Feast upon the Word Blog

A blog focused on LDS scriptures and teaching

Faith and aporias

Posted by Robert C. on June 16, 2007

(Sorry, this is going to be a rant, but I’ll keep it brief, and hopefully raise an important issue regarding scripture study in the process.)

I stumbled on the following comment in a discussion at the BCC blog regarding the tension in the Proclamation on the Family between a father presiding and yet being an equal partner with his wife. The gist of the comment is captured in this sentence: “The presiding in equality dilemma from the Proclamation really necessarily totally neuters either the word ‘preside’ or the word ‘equality.'” I don’t claim to have a clear understanding about the meaning or significance of this part of the Proclamation, but I think this comment illustrates a good way not to read the Proclamation as a faithful member of Church.

Actually, even though I promised a rant, let me rephrase that: I think the BCC comment illustrates a reasonable first step regarding an interpretation of the Proclamation, but only the first step. The next step becomes the most important, and the most faith-ful: rethinking the meaning. I may be misreading the tone of the comment (I was only skimming, and at lightning speed), but I think it provides a good opportunity to think about a rather common attitude which the comment might be construed as advancing: that difficulties in text undermine the value and truth of the text.

Anyone who’s read a comment or post by our own Joe Spencer, or who knows anything about Derrida, or about the term post-modernism, surely understands my grievance already. I think there is a time and place for what Nephi calls “plainness,” but Nephi also seems to describe a gap between plainness and the great words of Isaiah—a gap that can is apparently bridged primarily by “the spirit of prophecy” (2 Nephi 25:4). How is the spirit of prophecy obtained? Surely it has something to do with faithfulness, a faithfulness that is proved through a willingness to work when aporia (difficulty) is encountered. Faithfulness that is displayed by humbling oneself and reconsidering one’s own presuppositions which are causing the text to seem like foolishness (a process that sounds suspiciously similar to deconstruction…). I was striving, rather unsuccessfully I think, for a bit of word play in the title: “faith and aporias” instead of “faith and works” because faith requires work when difficulties/aporias are encountered. Of course I’m ruining the effect by explaining it, but I’m I’m in too much of a rush to write this better and, besides, I’m too “American” to know how to play with words anyway. At any rate, I think Nephi himself is exemplary on this score:

And it came to pass that after I had desired to know the things that my father had seen, and believing that the Lord was able to make them known unto me, as I sat pondering in mine heart I was caught away in the Spirit of the Lord . . . . And it came to pass that I beheld my brethren, and they were disputing one with another concerning the things which my father had spoken unto them. For he truly spake many great things unto them, which were hard to be understood, save a man should inquire of the Lord; and they being hard in their hearts, therefore they did not look unto the Lord as they ought. And now I, Nephi, was grieved because of the hardness of their hearts. . . . (1 Ne 11:1; 15:2-4)

I’m tempted to end here since my main point is really about what I think it means to show faith when difficulties are encountered in text, but I guess it’d be pretty irresponsible of me not to at least offer a thought of my own on the preside-equality issue (we’ve discussed this before, but I’m too lazy to do a search for links…): If the mother nurtures literally by breast-feeding, as my wife does, this is something that I as a father cannot fully participate in. Instead, all I can do is watch over this process in a loving, caring, attentive, protective and, above all, serving way—in other words, preside (as an equal partner).

52 Responses to “Faith and aporias”

  1. Ray said

    Thanks, Robert, especially for the last two sentences. You nailed how I feel about it very well.

  2. Actually, something in the neighborhood of a deconstructionist attitude is what I was trying to signal with that comment. The usage of words is not fixed, and requires attention to context and the shifting values of an interpretive community. Attention to the history of the faithful LDS community’s usage of the word “preside” gives hints toward the intended meaning of the seeming paradox in the proclamation on the family’s statement about equal presiding. That word used to have an unambiguously patriarchal meaning, but there is a slow progression in our community away from that meaning. “Equality” is the new arrival in this textual construction, and its appearance seems to parallel a marked shift visible in other rhetoric in attitude toward the older word.

    Alternative formulations that seem equivalent to the emergent meaning of “preside” among Mormons with respect to family would be: “do one’s share,” “pay a reasonable amount of love and affection,” or “participate in as a full adult member.” Because of ambiguity between this egalitarian meaning and the remaining strictly hierarchical meaning assigned to “preside” in other Mormon contexts, I expect that there will eventually be a shift to another term to signify this concept in the family context. Members of our interpretive community who remain committed to an authoritarian view of the father’s role in the family will likely resist this shift, but the sociological trends of the last fifty years favor the gradual ascendancy of the group within the community that favors more egalitarian versions of that role — and therefore probably an eventual shift in terminology.

  3. I have to say that this post is frustrating to me. It seems that in a nutshell, you are saying that one who sees a discrepancy between equality and presiding in the Proclamation lacks faith. I think pointing out the difficulty, as J. has done, is perfectly appropriate.

    There is in fact a big problem in resolving the issue of equality between partners and the male “presiding” in the home. To preside, by definition, means “to occupy the place of authority or control.” It seems that many LDS have solved this by redefining the word “preside.” J. has pointed this out in his comment above. However, one can’t simply _redefine_ a word to force it to jive with equality. However much you would like to interpret the word “preside” as “watch over this process in a loving, caring, attentive, protective and, above all, serving way,” that is not what the word means.

    Personally, I am glad that it works that way in your home. I believe that it works that way in many LDS homes. What is happening is that “presiding” is taking a back seat to equality. In these homes there is not a designated party who occupies a position of authority and control, and both partners work together and counsel with each other to make decisions. I think that is wonderful. But it is not the model that is being described in the Proclamation.

    I do agree with you that faith involves obtaining the spirit of prophecy in order to resolve difficulties. I believe that this type of faith does not preclude discussing the matter with other interested parties. I would be open to other thoughtful attempts to reconcile equality and presiding in the home.

  4. nhilton said

    I think the education we receive in the temple re: “presiding” means that the one presiding is the one taking the orders, delegating to fulfill those orders & the one with which the “buck stops.”

  5. Broz said

    My wife and I make decisions together. I would never dream of making some decision and then just telling my wife “I’m the deciderer.” We both weight the pros and cons, we make the best decision together that we can and then we pray about if our joint decision is acceptable to God. Then when the going gets tough, she doesn’t say, “This is all your fault. I never wanted to do this in the first place.” Instead, we say, “Hey, we prayed about it and we both felt like this was the best way to go, lets hold on our way and trust in God and things will get better.”

  6. Robert C. said

    JN-S #2, thanks for being a good sport inasumch as I’ve cast you as the straw man here. I think, however, that I’m appropriating a desconstructionist attitude here in a different way than you (and it was probably not the best idea to invoke that term which, as Jim’s post I linked to above makes very clear, this term has taken on many different meanings almost to the point of uselessness—moreover, I think I was trying to use the term for my own purposes, and doing some violence to Derrida’s originally-intended meaning…).

    As I think about how to respond, I realize this could become a very long conversation because I think ultimately there are rather subtle differences in our views of how to think about history, subtle differences which nevertheless have profound consequences. So, rather than starting with the subtle differences which I think will take quite a bit of work to tease out and clarify, let me start with what I think is the profoundly different implication: I view use of the term preside in the Proclamation as preserving (and not just temporarily) patriarchal/hierarchical ideas, rather than being an egalitarian term, or a term that is being used in a way that calls for merely a reinterpretive shift along a hierarchical-egalitarian spectrum.

    Although I don’t deny that there might be a historical shift occuring, I think that to take up the Proclamation faithfully, as members living in the community (rather than as a neutral observer outside of the community, like an “objective” historian for example…), we must think about what it means to take up the patriarchal/hierarchical connotations of the word preside in a way that doesn’t contradict a robust notion of equality. Hmmm, I realize that this might be taken as a statement that is in agreement with your view, but I (think I) mean it in a way that is importantly different. Let me try again, a bit more boldly, but also more abstrusely: I don’t think we can read “equality” in a non-hierarchical way.

