Reason, Authority, and Ralph Hancock

TT is a blogger at www.faithpromotingrumor.com.  He recently posted “Five Questions for Ralph Hancock,” and the comment thread included a lengthy comment that we have asked his permission to re-post. Reading the thread at Faith Promoting Rumor will help provide the context for some of this, but readers who have been following the Brooks-Hancock chatter of late should be able to follow. (Related BCC posts can be found here.)

This post represents a response, of sorts, to the set of exchanges between Ralph Hancock and other LDS thinkers, most recently his apologia.   My post is not a defense of Joanna Brooks (though it uses her arguments as an example, in part, of some of the issues at stake), nor a treatise on any particular idea, but rather a discussion about how reasoning about LDS teachings might occur. 

Hancock appeals to both “authority” and “reason” in his attempt to depict certain ideas held by LDS intellectuals as incompatible with Mormonism, especially the equality of women and the acceptance of certain kinds of same-sex relationships.  I think that both claims to authority and reason need to be investigated, and suggest that both routes to establish a univocal Mormon framework to address to these questions face serious difficulties.

 


 
Authority
I think that this is a key issue, perhaps the key issue. I don’t claim to resolved this question definitively, perhaps because it cannot be resolved, but must exist forever in tension. The problem with critiques of authority is that they start from unequal ground. The authority can always simply reassert itself without having to engage the critique at all. Defining ground where both faithfulness and critique is possible is incredibly tricky.  But Hancock’s claim that some “liberal Mormon” modes of thought represent an intrusive “absorption” from the outside is both a rhetorical construction of a pristine Mormon mode of reasoning that is distinctive from a historical context, as well as a misunderstanding of how the act of interpretation of Mormonism necessarily proceeds.  Hancock’s rhetorical assertion that there is “a strong tendency for liberalism to migrate from politics and to penetrate and reshape religious understandings” proceeds as if his “religious understandings” are uninterpreted, while defining neither religion nor politics.  Such a framing of the disagreements between Hancock and others seeks to present his own situated interpretations as pure, missionary appropriations (thus baptizing Plato, Tocqueville, and Strauss), while his opponents are improperly “penetrating” Mormon thought.

I do have a few thoughts about authority that I think are relevant here:
a. I don’t think that assertions of authority of the kind Hancock advances pay sufficient attention to competing authorities. For instance, Brooks seems to suggest that there are other scriptures, even Mormon warrants for her theological perspectives. To assert that the Proclamation, or some other “authority” trumps it is not really an argument, but an assertion. The fact is that all traditions are made up of competing authoritative claims. Terryl Givens calls these “paradoxes,” but I think tensions is more accurate. To fail to acknowledge these tensions is to fail to understand Mormonism.  The negotiation of competing claims, values, and potentialities is inherent in all religious traditions. There is no univocal tradition, only the mythical attempt to normatively enforce one.

b. Even the Proclamation on the Family (Proclamation) is not free from internal tensions, some may even say irreconcilable contradictions. That is, the document must still be interpreted. An interpreted text or speech (as the nature of all texts and speech) is open to resignification. There is no ‘interpretation-free’ claim to authority. For instance, Hancock seems to believe that the Proclamation’s claim that there are two “genders” entails an argument against women holding the priesthood, against ensuring that “all desirable social outcomes are equally available to men and women,” or a society “in which men and women are equally represented in all careers and public positions.” Now, this text says absolutely nothing about the priesthood, about the preference for an inequality of opportunity or a preference for unequal representation of men and women in any, let alone all, careers and public positions.  The text is only only used in an argument against the priesthood, equal opportunity, or equal representation through a series of complicated hermeneutical moves. In fact, almost all of the claims about what the text says, or what kinds of things it excludes, rely on a subtext about what the text is about, including its call to political action, rather than any explicit prohibition in the text itself.

But on the text itself, let’s consider some of the various ways that the Proclamation may be evaluated:

  • The text seems to contradict itself: “fathers preside” and “equal partners”
  • The text uses undefined or unclear terms:  “gender,” no discussion of premortal or postmortal life, vague warnings
  • In tension with Mormon scripture and history on polygamy
  • In tension with other LDS practices with respect to sexuality (the text implies that birth control and other non-procreative sexual intercourse is forbidden, e.g., “sacred powers of procreation”)
  • The text vacillates between making prescriptive claims and empirical claims
  • The text contradicts other authoritative texts in the Bible and BoM, “there is no male and female…in Christ Jesus,” “all are alike unto God”)
  • The text may be interpreted in ways that can accommodate religious, feminist claims- “equal partners,”  as a model for family and church governance, there are exceptions granted to the universal claims the text makes earlier).

A fuller evaluation of the Proclamation needs to be undertaken, but these brief sketches suggest that one may evaluate the Proclamation according to its own internal logic and with respect to competing Mormon authorities.  That is, the critiques of the Proclamation are not simply “liberal” ideas that are creeping in to some pure Mormonism where all questions are already answered. Rather, the text itself is already in conflict with itself and with other authoritative texts, traditions, and experiences. There are no rules for how one resolves these tensions, so to assert the authority of the text is to assert a particular reading and understanding of the text, one that requires that other authoritative texts be ignored, reconciled, or superseded.

c. Finally, I think that we need to consider what it means to say something is authoritative. Authority is not an inherent quality of some thing, but rather a feature which is granted to some thing by a community.  The authority of anything derives not from it’s claim to be authoritative, but from its ability to persuade its audience to take it as authority. Indeed, one could argue that the very foundation of Mormon claims to authority is persuasion itself (D&C 121:41). That which is not persuasive cannot be authoritative. That is, there must be something persuasive about a claim in order for its authority to be established. Otherwise it is the establishing of authority by force. (I will grant that Mormonism holds some juridical powers, but that is not the question here).

This understanding of authority as rooted in an ability to persuade is something that needs to be seriously considered in the exercise of authority. If the church’s teachings on gender hierarchy or the value of homosexual marriage cease to be persuasive to those in the church (much as say, anti-evolution, or theologizing about racial biology, or even the monarchical authority of church leaders), these ideas cease to be authoritative. If they fail to be persuasive, there is nothing they can to be authoritative. In this sense, one cannot simply assert that the Proclamation is authoritative without also establishing a framework in which it is persuasively so. For some, that persuasion may reside solely in the source of the claim, but for others, the command to study it out in your mind might be the grounds for authority based on persuasion. (Even the rules of what makes something persuasive must be negotiated.) This is why we can later call things “folklore” or dismiss earlier authoritative statements, because they are simply not convincing within the intellectual frameworks in which we operate as Mormons in a 21st century historical context.  If there is some other persuasive way of understanding gender, marriage, sex roles, etc, those ways will be authoritative.

The attempts to reconcile these ideas with competing authoritative claims within Mormonism is the task of those who are faithful to the tradition.   We may see how this works by looking at how the introduction of “equal partners” language into LDS discourse about the family in the late 20th century seems to be emphasized more than fathers presiding, suggesting that equality in marriages is become the dominant way of reading the Proclamation, one that stands in significant tension with earlier articulations of Mormon family structure.  This is the hermeneutical point, that the foundation is shifting. That doesn’t mean sheer relativism as Hancock supposes. It just means that one builds from a different, more persuasive foundation.

Gender
If we can concede that LDS ideas must present themselves as persuasive in order to be granted authority, how does Hancock articulate his defense of unequal treatment of women and same-sex relationships?  Hancock seems to suggest that liberal views have not seriously considered the reasons for the status quo.  His explanation of what he thinks feminist aims are or what he thinks an LDS view that accommodates same-sex relationships are largely products of his imagination (e.g., “boundless late-liberal ‘toleration’” or “an ethic that gives final authority to personal self-expression” or “the standard of equal (at least) statistical representation of women”).  Rather than stick to the specific matters at hand, such as women receiving the priesthood or same sex couples marrying in the temple, Hancock attempts to hyperbolically describe these issues as the end of social articulations of sexual difference or some kind of androgynous nightmare.

I’m not sure that there has been some failure of feminist critiques to tackle the philosophical arguments that start by talking about the role of the family in promoting virtue and the common good, and then ask what part heterosexual relationships play in all of this. Rather, I think it fair to say that this has been precisely what has been the object of inquiry in feminist thought since the first wave. The argument that women’s roles are to stay at home have been the primary arguments for excluding women from voting, being educated, working, working for equal pay, and of course ecclesiastical leadership. The problem with such arguments about the “the goodness of the man-woman union” is that “goodness” seems to exclude the people that are harmed by such a good. Some people’s equality must be sacrificed on the altar of goodness.  But why exactly should women or homosexuals need to be sacrificed, and how does this particular sacrifice guarantee the promised good?

Presumably, Hancock accepts that women should be able to vote and work in protected environments, and that non-married homosexuals may freely form long term relationships and even raise their own children. My question is why he accepts these (assuming he does, which is a big assumption given some of his rhetoric) and not those.   Namely, what about excluding women from the priesthood uniquely disrupts either a divine responsibility toward children in ways that they others kinds of “equality” between men and women (suffrage, callings in church, work) do not?  And, what about the legal or ecclesial recognition of same sex relationships uniquely disrupts the “goodness” of mixed sex relationships in ways that the legality of non-heterosexual relationships (let alone heterosexual relationships outside of normative marriage customs) do not?

The assertion that “there are good reasons to raise boys (and thus to motivate them by honoring and rewarding them) in different ways from girls” elides a number of key points as a justification for excluding women from the priesthood.  First, Hancock seems to believe that the priesthood is about “raising boys,” not the exercise of the power of God. Hancock situates excluding women from the priesthood in the context of “raising boys” pretends as if the priesthood is some extension of familial responsibility rather than an issue of ecclesiastical power.   This notion that priesthood is somehow a kind of parenting tool is without foundation.  Nearly all of the leadership functions of the priesthood are held by adults, and certainly all of those with power over women.  Further, the specific function of the “priesthood” cannot really be said to be about “raising boys” since boys are not given the priesthood until age 12, and most priesthood functions that exercise power are held by adults.  Perhaps we could withhold the priesthood from girls until they are adults, when the question of raising boys has been accomplished?  Has the failure to raise boys without the priesthood before age 12 produced chaos between the genders?  Does the failure to separate primary classes on the basis of sex fail to motivate and honor boys?  Second, the assertion that withholding the priesthood from women is “essential” for “the formation of a productive and responsible male identity” is entirely without warrant.  None of these terms are defined or substantiated, and I see no reason to believe that LDS men are the only ones who can lay claim to “a productive and responsible male identity” as the sole holders of the priesthood, nor for why the exclusion of women from the priesthood is essential to that goal. Third, no one is suggesting that a “gender-neutral” stance with respect to the priesthood means that gender is somehow erased, only that it is not a relevant factor for deciding who has power and who does not.  The idea that if men and women share certain spaces (the voting booth, political offices, ownership of property) that somehow men and women will cease to exist is the oldest argument against treating women as fellow human beings. I don’t see how gender neutral policies with respect to other public spaces have led to the end of sexual difference. Men and women are able to function along side each other in business, education, and political spheres.  It would be hard to imagine how male identity hangs solely on the monopoly on priesthood as either an empirical claim or a theological desideratum. Indeed, Hancock fails to explain how such a policy of excluding women from priesthood cannot also be used to exclude women from other arenas, both public, private, and ecclesiastical.  To consider the ecclesiastical, if we have a special obligation toward motivating and honoring boys in different ways from girls, why not exclude girls and women from other kinds of roles, such as teaching or speaking in church?  If priesthood is a zero-sum game, where men’s development can only come at the expense of women’s, why not maximize men’s success by minimizing women’s participation more fully? In other contexts, why not motivate and honor boys by excluding women from voting, the workplace, or hey, even the family?  Why is the priesthood the unique place where boys should be honored over girls?

