Small Group Dynamics

IMG_0461.JPGFar and away, when I am in a small group and decisions need to be made, most people would prefer that someone else make them.  There are notable, and loud, exceptions.  Four year olds, for example, very much want to make decisions.  But for most  adults, I’ve found that the majority typically  prefer that someone else ponied up and decided where we go to eat or in what order things will occur.[1]  This is because, one presumes, they are not so concerned about the exact decision making them happy.  They are generally willing to go along with most reasonable things.

Let me stop and remind you that this is my general experience.  Perhaps you live in a world of sharp elbows and loud demands.  Perhaps you teach fourth graders or lawyers or interact regularly in some other highly vocal and demanding group.  Or maybe you make lots of high stakes decisions on a regular basis where people care deeply about the outcome.  But let’s set those aside for a minute and talk about the endless low stakes decisions of day to day living.

In such relaxed groups, it can be very handy to declare that some specific person will make the decision.  It is not quite as important who that is, and they should, of course, consider the feelings of others, but they are the one who makes sure something gets decided; usually by agreeing with a consensus view or deciding between two fairly close alternatives or whatever.  That person is the leader, even if they aren’t the king or the dictator.  They don’t actually need to be particularly impressive to do this job.  They need to be willing and they need to make decisions.

Among the many ways of thinking about how a father leads a family through the priesthood, this is perhaps one way that might be more important than we realize.  Fathers are to make sure that general passivity doesn’t mean that the family business is overlooked.  Prayers are said morning and night.  Family home evening happens in a coherent way.  Scriptures are studied and there is a plan for how that is going to happen.  It is not brain surgery and it does not require any particularly unusual skills, but it does help to have a clear rule about whose job it is to make sure that these things were not overlooked.  Not as a dictator, a jerk, or totalitarian; more like as a facilitator or life coach. [2]

An alternate model would be for each family group to decide who is in charge of each of these things.  But, see above, most people don’t really like making decisions .  Some groups would not really decide and the lack of uniformity would make it more difficult to train and reinforce the principle in the church.  So there are costs to pre- assigning the person in charge, because they may not be very good at it or they do it wrong, but it does have two advantages.  It is a clear and easy rule that reduces certain kinds of confusion and it ensures that the father is shoved into the middle of family life.  Some fathers will always be highly involved.  But other parents, disproportionately men, I think, would benefit from a shove into the middle.

The father, then, shouts “Vamos!” and gets people into the car, or into the living room for prayer, or whatever.   There is a lot of flexibility in families to figure out the details in a way that works for them.  Because this doesn’t mean the mother can’t or won’t do those things as well, but the father is expected to make sure, in the end, that it has happened.  So when I am trying to make sense of the injunction to preside, this is actually one of the ways I do that.


[1]  And heaven forbid anybody in the 90s actually making a decision at Blockbuster about what movie we’re going to watch that night.

[2]  Although let me make clear how little I would enjoy being referred to as a life coach.

37 comments for “ Small Group Dynamics

  1. Accepting arguendo Frank’s argumentation that someone must be designated to decide (whatever, OK) the point of the post appeared to be, at best, “Why not men as the decider, then?” To which I ask, “Why not women as the decider, then?” There is no real argument that men should be the decider, just that someone should, except… it has to be men… because… umm… There MUST be something about Y chromosomes. Hence my question as to what this has to do with Y chromosomes.

    And I’m serious, although with my tongue firmly in my cheek, as to my request that the MAN part of the argument be developed. It’s a very large logical flaw to propose that the someone must be a man without explaining why.

  2. Sorry, Frank, I just don’t think your logic holds up. You’re basically saying stick with patriarchy because it’s already there and is convenient. However, your own argument works against that. As you said, most people DON’T want to be bothered to take the lead in small decisions. Giving a set person that responsibility doesn’t change that—if that person doesn’t want to take the lead, things will just be left undone. Trust me, there are lots and lots of families that don’t have family prayer, scripture study, or home evening.

    There are lots of marriages where a husband is more assertive, but there are just as many where the wife is, and in fact, assertive women or men often consciously or unconsciously marry someone who is the opposite. By opening things up, and saying, BOTH parents, get involved in this (as the Church generally does—most household things have nothing to do with the priesthood, and the Church over the last couple decades has been emphasizing how husband and wife are equal partners who should make decisions together), you double your chances that someone in the house will be willing to take the initiative.

    Going back to small groups, the people that care enough to get things taken care of will make their voices heard, unless they are institutionally devalued and slighted. Families that care about prayer and scriptures will make sure it happens; those that don’t, won’t.

    And people who want to justify patriarchy will find a way to do so, often couching it in terms of “defending traditional families.” You didn’t use those words, but that’s clearly the message: patriarchy protects families by continuing to ensure prayers are said and scriptures read.