    For exampler, Christ taught that the chief among us should be the servant of all. I think the language of the Proclamation would say that this community which includes a chief (or a presider) is not egalitarian in the sense that we normally think of it, that all of the members of the community relate to each other in some way that implies having equal power. But I do think we could say that the chief and those whom he serves (i.e. those whom he “chiefs”) are “equal partners” in the community, bringing about some vision or goal for the community that is “equally” shared.

    Or, consider how Paul talks in terms of “the body of Christ.” I think we could say that all members are equal, and yet we also recogzine that the mouth speaks for the body. Equal but not equal. What I think is important to preserve in the Proclamation is to not reduce the word “preside” to be the same as the word equality—so I think husband and wife are equal in a sense, but also not equal in a very real and rich sense that the term “preside” points to. What exactly these senses are still remains to be worked out, my point is simply that they must be worked out. (If you’re familiar with Derrida, Levinas, or Badiou, I have central to my thinking here the idea of a community where every individual relationship is singular, irreducible to the same—but then I’m too new to these thinkers to really take up their ideas with any confidence….)

    So far, I’m only trying to state my assertion. To begin defending it will take another lengthy comment, which I may or may not get around to (depending largely on interest, but also my time constraints!).

  7. Robert C. said

    Let me add a quick note as a bit of a counterweight to the above. As I’ve mentioned before, I think we can usefully think about the presiding of the Chief Justice over the other justices on the court. Each of them only have one vote, so there is a real sense in which there is equality, but again I think we can also think in terms of there being inequality (or something ‘unegalitarian’ if we want to make the distinction using the terms ‘equality’ and ‘egalitarianism’ in an effort to stay true to the Proclamation…). To switch metaphors, consider how the Speaker of the House who presides over congress, and yet still only has one vote (or does he get a vote and he gets to decide ties? sorry for my ignorance; at any rate…). Other members of congress, however, can chair up different committees. I think this offers analogically another way to think about presiding which preserves equality (here in a way that includes power in an important sense) and yet doesn’t “neuter” the meaning of what it means to preside to something that everyone in the community or marriage does.

  8. Robert C., before you do the heavy lifting of constructing a defense for your position, I’d suggest that you wait a decade or so. Based on the parallels between several past instances of theological change in Mormonism and the last decade or so of evolution about the idea of presiding, I’d predict that the word will be all but gone by then.

    Less facetiously, I agree that we can resolve the preside-equality conundrum either by moving away from the most familiar usages of preside or by withdrawing from the most common usages of equality. Your comment sketches an approach to the second task, constructing a reading of equality in light of a standard meaning of preside.

    Let’s remember that there are communities within communities at issue here. Can we agree that, in the broader community of Anglo/American English speakers — which is the speech community within which Mormon English is a subcommunity — most leading meanings of equality have as central attributes a lack of hierarchy? As an example, most of us would probably feel uncomfortable describing an elementary teacher and her students as equals, or a prison guard and her prisoners. So, just as with the idea of non-hierarchical presiding, your reading of equality is to a substantial extent a departure from the conventions of the broader speech community that forms a baseline for Mormon usage. That’s really all I was trying to say in the BCC comment — on either one or the other term, we’re forced to deploy a distinctive, this-community-only meaning.

    I think that your New Testament examples are indeed helpful in approaching this dilemma, although it’s worth pointing out that they can be deployed quite differently than you have done. Exactly the same texts that you use to problematize equality can be used to problematize patriarchy. Jesus’s line that the chief ought to be the servant could be seen as a lesson on how to create equality within hierarchy. Alternatively, it could be seen as a lesson on how the gospel and equality should subvert hierarchy. The servant not only works for, but also obeys orders from, the master. So also, Jesus says, the “chief” in the gospel relinquishes power to, not just gives love, affection, and help to, the subordinates. Here, in the image of a father who presides by relinquishing power, authority, and control — and presumably a mother who leads in the family by the same means — we have a gospel formula for a non-hierarchical, egalitarian reading of preside.

    The Paul material on the body of Christ has similar double-edged potential. You’ve used it in support of non-egalitarian equality — but it can also be a basis for non-hierarchical presiding. The various body parts don’t have the power to coerce each other to do a job other than the one they, by nature of who they are, choose to perform — the arm can’t say to the leg, that’s one too many of ZZZ, you’re out of here. Since Christ is the metaphorical head, the one organ with a clear commanding role, all humans are left in potentially different, but non-authoritative and non-hierarchical roles.

    This is not to argue that one or the other of these readings is necessarily correct. Both readings are, as indeed all readings always are, underdetermined. Furthermore, we have in effect no guidance from top church leadership about how to resolve this dilemma. So it’s down to the interests and relative power of different groups within our community, as well as pressures from outside the community, how these divergent readings and usages will be resolved.

    A point of clarification: how does your usage of “equality” as united in community goals but directed and commanded from a position of hierarchical power relate with the old Soviet concept of equality? It seems to me that there are similarities, at least if I’m understanding your position correctly. This connection doesn’t, of course, discredit your position, since Soviets can indeed sometimes be right about things. But if there are real differences here, it would be helpful to me if you could spell them out — otherwise, the spurious parallel might obscure your view.

    One last point I want to take up. You suggest that, in order to “take up the Proclamation faithfully, as members living in the community,” it is somehow necessary to preserve a hierarchical aspect to the word preside. Why might that be the case? Hierarchical and non-hierarchical readings of Mormonism have coexisted in the community from before 1830 until the present. So both approaches are organic to membership in and life in the community. These traditions may reflect different approaches to faithful Mormonism, but both are ways of being faithful.

  9. Robert, in response to your addendum, the Speaker of the House analogy doesn’t “neuter” preside, but it does substantial violence to expected meanings of equality. The Speaker is vastly more powerful, due to scheduling powers, powers of assignment to committees, etc., than a single rank-and-file member of the House. He or she is also vastly more visible — one of the only members to get national press coverage, and so forth. Indeed, it’s reasonable to claim that the only sense in which there is equality between the Speaker and a back-bencher is in the formalism that, when the Speaker schedules a vote on a bill her committees have brought to the floor, she gets only one vote. This is an equality without very much equality — a weakness directly parallel to the one you see in my views regarding presiding.

  10. m&m said

    I don’t think we can read “equality” in a non-hierarchical way.

    This is an interesting way of expressing what I’ve been thinking about a lot.

    I think the language of the Proclamation would say that this community which includes a chief (or a presider) is not egalitarian in the sense that we normally think of it, that all of the members of the community relate to each other in some way that implies having equal power.

    And I would add equal eternal opportunity, which opportunity is only reached through a partnership of husband and wife, coming together as one. We are equal because the blessings that God holds in store for us are without respect to man or woman; we all those blessings offered. We also have to be partners because those equally-available blessings with regard to eternity can only be obtained together. Which in my mind gets to why we don’t have checklisty equal responsibilities and roles now in the world’s sense of “equality.” If we were equal in the world’s sense, there wouldn’t be the same need to come together interdependently as men and women in the Church and in especially in marriage.

    Robert, I love how you have articulated that difficult texts require a different way of approaching them. To me, that means putting dictionary and sociological or whatever definitions aside a bit and trying to discern what the whole is supposed to mean. I think it was SilverRain who talked about this on BCC. She said:

    “Therefore, rather than dissecting the Proclamation and criticizing that word or this phrase…sit back and enjoy the meal as a whole. See how the parts move together….they combine to form a delicious whole. It is impossible to discern the Lord’s meaning by examining one sentence and ignoring the next, rather one must search for meaning by studying each part as only a portion of the whole.”

    I sort of get the sense that this is what Robert is driving at. Am I understanding that correctly, Robert?

    Incidentally, I think we might be hearing a little more about equality because of less-than-ideal situations such as those BiV alludes to. I don’t think it’s that presiding is now suddenly less important. Both concepts have been taught through the decades (at least in the last century, equality in marriage is not a new concept since the Proclamation). But perhaps because of abuses that still exist (which isn’t the system/order’s fault but the fault of individuals who are misunderstanding the principles), we might be hearing more so that people can see what this interplay of presiding/equal partnership is really supposed to look like. I personally think these are concepts sometimes difficult to fully capture in words, but are nonetheless delicious when understood.