Hancock’s appeals to these “good reasons” as the basis for excluding women from leadership to benefit men, or excluding same-sex couples from legal and spiritual benefits of marriage for the benefit of mixed sex couples frame the success of one group as dependent on the unequal access to authority and spiritual blessings of another.  It seems to me that when asking a particular group of society to bear the burdens of inequality for the common good, that the burden of proof is on those doing the asking to demonstrate the necessity.  There may indeed be “good reasons” for such ecclesiastical policies.  The failure to receive them does not necessarily require that one reject such policies.  But Hancock has not provided the good reasons for them that he thinks he has.

Comments

  1. That was a long read but excellent. TT, you are a genius!

    And you provide excellent material for explaining the evolution of doctrine and authoritative teachings in religion, which is vital to understanding how to approach LDS thought throughout history and being able to be an active member with progressive ideas that the greater part of the community still have not been able to grasp very well (but that we feel they will have to sooner or later). :)

  2. Excellent points. Now I am also curious to know Hancock’s stance on women voting and how he feels that impacts raising boys.

  3. Peter LLC says:

    This post has shed plenty of light on Hancock’s argument. Well done.

  4. “Authority is not an inherent quality of some thing, but rather a feature which is granted to some thing by a community. The authority of anything derives not from it’s claim to be authoritative, but from its ability to persuade its audience to take it as authority.”

    Within a certain limited scope, I agree with this, but if you extend it to the whole of Mormonism, then Mormonism has no value for me. I’m not interested in the windings of the most persuasive intellectual — I want an authoritative God or his messengers to teach me. If you follow the line reasoning above too far, then Mormonism is whatever Mormons want it to be.

  5. “It seems to me that when asking a particular group of society to bear the burdens of inequality for the common good, that the burden of proof is on those doing the asking to demonstrate the necessity.”

    Worth the price of admission right there.

    Excellent post.

  6. TT,

    I made this comment about your response to Hancock elsewhere; I’m reposting it here, in the hope that you’re be able to respond:

    TT writes that: “The authority of anything derives not from it’s claim to be authoritative, but from its ability to persuade its audience to take it as authority. Indeed, one could argue that the very foundation of Mormon claims to authority is persuasion itself (D&C 121:41). That which is not persuasive cannot be authoritative. That is, there must be something persuasive about a claim in order for its authority to be established….This understanding of authority as rooted in an ability to persuade is something that needs to be seriously considered in the exercise of authority.”

    There is a way of reading this statement as true to Mormon belief both an orthodox theological as well as an everyday practical sense. Epistemologically speaking, a revelatory experience “persuades,” does it not? Burning in bosoms: persuasive; angels appearing in the night: also persuasive. That is, they bring our thinking in alignment with a claim. And of course, outside the realm of Sunday School and Relief Society manuals and in the real world of daily ward life, the operations of church claims obviously depend upon someone being persuaded to take something seriously (or not) as well. So TT could defend his statement on a couple of different levels, I think.

    But there would be a weakness in that defense nonetheless, because it seems much more in comportment which what I understand to be an orthodox reading of our theology, not to mention fitting much better with the language most of us use when we speak of our theology, to eschew the notion of persuasion. I’m not REALLY “persuaded” the Book of Mormon is true, not in the conventional sense of the word, anyway; rather its truth is incontestably REVEALED to me. Its truth is KNOWN, not learned, not reasoned, not argued; isn’t that the way we were all taught to talk in testimony meeting? The obvious corollary is that if we’re not sure of the meaning of what the Holy Ghost whispered to us, then either 1) the Holy Ghost didn’t whisper to us, or 2) we weren’t listening/weren’t faithfully accepting what the Holy Ghost whispered to us; end of story. After all, Paul wasn’t “persuaded” to embrace Jesus on the road to Damascus. Nephi didn’t “persuade” his brothers. And missionary discussions are certainly not designed to win converts through “persuasion,” not unless you’re using a rather strict, philosophical definition of the term.

    So this is the point on which I’d challenge, or at least want to know more about, TT’s thinking. He seems to be making a move to claim “authority” for liberalism: that authority, being itself a creature of “persuasion,” is invariably, even necessarily interpretive, discursive, subject to individual inputs….in other words, something that can be picked up at a booth in the marketplace of ideas. And, again, he’s surely right in a very real, ordinary sense: I’ve never been in any Mormon context where I haven’t seen such ordinary interpretation going on all around me, and that includes personal discussions with Ralph Hancock! But as hypocritical (or shot through with unstated political biases) as Hancock’s position may be, TT seems to want to confront his arguments straightforwardly on the issue of authority, plain and simple. And on that level, I think he’s failing to directly acknowledge what revealed authority, at least insofar as it is written in our manuals and expressed through our testimony meeting language, arguably implies. TT says that the claim of authoritativeness on behalf of the Proclamation on the Family invites interpretative discussion. Why couldn’t Hancock simply–and in line with our received understanding of revelatory authority, however scriptural such a received understanding may (or may not) be–say, “You think that only because you haven’t accepted the truth of prophetic authority yet; once you do, the meaning of the PoF will be clear, because you’ll be told what it is”? End of statement. As I see it, he clearly could make that statement, and however unsatisfying such a reply might be to the liberal mind, there wouldn’t be anything irrational or illogical about it at all.

    Long comment, made short: TT is inquiring after the meaning of authority in the church. Hancock, by contrast, premises his argument upon an acceptance of the rhetorical place of revelatory authority in the church. Everyday church practice, to say nothing of the convoluted history of church doctrine and more, legitimates TT’s inquiries; but the force of the authoritarian rhetoric, supported by the actual spoken praxis of Mormons from the First Presidency on down, remains.

  7. TT that was brilliant. Nicely done. I’ve been thinking about such issues about authority in light of evolution and this has given me an angle of exploration that may be very productive. Thank you.

  8. Thank you all for the kind comments!

    Russell@6,
    I think that you are contrasting persuasion and revelation in ways that I am not, or at least that I am not willing to do philosophically. For me, persuasive and authoritative are two sides of the same coin, unless we are talking about juridical authority where persuasion is forgone and force is applied. All of the things that you describe as NOT persuasion are things that I think fall under my definition of persuasion. Revelation is one particular claim to authority/persuasion, but authority is granted to that revealed knowledge by the individual or community. I think that you’re offering an understanding of revelation as a kind of unmediated access to knowledge whose authority is self-evident, but I do not think that is correct. Paul could have understood his experience on the road to Damascus as an attempt by the devil or demons to deceive him, the result of a bad meal, or even an elaborate hoax by his friends. Revelation comes to us through language and perhaps our senses, which means that it has already been mediated by our human frameworks. Once something is perceived, including revelation, it is interpreted, considered, translated, and made intelligible within culture. We have plenty of evidence for this in our own lives as we narrate our testimonies, understanding them differently at different times. We also have evidence from the manuscript history of the revelations of JS, which are significantly revised and reinterpreted in light of new experiences, even new revelation. Revealed authority does not, in my view, constitute a uniquely distinct kind of authoritative knowledge. We may grant that authority to our experiences of revelation, but that is a second order mode of reasoning about revelation (e.g., Nephi vs. Laman and Lemuel with the angel). With respect to Hancock, I think that part of the negotiation about what is authoritative is also what makes something authoritative. Revelation may be one mode, and “reason” may be another. Those two modes may not always agree, though Hancock insists that they do. Revelations may not always agree with each other either, and thus begins the hermeneutical strategy for resolving those conflicting claims. For instance, we often hear of testimonies where someone acts on a revelation that told them to do one thing, but a later revelation told them something else. That person must then negotiate how to understand those competing claims. What I want to point out is how competing claims to authority are resolved, and the variety of criteria that may be employed to make claims about what is, or should be, authoritative. Even revelation is not free from interpretation, as must as we might want to rhetorically claim that it is.

  9. Chris Kimball says:

    There is a view, one that might be associated with “conservative” Mormons or Mormonism, that true revelatory experience will be the same for everyone. There is one God, one truth, one revelation, and we all can know the same. If your revelation is different then it’s wrong or false or not from God. If you haven’t got the revelation (yet), try harder.

    In this world view, “Revelations may not always agree with each other” is not a given; rather it is a significant liberal move.

    It seems to me that for someone working from the “one true answer” point of view, authority is not about persuasion but about consensus. One might say that consensus is itself a kind of persuasion, and get there on a philosophical level. But consensus doesn’t work like persuasion in practice. Consensus doesn’t lend itself to argument or dialogue. Consensus is more of an empirical question, one that might be approached with a poll, a random sample questionnaire. With a critical and difficult question of the universe within which to do the polling. Who is “us” and who is “them”?

  10. I’ve been mulling over the Hancock-Brooks dispute this week. A discussion of the opposing forces in the “English Wars” (disputes about the rules of grammar) in The New Yorker struck me as relevant. The article captures the kind of conflict between “liberal” and “conservative” forces found in many fields, not just religious/political, and does a nice job of pointing out the basic arguments and strengths and weaknesses of each side. Check it out: http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/books/2012/05/14/120514crbo_books_acocella?currentPage=all. I’ll leave the conclusions to you.

  11. The “Manifesto on the Family” is simply a relic of Boyd Packer’s homophobic belief. When he is gone it will fade away. At least I hope so for the good of my children who are believing Mormons.

  12. wreddyornot says:

    Thank you, TT, for this valuable analysis and the ensuing discussion thus far. It is a keeper. Once the discussion slows to just a drizzle, I plan to commit your entry and the resulting discussion to a place where I can readily review it again and again and hopefully incorporate its best thinking into my own revelatory repertoire.

  13. Peter LLC says:

    I want an authoritative God or his messengers to teach me. If you follow the line [of] reasoning above too far, then Mormonism is whatever Mormons want it to be.

    Indeed!

  14. “simply a relic of Boyd Packer’s homophobic belief.”

    That seems awfully reductive. It’s tough to believe, at times, but quite a lot of what goes on around the church is only tangentially concerned with homosexuality.

  15. Mark Brown says:

    “Once something is perceived, including revelation, it is interpreted, considered, translated, and made intelligible within culture.”

    This is important. In Mormon culture, our practice of sustaining handles this in a unique way. Newly called leaders, significant revelations, and additions to the canon all are submitted to the membership for ratification. Until it passes muster with the community at large, it isn’t authoritative.

  16. re 10 – President Packer must be very persuasive considering that the proclamation came from the entire First Presidency and Council of the Twelve and was first read by the President of the Church. Their united voice gives it some considerable authority. That does not mean it is not subject to interpretation – but there are clearly actions, beliefs, attitudes, and behaviours that the proclamation is attempting to rule out even while it rules certain in. It is not a case that when it comes to the family … anything goes.

    What what are the lines? What’s acceptable and what’s not – that is what is addressed in that text.

  17. “If you follow the line [of] reasoning above too far, then Mormonism is whatever Mormons want it to be.” I think this is the correct line of reasoning to follow. Mormonism is whatever the Mormon priesthood leaders want it to be.

    God says, “Whether by mine own voice, or by the voice of my servants it is the same.” God doesn’t say this because everything His servants say was perfectly dictated to them by Him on tablets of stone. God says this because God “adopts” whatever His authorized servants say and authorizes it, whether it is perfect or not, consistent or not, true or not, and whether or not it contains “relics of Boyd Packer’s homophobic beliefs.” If it is filled with errors, all the better. He also wants His church to be a “stumbling block.” He also wants us to embrace “the foolishness of God” over the “wisdom of men.” The words of priesthood authorities need not be persuasive, consistent, or even free from error to retain their authority within the context of LDS doctrine.

    However, the liberal approach of pointing out paradox and inconsistency within the authoritative narrative can be a valuable exercise. Indeed, paradoxes and inconsistencies are necessary in order for members to embrace something with true faith. If all things were self-evident, no faith would be required.

    The conservative deception that authority is consistent and self-evident can be dangerous, because they can lull members into a false sense of security, which is libel to come crashing down the minute the slightest inconsistency is discovered.

    But liberals sometimes suffer from this same conservative deception. Because they have discovered inconsistencies, they doubt the authority, and feel it is open to debate and external pressure to change because it contains “errors.”