    And those of us that feel it sets the Church back will continue to find ways to express our opinions about the issue, too, and point out reasons why we don’t think it helps with the stated aims. Please don’t be offended.

  3. Two years ago, Frank wrote a post entitled “I’m a Mormon Easy Chair and I believe that women … should not get ordained to the priesthood.” His basic point was that women should be excluded from priesthood office because men are lazy. Two years later, he argues that men should be the sole presiders because everyone is lazy. I guess that’s progress.

    I do agree with Frank on one point – there is a benefit from having simple rules, and a “men always preside” rule is simple. But simplicity is not the only virtue. Often, complexity and nuance are required to become more Christlike. Take for example the improvement from the simpler rule “and eye for an eye” to the more time-consuming and complex principles of forgiveness and atonement.

    So may I proffer a better approach that is slightly less simple than Franks, but in my experience much better. Following Elder Perry’s instruction that married couples act as “co-presiders,” my wife and I developed a method where each rotates to be the acting presiding authority. We considered a week-to-week model, but ultimatly chose the AM/PM model. My wife presides in the morning – meaning she begins couple scripture study and calls on morning family prayes. I preside in the evening – meaning I begin family scripture study and call on evening family prayers. For FHE we rotate weekly between being the presider/conductor (ie giving the kids assignments and running the meeting) verses teaching the main lesson.

    This method has led to some minor challenges. For example, we’ve had to explain to curious family and friends why Mom calls on prayers at certain times. And if we are eating lunch together around noon our boys may avoid Mom’s calls to prayer until 12:01 so that Dad gets to select (it seems that children are born with some inate sexism). But these are small prices to pay for the significant benefit of allowing our children to grow up with a mother who is an equal presider, not only in name, but in actual substance.

  4. Jesse absolutely misses the whole point of the post, and mirrorrorrim does, too, because of course this has to be exactly the same argument that has been held ad nauseum in the bloggernacle. Dave K misreads the post by believing Frank “argues that men should be the sole presiders” when he argues anything BUT that. T&S commenting has certainly gone downhill, hasn’t it?

    I kind of like this low-key way of putting it, Frank. Your small-group leaders are leaders only in the sense that somebody has to eventually put a foot on the accelerator. If the one to do that isn’t this small-group member, it could as easily be that small group member. And you make it abundantly clear that applying this to family business can be infinitely adapted to suit an individual family. But just like somebody in the family has to assume responsibility — and for different tasks, it could be anybody in the family with the interest and cooperation of the rest of the family — if the Church is going to teach anything about family responsibility and leadership, it needs a default family member to prevent its teachings from being so diffuse that nothing comes of it. Laying that responsibility by default on the husband/father is a far cry from maintaining patriarchy “because it’s already there and is convenient,” because you acknowledge that within any individual family, patriarchy doesn’t have to be the model.

    I suppose there will always be people who would rather fight the Church, or have the wear the formal crown of Boss, but for people looking for new ways to understand, your idea works. Thanks.

  5. Ardis, Frank very clearly argues that men alone should preside with respect to FHE, prayers, scripture study. I’m not misreading anything.

    And you (both) are simply wrong that in order for the church to teach responsibility for these things, it must give the responsibility to only one parent (or even primarily to one parent). Modern scripture instructs that both parents are equally responsible to teach doctrine to their children and to encourage baptism. Why in the world can the same co-responsibility not be given for other spiritual matters?

    (D/C 68:25) And again, inasmuch as parents have children in Zion, or in any of her stakes which are organized, that teach them not to understand the doctrine of repentance, faith in Christ the Son of the living God, and of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of the hands, when eight years old, the sin be upon the heads of the parents.

  6. Words of wisdom from Frank the Life Coach. In the end, someone has to take out the garbage. My own take is that marriage is a flexible institution, even Mormon marriage, and that extends to how decisions get made or not made.

  7. “… it can be very handy to declare that some specific person will make the decision. It is not quite as important who that is, and they should, of course, consider the feelings of others, but they are the one who makes sure something gets decided; usually by agreeing with a consensus view or deciding between two fairly close alternatives or whatever. That person is the leader, even if they aren’t the king or the dictator. They don’t actually need to be particularly impressive to do this job. They need to be willing and they need to make decisions.”

    I believe this to be the raison d’etre for Bishops.

  8. Since holding priesthood office is exclusively reserved to men, wouldn’t it make sense for the “simple rule” to be that women should be the default “presider” in the home for the purpose of Frank’s informal group dynamic of needing someone to have the final executive say? It seems like that would be a fitting and fair parallel to the exclusive priesthood policy.

  9. Thanks for all the comments!

    Thanks Ardis. I agree with your interpretation of me more than Dave K’s interpretation.