    What’s hard is when they aren’t lived, and my heart goes out to those who experience those kinds of abuses. But presiding was never meant to be about control or authority (as in lording over), but about service, partnership and love. I think this is why our leaders are emphasizing the partnership. But I don’t see them abadoning the concept of presiding, though. I think the concepts are meant to always be in interplay.

    My more-than-two-cents. :)

  11. By the way, there is a dead-end involved in the suggestion that we try to interpret in the light of the spirit of prophesy, or m&m’s suggestion in the last comment that we try to understand the “whole” of the text and not just its parts: it seems to me that all of us in this conversation are doing both.

  12. Joe Spencer said

    I’ve been watching this conversation, waiting for someone to look more closely at the faith-and-aporiae question more directly, but to no avail. I confess that I’m little interested in the question of presidency vs. equality, for a number of reasons (reasons I’ll have to articulate elsewhere). But I am interested in this question of aporiae and their relation to faith. I hope to get back to this question…

  13. Robert C. said

    Bored in vernal #3, sorry for delayed response here—very busy weekend for me. I agree that “pointing out the difficulty as J. has done is perfectly appropriate” (see the third paragraph of my post), simply that this brings us to the point of where faith really becomes meaningful. I’ll elaborate below, but I’m saying that if we decide this is a weakness of the text, something that undermines anything positive that the text can say to us, then we are not being faithful to the text (and here I mean “faithful” roughly in the sense of giving the other the benefit of the doubt). Also, although I do think that “preside” means “serve,” I agree that there is a hierarchical connotation also (again, see more on this below).

    J-NS #8, good points, thanks for pressing me on the issue. Consider:

    “The Historian’s view”: Preside has traditionally been understood as a hierarchical term. Placing the word “equality” in the Proclamation alongside the word “preside” creates a tension that cannot be resolved without doing violence to the term “preside” (by taking away the hierarchical connotation) or the term “equality” (by interpreting this word hierarchically). Therefore, the best way to interpret the Proclamation is to see it as a statement that is part of a larger shift of the community away from hierarchy toward egalitarianism.

    I put this last sentence in italics because that is the sentence I object to. I don’t object to there being a shift toward egalitarianism. Rather, I object to the conditions this reading puts on the future. If the Church does not make this move toward egalitarianism, then I think the Historian is in trouble in the sense that she’ll have to jettison her view. This is the sense that I don’t think it’s a faithful reading: to be faithful requires a certain amount of unconditionality—in this case, to be faithful to the Proclamation is to read it as it is, not as I hope or expect it to become. (Of course any interpretation will be historically conditioned, what I am objecting to is the future conditionality….)

    So, rather than assuming that the text contradicts itself and is therefore pointing to something like a new order for the community, I think we need to go back and the about the supposed contradiction more carefully. So, down to the nitty gritty (Joe was right that this wasn’t the main point of my post, but I think it’s only fair that I try to engage specifics of this issue, to illustrate what I mean if for no other reason…):

    We can think about many different ways that one might preside, but if we try to think about “preside” in a strictly egalitarian way, it seems the term loses all semblance of meaning. The fact is, fathers are said not only to provide, but to preside also. If mothers were to preside in the home in the same way, then the mention of the father’s role to preside would seem peculiar and superfluous—futhermore, this does direct violence to the word pre-side, ignoring the connotations of the “pre” prefix, making it equivalent to be-side.

    Now, in the phrase “equal partners,” the word equal is interesting because we typically think of it as meaning something very similar to “identical” (at least most dictionaries I’ve looked at use this word in the definition). But clearly the two partners are not equal in all respects—after all, “partner” is plural! So we have plurality and sameness in a bit of tension. Nevertheless, the phrase doesn’t strike us as odd because we are very accustomed to thinking about a limited type of equality. In mathematics, we can say that 3 + 1 = 2 + 2 because the two expressions have the same value, not because “3” and “1” are exactly the same as “2” and “2”. So I think the connotation is that the partners, in some sense, must have the same “value.”

    Anyway, this is already way too long and I’m sure you get the idea of the kind of more careful reading and thinking I’m calling for, in a way that doesn’t condition the future (if the word “preside” were struck from the Proclamation tomorrow, I would simply call for a new reading that is faithful to the new text; the historical trend would help me make sense of the text, but to anticipate the trend is to be reasonable or rational or systematic, not faithful…).

  14. Robert C. said

    m&m #10, yes I agree that “one must search for meaning by studying each part as only a portion of the whole.” And I think there’s a very real sense in which we have to go beyond (I’d say it this way rather than “set aside” as you did…) dictionary and sociological definitions. It is this call to go beyond obvious or presupposed definitions (in order to resolve an apparent tension or contradiction) that I think requires us to exercise faith, not only in according our lives to the text, but starting with the very first step of interpreting the text.

  15. Robert C., you’re placing far too much weight on the frivolous extrapolation part of what I said, the claim that things will continue to move in the direction that they have moved starting shortly after Ezra Taft Benson’s famous speech about mothers in the home. The argument regarding the pairing of “equality” to a word that was already destabilized in our community (“preside” in the family context) may suggest a direction the church will continue to travel toward full egalitarianism. But my argument isn’t especially about this possibility. Rather, it is about the gradual shift in “preside” from authoritarian command in a Moses-like style (i.e., 20 years ago or so) toward the gentler and more egalitarian version that even most Mormon gender-traditionalists accept. In the context of that historical shift, which you seem to accept, the novel juxtaposition of “preside” and “equal partners” seems to be the central message of the Proclamation in terms of family structure. In a conversation, the important part of a statement is what it adds to the discussion — not what it merely rehearses. The Proclamation does not add new emphasis on the “presiding” role, which is singularly ill-defined in this text, especially in comparison with earlier church statements on the theme. Instead, the novel element is equality; the new message here seems to be a rejection of hierarchy. If we are faithful to the text as written, it seems to me that we can’t get there without taking that new message very seriously indeed.

    I agree that there are many kinds of equality. Yet I don’t think it’s a trivial, or possibly an achievable, task to sketch a concept of equality that is both in keeping with the norms of our speech community and allows for one “equal” person to have command authority over the other. This kind of account is just as destructive to linguistic expectations as an egalitarian “preside” is. So there’s no higher ground, in terms of linguistics or faithfulness, for hierarchy here. Both a hierarchical and an egalitarian reading create tensions in the text. But — the egalitarian reading is more responsive to the novel elements of the Proclamation than the hierarchical reading and therefore seems more in keeping with the spirit of the statement.

    By the way, all of this is directly responsive to the central theme of the post, in my opinion. There are, in my view, two faithless ways to respond to aporiae. One is to conclude that the text is worthless and discredited. The other is to conclude that the text merely says what we already think. Both of these responses adopt the interpretation that the aporia renders the text incapable of contributing anything to the conversation. Faith is not found in deciding that the text is rubbish. But it’s also not found in refusing to listen to what the text has to say and simply concluding that it says just what previous easier texts said.

    On my reading, you seem to be somewhat inconsistent in your attitudes about what is “faithful.” To you, it is faithful to “go beyond obvious or presupposed definitions” of equality but not of presiding. Why? Why is only one resolution of the aporia faithful in your view, when both have similar structural characteristics? It seems hard to understand.

  16. Nate Oman said

    JNS: I agree with much of your analysis here, but I think that there is one other element that in all honesty you ought to include. One of the main reasons, I suspect, that you wish to place emphasis on the equality part of the destablized diad is not simply that it is historically new, but also because you find it more normatively attractive. In other words, you have independent normative grounds for wishing to destablize the concept of presiding, which I think it is safe to assume that you regard in a pajorative, patriarchical sense. For my money, I agree with you on the normative point. I find a marriage based on equality rather than hierarchy far more attractive than one based on hierarchy rather than equality. That being the case, one should, I think fess up to how one’s normative presuppositions inform ones interpretation and to the extent that one is self-consciously discussing interpretative techniques, I think that the role of normative judgement has to be dealt with.

