Saturday, 4 August 2007

Define preside . . .

Since it has been almost two months since anyone has posted, I thought I would post something that has been percolating in my mind for a while: the definition of the word preside.

Yesterday at work I realized that I have only ever talked about my feminist leanings with people who are also sympathetic to the feminist cause. Well, the topic of feminism arose and I found myself having to describe, define, and defend some of my opinions. I tend to be an emotionally charged person, so it was rather difficult to attempt eloquence and to not get flustered. I felt like things went fairly well, and it was an enlightening conversation. Luckily, I was accompanied by a fellow feminist friend named Katherine.

While discussing the Proclamation to the World, Katherine and I were discussing problematic vocabulary. I feel particularly sensitive to the word preside. So, my co-workers and I tried to come up with a more concrete definition. Do we (as a church) really know what is meant by the charge given to men to "provide and preside"? I find preside to be a somewhat empty word-- one that is tossed around without any type of consensus on the implications. Here are some possible implications we discussed:

1. Much as President Hinckley presides over the First Presidency and the apostles, the husband/father presides over the family.
a. President Hinckley holds the Priesthood keys and the authority to use them. A father holds the Priesthood keys giving him the responsibility to give blessings-- both of comfort and of healing-- to his wife and children.
b. When a decision is made among the apostles and First Presidency, a unanimous vote is the only way in which something is made final. President Hinckley cannot use his position as presider to overrule decisions or to be "the final say." This is further discussed in number 2.

2. A woman and man are to make decisions together. I have heard it said that if a couple is in an argument, and no consensus can be reached, then someone needs to have the definitive decision, and this is what it means to preside. To me, this is not equality.

3. I have also heard it said that, "well, someone needs to be in charge, or everything would be chaos!" I find this statement fallacious. While there does need to be a head of a family, there is no logical reason for the head not to consist of both the husband and the wife.

4. A stake and a family are similar, but not the same. As a stake president presides over his stake, a father presides over his family much in the way I already discussed with President Hinckley. A stake, however, does need a firm and single head. Counselors work in the absence and alongside the stake president, but this is the way in which a husband and wife are different from a stake presidency. A woman should not function as a counselor, but rather as a co-president with her husband.

5. Another work friend said she asked her husband what he thought preside meant, and he said he thought it meant to protect. I am much more comfortable with this word. I find the word protect to connote more of a nurturing aspect. As women are to nurture the family, this seems much more balanced-- both mother and father can and should nurture.

So there are my five definitional statements about preside. What have I left out? On what items have I committed an oversight or an irrational comparison? (Honestly, I want to know what you think on my five statements.)

One very problematic issue I wonder about it is, where is the disconnect between doctrine and culture? As one of my male co-workers pointed out, men are constantly instructed to not exercise unrighteous dominion. They are chastised for not recognizing the women in their lives as equals. If the doctrine encourages equality between men and women, how does the culture so often misinterpret words like preside to mean dominate, abuse, manipulate, etc. While I know this is not a universal problem, I know it is a common problem. So, where is the disconnect between the culture and the doctrine? I wonder if the church clings too tightly to the old-fashioned, traditional views from before 1960 because we are too afraid of being tainted by modernism. I really don't know the answer, and I don't know the solution. I often hope for a change of discourse in how we describe gender roles. I would much prefer a substitute word for preside-- I do find it slightly overused and therefore nearly empty in meaning. I am afraid using such a word is more damaging than helpful, and maybe a new shock of words would bring some more life in to old-news principles. But change is very slow coming in the church. What do you think are some possible solutions to this problem? Or do you think I am off-base and over-sensitive (this is entirely possible)? What does preside mean to you?