    Dave K, I’ll take this up in a later post, perhaps, but I think one goal of the way we do things is to try to make each parent feel an _individual_ responsibility, rather than a collective one. Free riding is a real thing.

    ATNM, certainly it is a part of the calculus.

    john f. , To my way of thinking, these jobs are burdens most people want someone else to do. I think the current social structure gives more than enough for women to be expected to deal with in their families. I am not sure adding more jobs for women and decreasing the familial load on men would be a societal gain. But if God decided to do that, it would just make my life easier.

  10. I like the idea of this as the initial default, and then working together from there to find and adapt to a co-president methodology (akin to Dave K.’s method) that works for one’s own particular family.

    Perhaps there is even a parallel in the presiding roles of the Kingdom as it has come forth and will continue to roll forth in these latter days, that the initial default was a male presidency, but that eventually there will be an adaption to a co-presiding role over the Kingdom by male and female governing bodies suited to the needs of that time/place. Speculation of course, but it’s a thought.

  11. Frank, I look forward to your future post. If I can be presumptive, I really would appreciate your thoughts on where to draw the line on “individual responsibility.” In other words, if there is some benefit to be gained from limiting a responsibility to one gender, why not extend that principle to other areas where there currently are no limitations?

    If men need to be the sole prayer-callers in order to be engaged, why not also make them the sole vehicle drivers, money-managers, and scripture readers? Likewise, would women be more engaged and fulfilled if they had exclusive authority for preparing meals, writing to children on missions, and making health care decisions? You see where I’m going.

    And, of course, I would appreciate your thoughts on D/C 68:25 – specifically, why the Lord chose to give both parents equal responsibility for teaching children the principles and ordinances of the gospel – as well as why there is no scriptural instruction on limiting in-home presiding to fathers.

  12. Priesthood has nothing to do with it. It is all about fatherhood. Speaking of the default position as has been done in previous comments, and which is subject to adaptation in individual families as circumstances and personalities require, it is the duty and privilege of the father to preside even if the father has no priesthood. In our God’s calculus, fatherhood had meaning, and that meaning applies to all families, Latter-day Saint and otherwise.

    Since all fathers in the Church can hold the priesthood once minimally qualified, we often conflate the two. But fatherhood and priesthood are different. A father may benefit from holding the priesthood of God, and that is the pattern we hope for, but a father without the priesthood should still preside with authority and holiness within his family — that is his eternal duty that God expects from all fathers without regard to denominational persuasion. Where there is no father, either temporarily or permanently, a mother may preside with authority and holiness within her family.

    Priesthood is for ordinances and the right to govern in the Church. It is an added blessing in the family, but is not needed there. There is no mention of priesthood in the family proclamation, which is intended to apply to the whole world, not just among Latter-day Saints.

  13. I feel like most of the good ground has been covered since my initial comment, but just to make myself clear: even if one person should be designated to make decisions, the question still remains why it should be the men who make the decisions at home. The answer implied is “God said so.”

    So let’s SAY THAT, and let us not be distracted by our musings as to WHY God said so — that is, unless we are really willing to evaluate whether those reasons are reasonable, logically sound, in harmony with the standard works, ethical, beautiful, compatible with feel of the original Star Wars, or whatever other criteria are appropriate.

    Am I right to evaluate the sufficiency of this particular postulation (that it might as well be men who decide), or does this really boil down to the central appeal to divine authority? (If the latter, why write a post on the former?)

    I believe Frank and many other T&S commenters are engaging in that evaluation process (as evidenced by continuing comments). I, perhaps, was too caustic in my initial comment, forgetting that on the internet, no one knows that you’re not a dog that bites. (I’m not, but you wouldn’t necessarily know that by my comments thus far.)

    Having already written too much, I might as well observe that it seems to me that often as human beings (let alone as disciples of a revelation-based religion) we make arguments based on an appeal to authority, but sensing that others will not necessarily accept that authority, we cloak them in other half-formed arguments. We then feel irritated when the flaws of those secondary arguments are revealed, but cannot quite say why. This is natural, but it is not very useful for disciples of truth and love. Either we should stick with our initial appeal to authority or we should make good arguments. I hope the very high quality writers and commenters on T&S (and I mean that) will point out my tendency to do the same (for my own profit and learning.)

  14. (Interestingly, Frank, my experience with small groups resonates with the idea that a designated decider is very useful. But what about the implications for a decider in small groups like these, where EVERYONE wants to decide? I think you might have an interesting essay there, too.)