    For example, I take it that an implicit assumption of why your resolution of the aporia is to be preferred to Robert’s is not simply that you do less violence to the meaning of “preside” and “equality” but also because your whiggish reading of history gives you the interpretive resources to privilege the equality half of the diad, which Robert does not seem to do as strongly. Since equality is more normatively attractive that hierarchy, this counts as a point in favor of your interpretation.

  17. Nate, I would have taken it as granted that both Robert and I have normative motivations for our discourse. But I’ve learned, by sad experience as they say, that explicit discussion of normative issues isn’t a particularly potent route to persuasive discourse.

    Nonetheless, normative commitments are an inescapable part of interpreting a difficult text like this. What I would hope we could agree, across normative divides, is that Robert’s resolution of the aporia and mine both involve novel and in some sense strained readings of one word in the dyad. This agreement in itself really erases the appeal to “faithfulness,” since both readings are equally faithful.

    To break the tie, we can make normative claims, as you suggest. We can examine broader trends in usage, as I’ve waved my hands at. We can consider the relative priority of novel versus repeated expressions. But we can’t make headway by appealing to the fact that one or the other of us is forced to rely on a non-standard reading of a key word in the text. Because we’re both forced to do that.

  18. Ray said

    If we want to call primary responsibilities being shared between married equals a shift away from the traditional concept of presiding (and the concept that probably will and should continue in the organizational structure of the Church), then I can accept that. To me, it’s not much more complicated than the following, pointed mostly to the men: Yes, there is an established delineation of primary roles, but that delineation does not create an inequality that makes the man the boss. Rather, these roles should be combined in such a way that each couple functions as one – sharing all responsibilities – in a sense, each sacrificing a part of him/herself to the other to create a united whole.

    What makes this effort impossible to dissect intellectually is that it MUST differ from couple to couple. I have explained this in greater detail elsewhere, but equality and united wholeness for my parents meant my father doing almost everything that both normally would do. It certainly didn’t fit most people’s definition of equality, but it was what was necessary for them. I have no doubt that JNS, Robert, m&m, and myself are creating a different manifestation of equality and united wholeness than my parents did – but I am fine with that. I believe firmly that our individual building plans can vary quite radically and still fulfill the spirit of the Proclamation.

    Therefore, perhaps we should avoid trying to reach consensus in the details and focus on the central concept of shared responsibilities between equal partners – no matter what form that takes for each individual couple. I think that is the central thread in what I have read in the comments I respect – from both blogs; I think not doing so is the central failure of those comments that I have dismissed and cannot respect.

  19. Robert C. said

    JN-S #15, I enthusiastically agree with you that the Proclamation forces us to understand “preside” in a more egalitarian sense (even radically more) than it has traditionally been understood. What I object to is the removal of all hierarchical connotations of the word. And when I say “hierarchical” I mean the word in only in its loosest possible sense (sorry, perhaps this was a poor word choice b/c of the connotational baggage—I just can’t think of another term for what I mean), that the one who presides has at least in some sense a power, authority, or responsibility that others in the community/marriage do not distinctly (or at least explicitly) have. I’m all for radically rethinking what this kind of power/responsibility means or entails, but to have the word included in the Proclamation is to say something, and I don’t think we can get around thinking of that something as being somehow related to some form of distinct power or responsibility—hence hierarchy in at least some sense of the word.

    I object simply to reading “preside” as neutered in this sense of having no connotations of distinct power or responsibility (which you may or may not be arguing, I understand you may’ve meant this in a less strict sense than I am meaning it…). This is putting the matter a bit too neatly, but I think we either have to read the word “preside” as saying something (which I’m calling “hierarchy” for the reasons I explained above), or it is not really saying anything—and if it is not really saying anything, the best alternative theory I can think of (perhaps only inspired by you…) is that the word is serving a political/historical puprose, perhaps to move us toward an egalitarian order where there is no presiding. Inasmuch as we read the text in terms of this historical, political purpose, I’m saying we can’t call this aspect of our reading faithful in the sense that it’s not taking the term “preside” seriously in its current place in the text. I am (emphatically) not calling this kind of historical or political reading unfaithful, just that this aspect to our reading is not taking the additional step of looking for what the text is saying to us now, more immediately and in addition to a political/historical model. With the word preside, although although the Proclamation significantly destabilizes the historical connotations of the word preside, I do not think preside should be completely divorced from the historically-situated meaning of the word, at least not if we want to be faithful to the text.

    [Addendum: I’ve been reading Derrida’s Gift of Death for the Reading Abraham seminar, and Derrida’s discussion of responsibility is firmly in my mind as I think above about the similarities and interplay between power and responsibility. I’m thinking of hierarchy much more in terms of an asymmetry in responsibility than an asymmetry of power, but I think that in granting a distinct responsibility to preside, the Proclamation—because of the religious authority that it bears—is granting power in at least some sense. So I don’t think we can completely escape the power connotations of the word hierarchy, which is one reason I’m not sure we can escape the essential meaning of the term….]

  20. Robert C. said

    Ray #18, I think this is a very good point that the word “partners” points to, that we “share all responsibilities.” I think the aporia comes when we try to say that “equal partners” implies that we share all responsibilities equally, because presiding and nurturing are explicitly and distinctly mentioned in relation to the father and mother. I think that both mother and father, as partners, must share these responsibilities, I simply don’t see how we can read the Proclamation as saying that we share these responsibilities in the same way (i.e. “equally,” in the strong sense of the word). And I very much agree that how we fulfill or delegate these responsibilities is something we must take up as individuals, couples and families, prayerfully and with fear and trembling!

    (By the way, Joe #12, I used “aporias” instead of “aporiae” consciously, to parallel works, but I also smiled at the thought in making this choice that it implicitly brings up the issue of violence-to-the-other, esp. as it relates to cultures and languages, and language as our main vehicle of communication….)

  21. m&m said

    And I think there’s a very real sense in which we have to go beyond (I’d say it this way rather than “set aside” as you did…) dictionary and sociological definitions.

    I like the way you said it much better. I knew there was something not quite right in that sentence. Thanks for saying what I was thinking. :)

  22. TT said

    I don’t see the connection between a Derridean aporia and a necessarily faithful approach. Since deconstruction is supposed to expose these aporiae in order to demonstrate that there is no monological reading of texts, it seems that a “faithful” reading is about the last possible result. Instead, the attempt to unify the discourse is simply an attempt to mask the real tension in practice.

  23. Robert C. said

    TT #22, excellent question/point. I quickly realized my invocation of Derrida was rather muddled, which is why backed off the term in the comments. But let me try to explain (and keep in mind that I’m very new to these ideas and in the process of trying to understand Derrida, as well as trying to formulate my own ideas…):

    I was thinking mainly of Jim’s discussion of deconstruction and negative theology (see here, about half way down): “For the negative theologian, true theology comes in neither affirmative theology by itself nor in negative theology alone, but in the ‘third way,’ the continued praise that is opened by the opposition between the two ways.” Similarly, I think that tension in a text, like that between “preside” and “equal partners,” if given a chance by a careful/faithful reading, can create a much richer meaning than a simpler text, for the same reason the negative theologian thinks that affirmative theological statements are inadequate and must be countered by negative theological statements in order to show the ways in which God outstrips any positive statement.

    Now, as I understand your point, which I think is very important, the “openness” of the text (esp. in tension-filled texts, and/or when aporetic moments in a text are found) creates many possibilities of meaning (what I is what think Derrida sometimes refers to as “play” in the sense, as Jim describes it, that we say there is play in a steering wheel…). This is where faith comes into play again, because it requires us to step into the unknown in the very act of interpretation. Derrida talks about this (as I understand him…) in terms of responsibility: because it isn’t obvious, clear, or definitive how I should understand the text, I need to take responsibility for how I choose to interpret the text. In this sense, I think there is indeed room for many different faithful readings of the text but, as we might say in Mormonese, we will be accountable to God for how we choose to interpret the text (and esp. for how we live in accordance with our good-faith effort to understand the text).