    Instead, authority and consistency should be completely separated. If TT and Hancock want to have a discussion about inconsistencies within the Proclamation on the Family, it should be done outside the context of “authority” and instead explore what these inconsistencies tell us about God and His mysterious ways among the children of men. That is a discussion that is done within the context of faith. Otherwise it is just a discussion between a believer and a doubter.

  18. Ralph Hancock has gotten what he deserved; his excessive, Javert-like obsession with Joanna Brooks has bred an obsessive, Javert-like obsession with Ralph Hancock.

  19. I feel obsessed with you all’s obsession with Ralph’s obsession with Joanna.

  20. annegb5298 says:

    The problem I have with all this discussion is that the posts are so long and use such big words and concepts that are beyond me.

  21. “God says this because God “adopts” whatever His authorized servants say and authorizes it, whether it is perfect or not, consistent or not, true or not…”

    Scary interpretation. I would add this to my list of definitions for Cult.

  22. 20, Too right. I would even venture to say blasphemous to boot. I am close on to being unable to be offended, but that sentiment makes my soul even cover its mouth and gasp.

  23. “I want an authoritative God or his messengers to teach me. If you follow the line [of] reasoning above too far, then Mormonism is whatever Mormons want it to be.”

    I’d argue that Mormonism has always been what Mormons want it to be…but regardless, arguing that authority is derived from the acceptance of the community could be rephrased in more traditional LDS language as “God only commands what we are prepared to accept.” There are certainly things that authoritative messengers have taught (see Adam-God) that most mormons do not believe the Lord expects us to adhere to. That extends to culture as well: when’s the last time you heard a church authority condemn rock n’ roll or women wearing pants that button in the front? To me it makes more sense to interpret changes as products of culture and human behavior rather than attributing them to God, but you can make TTs arguments fit within a more orthodox framework as well.

  24. Aaron Brown says:

    Thank you TT (and Russell) for one of the most interesting blog discussions I’ve read in a very long while.

  25. @UtMormonDemoGuy says:

    Dan E is cracking me up.

  26. I have read Professor Hancock’s articles and I don’t find him obsessed with Ms Brooks at all. I find him to be concerned about her beliefs in relation to the Church’s teachings. I appreciate his opinions and efforts.

  27. 16 Having God “adopt” words of his servants is kinda scary. Do You believe that we little bitty mortals who can’t even make ourselves grow can bend God’s will? I always thought the point was to bend our sorry little selves to His will, since He is perfect and has a broader perspective. And you consider Brooks a doubter? She sure does and says a lot that sounds like she has amazing amounts of faith and belief. Is unquestioning blind faith and total activity the only indication of belief?

  28. Mark Brown says:

    eva (25)

    The proper question to ask is where Joanna Brooks appreciates his efforts on her behalf.

    In the meantime, there are other people, a little closer to home for Ralph Hancock, who might benefit from his concern. His own project has recently lost a member of the church to apostasy because he found the church didn’t fit his conservative agenda. And while Hancock was expending time and effort seeking after the heresies of Brooks, Randy Bott was perpetuating his nonsense all over the BYU campus, just a few hundred feet away from Ralph’s office.

  29. TT, I wonder how your discussion of authority comports with historical discourse on the United Order–that it was a failure of the members of the church to live up to God’s revelation and instruction, who then replaced it with a lower law and, presumably, fewer blessings? It occurs to me that in that example, we have a failure of members to be ‘persuaded’ but we also have an outcome which we can only see as unfortunate in retrospect–lost blessings for the members of the church and the church as a whole. If that’s true, then would your account be normatively desirable (as your discussion seems to me to imply)?

  30. Ruth, 26, It’s true “adopting” sounds a bit scary. But I do think that God “allows” his priesthood leaders to make mistakes, without withdrawing His authority from them. “Allow” is maybe better than “adopt.” Still, God is ultimately responsible for allowing His church to be run in an imperfect way, so it is “the mind and the will of God.” God could easily change that if He wanted to. Do I consider Brooks a doubter? It depends on what kind of doubt. Does Brooks doubt the consistency and perfection of LDS doctrine? Of course. Does she doubt that God has granted authority to the priesthood leaders even with it’s inconsistencies and imperfections? I don’t know. Most liberals like myself doubt the consistency and perfection of the LDS church. But that doesn’t mean you necessarily doubt it’s divine authority.

  31. #28 “we also have an outcome which we can only see as unfortunate in retrospect”
    Er no. A big relief actually. I don’t think, looking at the spectrum of bishops, that I want to be subject to the whims and foibles of a bishop for anything I or my family may need or want. Nightmare scenario!

    #29
    I think “allow” is much, much better than adopt. In that God allows our leaders the opportunity to learn from their mistakes (that’s what we all need to do afterall). We though, sometimes have to endure the mistakes they make, in the hope that they are doing their best, and can learn quickly…

  32. I’d like to extend an invitation to Dan E. and other folks bored by the Hancock/Brooks thing to feel free to chime in on the plethora of other BCC posts they could have read and participated in instead…

  33. Russell #6 and TT #8, thank you for this very interesting exchange, in particular — these are very helpful comments on a very interesting and important topic.

  34. 30, Kai, yes, I’m sure the city of Enoch would be such a nightmare.

  35. Natebergin, 29, thanks for the clarification

  36. #33 TMD
    Perhaps you’d like to let us know where you are getting your detail on the operation of the city of Enoch.

  37. The discussion of authoritarian versus persuasion based authority is crucial. TT, I think, is correct that all authority is grounded in the persuasiveness of the claims it is tied to for the members of the community in question. That’s even (perhaps especially) true of what looks at a glance like authority grounded in authoritarian or top-down declaration. But there’s a key distinction. Most LDS would balk, at least to some degree, at the idea that for a pronouncement from Church leaders to be considered authoritative, it must be persuasive (as opposed to drawing its authoritative status from its source, the manner of its transmission, etc). That is, most church members would consider something like the Family Proclamation to be persuasive _because_ it is authoritative (because it originates with priesthood leaders who hold relevant keys), rather than authoritative because it is persuasive. But (and this is crucial) that is only because most LDS are in fact _persuaded_ by the broader, higher-level discursive claim that the teachings of Church leaders should be considered authoritative irrespective of their particular persuasive force. This larger claim is theoretically contestable, but has been persuasively argued within official LDS discourse and is, therefore, because persuasive, assented to by most Church members. It is also closely tied to another claim (which, again, most LDS find persuasive), namely that pronouncements and admonitions from high-ranking Church leaders are inspired, revealed, or otherwise divine in origin.

    It’s not really a question of whether A) the authority of particular ideas, texts, claims, pronouncements, etc., is authoritative because Mormons find the ideas persuasive, or B) the ideas are considered persuasive because authoritative (their authority does not depend on their persuasiveness). It is a question of whether or not most LDS consider B persuasive as an account of discursive authority.

    Of course, there is still the phenomenon described by TT in the OP, namely that some teachings, despite their originating with high-ranking Church leaders, are not persuasive to a critical mass of LDS (maybe including other high-ranking Church leaders) and are, therefore, not considered authoritative. In such cases, claim X is so unpersuasive to Church members as to effectively override the otherwise generally accepted metadiscursive claim that X’s authority should not depend on its persuasiveness on its own terms. This is a constant source of Church critics and ex-mormons who insist that teachings which were considered authoritative a generation ago MUST, MUST be considered authoritative today, and that the Church is LYING to the world by shortselling their authoritative status (by calling them folklore, or undoctrinal, or expressly contradicting them).

    In this light, the Proclamation is an intensely interesting document. On the one hand, its authority for Mormons does not technically derive from its canonicity or its status as a revelation. On the other hand, it is clearly considered persuasive/authoritative by the vast majority of Church members, in part because it originated with high-ranking Church leaders (not just some, but the whole of the Q12 and FP), and in part because they find the document persuasive on its own terms. Now, as TT has pointed out, it is not just the Proclamation which is considered authoritative by most LDS, but a particular (and sometimes tendentious) reading of it, an interpretation of it in light of other authority (and authoritative) claims. Thus, despite not mentioning priesthood or homosexuality, it is read as (among other things) an authoritative theological rational for a male-only priesthood and for formally opposing same-sex marriage. Yet the fact that those notions are technically read onto the text does not necessarily invalidate them, since that particular interpretative superimposition is shared by most Church members. Thus, while Mormon-internal discourse might be a space within which the authority of the Proclamation (and of particular readings of the Proclamation) could be contested in terms of internal Mormon authority claims and doctrines, a serious social scientist would be obligated to consider (particular readings of) the Proclamation to be highly authoritative for Latter-day Saints.

  38. I never responded to TT’s response (#8) to my response (#6) to his original post, and I felt bad about that…but no longer, because Brad has just done so (#36).

    All I would do to connect Brad’s argument with mine and with TT’s is to point out that what Brad calls a “generally accepted metadiscursive claim that X’s authority should not depend on its persuasiveness on its own terms” is, I think anyway, generally received as a form of knowledge–as in, “I am persuaded by the arguments made by the PoF, because I know that those who gave us the PoF have greater light and knowledge than I, etc.” TT can make the argument that said knowledge is not unmediated, and is therefore itself a matter of interpretation (and hence persuasion), and I agree with him…but I think, in making that claim, one ought to, if only for honesty’s sake, own up to the fact that you denying a legitimacy to the stated experience of knowledge which undergirds that which the great majority of American Mormons apparently think is persuasive about the PoF, or anything else. I made reference to rhetoric in my original comment, and rhetoric deserves a certain amount of respect, I think. Brad does this when he comments that “a serious social scientist would be obligated to consider (particular readings of) the Proclamation to be highly authoritative for Latter-day Saints”; TT fails to show similar respect, or at least fails to show any cognizance of the ambiguity here, when he concludes rather strictly, “revelation is not free from interpretation, as must as we might want to rhetorically claim that it is.” On the meta-level which Brad points to, we can’t not ask who is making that claim, and acknowledge that, within Mormonism, some rhetoric is (unfortunately, to my liberal mind) more equal than others.

  39. Russell and Brad I am completely willing to believe that I am in way over my head here, and in my puny mind may be oversimplifying things, but what I get from your comments is that it is important to note that the PoF is persuasive (authoritative) because a large body of The Church believes that it is so. Am I correct? I will admit that sadly I know of too many members of The Church who also believe that evolution is a made up sham. I am no Social Scientist, but is there at least wiggle room in there to consider that just because a majority says it is so, doesn’t mean it is? Help. :)

  40. EOR (#38),

    I don’t think either Brad or I are arguing that PoF should be taken as persuasive and/or authoritative simply because many members of the church (very likely the great majority, I would think) affirm it as persuasive and/or authoritative. I do think, however, that Brad and I are in agreement that TT, in asserting that authority is essentially about persuasion (“that which is not persuasive cannot be authoritative”), is perhaps, at the very least, not fully recognizing the complications of his position. In our particular authoritarian church (which strictly speaking the Mormon church most assuredly is), those in authority can align themselves with a “metadiscursive” claim about authority, meaning a claim about how claims of authority are made, and rhetorically that metadiscursive claim is usually made in terms of revealed knowledge. To put flesh on these bones: “I know that the prophets and apostles will never lead the church astray, hence I am persuaded of the correctness of the PoF and its implications, since it is the prophets and apostles who have given it to us.” Once you enter into a consideration of persuasion within the Mormon community, I (and, I think, also Brad) think that you also have to consider this particular trump card…especially since millions of people within our community regularly voice their beliefs in exactly that manner. If you don’t argue in a way which is cognizant of how authority is actually, metadiscursively received (even if incoherently) within the community, then who is going to be persuaded by your argument, except those who are already in agreement with you?

  41. This discussion has given me a nice new perspective on the presence of the word persuasion in Sec 121. ‘No power or authority _can_ or _ought_ to be maintained, only by persuasion …’ I always found that word the oddest choice on the list that includes kindness, gentleness, etc. For one thing, persuasion need be neither kind nor gentle. That there can be no spiritually functional authority without persuasion is a nice insight. It doesn’t answer whether or when we do well to accept authority in the absence of being fully persuaded.

