FAIR is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing well-documented answers to criticisms of the doctrine, practice, and history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Question: What does the Family Proclamation mean when it says fathers "preside" over their families?
Question: What does the Family Proclamation mean when it says fathers “preside” over their families?
Introduction to Question
In September 1995, top general leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints released a document entitled The Family: A Proclamation to the World. In it, the divine institution of the family is described and defended. Part of this document talks about some general gender roles given to men and women. Fathers, it says, are to “preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families.” Mothers “are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children.” In these responsibilities, it says, “fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners.”
Confusion has arisen over how fathers can “preside” over their families while mothers are supposed to help the father in that responsibility as an “equal partner.”
This article seeks to address this confusion.
Response to Question
The Latin Root of the Word “Preside”
The etymology of the word “preside” is interesting. It traces back to the Latin words “prae” and “sedere.” When combined, they literally mean “to sit in front of.” It was used in Latin to signify “standing guard” and “superintending.” Thus, the word carries the dual meaning of protecting something and leading something (or someone). That is why the word is included in others like "president."
Fathers Receive Revelation on Behalf of their Families
In the Church, there is a large and well-established structure of leadership. This video outlines that leadership in detail:
The President of the Church, considered to be a prophet of God, receives revelation on behalf of the entire Church. Each person receives revelation for his or her own position and correlative sphere of influence in the Church. The more general the leader, the more general their stewardship. An Elder’s Quorum President can receive revelation to direct the Elder’s Quorum, a Bishop might be able to receive revelation to direct the Elder’s Quorum, but the Elder’s Quorum President cannot receive revelation on behalf of the whole ward like the Bishop can.
For a family, “it is the priesthood leadership of a family” that receives revelation for it: the husband. Paul taught that “the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God.” Thomas B. Marsh was told to “[g]overn [his] house in meekness, and be steadfast.”
A husband may choose to collapse this and pray together with his wife for joint revelation, but it is his right and choice to collapse it. This is similar to how a person can receive revelation to guide their own life through their own prayers but then outsource that authority to a person that gives them a patriarchal blessing. It is their right to choose who exercises that authority. A husband can lose his right to direct his family and/or the efficacy of his priesthood power if he is not keeping his life in accordance with the moral laws and other statutes laid out in scripture. That is made clear in Doctrine and Covenants 121:36-44. Thus, if his family is to receive guidance from God, a man is obligated to act in accordance with the commandments.
Eventually this priesthood structure will be dismantled entirely when man and woman become gods. Doctrine and Covenants 132 clearly teaches that a man and woman who are sealed become gods that share an absolutely equal amount of power (even if their powers may be qualitatively different) and become "one" even as all the gods are one: acting in total unison with each other with the same purpose. This may be added incentive for a man to collapse or outsource his leading authority to his wife and pray with her for revelation: to practice for the day when they will share power equally and outright. This may add new and deep meaning to trying to become equal partners while still having separate spheres of responsibility in mortality.
It’s not uncommon for questions of authority like this to rise on occasion. It is the authors hope that this article will serve in our continued efforts to become more “of one heart and one mind.”