    Not sure if that’s very helpful, I’m probably trying to cover too much ground in too short a space (and I’m definitely biting off more than I can chew!), but I’m quite short on time this evening. At any rate, that’s roughly how I’m thinking about the connection between tension in and faithfulness to a text vis-a-vis deconstruction….

  24. m&m said

    And I very much agree that how we fulfill or delegate these responsibilities is something we must take up as individuals, couples and families, prayerfully and with fear and trembling!

    In practice, I also think this is very much a process, not something that is figured out once and then is just a given. Marriage demands constant communication, negotiation, evaluation and re-evaluation. I tend to think that the tension that is there (in this regard and in many other gospel principles) is to help us learn to find a balance with the Spirit’s guidance. To me, it’s the experiential element that adds a dimension that can never really be analyzed at the intellectual level; if I tried to explain what this balance and these principles mean in our marriage, and when they work best, it would be very difficult to do so simply through printed words. Hence, part of the reason I say, “Presiding and equal partnership are not mutually exclusive and, indeed, are wonderful principles that work and work together!” but I might not be able to adequately explain why and how I know that because some of it’s about my personal experience. I just can feel when we strike that balance and it feels good and right.

    As a woman, when I feel my husband is presiding correctly and thus we have that equal partnership, there is little that could be sweeter. I feel there is no inequality in power or anything because the balance helps bring us together as ONE in our marriage. That is where the power is, IMO — in the unity of spouses. But I couldn’t package that and tell another couple how to find that balance. (We can’t figure out how to keep that balance always in balance; like I said, it’s a process, a constant work in progress.) I believe part of marriage (and life) is to struggle and strive together to figure out how to implement these principles that present tension. Think about the tension that comes in trying to balance all our priorities (family, work, church, personal well-being (exercise, etc.)) Think about scriptures like Mosiah 4:27 — that we should have wisdom and order but be diligent. (Think of that: “all things must be done in order.” This is a key to the whole presiding thing, I think. Hmm….) These kinds of tensions are central to our existence, IMO. We shouldn’t be surprised when things don’t all neatly fit into compartments and nice packages; we are to take these principles and teachings and then spend the rest of our lives trying to figure them out. :)

    Anyway, back to the topic at hand: I think for each couple, the balance of roles will probably unfold in a slightly different way, depending on so many factors that come into play in the interplay between spouses. Part of the purpose of the tension is to get us to engage as spouses, to let the Spirit guide us to whatever the balance can and should look like right now. And it might look a little different in the future when we grow together and as life demands change and….

    As a side note, I’m one who doesn’t think the principle of presiding will ever go away. I think it’s part of the patriarchal order (whatever that means — yet another topic for another day or lifetime!); I think it’s embedded in our ritual and scripture; and in part because of that, I think it has a divine purpose. But I realize that some don’t share that view…. :)

  25. The concept of “presiding” in the scriptures has nothing to do with family, m&m. Every instance of the word in the Mormon canon refers to bureaucratic leadership in the church organization.

  26. Matthew said

    When we talk in the church about presiding it seems to me that we aren’t referring much to a broader cultural concept of presiding but rather to the already established concept of what it means to preside within the Church.

    Further, when people talk about presiding they often look to Jesus Christ as the ultimate example.

    One challenge though is that it isn’t all that easy to apply how Jesus “presides” in the scriptures to our own lives because his actions are so often wrapped up in his unique position as savior.

  27. Good thoughts TT and Robert (#’s 22 and 23). I agree that “faithful” should be put in scare quotes if it is to be associated with (any kind of) deconstruction, but I do think the connection is there. I like Robert’s (Jim’s, I guess) putting it in terms of praise, since that seems to me to get right to the heart of the issue of how it is faithful, at least in one sense. It is certainly faithful also in that it attends faithfully—radically so—to the text itself. But there is probably more to say still.

    If we must draw on Derrida, we are necessarily situating ourselves in a critique (but not, of course, a criticism) of Western metaphysics. My work on the Abraham Seminar lately has got me thinking about the importance of recognizing the unique role of the Gentiles in the broad prophetic scheme projected in the Book of Mormon, but there is also reason to take up a broad critique of American thought (which is certainly to be read within the horizon of Western metaphysics), one we might take up in terms of Mark Twain and Henry James as much as Alexis de Tocqueville and Allan Bloom. In drawing this closer and closer to thinking about Mormonism specifically as situated within or, perhaps, as situating the closure (whether or not one follows the arguments that that very closure is at once a structural impossibility and a structural necessity) of Western metaphysics, we would have, of course, to take up Harold Bloom (and perhaps him precisely as a crossing of Leo Tolstoy and William James).

    But before I find myself simply setting up an impossible project, let me draw the implication for this discussion: there is certainly room for talking about a link between the “strategy” of deconstruction and “faithfulness” in an LDS context. But to make it a more Derridean form of deconstruction, shouldn’t we have to think “faithfulness” less than charity or justice?

  28. Robert C. said

    m&m #24, this issue about understanding and/or experiencing something, and yet not being able to analyze it “at the intellectual level” is something I find endlessly fascinating. My views are constantly in flux on this, but I tend to believe that there is indeed an unbridgeable gap between these kinds of understanding, but that we must continually try to bridge this gap (and to say the gap isn’t bridgeable is not to say that there’s “an upper limit” on either of these types of understanding; rather, I think they play off of each other in a constant dynamic of progression, or regression if we are “unrighteous”…).

    Matthew #26, I agree that the Proclamation is drawing more on scriptural contexts and Church history contexts, though I don’t think we find much in the scriptures regarding Jesus presiding. I think there’s a lot in the D&C though, and I think it would be a fascinating project to study this out carefully.

    Joe #27, I don’t follow what you mean in your last line (“shouldn’t we have to think ‘faithfulness’ less than charity or justice”), can you explain? What do you mean “less than”? Perhaps that charity or justice (I’m guessing you have a rather Levinasian view of justice here, that is quite similar to charity…) outstrips faithfulness in important ways? I’ve been thinking about your faith-hope-charity model you’ve expressed in various places, and although I like many aspects of the model, I’m quite hesitant to think about charity as simply being “more” or “superior” to faith. I know that’s probably not what you mean, but I figure this “less than” word choice you makes for a good opportunity to ask you about this in more depth….

    (Also, Joe, I’m really curious why you don’t find this issue ‘preside’ vs. ‘equal partners’ issue interesting—if you don’t want to discuss why here, is there somewhere else you’d be willing to discuss it?)

  29. Robert #28,

    I’m thinking of Derrida more than Levinas, but of course, Derrida draws precisely on Levinas in his discussions of justice. And you are right to detect something of my faith/hope/charity model in my last sentence. Essentially I’m suggesting that if we can speak of two (ultimately three) very different senses of faith, the one we are thinking here might be better rendered as a kind of charity. But I’m also pointing to justice and charity because they were perhaps on the lips of Derrida more frequently than faith (though not too much more frequently in his last years).

    So let me clarify my model a bit. Certainly, I would hope you recognize how much the faith/hope/charity model I promote is like, say, Kierkegaard’s aesthetic/ethical/religious model. But I’m trying to think quite a bit more than just that question. First and foremost, I’m taking into consideration that, as Paul tells us, “Now abide faith, hope, charity, these three. But the greatest of these is charity.” All three abide, and none of them quite undoes or overthrows any other, but there is still some kind of ascending order (“the greatest of these…”). So…

    In the name of this threefold structure, I’d like to suggest that there are three different senses of faith: faith from the perspective of faith, faith from the perspective of hope, and faith from the perspective of charity. Faith from the perspective of faith: the kind of trust my daughter has right now in all things religious (if I say it is so, she implicitly trusts it is so). Faith from the perspective of hope: faithfulness to the Church as a tradition or an institution, to the doctrines or the scriptures, to the Brethren or the priesthood, etc. (if they say so, I’ll have to trust them in hope that…). Faith from the perspective of charity: faithfulness to God and to this person before me in a radical act of charity (I trust God to speak in me or in this text or in this situation to this person in a call that calls this person to the same love I feel).