  15. Ardis, with all due respect, the entire post presupposes the righteousness of patriarchy, or, if you don’t like that word, benevolent sexism, which is what we’re really talking about. Frank, you end your post by saying you find your way of thinking useful when “trying to make sense of the injunction to preside.” So, the entire basis of the post is that you believe, as Jesse phrased it, that the fact that you have a Y chromosome instead of two X’s means it is your right and honor and obligation to preside, that you are the “one who makes sure something gets decided” and the person “to make sure, in the end, that it has happened.” To use your shorthand, you’re the “life coach.”

    Your basic supposition, in other words, is that you have been given the most talents or responsibilities or Little Leaguers or whatever you’re calling them to look after in the family.. So there’s the sexism. The benevolence comes in with the following: “other parents, disproportionately men, I think, would benefit from a shove into the middle.” You say men are innately called to be coaches because women are naturally more involved in the team naturally. Not all men, but definitely way more men than women.

    Ardis and Frank, this is the same argument that has been used over and over every Sunday across the world—there’s nothing new here, and benevolent sexism couched in nice terms is still, I feel, sexist, and therefore wrong. And it’s all right there in the post, unless there are some quotations I misunderstood. If so, I apologize in advance, and will look forward to having any of the above clarified to me.

    But if not, please be straightforward enough to say, “Yeah, I’m benevolently sexist, and this is how I justify it.” There’s no shame in expressing your true, heartfelt beliefs.

    And Ardis, I don’t think shaming us by saying we’re evidence of a downhill trend in comment quality is helpful to anyone. Even-handed moderation would frown on that sort of categorical disrespect for others’ respectfully-stated viewpoints. It seems to be a pretty clear indication of incivility, which is often cautioned against on the site.

  16. ji, good point.

    Jesse, gender differences discussions aren’t really core to the argument I’m making, and they tend to suck all the oxygen out of the room. So I think I will defer that to one of the several hundred other blog posts that discuss gender differences.

    mirror, I see you’re doubling down on the patriarchy discussion. Forgive me but nothing in your comment inspires me to engage in that rabbit hole. You feel there is “nothing new here” so I guess there is not much more to say. I could try to convince you otherwise, but I’m not going to. Hopefully you find other posts more interesting.

  17. “You say men are innately called to be coaches because women are naturally more involved in the team naturally.”

    Yeah, something about being kicked from the inside for nine months and being chewed on for at least another nine tends to give a natural opportunity to become more invested and involved. That’s even without the privilege of being home with the family all day long.

    Labelling the reality of differing experience as “sexism” doesn’t change the reality. I’ve experienced the effects of the sham of being “equal,” and I have no interest in it. I, for one, am glad for men who realize that there is a price to be paid for becoming a mother, honor and respect that price, and become fathers by stepping up to the plate to help shoulder it.

    Once men are given an equal physical obligation, I’ll be more inclined to entertain the notion that equalizing the opportunity to become involved in the family by assigning specific obligations is somehow a negative thing.

  18. That’s a good point, Silver Rain. Natural mothers do have intrinsic things tying you to your child for a year or two that men don’t.

    I’m interested, though, about your experience of being treated identically to people of the opposite gender. Most Latter-day Saints never have that opportunity, at least not at home or in their religious ceremony, and, while professional spaces try to minimize that, there still tends to be a lot of gender differentiation at all the places I’ve worked. I know I’ve never had the experience you’re describing, and because of that, I’d be interested to hear about it and why it seems you found the experience to be such a disappointment.

    Sometimes what we don’t have appears more appealing than what we do, and it’s possible I have blinded myself to some very real shortcomings of gender equality.

  19. I said the sham of being “equal,” not the reality of it. There is no such thing.

    That is why it’s a disappointment. People use the banner of equality quite freely, but it isn’t possible to attain by measuring differences.

    I have many small examples, what sort are you looking for?

  20. “There’s no shame in expressing your true, heartfelt beliefs.”

    Good. I think men should preside. Why? Because prophets tell us they should and therefore I believe God expects men to do so. Not because of something inherent in the Y chromosone, not because we’re better, magical, in need, but simply because He said so. I think this post gave a reasonable account of one possible benefit from following that prophetic message.

    Here’s another possible benefit/drawback: God has someone to hold accountable. The thing about events that DON’T happen is that EVERYONE is to blame. For example, if the garbage isn’t taken out, it is because I didn’t do it, but my wife also didn’t do it, the kids didn’t do it, the neighbor didn’t do it, my Congressman didn’t take it out… etc. I could accurately say that everyone failed to do it. Everyone could be held accountable for things don’t happen. Same for scripture study, prayer times, and other “sins of omission”. By assigning those tasks to one person, who is supposed to make sure that they DO happen, the LORD has made it possible for Him to be Just in dealing punishment for those omissions. Somebody is now responsible for them, the father.

    I don’t think HE selected men to preside because we’re better or He loves us more, or any such thing, I think He needs someone to hold accountable for the omissions/oversights and He has chosen to put that on the men.

