Sisters Speak: Preside Vs. Equal Partnership
The Proclamation on the Family asserts that fathers should “preside over their families,” but two sentences later, it asserts that fathers and mothers are to act as “equal partners.” According to Webster’s Dictionary, the term ‘preside’ means to exercise direction, guidance or control and to occupy a place of authority. So how can Mormon couples be equal partners while the man presides? Are the two ideas mutually exclusive, or is there a way to interpret the terms so that they are compatible? How does presiding and equal partnership play out in your marriage or the marriages of those around you?
On a personal note, I was interested to learn in my feminist theology classes that the preside vs. equal partnership debate is alive and well in other Christian Protestant churches. They use different language, however. For them it’s “male headship” vs. “equal regard.” The scriptural texts they particularly cite for male headship are the ones by Paul in which he claims that man is the head of woman.
Mormon origins for presiding seem to not be so clearly linked to Paul. Given our endowment ceremony, it seems to me that Mormons take the presiding idea back to the post-fall model described by God to Adam and Eve. This has never made much sense to me, however, since it’s clear to me that God is talking about natural consequences of the fall now that Adam and Eve will be navigating a fallen, sinful world, not God’s ideal model of relationality between men and women. Man’s dominance over woman is, in my mind, a powerful symbol of that fallen sinful state, one that we should be working to overcome. So why Mormon rhetoric holds up hierarchy between husbands and wives as ideal (albeit paradoxically coupled with injunctions about equal partnership) is puzzling to me.
Please share your thoughts on the above question. I may email some of you to ask for permission to quote you in the Exponent II Sisters Speak article on this topic. Thank you!