    Hence, faith might be said to be (typologically?) recast as one “progresses” through the three theological virtues. Realistically, and here I’m taking up a point Adam makes over and over again, faith is only constituted in retrospect once one begins to live in hope (one can only see one’s faith once one hopes, that is, once one doubts). Faith and hope might be said to be the two tugs that constitute the self, the psyche, the mind, the individual, the being, the rivalry, the economy, etc. Charity is the typological disruption of these “things”: love distracts being, breaks economies, subverts the psyche, changes the mind, undoes rivalry, shatters the self, questions the individual, etc. It is this impossible charity that Derrida is trying to think, and that he takes as the very foundation (as I understand him, anyway) of deconstruction (the foundation of deconstruction because it is at the same time the very foundation of the structure it deconstructs). Love (and God is Love) structures and deconstructs reality. And if love (as we love) is ever to be faithful, it will have to do both of these things as well. Faithfulness in this radical sense would be the power to create (to structure): God as Love, the loving as gods.

    Or some such ridiculous thing. :)

  30. m&m said

    Robert, in response to your response to me about experience and describing the experience, I agree that it’s good to try to bridge the gap. But in the end, what I have found is when I really feel that I have had an “aha” experientially, and try to share that with someone else, it never translates well. That hasn’t stopped me from trying, but it’s helped me believe even more in the doing part of knowing (a la John 7:17).

    Matthew, #26, I agree. Good thoughts. I would add that the scriptures do talk about the patriarchal order, and some of that relates to family order as well, which is some of what I was getting at (not necessarily the word “preside” itself). I think these concepts, again, are intertwined.

  31. Do I dare discuss my lack of interest, Robert (again, #28, this time parenthetically)?

    I suppose that in part it is my canonical interest that determines my lack of interest in the question: if the Proclamation were canonized (really canonized, of course, and not just generally accepted), it would draw my attention a great deal more.

    And I suppose that in part it is a function of my interest in the early: too much happened between 1844 and 199? (when did the Proclamation come out?), and that means that far too much is being assumed in any discussion of the Proclamation, especially if we have hardly, as a people, begun to consider the meaning of family in Joseph’s revelations and revealed ordinances (and I’m convinced we’ve not even begun, really, at all).

    And I suppose that in part it is a practical issue as well: whatever the status quo of things on the earth (and even in the Church) is, it matters very little, so long as the Spirit and charity are imposing their typological influence (that is, I totally agree with Paul that our wrestle is not with flesh and blood, that our struggle is not with the powers that be, that because “natural bodies”—bodies according to psyche—are always a part of an oppressive structure, we are otherwise dwelling—in “spiritual bodies” or bodies according to spirit, or even to the Spirit).

    And I suppose also that it is a function of focus: my wife and I think little about who presides, provides, protects, etc., so long as it is done (I suppose I feel we can take whatever necessary liberties here in the name of language like “primarily responsible”), so that we can get on with the important work of building the kingdom, which is far more important than deciding who is going to cook dinner tonight.


  32. Matt W. said

    JNS (25) If you want to write a post that proves this, I’d love to read it.

  33. BrianJ said

    Matt W, #32: I think a strong case for JNS’s point is made by simply searching for the word “preside” (including word forms) in the lds.org scripture search. You get 25 hits, 22 of which are in the D&C. I didn’t carefully read every one of them, but I think JNS is right, and I don’t think the verses require any additional explanation to make his point. (JNS is welcome, of course, to still write that post.)

  34. BrianJ said

    (In other words, the real challenge is to find an instance of the word in our scriptures that does not directly refer to church government.)

  35. m&m said

    I do want to point out that JNS’s point was in response to what I said, and what I said was not clear. I didn’t mean the concept of presiding alone is scriptural; what I meant is the concepts that connect with men holding the priesthood and presiding, which involves a lot more than just the word “preside.” FWIW.

  36. douglashunter said

    How come the starting point of all this wasn’t the use of the term “neuters” in the comment that started the discussion? Clearly in this context its a pretty humorous word choice (no matter if the irony is intentional or not). Maybe its a productive reading as well, in that it suggests the text is rendering gender neutral at a point where the overt purpose of the text is to make an authoritative statement about something thought to be an essential aspect of gender. Did I write “essential”?

    Why is it that we can’t have a frank discussion of the Church’s gender essentialism?

    Joe #29. You mention Levinas and justice, I enjoy the fact that for Levinas Justice is involved in the “taking of responsibility for the fate of the other”. It seems to me that, it’s this aspect of his thinking that is most welcome in this context. One way to process it might be to say that since the female is often posed as “the other” to the male that it’s necessary, if justice is to be done, for the masculine to make the overt effort to extend justice to the feminine. Lets call that presiding!

  37. m&m said

    <i>so that we can get on with the important work of building the kingdom, which is far more important than deciding who is going to cook dinner tonight.</i>
    I hope that this isn’t all you see the Proclamation as being good for. :) (Especially since this is obviously reading way too far into it. There is much room for sharing of most of the responsibilities of life, even as there are a few roles that are defined.) To me, the Proclamation is a foundation document in the very work of building the kingdom. Without solid marriages and families, the kingdom is weakened. The kingdom is built one family at a time.

  38. Robert C. said

    Joe #29 & 31, thanks. I actually am reading (listening to…) Adam’s draft chapter on Badiou and Marion that he sent to lds-herm way back. I’d like to discuss that more at some point, and try to think about this deconstructing nature of love more (and how it pertains to ways we think about revelation, which is my new hobby horse topic, as you’ve been subject to at Reading Abraham…).

    m&m #30, so you know, one of my primary interests in philosophy (continental philosophy in particular) is directly tied to this question of intellectual understanding trailing or coming subsequent to epiphany, experience, experiential knowledge, etc. So when Joe, Douglas, me and others start talking philosophical gibberish here, most of the time these are the issues we’re trying to articulate (and I think for philosophers this is still very much an open question, whether we can really talk sensibly about transcendental experiences…).

    douglas #36, I’d love to have more frank discussions of gender essentialism here. However, I’m so poorly acquainted with feminist and gender studies, that I simply lack the know-how and confidence for starting such a discussion. I think there are many on this list who’d be interested in such discussion, and I think this is actually quite central to how we read many passages of scripture, so I’d love to see you start such a discussion (or anyone else can start such a post, email: feastZZZblog@gmail.com, without the ZZZ’s…). Also, I really like your Levinasian (re-)interpretation of preside:

    [S]ince the female is often posed as “the other” to the male that it’s necessary, if justice is to be done, for the masculine to make the overt effort to extend justice to the feminine. Lets call that presiding!

  39. douglashunter said

    Drat, I need to edit my comment but the edit feature is not showing up, help.

  40. Cherylem said

    I’ve been wanting to say something regarding this conversation for some time but I’m afraid it really doesn’t fit – since what I have to say is not philosophical or interpretative in nature. Still, here goes, and if this is a thread-jack, feel free to ignore it.

    Regarding the language of the proclamation, I’d like to come at this from a different perspective. I’d like to suggest that a marriage (whether in or out of the church) that has lasted some years and is mostly successful (as defined by its participants), and that has resulted in children, already has some self-definition going on. That self-definition may not be hierarchical, and throwing a word such as preside into that marriage relationship may be intrusive and startling. For some – even many – marriages, the idea of one or other of the marriage partners presiding simply would not relate to what they have going on.

    Many marriage partners have already come to some sort of definition of what works for them, and what makes for a healthy family environment for all parties concerned – father, mother, children. They may – rightly – trust their own judgment in these matters, and look at the Proclamation to the World to see how it measures up against their own personal standards, not to see how they should conform to the Proclamation (don’t throw tomatoes here!). The word *preside* may be so foreign to them in terms of the intimacy and trust of their relationship that they may feel that the Proclamation might be talking about some marriages somewhere, but not theirs.