  21. Sorry, Silver Rain, I misunderstood. I also have many examples, small and large, of people being treated unequally when they are supposedly equal. But for me, those experiences don’t destroy the dream of trying to achieve true equality; to the contrary, every time I see a negative example, it reinforces my desire for true parity. And that’s why I’m so comforted by scriptures like 2 Nephi 26, which lets us know that all are alike in God’s eyes, despite the perceptions of the world.

    Jax, I applaud your honesty and sincerity. It’s hard to argue with sincere testimony, so I won’t try.

    I will just express my belief, too: I believe that the current prophet, President Thomas Monson, has not told us that men should preside, and that no other living person has authority to make a definitive statement to that end, since there is no scripture to explicitly back it up. I believe past prophets and others taught many things in their times, many of which, like injunctions in the 1920s for women not to wear makeup, we no longer follow, and which were likely products of their time and culture. The scriptures are full of examples of prophets making mistakes; that’s part of their calling, and only one person was ever perfect.

    I believe suffering for the mistakes of the current prophet is part of his learning experience and ours, teaching all of us humility, compassion, and love, as the example of David shows more than once. However, I feel we have no obligation to continue to suffer for the mistakes of dead ones, nor do we have to remain silent when someone in authority over us does something we believe in our hearts to be wrong. The scriptures contain many examples of this, too, and in Luke 18 God tells us to cry unto him continually, as if he were an unjust judge. If that’s the pattern of how we should talk to God, doesn’t it make sense to use a similar pattern with His servants? I believe submitting to God in all things is a scriptural teaching, and core to my faith and the religion I love.

    I don’t believe suffering cultural abuses in silence the same thing at all. Going back to to Frank’s initial analogy and applying it to the church, I don’t believe God appointing a prophet means He wants the rest of the group not to ever speak or provide input. Nor does the prophet stand in the place of a parent: we have one Father, Who is in heaven, and one Master, Christ, as Jesus taught us in Matthew 23. The rest of us are sisters and brothers: some are older and some younger, but we’re all on the same path, and no one is innately better than any other.

  22. “but we’re all on the same path, and no one is innately better than any other.”

    and because we aren’t better than each other, we get the “whose going to decide” factor the OP talks about, and which makes the point of the OP that having someone designated as “presiding” is sometimes convenient.

    I’ve never looked at one of my Bishops/SP’s/GA’s and thought, “they are innately better than I am.” It’s not about being better, that isn’t why they preside! I think they preside simply because God chose them. And same with fathers.

  23. “I also have many examples, small and large, of people being treated unequally when they are supposedly equal.”

    That’s not what I mean. I mean that by trying to treat me “equally,” inequality was created.

  24. Jax and mirror, I’m pleased to read such honesty. It gets at the heart of the question in a refreshing way.

    Frank, I enjoy your posts and will continue to enjoy engaging intellectually with you through them. Thank you for the gift of writing out your thoughts, which enriches my life and thought a great deal. I deeply appreciate that you folks are willing to put yourself out there for people like me to engage with, even when my thoughts are half-formed and not nearly as cleanly written as yours.

    But, with due respect, I really think you’re dodging your own argument here, which is unfortunate. Gender differences is actually the CENTER of the point you’re making, unless I misread the part of the post where you suggested that it might be good for men, who are (according to the argument) differently engaged in family life, to be forced into a presiding role. Is that not a gender difference discussion?

    And if so, does the discussion matter? Or is this more like Jax’s and Silver’s positions, where the “reasons” for the gender difference don’t matter because a higher argument (in this case, God’s opinion) overrides any interesting observations we may make about the situation?

    Put differently, I wish these conversations would begin with this question: if the proposed argument is proved false, would I change my views on the subject? If the answer is no, then why discuss details?

    I continue this line of reasoning out of a selfish desire to get at the heart of the matter, not from a belief that I necessarily deserve a response. I excuse anyone who is, at this point, tired of me. ;)

  25. Thanks for the friendly discussion, Jax—I appreciate it, too.

    I agree that, with your sincere belief or mine, we’re still left with the question of presiding and how it can help or hurt in solving real, practical issues. For you, since you believe God has said men and fathers are to preside, it’s a question of understanding God’s will. For me, since I don’t have that same foundation assumption, it’s a question of practical politics.

    From that view, let me alter the scenario just a little, and see if you still see the benefits of having a predetermined person to preside in the same light. Instead of a family, let’s shift it to a religious congregation. In a ward, we need someone to clean the building, assign prayers and talks, give blessings, help people with repentance through confession, read and understand the scriptures, administer the weekly sacrament, etc. These are all small things, and it’s very possible that, if left to a group as a whole, some of them might not get done because no one wants to take the initiative and do them.

