In fact, most women would be jealous of the woman! Give the man a break!

  19. Anonymous says:

    Best regards from NY! »

  20. Pete from Slough says:

    In all honesty, I would say the same about my wife.
    But I would also feel that she could say the same about me!
    That’s what marriage is about – trust and service. It’s all part of the love we supposedly demonstrate through the act of marriage.