  42. Russell and Brad,
    Thank you both (and others) for the stimulating engagement on this issue. There is more to think about here, no doubt, and I hope that I have properly understood your points. There is almost nothing that I disagree with in either of your articulations of the problem that authority poses.  However, I think that we are laying emphasis on slightly different notes because we are speaking about two different things.  On the question of whether or not LDSs consider the Proclamation authoritative, you both suggest that the answer must be yes because 1) many LDS consider it to be authoritative 2) primarily because the source itself is considered to be authoritative.  I don’t dispute either of these claims.  To just think out loud a bit here, I think that I am asking a different question.  Rather than looking at claims to authority, I am evaluating claims to counter-authority.  On what basis are such claims to counter-authority made?  What are the modes of reasoning at work in those members of the church who do not accept, or accept in part, articulations of that text that put themselves forward as authoritative? Here, I am pointing to an implicit step that is made in the evaluation of 1 and 2, one that is subtle but I think is crucial to acknowledge as operative in the evaluation of authority.  Prior to both of these steps LDSs perform a kind of test of plausibility in their evaluation of any particular claim, e.g., is what is being taught consistent with how I understand the basic framework of the gospel and with the possibilities and plausibilities that that understanding might engender? (I think that the acceptance of a kind of plausibility of teachings can also account for how we might come to challenge our own presuppositions about what the Gospel is, within a certain range). In this way, both the source and the message are simultaneously being evaluated.  Not only would one say that they know the Proc is true because it comes from a true source, but also that the source is true because the message it teaches is true.  In fact, we are explicitly invited to evaluate the sources of authority on the basis of what they teach (by their fruits you shall know them).  When I say that the claim to authority is rhetorical, I don’t mean to suggest that this diminishes the authority, only that it invites us to ignore the various processes at work for evaluating that authority.

    I am pointing to this prior step, or perhaps simultaneous step, that is at work when any particular authoritative claim is made.  I also want to note that this reasoning process hits its limits at different points for different people.  If a GA or all the GA’s instructed members of the church to favor prohibition of alcohol, I suspect that many members of the church would question that particular teaching.  If they said that a literal Adam and Eve was an authoritative teaching, others would question that.  If they said that humane immigration policies were a part of the message of the Gospel, still others would question that. And if they said that paying tithing directly leads to financial blessings, others would question that.  In fact, such members would come up with all sorts of complicated ways of downgrading the authority of those statements, explaining away the contradiction between their view and the “authoritative” teaching, favoring the teachings that they think support best their own position. (We have all seen rather elaborate intellectual moves to reconcile this or that or justify this or that coming from all kinds of different Mormons).  

    I think that those times where members of the church fail to be persuaded by past or present teachings of the church exposes this crucial step that members make, even if not in any conscious form.  I think that the two-step account of authority, where members accept teachings as authoritative because they come from an authoritative source is insufficient precisely because it does not account for those times when members do not consider something authoritative.  In this sense, while you both seem to want to account for the times that members do consider something authoritative, I am attempting to account for the times that they do not.  Those members are not so unpersuaded that they leave entirely, or that they discount entirely the authority of the leaders or of all things they have said.  Rather, and I would say that this is true for all members because no one can accept the entirety of the tradition because it is not univocal, members of the church engage in implicit and explicit evaluations of authoritative teachings, even those widely considered authoritative by other members of the church. My point with respect to Hancock was simply that there is nothing “un-Mormon” about this evaluation process, nor that it represents the intrusion of foreign ways of thinking. Acknowledging that Mormonism is always in tension with competing visions, no matter how dominant some of those visions may appear to be, is simply acknowledging that process of evaluation of the persuasiveness of any and all church teachings. Such a view has the added benefit of explaining how it is that church teachings are able to change and why the church tends to reflect its historical/cultural situation.

    My account is neither an attempt to reinforce the authority of the Proc, nor to undermine it, only to suggest that in order for its authoritativeness to be established for members of the church, it must be considered persuasively plausible or possible as an expression of God’s word, and to consider the interpretive moves that one makes in assenting to that authority. This is not to deny the rhetorically powerful claims to authority and to authoritative teachings, only to reveal the interpretive processes at work in accepting (or challenging) those claims. How’s that? Are we talking past one another?

  43. TT #41, very nice response. I esp. like how I think you’re pointing to a kind of on-the-ground mutual dependence between God’s will, formal authority in the Church, and the beliefs and practices of the body of the Church (i.e., informal authority in the Church).

    I think there’s a tendency, perhaps inherited from our democratic mode of politics, to resign ourselves to thinking that we — as lay members — don’t have any influence or responsibility for the Church’s beliefs, since our “vote” doesn’t really count for much in the larger scheme. But, if we take our responsibility of personal revelation seriously — to study things out in our own mind, pray about things, etc. — then there’s a kind of un-faithfulness revealed in the kind of authority claims so frequently made in the way that Russell and others have pointed to.

    Put differently, to fail to wrestle (like Enos in Enos 1:2, or Jacob in Gen 32:24, or Alma in Alma 8:10, or Job, etc.) with the inter-tensions we find in scripture, prophetic discourse, and our individual and communal practices and beliefs, is itself a form of slothfulness.

  44. TT, I also like #41, and it addresses a lot of what made me uncomfortable with your original post. Thank you for clarifying.

    I do still have one question, though. I agree that because of the tensions and disagreements among Mormon teachings that appear to claim authority, it is necessary for members to develop (consciously or unconsciously) their own understandings of Mormonism, and that members’ visions will inevitably privilege some claims to authority over others. (I’d be quite surprised, by the way, if Hancock disagreed on this point.)

    Now the question, moving from description to prescription: is it possible to go about this wrestling (to use Robert’s term) unfaithfully? Are there ways of approaching the Church’s authority claims that are inconsistent with sustaining the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve as prophets, seers, and revelators? I take it that Hancock believes there are, and that Brooks has both taken and implicitly recommended one such unfaithful approach. Under your account here, is that a coherent thing to believe? If so, how should we go about deciding whether to agree with him?

  45. (Note: I haven’t read the comments yet – apologies if someone said this better)

    TT, I agree that Hancock’s reading itself depends upon a series of hermeneutic moves. However it seems yours does as well. A few examples (your text in italics)

    The text seems to contradict itself: “fathers preside” and “equal partners”

    It’s not obvious to me why this must be a contradiction. Is it the hermeneutic injection of a particular valuation by western culture? Do the brethren share this valuation? When can we say two different jobs, functions or roles are equal? Is this itself an injection by a particular strand of liberal criticism?

    In tension with Mormon scripture and history on polygamy

    Once again, how? I mean polygamy makes me and the vast, vast majority of Mormons uncomfortable. But I don’t quite see the contradiction unless in it the injection again of a particular liberal stance towards leadership and value. However isn’t that the very thing Hancock was criticizing? If so, are the two sides not both doing the same sort of thing?

    I’m not sure that there has been some failure of feminist critiques to tackle the philosophical arguments that start by talking about the role of the family in promoting virtue and the common good, and then ask what part heterosexual relationships play in all of this. Rather, I think it fair to say that this has been precisely what has been the object of inquiry in feminist thought since the first wave.

    This is a good point and I think the real debate is rather independent of the religious issues. That is what are the common goods? It is interesting that Hancock and some early feminists actually do approach the issue from a very similar stance. I suspect what’s leading Hancock to make his move though is that many contemporary feminists don’t embrace that type of meta-ethics. I confess I find this “common good” approach problematic even if it’s not quite as bad as say Utilitarianism. That is I think ironically Hancock is arguing in terms of the collective while neglecting too much the individual. Perhaps Hancock might agree but would say the feminists he’s familiar with elevate the individual too much at the expense of society. In either case it would be good to make these clear. This is also a place where I think portraying feminism as a monolithic movement is problematic. There’s a ridiculous amount of diversity there.

    However at the same time your responses (here and at FPR) seem to suggest that no practical explanation of gender difference in Church would work. I’m pretty skeptical of that as well. I think everyone discussing the issue still has the range of options a tad too narrowed. Further everyone seems to just be defending their basic political stance. (i.e. a kind of Burkean reaction against radical reform in preference to reform grounded in tradition vs. a certain elevation of egalitarian grounded in the traditional liberal project) I’d like to see people venture out a bit more from their comfort zones.

  46. Clark (44) two things I want to address from your comment; 1. Fathers Preside/Equal Partners I am not sure how it is not obvious that this is a contradiction. If one presides, he has no equal. The Bishop presides at a ward meeting, there are no others in the building who can act as a “father to the ward” or direct the ward. If one thinks of those who preside in a secular manner as say, a boss the order is your boss tells you what to do, period. He may consult you, and even implement some of your ideas, but you are not equal partners, he is your boss.

    2. You don’t see any problem/inconsistencies in a document that claims man and woman is all it has ever been and all God has ever ordained from the beginning of time, and until forever (essentially) and the fact that said Church practiced Polygamy for quite some time? For real? It has nothing to do with whether or not current members are uncomfortable with it. Acting as if Polygamy was never ordained of God is a complete and total 180 and is actually one of the main reasons I cannot personally take the PoF seriously.

    In the interests of full disclosure I am not part of a group of members who think that polygamy was either shameful or wrong. I think it is God’s Law, but that it just doesn’t really work well for this time period. This was my understanding of how The Church felt as well previous to the publication of the PoF.

  47. Now responding to the comments.

    Martin (4) I think you brought up a point I neglected. There is a conception of authority here that seems at odd with a lot of Mormon theology. Often when referred to in conference it’s the idea that the gospel is a kingdom not a democracy. Even if we think that when we are exalted that relationship changes it seems in this life it’s quite different. Oddly in some ways there is an appeal to society by both sides. In one a more democratic move in the other an appeal to observing the tradition and “success” of society. (Even though both, I’m sure agree authority to be authority in a religious sense has to come from God)

    I think you’re right that most Mormons will reject out of hand any conception of authority primarily argued for in terms of society. We’re not Protestants.

    Jeremy (5). I think you nailed something too. There is a sense in which everyone is putting forth a burden of proof argument. TT is saying those arguing against egalitarianism have the burden of proof. Hancock is arguing those arguing against the tradition have burden of proof. Ultimately it’s like a game of chicken. Who has to defend robustly their assumptions first?

    Russell (6) I won’t say anything here. I was doing a series of epistemology posts at FPR when I got ridiculously busy again. I’ll just say that I’m far from convinced revelatory experiences are necessarily persuasive. (The angel before Laman and Lemuel being the paradigmatic case) That said I do agree there there are strong hidden hermeneutic issues here. I think Hancock does (at least in what little I’ve read) make appeals to what has been persuasive. I’m not sure I understand Hancock enough to say much about the persuasion vs. authority distinction TT brings up in (8) thought.

    TT (8) When you say something like, “Paul could have understood his experience on the road to Damascus as an attempt by the devil or demons to deceive him,” I think you portray interpretation as much more voluntary than I do. I just don’t think beliefs are voluntary. Rather they happen to us. That’s not to say that an interpretation process doesn’t go on. That part is right. It’s just that the old model of pure data vs. a pure voluntary reasoned interpretation seems wrong. The obvious example of this is going out under a blue sky and attempting to force yourself to interpret it as a red sky. You just can’t do it.

    There are lots of implications of that I think.

    Chris (9) I’m not sure what you mean when you say conservative Mormons (of which I count myself) think revelatory experiences are the same for everyone. I certainly don’t believe that. It seems a bit of a straw man. It’s true conservatives think there are truths and reject relativism. But that is quite a different matter.

    Casey (22) I’d argue that Mormonism has always been what Mormons want it to be…

    I have a hard time believing that. I think many Mormons at certain times would really have wanted it quite different. That’s not to deny a certain “bottom up” aspect to our culture and theology. But I think it’s easy to overstate this. (Which isn’t to deny that the beliefs of individual members is highly influenced by their hopes wishes – but I think there are constraints on the society)

    Brad (36) Nothing to add. Great points. In particular the question of the authority of the proclamation is pretty interesting. It seems to be in a grey area many don’t like.