    So, to make sure these small but important things aren’t overlooked, one person is appointed in the congregation to hold the priesthood. Instead of using only genetics, though, we’ll go even one step farther: we’ll only choose a person who cares about his ward so much that he wants to dedicate his life to it, and we’ll send him to college. And we’ll make sure he’s male, to boot, so no worries there. By focusing on just this one person, we can make sure we get someone who actually knows what the scriptures mean, who will exercise his priesthood righteously, who will be available all throughout the week to help with repentance and cleaning and everything else that needs doing, and who will provide long-term help and consistency.

    And, because we want to keep our focus clear, this person is really the only one who needs to read the scriptures or hold the priesthood.

    This is how Christianity decided to do things midway through the Roman Empire, and it uses all the same logic, and in some ways makes a lot of sense. Was Joseph Smith right or wrong to discard all of that in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?

    Now, with your foundation of what you believe God has told you, these scenarios, family patriarchy versus professional clergy, probably seem entirely different. But for me, without that foundation belief, I have a hard time seeing the difference. In my eyes, the fruits of discarding the latter, which I feel I have experienced in the church, commend the adaptation of the former.

    Silver Rain, to respond briefly: to me, if the examples are about people trying to create equality, but failing, then, without knowing your specific examples, I would probably see that as the source of the negative effects. Failed consecration ends up as communism, as it were, and trying unsuccessfully to do something in the incorrect way, I feel, can often turn out worse than not trying to do it. But I would be interested in hearing your experiences, I’d be interested in them, especially as they illustrate how you came to believe equality is impossible.

    As for Thomas Monson signing The Family document, he did that before he was prophet. I don’t consider what Joseph Smith said before God appeared to him and subsequently made him the means of restoring important parts of His gospel to carry comparable weight to what he said after. Or, for a more extreme example to illustrate my point, before Alma became prophet and was trying to get people to leave the church, I don’t consider his words to reflect his later call as the High Priest of God’s church. President Thomas’s office started in April 2008, so for me, to have said it as prophet, it has to come after then. If you feel differently, then we have a fundamental difference of belief on the matter.

    Looking at post-prophetic-appointment material, we just had a new edition of the scriptures released: if he wanted to make The Family document scripture, he had an ideal opportunity to do so then. If he didn’t want it to become scripture, but wanted to renew its relevance for us today and endorse it as prophet, he could simply have quoted from or referenced it in a General Conference address. But to the best of my knowledge (and I have specifically looked for it), he has never done either, while he has made a point of restating other teachings of his predecessors that aren’t in the scriptures, like the injunction for all young men to serve full-time missions, and to update others, such as allowing men and women to serve missions at younger ages. I don’t know how President Thomas feels about the proclamation today; I do know that he hasn’t felt inspired, or decided on his own, to make it a part of his teachings to the whole church over the last 7 1/2 years and the more than 30 talks he has given.

    What he has emphasized are things like reaching out to those who have left the church, the importance of temples, the power and reality of personal revelation, of being faithful to marriage, of never judging others, and the necessity to follow Christ’s footsteps, both the happy and the painful ones.

    If that’s his focus, it seems discordant to me that there is more emphasis put on a document written by a man now deceased, even if he is a former prophet. The Family was written twenty years ago, and was a direct response to the fact that a lot of people from other religions were holding a conference in Salt Lake City. Some teachings are eternal, but others are cultural, and I believe are best allowed to be forgotten. We have made it to the moon, and gay marriage is legal. Whether those things are good or bad, they’re big events, and alter the world a lot from when former prophets first talked about them.

    (sorry if the first reference is a bit obscure to anyone: Joseph Fielding Smith once said people will never go to the moon; it’s a flawed comparison, since he wasn’t prophet when he said it, but rhetorically it seemed to fit in nicely)

    Sorry, Silver Rain, I guess that wasn’t so brief after all.

  26. Mirrorrorim,

    I get the feeling you don’t think women preside at all. I know this isn’t the case in my house. My wife and I interact and make decisions together; sometimes she is the final say and sometimes I am. She probably defers to me more when neither of us have really strong feelings about something. But she presides all the time. Rather than saying I preside and she doesn’t, I think we both preside over the kids. It’s not an either/or – it’s mutual.

    While I was off playing Army for long periods she presided non-stop. She presides and makes decisions while I’m away or working. Sometimes she consults me, other times she just makes the decisions and implements them. When we leave together we give authority to our oldest, a daughter, and she presides in our place, and the others know that when she makes a decision on food/movies/computer use/etc. that they need to treat her decision and say-so the same as if my wife or I had said it.

    I don’t know if my family is abnormal, but I think women and children preside all the time in some manner. I know that some men are very controlling and think they are the be-all end-all, but I believe that most are not and that presiding is a shared activity, even if the men do it most often when the entire family is together (but even then it’s maybe a 70/30 or 60/40 between my wife and I).