    This may be an idiosyncratic viewpoint, but truly there are many (I believe) who do not look for a definition of the marriage relationship *as it impacts them personally* from a prophetic voice. They define that relationship day in and day out, and look for a relationship that allows both marriage partners to bloom and grow in intimate happiness, as well as provide an emotionally nurturing, caring, encouraging environment for the children they make together. How they accomplish this, how they learn unselfishness and commitment within relationship, how they arrange to care for the children . . . vary from couple to couple, as it should. To throw in who presides and who nurtures as a one-size fits all formula for every relationship and every family seems . . . well, not quite right.

    So what the heck was the First Presidency saying, anyway?

  41. Robert C. said

    Douglas #39, I think you can only edit comments on a thread you started. We could probably increase your priveleges (and perhaps responsibilities—isn’t that idea central to this whole post anyway?!) if you’d like.

    Cherylem #40, actually this is very close to many issues I was thinking about when originally writing the post (but I didn’t write about them…). That is, I can’t say the Proclamation has had much direct affect on my marriage, or family. However, I think there’s a more indirect effect it’s had on me in the way I reflect on marriage(/family/gender relations) more generally, and hence my marriage(/family/gender relations) indirectly. One of the ways this has affected me personally came out in my post: since hierarchy (in the usual sense of the word—again, let me stress I was using the word a bit pedantically and perhaps even a bit belligerently/provocatively…) seems so absent in my marriage, when I think about the Proclamation I tend to think of it as a call to serve. Very loosely: My wife does so much more nurturing than me (I’m the bread-winner and she’s a stay-at-home-mom) that, despite my best efforts to help with this nurturing when and how I can (I’m not saying I always exert my best efforts, but even when I do…), I tend to feel guilty for not helping in this nurturing process more. That is, there is a mother-child bond that exists, which persists despite my best efforts to overcome it. Reading the Proclamation in this context, I am able to think about my role somewhat differently: to the extent that I cannot nurture our kids like my wife does (of course I think it’s diabolical to read the Proclamation as an excuse not to help with the kids!), I can do something different. In particular, I can watch over this nurturing process (perhaps like a meta-nurturing—nurturing the nurturing…?). This responsibility to watch over my family has helped me rethink the ways that I can help.

    Although this is going a bit beyond the text, but still I think faithful to at least the “political” spirit of the text (i.e. the historical shift effected by the text, similar to waht JN-S was saying above), I think there are important implications for how we think of presiding in the Church more generally. That is, I think there’s an implicit (perhaps very implicit) call in this text for, say, bishops to be less authoritative in their leadership style. So, rather than thinking of the Bishop on the stand lording over the congregation, the Bishop is watching over the congregation, looking for needs certian members might have—like when my wife is feeding the baby and I see that she could use an extra pillow to support her arm, so I grab one, or tell my son to get one for her, or whatever….

    Also, it is in this sense that I think we need to radically rethink hierarchy (at least in the Kingdom of God): the one who is “above” or “before”—the “pre” in preside—is in that position for the express purpose of having a better vantage point to meet the needs of the one/s being presided over. And of course, this position is accompanied with respons-ibility (a call for response, as I’m just reading about in The Gift of Death, pp. 24ff).

  42. m&m said

    m&m #30, so you know, one of my primary interests in philosophy (continental philosophy in particular) is directly tied to this question of intellectual understanding trailing or coming subsequent to epiphany, experience, experiential knowledge, etc. So when Joe, Douglas, me and others start talking philosophical gibberish here, most of the time these are the issues we’re trying to articulate (and I think for philosophers this is still very much an open question, whether we can really talk sensibly about transcendental experiences…).

    OK, Robert, I sense that I’m missing something and this is why you pointed this out. Help me know what I missed or what I said that made you want to say this. I always feel like I’m off in my thoughts and comments around here and I would like to identify how and where that happens. :)

  43. Robert C. said

    Sorry, m&m, I don’t think you’re really missing anything, except perhaps a clear or deep sense of what Joe means when he says things like the following in #29 (I at least don’t feel like I have a very clear or deep sense of understanding this!):

    Charity is the typological disruption of these “things”: love distracts being, breaks economies, subverts the psyche, changes the mind, undoes rivalry, shatters the self, questions the individual, etc.

  44. m&m said

    I think you made some good points, and actually, FWIW, in a way I have agreed with you in earlier comments.

    Marriage is a negotiation process, it’s a private and wonderful interplay between husband and wife. And I think the Proclamation leaves soo much room for this kind of interply. I really think that sometimes the Proclamation is perceived to be more strict than it really is; hence my reaction to Joe’s reduction of what the Proclamation is getting at to simply who makes dinner, etc. The only real delineation comes at the work vs. stay-at-home thing and even that has room for individual adaptation. The Proclamation didn’t change our marriage, either in any fundamental way. But I think there are layers of meaning, like I feel Robert is getting at, and I love the way this post wants to get at some of that meaning. I have been pondering these issues a lot the past few months and I find that the more I study the Proclamation, the more I see and learn and sense and experience. I think the whole idea, though, is just what you have described — that marriages are about intimate happiness and discovery. But I tend to think if someone will simply say, “The Proclamation doesn’t apply to me” or they judge it based on their own thoughts, I think they might be missing an opportunity for some interesting discovery. Not like huge, radical changes necessarily (although sometimes that does come from prophetic counsel), but like some of the subtleties that Robert is getting at.

    After 10 years of marriage, my husband and I are drawing strength and perspective from these principles as our understanding of them feels to be growing. Some of that is coming indirectly, not necessarily from having our faces in the Proclamation. What we are finding, though, is the closer we get to that model, the happier we are. So my opinion is this: “Doing what works” for a couple is good, but I think that the Proclamation gives us a model that can enhance any marriage if given the chance. Again, not necessarily in dramatic ways, but in seeking to understand and fine-tune doctrinally what a family should look like, what God wants a family to be.

    One example that was discussed at BoJ recently was simply that wholesome recreation was something that should get time in our families. Maybe this isn’t something that is a problem for some, but I think some of us have been reminded of the importance of scheduling and making fun things happen, for the sake of the family’s well-being. That God wants us to have fun together! :)

    Anyway, I realize that the Proclamation will mean different things to different people. I have just been amazed at how the more I engage with its principles, the more I see and feel and learn. Pres. Packer said once that he feels the Proclamation has taken on the status of scripture. I feel that way about it and it yields light to me like scripture does. That’s where I’m coming from on this. :)

  45. m&m said

    Charity is the typological disruption of these “things”: love distracts being, breaks economies, subverts the psyche, changes the mind, undoes rivalry, shatters the self, questions the individual, etc.

    Actually, I do understand this to some degree. I’m sure I don’t get it all, but I think also that we don’t get all that the prophets are teaching in the Proclamation, and not seeing these same principles that Joe discusses embedded therein. ;)

  46. douglashunter said


    I like what you wrote very much and it points out a possible problem in my own interpertation of the POTF. I tend to take it as a sign of the institution attempting to insert itself into personal relationships to advance an ideal that the institution thinks individuals should conform to. So I see it as disruptive. I realize also that my reaction to the text is contextualized by my understanding of it as informed by the same idea / assumption that so much of the discussion on gender is informed by: that percieved differences between the genders are greater than actual differences between individuals. That’s an Idea that I catagorically reject, but after reading you I think I need to go back and take another look, read it in better faith.

  47. cherylem said

    Okay. I’m a little lost here. Tell me how my comment made you want to read the Proclamation in better faith (not that I am unhappy with the result, but you seem to be drawing some conclusions that are surprising to me).

    I mean, I think we all need to read it in faith, but I have real problems with the presiding/nurturing division promoted by the Proc because I think this is an unhealthy overlay on marriages that have worked to a more mutual and egalitarian relationship, and the preside/nuture division represents a politics of relationship rather than intimacy of relationship. Men often nurture. Women often fill the role that “preside” seems to define. It doesn’t have to be the other way around for love, intelligence, spirituality, intimacy and growth to occur, even shine. And sometimes this balance of preside/nurture will bounce back and forth from one partner to the other, over years of marriage. Many marriage partners that have lived with each other for many years will not even think in those terms, so that the terms themselves do cause an intrusion.