    Russell (39) Authority is a kind of persuasion but I’m not sure it’s helpful to just reduce it to persuasion. I think it too easily conflates a certain hermeneutic process with the status of certain people, texts or communities. Isn’t the whole reason we bring up authority is to make that distinction? Of course what we choose to accept as authoritative is already due to an interpretive process. And maybe that’s TT’s point. And of course we can always return back to those questions and ask whether the status of such entity ought be reconceived.

    That said I do think a lot of people write arguments that are largely preaching to the choir rather than attempting to persuade those who don’t share their ideas. Is this going on with Hancock and Brookes? I’ve not read enough of either to be able to say.

    Now I’ll shut up for a day or so.

  48. TT,

    >Are we talking past one another?

    Maybe; maybe not. On first reading I thought I understood, and was intrigued by, what you are calling “counter-authority,” which I take to mean the process by which we (within the collective understanding of the Mormon community; obviously outside the church things would work differently) come to an understanding of a text or claim separate from, or even against, those understandings which have the presumption of authority? But on my second time through your comment, it didn’t seem so clear. So let me see if I can give this a good old-fashioned fisking and see what happens.

    >On the question of whether or not LDSs consider the Proclamation authoritative, you
    >both suggest that the answer must be yes because 1) many LDS consider it to be
    >authoritative 2) primarily because the source itself is considered to be authoritative.
    >I don’t dispute either of these claims.

    Let’s rephrase this, to make sure we’re saying the same thing. As I read Brad, he and I are in agree that what comes first, at least insofar as the common language of testimony bearing and the repeated teachings of prophets and apostles are concerned, is a prior (Brad: “metadiscursive”) acceptance of authoritativeness by the members of the church, and it is that acceptance of divinely communicated/revealed/vouchsafed authority (invested in a source–the BoM, the First Presidency, apostolic leadership, etc.–which exists prior to the PoF or whatever) which then makes it possible for the membership to accept the PoF as authoritative, because it is connected to/supported by the source is question. Hopefully we’re on the same page there.

    >Prior to both of these steps LDSs perform a kind of test of plausibility in their evaluation of
    >any particular claim, e.g., is what is being taught consistent with how I understand the basic
    >framework of the gospel and with the possibilities and plausibilities that that understanding
    >might engender?

    Here is where I wonder if we aren’t beginning to address different topics. What is the “basic framework of the gospel” which you say that the members of the church interrogate (however implicitly or subtly) their understanding of in order to discover the plausibility (or lack thereof) of a claim? If your answer is, “the source from which the claim originated,” then we’re in agreement. If it isn’t, then what is it? Please note, I think Brad and I and others are probably fully in agreement with you that, beneath and behind the statements we Mormons make publicly, and to ourselves, there probably is a great deal of “counter-authority” thinking going on (as you say through your several examples of alcohol prohibition, immigration policy, or a literal reading of the Adam and Eve story, it is quite likely that Mormons are constantly interrogating themselves about what they believe and why they believe it). But that is, nonetheless, still “beneath and behind” stuff; it’s what you rightly call attempts to “reconcile” what one finds persuasive with the authoritative norms of the community and one’s own faith. And if you are reconciling yourself, that means you’re orienting your internal negotiations in the direction of some foundation or source which you accept is already there. In other words, “Given that we know that God speaks to His prophet, how can we make sense of (that is, be persuaded of) this reading of the PoF,” etc., etc.

    I think that the two-step account of authority, where members accept teachings as authoritative because they come from an authoritative source is insufficient precisely because it does not account for those times when members do not consider something authoritative.

    I agree! But you took, in the original post, this to be a problem of persuasion: sometimes people are persuaded by claims, and sometimes they are not, and the ineliminable fact of persuasion is presented as an implicit acknowledgment of pluralism, of “competing authoritative claims.” But why is that so? It was may well be true (and indeed, speaking both philosophically and experientially I think it almost certainly is true) that we Mormons invariably engage in simultaneous counter-moves of interrogation and justification whenever they encounter a claim, which just proves that we’re all a bunch of modern liberals (which we already knew, however grumpy that realization may make some of us feel). But why is the fact that we construct our recognition of authority at least partly through persuasive justifications itself an argument for persuasion all the way up the chain of claims? Why is it not possible to conceive–especially given the fact that many millions of Mormons by all available evidence appear to regularly profess themselves capable of conceiving–of at least some authoritative claims being outside this process? In which case, the trump card of revealed authority remains to potentially undermine any counter-moves we all may make. You asserted in the original post that there is no single Mormon tradition of thought when it comes to normative claims, and that the attempt to rhetorically support one is simply “mythical.” I agree with you. But isn’t it possible that, in agreeing with you there, I have already placed myself outside the metadiscursive norms of belief by which notions of persuasion are recognized as elements of authority within our tradition? To me, at least, it seems entirely possible.

    Long comment, made short, once again: maybe we don’t actually disagree on anything, TT. But I think you are responding to Hancock in a way which elides a tragic element of your disagreement with him; namely, that you think he is asserting something that is unreasonable, contravening the inevitable reality of assessing claims for their differing levels of persuasion, whereas one might say that he thinks that you are arguing in the absence of knowledge, a knowledge which grounds his ability to make assertions about the PoF or anything else. You are, that is, already assuming that you two can reason together, but I think it is entirely possible that he wouldn’t necessarily think that way (even if, if you are correct (and I think you are), he nonetheless does in fact internally act that way).

  49. Thank you all for the continued, thoughtful engagement on these questions. I appreciate you pushing me to think through these issues more fully, as I acknowledge needs to be done. (I have run out of time and have not been able to edit my remarks below. I reserve the right to back away from any of them that I decide don’t work. I just don’t have the time to fully think through some of these matters, but I don’t want to leave them hanging unaddressed. I hope that others will continue to think through these issues with me.)

    I want to clarify that I am not engaged in a particular defense or attack on the authority of the Proclamation. To the extent that my remarks have been interpreted in that way, I have failed to be clear about my stated intention to contribute to “a discussion about how reasoning about LDS teachings might occur.” My argument has not been to undercut Hancock’s claim to the authority of the POF, but rather to respond to his argument that critiques of the Proclamation necessarily represent an “intrusion” of “liberal” ideas that “reshape” Mormonism. I have intended to argue that critique and disagreement in and of itself does not constitute intrusion from the outside of Mormonism, but is rather inherent to it because it, and all religious traditions, are not univocal. The central point that I want to argue, following Givens but expanding on his idea, is that Mormonism is full of tensions internal to itself. The idea of there being competing notions of how Mormonism should be, what the world should be like, and how to relate between the locative and utopian aspects of Mormonism seems to me to be the essential point. My assessment is that there never is a final, ultimate resolution to these tensions because there cannot be. We navigate and negotiate these tensions in our practice, but they are fundamentally irresolvable.

    AMH 43,
    “is it possible to go about this wrestling (to use Robert’s term) unfaithfully? Are there ways of approaching the Church’s authority claims that are inconsistent with sustaining the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve as prophets, seers, and revelators?”

    This is a great question and I think it warrants more discussion. But I think that the question is framed in such a way to suggest that unfaithfulness is defined by being “inconsistent with sustaining” Church leaders. Perhaps that is the best way, but we also might think of faithfulness as defined by our relationship to God or to our neighbors as more important than our relationship to church leaders. I am not sure that those alternatives should take priority, but the at least can get us thinking about the terms on which we come to define faithfulness.

    Clark 44,
    “I agree that Hancock’s reading itself depends upon a series of hermeneutic moves. However it seems yours does as well.”

    Yes, absolutely! I don’t think that any text provides its own meaning, but must be read by readers who bring to it particular frameworks of understanding. Communities negotiate the terms for how to understand a text.

    “your responses (here and at FPR) seem to suggest that no practical explanation of gender difference in Church would work.”

    I am pleased to see some engagement on these matters rather than solely focusing on the question of interpretation and persuasion. I admit that I am highly skeptical of most of the accounts given for gender difference. That is, I have a pretty high bar for being persuaded on this point. Do you have an explanation that you think works?

    Clark 46,
    “It’s just that the old model of pure data vs. a pure voluntary reasoned interpretation seems wrong. The obvious example of this is going out under a blue sky and attempting to force yourself to interpret it as a red sky. You just can’t do it.”
    I think that is a kind of exaggeration of my position, along the lines of Ralph’s worry that admitting that more than one way of understanding is tantamount to saying that all ways of understanding are equally valid. My point about an interpretive process for our understandings of truth and the world around us rests on persuasiveness as a standard, where an interpretation must be plausible or possible, which provides the explicit limits to the relativism claim. That said, the grounds of what makes something persuasive is also up for debate in that interpretive process.

    Russell 47,
    “What is the “basic framework of the gospel” which you say that the members of the church interrogate (however implicitly or subtly) their understanding of in order to discover the plausibility (or lack thereof) of a claim? If your answer is, “the source from which the claim originated,” then we’re in agreement. If it isn’t, then what is it?”

    These are some thick questions. If I am understanding correctly, you are asking in essence, “Does the ‘source from which the claim originated’ constitute the basis of tests of authority or not?” If I have properly understood this question, I think that my answer is no, the source may be a necessary, but not sufficiently persuasive claim to authority. That is because there are multiple authoritative sources which are not always in harmony. For instance, we have scripture, past teachings of church leaders, traditional practices, teachings of current leaders, personal revelation, studying it out in our mind (or, processes of reasoning), the authority of personal experiences, observations, and expertise, and likely others that don’t immediately come to mind. All of these are at work in our evaluations of church teachings. I think that we accept the teachings of church leaders as authoritative by appealing to some (or even all) of these accepted modes of reasoning.

    What happens when a teaching seems to be out of sync with those modes of reasoning? I think that this is an inevitable aspect of our religious experience because our religion is not, and cannot be, monolithic. We might decide to privilege one over the other, like prioritizing current church teachings over scripture or even experience. Or we might qualify or downgrade the authority of the teaching while making room for our other understandings of authority (dismissing or explaining away statements which allow for or prohibit evolution, depending on our perspectives and how strongly persuaded we are by one understanding or the other). Or we might suggest that some other competing tradition, or even a possibility embedded within the teaching, more accurately represents the gospel.

    “But why is the fact that we construct our recognition of authority at least partly through persuasive justifications itself an argument for persuasion all the way up the chain of claims? Why is it not possible to conceive–especially given the fact that many millions of Mormons by all available evidence appear to regularly profess themselves capable of conceiving–of at least some authoritative claims being outside this process? In which case, the trump card of revealed authority remains to potentially undermine any counter-moves we all may make.”

    Excellent questions. I think that you are still contrasting persuasion and revealed authority in ways that I am not, so I think that I would not construct the problem in this same way. That is, revealed authority is not something outside of a persuasive claim since in order to accept that revealed authority one must already be persuaded to accept it. And as much as we might point to the claims of the “trump card” as persuasive, we are forced to consider the times when that trump card fails to persuade either some or many members. My intervention in this whole affair is to suggest that Hancock’s use of this particular trump card is ineffective because the PoF fails to persuade some people on grounds other than those he is arguing for. That is, it might meet the test of current authorities, but for some members it fails other tests, such as scriptural authority, past authority, experience, etc. To successfully engage in an argument about this text is to adequately negotiate these various counter claims, and perhaps even acknowledge the tensions that are there, as well as the grounds on which authoritative claims should be understood.

    Finally, I would add that the “trump card” of revealed authority suffers from a key weakness. I would say that any claim to authority is always provisional because there always lurk in the background other possibilities, counter authorities, and new interpretations as a kind of perpetual point of destabilization. Even the threat of new revelation makes any authoritative claim provisional, even those with the claim to being revealed in the first place. I think we might consider the ways that revealed authority contains the potential for its own undoing, its own deconstruction of its authority.