    So I don’t see the “send one person to school and study” scenario as valid. I think everyone should know how and be comfortable being in charge, even if they only rarely or never get to do so.

  27. Sorry for the slow response. I don’t spend as much time online as I once did.

    Thomas S. Monson was sustained as a prophet when he signed the Proclamation to the World, as were the others. That’s not really arguable. Don’t mistake lack of evidence that he still ratifies that document as evidence of lack. I assure you, the topic would not be brought into Conference at all if your assumptions were accurate. But that’s neither here nor there. I understand your urge to discount the Proclamation, and I don’t really care to argue it beyond making that one point.

    In one job, there was a very strong culture of expectation to work late and fill in where necessary. That expectation was no less for me (though I wasn’t aware of it when I agreed to work there.) But because my circumstances are different (due in large part but not completely to things relating to childbirth,) having equal expectations ended up creating an unequal dynamic in the workplace. I could not meet those expectations created for a male-dominated culture, so I was often looked over for participation in projects. There was nothing explicit in that (which makes it hard to objectively quantify,) but it had a very un-equalizing effect because of equal expectations in a naturally unequal situation.

    It’s more simply explained this way: we are in a mortal world, with mortal expectations. As women, one fourth of our prime life is often spent in pain even if we don’t have children. We are not as strong, generally. We tend to deal with things socially/holistically rather than with a narrow focus. We are different, in general, than men. And when we are held to the exact same assumptions that are used to address men, we are at a disadvantage.

    Don’t get me wrong. I think equality is a good thing to strive for, to a point. But when it is elevated to an essentially religious status, we end up betraying the very goal we pretend to strive for. I would rather see men and women valued for their differeces. Of course there are exceptions, but those can also be accepted and appreciated.

    If it had been recognized I had different responsibilities and better allowances were made to complete projects at home, or flex my schedule in other ways, both I and my male counterparts could have benefited.

    There are other ways I see the banner of equality robbing us of a richness of experience. In dating, marriage, and family. In media. In community dynamics. And most especially in the Church. I celebrate our differences. Rather than wanting them to be made equal in fact, I’d like to see them become valued.

  28. Jax, it sounds like your family has an open dynamic that works for raising your family, and I think it’s great you and your wife work together. Your family sounds like it’s doing great, and that you and your wife are wonderful parents. Different marriage patterns work for different people, and I don’t want to tell people how they should or shouldn’t make their family decisions.

    But generally, there are definitely men and women out there who are tyrannical in their marriages, and I have heard a lot of terrible stories about what men in the church can do to their wives and families because they think they’re in charge. My own father isn’t a Latter-day Saint, but he was very controlling growing up naturally, and if he thought God had made him steward over his family, I think it would have had a very negative effect. Frank and you have talked about the positive result of giving extra say and responsibility to someone who doesn’t naturally want it, but I think it’s important to consider the negative effects that can happen by giving it to someone who does crave that kind of thing.

    For me, it’s not whether presiding over children is split: I think most families are like yours. But if a husband presides over a wife even some of the time, but a wife never presides over a husband, I feel that is deeply unfair and flawed. Bishops preside over an entire ward, but rotate out. Why not the same thing in marriage, where husband or wife presides in alternating years, if having someone preside is really necessary? The answer, of course, culturally hearkens back to priesthood. Since culturally only men hold the priesthood, and that is the main rationale I have heard for why men should preside in their families and elsewhere, I believe that makes my professional clergy analogy appropriate.

    Silver Rain, we definitely have a fundamental difference of belief about the first matter, which would probably be too much to go into here. I will just restate that for me, there is a major difference between when a person holds any other calling and when that person is called to be president of the church. I hope we can value one another’s unique opinions on the matter, even as we disagree about them.

    It seems we likewise disagree on the nature of General Conference.

    For the rest of your post, I’m saddened to hear about your experience; I think it is one many women suffer, and I don’t think it’s right or fair.

    But for me, that makes me want to change things. Talking about our mortal world with its mortal expectations, I think society has the potential to overcome all of those things, and by focusing on and finding ways to overcome inequalities, I think everyone benefits. I think things like companies having to provide leave for new births for both women and men is a wonderful thing, and while some jobs by their nature have to have set schedules and limits, I think most can allow for greater flexibility without losing anything. And for me, I think gender equality helps with this. We have a couple of men where I work who once or twice a week come in a couple hours late because they need to watch their kids, or once or twice a month bring their kids into the office for a few hours, and I think that’s awesome. If both men and women accept those kinds of obligations more universally, I think the stigma around those obligations starts to disappear.