    Rather than worrying about who is presiding and who is nurturing, I think we need to see what we can do to pull away from a culture that takes young men out of the home when children and new wives most need them, and causes women to feel the isolation of child bearing and rearing, often experiencing that time as being unsupported and lonely. Men could be taught the joy and terrible responsibility of nurturing (if they don’t know this already), and women (some women) need to be taught the ability to lead and make decisions (even sometimes decisions for their family, including their husbands) in which they have complete confidence.

    The placing of gender roles on things such as preside and nurture just seems to me false, and again, unhealthy.

    I’m just being honest here, and I hope not offensive.

    And apropos of nothing, here’s part of a rather famous poem I like by Oriah Mountain Dreamer called THE INVITATION, and which, I think, says as much about relationship as anything I know (and certainly more than a division between preside/nurture):

    “It doesn’t interest me to know where you live
    or how much money you have.
    I want to know if you can get up after a night of grief and despair,
    weary and bruised to the bone, and do what needs to be done
    for the children.

    It doesn’t matter who you know, or how you came to be here.
    I want to know if you will stand in the center of the fire with me
    and not shrink back.”

    I like this poem because it emphasizes an equality of relationship (all divisions swept away) when it matters the most.

    I am sounding overly critical of the Proclamation, and I don’t mean to do this. But since this entire thread has been about preside/nurture and equality, this part of the Proclamation doesn’t work for me, and doesn’t describe the relationship I want (and hope that we have mostly achieved) with my own husband.

  48. cherylem said

    m&m #44,
    Thanks for these thoughts . . . they are good and represent for me, even model for me, a good way of looking at the Proclamation.

    Robert #41, Thanks also for your comments. In a culture that depends on at least one person growing a career, the fact that your wife is able to stay at home and nurture the children is a good thing, even a wonderful thing. And your desire to look at the Proclamation and see it as something fluid and something that touches and teaches you how to be a husband and father is great, and provides a great lesson to me.

    I also think that your comments regarding the evolution of our institutional understanding away from authoritative style towards a “watching over” is also good and, I think, right on. Thinking about this, and thinking about when my children were small and I was more or less exhausted all the time, I was thinking that if the male and even the mostly male driven institution can do anything . . . it is that: to protect, to watch over. To make sure the mother is getting her needs met, to protect her from herself when she exhausts herself in service to her children, to protect her from the stones and arrows of the outside world and her own inner voices that tell her she’s not worth much, even to put aside his own physical needs (for a hot dinner, for physical gratification) in order to serve the mother of his children, etc. A husband who can do these things, in the culture in which we now live, is worth a price high above rubies . . .

    You know one of the things I love about church? I love the fathers. I absolutely love them. I have never seen, in one place, a better group of fathers anywhere.

    And Douglas, I hope I didn’t sound like I was arguing with you. That was not my intent, and I would really like to hear more about what you meant.

    To everyone: sometimes it just feels good to say how one honestly feels, one’s honest reaction to something like those words in the Proclamation: this is very healing. It doesn’t mean I’m an apostate . . . or that I am not interested in how this conversation was going before I jumped in.

    Thanks for listening.

  49. m&m said

    make sure the mother is getting her needs met, to protect her from herself when she exhausts herself in service to her children, to protect her from the stones and arrows of the outside world and her own inner voices that tell her she’s not worth much, even to put aside his own physical needs (for a hot dinner, for physical gratification) in order to serve the mother of his children, etc. A husband who can do these things, in the culture in which we now live, is worth a price high above rubies . . .

    Dear sister, I think you have just described what presiding and priesthood and protecting and providing are supposed to be about, and why they are taught by our leaders and codified in a way in the Proclamation! Seriously. If you can see presiding in this light (which is what I think it’s about), then I think perhaps you could see why at least I have come to relish and love the teachings. :)

  50. Matthew said

    I keep feeling like I’d like to say something but don’t have much to add. Just want to thank others for a good discussion that is nice to follow. It is so easy to imagine this discussion having gone a way that wasn’t nice to follow at all….with people lining up on sides.

  51. Robert C. said

    Cheryl and Douglas, I really appreciate your honest expressions of your reactions, reservations, etc. about the Proclamation, and esp. that such expressions were done in a . . . well, let’s call it a “faith seeking understanding” way, rather than a “taking sides” kind of way, as Matthew put it (#50).

    I think that inasmuch as tensions in a text call for interpretation, there is an important opportunity to . . . act, or interact. Let’s see if I can’t unpack this rather muddled thought of mine somewhat coherently:

    In discussing the first chapter of The Gift of Death, Jim F. wrote the following:

    [I]f we can give an account of our freedom, explaining its antecedents and causes, then we are not free. Nevertheless, we must recognize the historicity of our existence. Presumably, if we cannot give an account of our freedom, then our acts become merely random. Thus, “historicity must remain open as a problem that is never to be resolved” (5)

    History is tied to responsibility because the latter requires that we make decisions which do not require the decision to be decided one way or the other. It requires faith because, involved with others in making those decisions, I go beyond knowledge and certainty. It requires the gift because the gift, particularly the gift of death (human mortality), puts me into relation with the transcendence of the other (5-6).

    If history is does not “remain open as a problem that is never to be resolved,” then history (which is like text that needs to be interpreted) becomes dead or cut off from us. It is our real interaction with the text that makes the text a live document, a genuine opening of dialog between us and the text.

    So, one of the main points of this post (I’ll admit my thinking on all this has shifted a bit since I first posted!), is an effort to open that dialog rather than close it. I think a crucial part of that dialog is to honestly consider various reactions to the text, positive and negative. Inasmuch as reactions are negative, I think it is important to do something about it, rather than “going to our separate corners” so-to-speak. That is, we should charitably look for a path of reconciliation—reinterpretation in this case. And if we don’t actively interpret the text in this way, then I think there’s a bit of self-fulfilling prophecy that occurs: the text, through our refusal to reinterpret it, becomes our worst fears realized. I think this process can seem a bit paradoxical (JN-S, I think it was, made this point earlier): whereas we might think that being faithful requires absolute submission to “the one meaning of the text,” in reality seeing only one meaning in the text is I think not being very faithful to the text—but at the same time, we can’t “wrest” the text either. It’s the space betwee “one meaning” and “wresting” that I think calls for faithful interaction, perhaps even wrestling as Joe has put it before (note that I am also stealing liberally from Joe’s post here).

    Ultimately, I think we each have to come up with our own means of reconciliation (to the text or the Church which has produced the text…), but since we are a community (as a Church, but also as I blog I suppose), I think it can be very helpful to discuss and share our own views and experiences in this process. It is when this kind of interaction between the text and ourselves ceases that I think our relationship with the text effectively dies. Jim wrote earlier in the same comment I quoted from above:

    The holy is the relation with the other (including desire), but it is a relation that does not, aim at unity, at the obliteration of self. Since responsibility requires response, it requires otherness. Thus, Patocka argues, the daemonic is irresponsible. This is similar to Levinas’s view: the desire for unity is the desire for a kind of murder or perhaps sexual self-gratification is a better trope. It denies the existence of the other person and, so, cannot be ethical / responsible.

    I have some more specific thoughts in response to the concerns you both raise, but I don’t have time to write about that right now….

  52. Robert C. said

    I just realized that this last quote of Jim’s probably requires a word of explanation, since we usually think of “unity” as a good thing, and here Jim (summarizing Levinas) is talking about it as a bad thing. I surely can’t explain Jim’s view, because I don’t understand it all that well, but I can at least point to 2 Ne 2:11 as challenging the conventional view that unity is a good thing:

    For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so, my first-born in the wilderness, righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad. Wherefore, all things must needs be a compound in one; wherefore, if it should be one body it must needs remain as dead, having no life neither death, nor corruption nor incorruption, happiness nor misery, neither sense nor insensibility.

    It is this difference between “compound in one” (as things should be) and “one body” (not how things should be) that I think disrupts the simplistic idea that “unity is good.” (I’ve been meaning for some time to study this article of Jim’s on Gen 2-3 more carefully in an effort to try and think through this. I think it’s time I finally got around to this, so expect some discussion of this in the next few weeks….)

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