    “But I think you are responding to Hancock in a way which elides a tragic element of your disagreement with him; namely, that you think he is asserting something that is unreasonable, contravening the inevitable reality of assessing claims for their differing levels of persuasion…”

    My claim is more limited, perhaps as a kind of prelude to the discussion that you are seeing me advance. I am seeking to create that space in which we might reason together, but such a reasoning can only proceed by getting at the fundamental presuppositions we are bringing and negotiating about their appropriateness to addressing the issues at hand. To the extent that I think that Hancock is arguing something that is unreasonable, it is that I think that he is rigging the game by attempting to suggest that some arguments from authority are authentically Mormon and others are not. I am attempting to open up the space for a conversation about Mormonism that does not begin from the presupposition that there is a single way that any particular issue must be understood. Further, I am arguing that the kinds of specific arguments from “reason” that Hancock has advanced as an attempt to persuade his interlocutors (beyond his appeals to revealed authority) are either underdeveloped or problematic.

    My point about persuasion as the basis of Mormon authority was meant in the

  50. Clark Goble says:

    EOR (45) I confess to me it seems like a contradiction only if one has a particular kind of conception of what preside means. There’s a lot to unpack there. More importantly though you take equality to be equality only in terms of power of an absolute authority. Either there’s an unmediated power or there isn’t and that’s the calculus to determine equality.

    But what see equality and value in those terms?

  51. If one can be said to preside over one’s equals, then the word “preside” is emptied of all meaning. That might indeed be what’s happening in mormonism, at least in the case of male headship (it is certainly not the case in church administration), but let’s not do the Orwell preside = equality thing. Even if you can claim that relationships of equality or inequality are judged on the basis of more than just formal power, presiding denotes precisely those aspects of the relationship are not equal. So a bishop and choir director are, of course, equals on any number of levels. But the bishop presides on precisely that level (and in the precise degree) in which they are not equal.

  52. Both spouses are equal, Brad, but one spouse is more equal than the other.

  53. Brad, once again one has to unpack what we mean by preside and equal. Clearly the senses you want to use is emptied. If you simply mean one can do things the other can’t, then yes they are unequal. I’m not sure that’s a good sense for equality. Since many people have different duties. Implicit in your view of equality is that particular tasks duties and responsibilities count more than others. I disagree. However in terms of our culture’s particular valuation of a sort of power by declaration you are correct.

    That is one is adopting a particular view of power that’s not inherent in the analysis in order to make the judgement.

  54. Merely by choosing to use the word preside, which in mormon discourse is positively saturated with unequal, hierarchical, and authoritative power, we are making a deliberate choice to cast the relationship explicitly in unequal terms. The people in question—he who presides and they who are presided over—however else they might be equal, are not equal precisely insofar as presiding is actually occurring. They might be equal in every other way, but the presiding relationship makes them unequal and defines the scope and specifies the contours of their inequality.

    Also, if “war” means “peace”, then the 1945 surrender of German forces ended the peace in Europe.

  55. But that’s rather my point. If you define the terms in terms of current usage but in a religious setting it may very well be that the way we use the terms is simply wrong.

  56. Let me expand that as maybe I’m not being clear enough.

    If we are moral realists about equality, presiding and many other ideas in Mormon structure then it may very well be that how we use them is simply wrong. We mean something when we use the term charity, but if there really is a command about charity and it means something outside of our community, then judging it in terms of how we behave in our community isn’t apt.

    I think that within Mormonism there is a sense there are objective senses to ethical or quasi-ethical terms that exceed our ability to grasp at this time. (Let’s avoid the ontological question of what we mean by objective here – let’s just say it means a meaning not determined by community use)

    To simply appeal to how we behave with regard to presiding, charity, equality, and so forth tells us nothing about how we should understand those terms.

    Beyond that any discourse that attempts to promote equality, charity and so forth but refuses to move beyond our cultural understanding seems doomed to failure. My point is mostly that both Hancock and many of his critics (or those he criticizes) end up doing the same sort of thing by an appeal to the structure of the church at this time.

  57. Regarding the tension between preside and equality, I think the Chief Justice on the Supreme Court offers an interesting case study, though it’s admittedly very loose and quite problematic (esp. in terms of Cynthia’s “more equal” complaint in #51): the Chief Justice presides, but gets only an equal vote….

  58. Kristine says:

    Hey, if the RS President got an equal vote with the bishop, he could call himself the presiderer all he wanted.

  59. Clark, the problem with weaseling out of the fact that preside and equal are inherently contradictory by saying that we can just change the plain, dictionary meanings of those words to be whatever we want them to be, is where does that end?

    Let’s give it a try!

    “Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents…”

    Here’s how I define these words:
    Each -> Purple
    is -> dragons
    a -> fly
    beloved -> only
    spirit -> at
    son -> night
    or -> under
    daughter -> the
    of -> pale
    heavenly -> blue
    parents -> moon

    So, to me, that sentence is really saying, “Purple dragons fly only at night under the pale blue moon.”

    Do you see why this game is ridiculous? Words have to have some kind of meaning, or the whole Proclamation may as well have been written in some secret code, not readable by anybody.

    You might say that’s a ridiculous example, and I agree. But other than just asserting “that’s ridiculous,” can you prove or argue to me that “Purple dragons fly only at night under the pale blue moon” is not the meaning of “Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents”? Probably you’re going to say, “Well, that’s not what basically everybody agrees those words mean!” And you could send me a link to dictionary.com to show me that “parents” does not mean “moon” and “each” does not mean “purple.” The problem is you have no right to do either of those things in this argument! Because you’ve already said that what everybody agrees a word means, and what the dictionary says it means, are NOT binding on the Proclamation.

    So, I put it to you: prove it. Prove that my sentence about purple dragons is not the meaning of that sentence from the Proclamation.

  60. wreddyornot says:

    At http://www.lds.org/scriptures/search?lang=eng&type=verse&query=preside you’ll find the uses of preside within the Church are pretty much consistent with a basic dictionary definition and what people generally mean when using the word in common parlance (To possess or exercise authority or control). So Clark, can I ask you please to quit being vague because I’m beginning to think you’re trying to be devious, or worse.

  61. I’m starting to be drawn to the purple dragon interpretation.

  62. Mark Brown says:

    The purple dragon makes as much sense oas some of the other things we have read out of the Proclamation.

  63. Purple dragon FTW!

  64. I always thought the proclamation was about Puff the magic dragon.

  65. Puff the Proclamation
    lived by the sea
    presiding in the autumn mist
    over her and her and me

    Little Boyd K. Packer
    loved that rascal Puff
    and tried to canonize into scripture,
    but he wasn’t correlated enough . . .

  66. 64 FTW

  67. Suddenly I regret not having followed this thread more closely.

  68. Kristine says:

    Nah, Petra–I think you got here just at the right time :)

  69. #56: “Regarding the tension between preside and equality, I think the Chief Justice on the Supreme Court offers an interesting case study, though it’s admittedly very loose and quite problematic (esp. in terms of Cynthia’s “more equal” complaint in #51): the Chief Justice presides, but gets only an equal vote….”

    Robert, tell me what “preside” means in the case of the Chief Justice–what is it that he does that the others don’t–and you’ve just told us how they are not equal. They may be equal in voting, but they aren’t equal in [fill in whatever the Chief Justice does when he "presides"]. This is basically what Brad was saying earlier–either preside means nothing, or whatever it means is precisely where there is inequality.

  70. andr3wh says:

    It is fair to say the Bishop presides over the Relief Society president in the conventional sense of the term, but the Family Proclamation adds a qualification to presiding in the home which is not found in the institutional church. In their separated family roles (which includes presiding) parents “help one another as equal partners.” Elder Oaks gave a talk in 2004 about presiding in the home and in the church. He says the difference is “understood and applied by the great Church and family leaders I have known, but it is rarely explained.” It’s because of this lived experience with both types of presiding and lack of discussion and explanation that most Mormons will reject the dictionary/purple-dragon critique even if they have difficulty articulating why.

  71. Andrew, I would suggest that what most members are doing is just tossing out the gender role proscriptions in the proclamation, and doing what feels right to them. So of course they don’t have a problem with the preside/equal language–they’re just largely ignoring it. But if you were to try to say, “what does this mean and I’m going to do that” it doesn’t make sense.

  72. In other words, I see that “lived experience” turning out ok as a testament to humans’ resilience and ability to make things work for themselves, not a testament to the document’s coherence.

  73. andr3wh says:

    I couldn’t disagree more. If the average Mormon is tossing anything out, it is the dictionary definitions of the words that lead to a contradiction in favor of gospel principles that don’t. When we read things like “The greatest among you shall be your servant” or about Christ submitting His will to the Father even while He “thought it not robbery to be God” we don’t dismiss them as incoherent contradictions and just do our own thing. We strive to pattern our leadership styles and relationships on them.

  74. Actually, Andrew, I think we’re saying the same thing, which is that you can’t go from the document, using dictionary understandings of the words, to a pattern for life (because as you admit, they lead to contradiction). You have to just rely on your understandings of the gospel.

  75. Cynthia #68, I agree that “equal partners” does not mean absolute equality, and that the term “preside” introduces an aspect of inequality. I’m just inclined to read the Proclamation in a way that minimizes this inequality, and I like how the Chief Justice analogy gives a nice, concrete example where preside does not connote an unequal vote. Rather, I like to think of preside in this case as, say, having responsibility to take up the slack with respect to administrative tasks — like ultimately being the one responsible if FHE doesn’t happen, or something….

  76. andr3wh says:

    I think the key difference between our views is I don’t see us changing the words in the family proclamation from the dictionary meaning to “whatever we want them to be” but to a meaning that is fully consistent with other gospel teachings on leadership and equality.

  77. There are some real mental gymnastics going on in these comments. Presiding is a square peg that does not fit in the round hole of Equality.

  78. Robert C.,
    So when we die if our children aren’t taught the gospel the wife can blame it on her husband? She isn’t responsible?

  79. Robert, there are two issues there. First, it is so I’ll-defined in the case of the family–where does man-presides “administrative” stuff end and equal “vote” begin? SCOTUS has very well-defined, numerically-accounted voting that happen at discrete moments. Family management does not. So, if unequal “administrative” and equal “vote” don’t really mean anything concrete, except, as Oaks very stirringly and adamantly says in his talk, don’t abuse and ruthlessly dominate your wife, then it seems like what we have is a form of patriarchy that says, we promise to treat women with a lot of dignity and basically equal *most* of the time, as long as everybody’s clear on the fact that men still preside. They still “wear the pants” in some formal or psychological sense. Forgive me if it just seems like a little salve thrown in there for the male ego at this juncture in history, which sees the inexorable march towards all god’s children finally being equal in society, but just has a hard time giving up that position of privilege. (Disney’s Robin Hood’s Prince John saying, “I am king! Kiiiiing!!” comes to mind)

  80. Mark Brown says:

    Andrew,

    I am quite certain that if you looked at the couples in your ward, you would see a wide range of leadership styles. The over 50 crowd would be heavy on the man-as-head-of-the-house model, while the younger, under 30 set probably has a more egalitarian style, with parents taking turns calling on family members to pray and the wife earning part of the family income. Which of those two widely differing approaches is more “fully consistent with other gospel teachings on leadership and equality”?

  81. This should be an interesting answer. (waiting with baited breath)

  82. For the last decade or so, there have been multiple references from the global leadership to co-presiding in the home. There even have been at least a couple of references to single mothers presiding in their homes.

    I believe we are moving toward different meanings of the word “preside” in the Church, based on context – and I also believe the constant focus recently on councils and the proper way to conduct councils is a conscious attempt to change the former meaning of the word “preside” without alienating the older, more fundamentalist segment of the Church.

    We obviously aren’t at the point where the word is separated completely from its most traditional meaning, and we probably never will be, but I think the top leadership absolutely is trying to move away from the idea that individuals (men) preside in the traditional sense of telling everyone what they need to do and expecting them to follow without input or discussion. I think we are moving to a definition that is more “communal” or “mutual” than it was in the past.