    We live in a fallen world, but working together, I feel we can work past that. Personally, I don’t know very many men anymore who do have to eat their bread for the sweat of their brow: most make a living in a nicely air conditioned building. If many of the consequences of mortality can be ameliorated for men, why not just as much for women? The end goal of our Heavenly Parent’s plan is that everyone wins.

    That’s how I feel, anyway.

  29. I suppose my question is this: How is it equal to give both men and women the same time off for the birth of their child? It reminds me of that old bacon and eggs breakfast joke. Life is not equal. It isn’t fair. Rather than try to imperfectly make it fair/equal, what if we celebrated, honored, and supported the differences?

  30. For me, physical differences distract from spiritual and mental sameness, and by minimizing the one, we can make the world a better place and start to help one another focus on the other. Women and men may not physically be the same, but spiritually we are all the same in God’s eyes. For me, that’s the thing I want to celebrate and honor.

    As for the time off question, I’m a big proponent of stay-at-home dads, both because I feel men should be able to be free to be who they want to be, just like women should, and because I feel their acceptance is a key step to women and men gaining true equality in the workplace. I feel like equal time off for child-related events will help that path become a viable option for more men who want to start families. A gateway drug, as it were. I believe fathers should have time to develop connections to their children, just as mothers should. If it becomes the norm that either parent can stay home to raise children, then couples can have more open conversations about who, if anyone, will take time off from their respective career when they want to have children, and for how long. Plus, while newborn babies are dependent on their physical connection to their mothers, they also benefit from physical and emotional closeness, and that’s something that can, and should be, provided by both parents.

    Even if you believe women should stay home and nurture fulltime if possible (I think it’s pretty clear that I don’t, but I respect that as a valid opinion), this way it’s a choice each woman is making, and not something culture or society is forcing on her.

    Life might not always be fair, but sometimes it can be, and I think it’s a goal worth working for, even if our best efforts come up short of perfection. There are also a lot of problems with politics, but that doesn’t cause me to stop voting as, for example, Jehovah’s Witnesses do. I can see how unfulfilled goals can make it seem like it’s not worth trying anymore, and I don’t fault anyone who chooses that path, but that’s just not my way.

  31. Spending six weeks at home to recover from childbirth is not the same as spending six weeks at home just to bond with your child. In a very real way, treating it the same gives fathers an advantage that mothers don’t have.

    And that is what I mean by it being impossible to be equal. How would you measure “equality” in something that can never be equal? (And with the effect childbirth has on women, I’m talking emotionally as well as physically.)

    Physical differences are very real. That is part of mortal life. Pretending otherwise is idealistic. Trying to minimize the impact of physical differences further disadvantages those who are already physically disadvantaged. That’s even without factoring in social and cultural disadvantages like sexual assault statistics, or single parenthood ratios. It’s like saying we should get rid of handicapped parking because we want to be equal.

    Equality is a fickle theology. It doesn’t often restrict itself to performing according to expectation. Acknowledging general differences while still allowing for exceptions, in my mind, is a much more reasonable approach.

    Kind of….No, EXACTLY like the Proclamation.

  32. #15 has a great point, better than OP in my opinion.

    I would add that we too often conflate responsibility with assignment. The Church teaches that fathers have a responsibility to provide for instance, which means that come judgment the father will answer for whether the providing was done. If the father didn’t have a job and the mother brought home the bacon, the responsibility is still filled. Likewise, the mother has responsibility to nurture the children, and as any single mom could tell you it’s easier to holistically nurture children when the father is involved. Dad is free to do the nurturing just as Mom is free to do the providing, but each has a defined responsibility that they will answer for. Note the word ‘respond’ within ‘responsibility’.

    OP gives a couple theories on the ‘why’ of how responsibilities are divvied out, and they are actually pretty decent. I think few would argue that on average fathers are more likely to detach from parenting, and that the responsibility to preside in the family helps some to remedy that. I also think few would argue that any group functions better when it’s clear which members perform or delegate the key functions.

    Maybe the best example to put a cap on this idea is the one in which we most often hear the word ‘preside’- our church meetings. Generally the program, if there is one, will list who is presiding and the person conducting the meeting will also usually mention it. It’s generally understood that the person presiding is the one who will partake of the sacrament first (thus assenting that it was prepared and blessed satisfactorily) and who will step in to correct any blatantly false doctrine taught during the meeting (if desired). Those tasks are meted out to whomever happens to be ‘presiding’. However, there is almost always delegation- the presiding person is ultimately responsible for making sure things happen, but might not personally make those things happen.

    We need to get less caught up in ‘who has the most desirable job?’ and more caught up in ‘how can I best contribute to the success of my family or ward?’; when we do, feigned offense and encouraging animosity rarely remain. We do what we’re asked to do and answer for the things we’re assigned, which will inevitably involve seeking help and delegating to spread things around.

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