    If anyone is interested, I wrote the following post in October 2008:

    “Presiding: An Evolution of Definition” (http://thingsofmysoul.blogspot.com/2008/10/presiding-evolution-of-definition.html)

  83. andr3wh says:

    Mark Brown (and EOR),

    The second, more egalitarian approach is more consistent with the gospel. I don’t understand why that is supposed to be some kind of gotcha question.

    I agree with Ray’s excellent post that this hasn’t always been the case and that our use of the term and practices are evolving. But the principle of presiding over equals goes back to the pre-existence where the Father presides over the Godhead, sends the Son, and yet i would not say that the Father and Holy Ghost outvoted the Son, or overruled Him, nor that the Father’s directions are just some kind of formality or psychological presiding, but that they are all unified in love, will, purpose, agree perfectly with each other’s decisions, and act in unison, and that we should strive for the same.

  84. wreddyornot says:

    Yeah, andr3wh, the pre-existence. Err, don’t you mean pre-mortality? I know, as one of those old guys who are so often characterized as old school and daft relative to this new sensitivity. I admit, we historically used pre-existence back then before we started considering it’s meaning and use’s implications. Obviously, some still use it inadvisedly. Anyway, we know so much about that period, right? Pre-mortality, where, as you say, Father presided — per you — to the mutual agreement of the other key men, not that I necessarily disagree. But mightn’t that also be where Heavenly Mother got presided pretty much into oblivion relative to us, her children? Is that an example of how presiding is equivalent to equality? I know, I know, we just don’t know and shouldn’t speculate. Well, I guess it’s time we started asking.

  85. andr3wh says:

    wreddyornot, we have lots of information about the pre-existence, or premortal life, if you prefer, and the roles of members of the Godhead. But you don’t have to take my word for it. Here’s a couple from the Joseph Smith manual:

    Everlasting covenant was made between three personages before the organization of this earth and relates to their dispensation of things to men on the earth. These personages are called God the first, the Creator; God the second, the Redeemer; and God the third, the Witness or Testator.

    It is the province of the Father to preside as the Chief or President, Jesus as the Mediator, and the Holy Ghost as the Testator or Witness. The Son [has] a tabernacle and so [does] the Father, but the Holy Ghost is a personage of spirit without tabernacle.

    Regarding our Heavenly Mother, I agree we don’t know, but I’m fine with both asking and speculating. There are a number of theories, all with various strengths and weaknesses, but I like the one which posits that Eloheim or “The Father” actually means “The Father and The Mother” based on the usage of names as titles from time to time in the scriptures, for example God refers to Adam and Eve together as “Adam” which translates to “mankind” in the creation narratives.

  86. Maybe we’re just trying to look at the definitions of the wrong words here. Perhaps we should be looking at that very little ‘as’. ie. ‘as equal partners’, as though, or as if (but aren’t actually) kind of thing…
    (Not that I like it…)

  87. This is starting to feel like the Clinton Impeachment Hearings all over again.

  88. European Saint says:

    EOR (86)–THAT was funny. Thanks.

  89. Sorry for not having time to respond for a bit.

    Cynthia (58) What I am talking about is, in philosophy, often called “natural kinds.” When you take my comments that we can use words to refer to real entities or structures independent of the language use of a community by making up a community with a unique language use it’s pretty clear you are missing what I’m saying. The example I am coming out of is science where what science refers to more explicitly isn’t determined by how a community happens to use words but how the entities and structures the words attempt to refer to actually are.

    So it’s fine to say that a particular community has a certain sense of “preside.” And if presiding, equality, justice, and so forth are all purely creations of that community you’d be right. Typically such as conception is called anti-realist because they are cut off from what is really out there in the world.

    However I was talking about moral realism which is the view that things like justice and equality have a real meaning independent of the community. As such they are akin to electrons, the mass of subatomic particles, the speed of light and other such entities and structures studied by science. Now in academics today anti-realism is undoubtedly the majority view. It’s not just the majority view but a strong relativism is also a very popular view.

    All I was really doing is attempting to bring attention to this fundamental distinction between realism and anti-realism and suggest it has a profound influence on how this conversation goes. Your examples all emphatically make such use of the anti-realist position that I suspect you might just be unfamiliar with those who adopt various sorts of realist positions. As such there will be a chasm of misunderstanding which will lead to people talking past one an other.

    Now I would go so far as to say that I think Mormonism does demand a realist interpretation of equality, presiding, justice and so forth. Further I’d say that (as of yet) we don’t have a proper understanding of such terms. But what determines their meaning isn’t a dictionary, a particular community, and especially not someone defining their own language. Rather it is the reality of the universe in which we live that determines their meaning. As such we ought have a very strong skepticism towards understanding them by an appeal to a dictionary just as a scientist would see it as ridiculous to engage in an argument that makes an appeal to a popular dictionary as determining the meaning of scientific terms.

    One can of course reject that parallel to science and say all such terms at best only have meanings created by the community. That’s fine. But then you’ve found the point of disagreement in the debate.

  90. wreddyornot says:

    Clark, you’ve now confirmed what I thought above. Your argument is elitist and specious.

  91. So, Clark, you’re arguing that neither the dictionary nor the community defines a word? What in your opinion does define words/concepts such as equality and preside then? By every account the two are incompatible, and I would be interested to hear under what circumstances and what authority you feel they can co-exist peacefully in the way you are pretending they do. I don’t want to talk about realism, or anti-realism, just name your source and then we can get to the meat of your argument.

  92. wreddyornot says:

    Of course elitist and specious can be assigned any meaning you want out their in the multiverse.

  93. wreddyornot says:

    there not their

  94. EOR – the same words can have multiple senses. We can be talking about a community meaning (or close to it – typically words have slight semiotic drift from dictionary meanings and dictionaries don’t capture the range of connotations and uses of words). We can also talk about the thing referred to by a word chosen because it comes closest to describing the thing talked about.

    As for an account where they are compatible I think someone else mentioned one example already – the Godhead.

  95. Kristine says:

    Fortunately, there is a communally agreed-upon word for what Clark just did (89). It’s called mansplaining, and it’s a pastime best not indulged in Cynthia’s vicinity, because she’s smarter than any two of us put together. She eats incoherent and self-contradictory arguments like that one for breakfast.

  96. Cynthia, let me put it this way—have you ever heard of PLATO, SOCRATES, ARISTOTLE?!?

  97. wreddyornot, what argument? That words both connotate and denote? That words means are not always captured by dictionary meaning? That we can refer to senses not yet fully understood? Could you be specific as to what is wrong and why?

  98. When mortals are as good, non-unrighteous-dominion-prone, and uttlerly and completely difference-of-opinion-free as the members of the Godhead, it will be good advice “to the World” for everyone to run their marriages like the Godhead. And not a moment sooner.

    It’s also don’t think that is the advice the Proclamation is giving.

  99. Clark,
    How can anyone take that argument seriously if you can’t articulate a clear definition of what preside supposedly means outside the dictionary? If we really have such a different understanding within Mormonism of what preside is, wouldn’t it have been easier to come up with a new word? I can’t think of any precedent within our faith where we have a different meaning for a word than the rest of English speakers, can you? Why would this word be an exception?

  100. My way of presiding is to sit at the head of the table – hunch over the head of the table would possibly be more like it, still managing to keep my head out of my soup – with my eyebrows and the nose and ear hairs exploding out of my head. And when I hear something that I don’t like to hear, I will bang my fist down upon the table and bark something like, “Tah-tuh-Tah! TAH-Tuh-TAH!!” That usually gets everyone to look up, anyhow, and will betimes incite a giggle. Then all return to whatever unseemly chitter-chatter they were engaged in before.

  101. “…a scientist would see it as ridiculous to engage in an argument that makes an appeal to a popular dictionary as determining the meaning of scientific terms.”

    Clark, that’s only because scientists define and use their terms more precisely than a “popular dictionary” or popular community usage does. That’s hardly the case in your case, where your definitions are fuzzier than the mold on a slice of Roquefort.

  102. (I just threw in the fancy cheese reference so I can sound really impressive and impress the heck out of y’all with my intimidating, impressive impressiveness. Now nobody will try to question my argument because you were all distracted and blown away by the way I throw around words like “Roquefort” really conspicuously casually and it’s just so stinking elite-sounding and impressivliciously impressive.)

  103. Chris Kimball says:

    The Chief Justice analogy is actually an interesting and revealing example. The Chief Justice gets one vote. In that sense the Chief Justice is equal. But the Chief Justice sets the agenda, presides over oral arguments, chooses who writes the opinion whenever the Chief Justice is in the majority, presides over the trial in the Senate in the case of an impeachment. These are all roles and responsibilities of significant power, distinct from all the other Justices. Thus, on a different dimension–different than the one person one vote dimension–the Chief Justice is very much different and (might I venture?) superior.

  104. Chris Kimball says:

    Dropping back in after days away, I see a “straw man” reply to an earlier post (my 9, reply buried in 46).
    A long re-reply isn’t warranted, but let me just say that I can hear “Revelations may not always agree with each other” as an assumption or a thesis, but not as an axiom. I agree with the statement. I wouldn’t be surprised if an overwhelming majority of By Common Consent readers agree with the statement. It helps set the frame within which a useful and interesting discussion of authority takes place. But it is NOT a universal and would not be agreed by a significant number of people I know who fit well within any reasonable “Mormon” tent.

  105. Cynthia (101) if you look I’ve never given a definition. Rather my point is we are still learning what these notions mean. Thus it’s hardly surprising we don’t have a working definition. To draw an analogy scientists can talk about dark matter but there’s very little they can say about it because their knowledge is so limited.

    All I’m suggesting is – apparently to the consternation of many – that we don’t really know as much about equality and presiding as we like to think. That’s not a positive claim about what they are but merely acknowledging the ignorance many wish to pretend isn’t there.

    The alternative is to say we know quite clearly what these terms mean and everything is just wrong. If that’s what you demand that’s fine. It is interesting that both positions see most beliefs as wrong – one just requires that terms be much better defined than I think one can support. (Of course it’s not terribly hard to find people who think they know what the terms means nor to find some aspects of the terms we’d agree upon – but that’s really a different matter)

    MMiles (99) A new word would only be helpful if we defined it quite clearly. However there are many problems with neologisms – not the least of which folks typically have no clue what you’re talking about. Using existing words and simply suggesting the actual meaning is similar yet different is wisest. I’d note that what I outline is pretty common in science. It adopts common vernacular terms and then as discoveries mount changes their meaning. (For good examples of this see folk psychology – mind is a common term you can even find in a dictionary but do scientists and philosophers necessarily mean the same thing when they use the word?)

    As for examples, aren’t there numerous ones? I’d think that what I describe would be seen describing most moral language terms if one is a moral realist. Anything that’s a natural kind follows the logic I outlines. Of course the most famous example of this is D&C 19 and “eternal punishment” where there’s a resemblance to the community meaning at the time but clearly quite a different sense. I think Mormons have effectively redefined terms such as eternal, seal, election and so forth. Words like justification and sanctification are trickier due to the involved theological layers (plus Mormons don’t use them as much). I think Mormons understand the term resurrection quite different from most although once again at a certain level of generality it’s pretty similar to Protestant use. Salvation is definitely a word Mormons have redefined. The best example of all is the word God which Evangelicals are forever saying we’ve changed.

    So perhaps there are so many examples that a better question would be what natural kinds within theological discussions doesn’t Mormonism do this with?

    Once again I’d note I’m not saying the sense of the word in its role as signifying a natural kind is radically different from the community sense. It must have enough resemblance to be able to function as the kind of sign it is.

    Cynthia (98) I don’t think I’m saying we have to be perfect beings. However if our structures here may well be images of the heavenly structure I’m not sure they are unrelated. However more to the point you simply asked for an example. You seem to concede the example so presumably you’d agree that preside and equal aren’t as incompatible as they appear.

    The issue is of course that the Godhead appear able to come to an agreement. The issue for preside and equality is more about how to deal with difference. This is the classic problem of equality of course. Equality works great when entities are the same relative to the relevance qualities. When there is difference though it doesn’t seem to work as well.

    I’m actually not convinced the members of the Godhead can’t have differences. But if the Father’s role is significant (that is his difference from the Son and Spirit matters) then preside must matter. If one adopts an unity so strong that there’s effectively no difference then the problem disappears but at the expense of having introduced a bigger problem. Thus for presiding to be presiding it must have a relationship with difference in a way that undermines any attempt to treat equality as sameness. I’d actually say for equality in a political sense to matter it must explain difference as well and not sameness. That is it seems to me the real issue is less over on the preside side of the semantics than it is on the equality side.

  106. Clark,
    I’d argue that the ideas you chose (salvation, eternal torment) have historically been argued about in religious tradition, not just in contrast to our own ideas. The word preside has not.

    “Using existing words and simply suggesting the actual meaning is similar yet different is wisest.”
    Why is it the wisest?

  107. M Miles says:

    “The issue for preside and equality is more about how to deal with difference. This is the classic problem of equality of course. Equality works great when entities are the same relative to the relevance qualities. When there is difference though it doesn’t seem to work as well.”
    Equality also doesn’t work as well when the superior party is telling the other party how they are different, so therefore not equal. And what might be the ‘relevance qualities’ you are referring to in this case?

  108. wreddyornot says:

    Clark, I have no problem with the notion that words connote and denote. That seems to be you. In all of this you’ve been unwilling to state what you think that preside means and where “out there” you come by that notion. You can’t, because you don’t know. In fact, I would posit that under your theory, you can’t know. For you, however, all of us commoners, we who are bound by community, are anti-realist. Only you sophisticates, who are realists, who somehow are “out there”, are on the right track. Earlier in an entry, I linked to various places in the LDS Canon and in the official reference materials thereto to the use of the word “preside.” I asked that you comment on the observation that those seem to comport with the common dictionary definition. You didn’t. Why is that?

    I’ll mull what you say above. But I must say it slowly gets to what I thought all along. You don’t know, but it seems to me we (you) still have to deal with what we’ve got. Otherwise we’re just left forever tenative, left where we are, and that’s an excuse for not changing or considering anything better.

  109. Mommie Dearest says:

    As I read through all the verbal and logical macrame that is so carefully crafted to support the status quo as described in the PoF, I wonder if the Lord really intends that we perform such contortions in order to “understand” the meaning of the words of his servants. I admit I’m just a BYU dropout and not one of the brainy whiz kids here, and I can’t engage in point-by-point verbal fencing, but I can follow this thread as an observer, and Clark, over and over the reaction I keep having is a great big exaggerated eyeroll.

  110. “not one of the brainy whiz kids here”

    That’s ok. Neither are they. I would say exhibited braininess is more a matter of personal style than anything, and that making aesthetic judgments is fine, but is only that.

    I’ve really only scanned the arguments, but as far as I can tell, I agree somewhat with Clark. There are many words that we like to use, the meaning of which we have generally shared, but which have turned out to have qualities quite unlike those we have inherited. Words like “sin” and “repentance”, for instance, seem to me to be historically loaded with old Protestant baggage that upon further examination gives way to some greater or lesser extent. I don’t see why the word “preside” needs to be any different. Our understanding of it is packed with historical stuff. I don’t think you can say, finally, that it is impossible to preside and retain equality simply because that is what the word means. I think it would take me more discussion of the words and their possible meanings, as well as watching my own experience. It may be that to preside denotes some kind of presence that is important, but never violates another’s autonomy. Perhaps in the long run, this has nothing to do with gender. Like virtually everything else, we are mostly experimenting and failing.

    I don’t mean this as any kind of justification for how presiding has been done, or will be done, in the main. I chaff under dominion much more than most. And it is the way we do things – by we, I mean human beings. Any attempt to circumnavigate another person’s freedom is dominion. I include in dominion things like advertising campaigns, attempts to create an attractive image, withholding of information in order to limit another person’s response – all really Mormon stuff, not to mention human stuff.

  111. This simply reads like a bunch of dissembling about what we mean when we say “preside.” It’s abundantly clear that there has been a shift over time within the church regarding how the word is understood, as Ray’s link shows, so I agree with Clark to the extent that the meaning of the term is not fixed eternally. Where I disagree with Clark is in the way he wants to excuse the word from having any connotation of inequality, and how he seems to deny that women are granted less say in what goes on in the church than men, which is a patently obvious observation. “Preside doesn’t mean what you say it means, but I’m not capable of offering an explanation of what I think it means, so instead I’ll do semantic gymnastics in a discussion about language.”

    Clark: No duh, language shifts. Offering an actual explanation of what “preside” means is more useful than what you’re doing.

    mmiles: And what might be the ‘relevance qualities’ you are referring to in this case?

    My guess is the quality of a penis.

  112. oudenos says:

    and quantity!!!

  113. Haha!

  114. Kristine says:

    Another problem that plagues discussions like this is that we (understandably) conflate presiding in the home and presiding in church, and try to justify men’s ecclesiastical preeminence by virtue of their relatively egalitarian roles in marriage and family. In practice, most American Mormons have adopted societal norms about relationships between husbands and wives, which have shifted towards a more egalitarian footing over the last half century or so. We still try to insist on the economic model that accompanied notions of male headship by preserving women’s financial dependence on their husbands, but on the whole, especially in affective terms, Mormons articulate egalitarian ideals for marriage.

    The trouble is that affective egalitarianism, the essential abandonment of male headship in the home, does not mitigate the structural inequity of our current division of authority and responsibility in the church. We’re left trying to defend the term “preside” in the church context, where it really does mean that men have significant authority over women (they do not help each other “as equal partners” in church work), by reference to the eviscerated notion of “preside” that we observe in marriages. It’s not just that the meaning of preside has shifted over time, but that we use the word to mean different things in family and church contexts.

  115. After this last comment by Kristine’s, I really can’t think of anything left to be said here–she’s nailed the problem perfectly well. Brava!

  116. andr3wh says:

    When mortals are as good… as the members of the Godhead, it will be good advice “to the World” to comport everyone’s marriages like the Godhead. And not a moment sooner

    I disagree. Or perhaps we should also wait until there is less child abuse before we advise “the world” that parents should rear their children in love and righteousness?

    The example of the Godhead was given to demonstrate that presiding over co-equals is not only possible, but is the ideal and very essence of the gospel.

    It is different than the presiding that happens in the institutional church, as Elder Oaks explains in the article I linked earlier and as Kristine also points out. I haven’t seen anyone here argue that the ability to preside in an egalitarian marriage means there isn’t institutional inequality in the church.

  117. Well, just about the only good thing I can say about how this thread is going is that we are AMPLY demonstrating (or performing) Taylor’s point that “the document must still be interpreted. An interpreted text or speech (as the nature of all texts and speech) is open to resignification.”

    The idea that we’ve come around to in the last few comments, that “preside” is a word that has changed over time as the outside society’s march towards gender equality has reflected in the marriages in the church as well, is exactly the kind of thing he was saying.

    “It is different than the presiding that happens in the institutional church”

    It is demonstrably true that this wasn’t always the case. Marriages have become more equal over time, requiring a schism in the usage of the word “preside” between church and marriage applications.

    “as Elder Oaks explains in the article”

    As I pointed out earlier, great talk (not sarcasm at all) if what you’re looking for is “don’t brutally oppress and abuse your wife,” but it says almost nothing in the “do’s” category, just the “don’ts” category. So we still don’t know what “preside” looks like, which is one reason why nobody in this thread like Clark or Andrew have been able to say what it looks like.

    “I disagree. Or perhaps we should also wait until there is less child abuse before we advise “the world” that parents should rear their children in love and righteousness?”

    This comparison doesn’t share ANY of the relevant traits of the original. It helps nothing by way of understanding the difficulties. It is clearly advice that is straightforward for mortals to implement. Not all of them will, but all of them should, and no harm can come by trying.

    In contrast, great harm can come to women when you command them: “In your marriage, you should be like the Savior in the Jesus:Father relationship. Your will should be your husband’s will and you should do his will in every case without the tiniest shred of exception. Worship him as your god. Give all glory and power to him. Never question him for even a single second, ever. Do whatever he commands you to do, no matter how much physical and emotional pain results, up to and including your own death.” A beautiful relationship, if often in a sublime way, and totally necessary to the salvation of all the world, when it is a relationship between perfect beings. For mortals, worst marriage advice ever.

  118. I agree with Cynthia, and would further like to add that imo it is complete garbage that “presiding over co-equals…is the ideal and very essence of the gospel” That’s funny, I always thought the Atonement or even the Plan of Salvation was the good news. Turns out it was presiding over co-equals all this time.

  119. #107 mmiles, well said.

  120. Mommie Dearest says:

    And by whiz kids, I mean Kristine and Cynthia. For this discussion at the very least.

  121. Kristine says:

    Really just Cynthia, Mommie Dearest :)

  122. Cynthia and Kristin’s drawing attention to the difference of “preside” in home and church contexts is, I think, one of the most crucial observations to consider. I hadn’t thought of that rather obvious bifurcation until you articulated it thata way, so good work.

  123. Kristine says:

    Thanks, Blair. It’s one of those things that becomes blindingly obvious the 45th time you say to a Mormon man “the structure of the church is sexist,” and he says, as though it were some sort of response, “but my wife will tell you I’m not a tyrant!”

  124. Cool. As long as we all recognize that Clark still presides over this thread.

  125. Funny, I was just thinking about this during an early morning muse on a talk I was going to wind up having to give due to a last minute back out by someone. The topic was restoration of the priesthood and I was contemplating how the priesthood should operate in the home and I found myself reflecting on the discussion of preside vs. nurture on in previous threads and topics. My wife and I joke that Dad presides sitting up on the stand above the fray while poor Mom has to fend with the craziness of small children on the pew. And as I reflected on that joke, the same explanation that Cynthia and Kristine offered above concerning how an egalitarian marriage should operate (and ours largely does) emerged in my mind. The priesthood presides in the home by virtue of a husband and wife who both have the same rights of revelation for the family working together and no important decision being made unless unanimity exists. That’s how President Hinckley often explained the First Presidency and Quorum of the 12 operate and if there is not unanimity then the issue is set aside. Roles are negotiated according to the abilities and interests of the wife and husband. So then the priesthood is an opportunity to serve in the home and lead by love (as the Savior did) and for the father to bless his children and wife by calling down the power of the priesthood as needed. The problems surface when preside is confused with decide. I am not the “decider” in my home, my wife and I are together. No man should assume that by virtue of the priesthood he is designated as having the final say.

    That’s my read in D&C 121:41

    No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned;

    Power and influence come through the qualities that come after the comma that follows priesthood in that phrase.

    But I then ran into the hard wall of reality for how could I possibly explain the nature of presiding in the Church organization. As much as I remind Auxiliary leaders that they are in charge and they should come to the Bishopric with recommendations for callings and programs, ultimately a Bishop does have the final say. We do not deviate from the callings requested or programs desired without discussing concerns that surface while praying about these things. But still, men are ultimately in charge. And that is the disconnect even if you try to couch it with the Savior’s statement in his explanation to the mother of James and John in Matthew 20:20-28.

    In short, we do not exercise dominion as the gentiles do, but rather we are called to serve and minister even as the Son of man did. It’s good but as Kristine and Cynthia state, it doesn’t jive with our egalitarian understanding of the marriage relationship in mortality.

  126. Alain,

    The priesthood presides in the home by virtue of a husband and wife who both have the same rights of revelation for the family working together and no important decision being made unless unanimity exists. …if there is not unanimity then the issue is set aside. Roles are negotiated according to the abilities and interests of the wife and husband. So then the priesthood is an opportunity to serve in the home and lead by love…and for the father to bless his children and wife by calling down the power of the priesthood as needed. … I am not the “decider” in my home, my wife and I are together. No man should assume that by virtue of the priesthood he is designated as having the final say.

    This is a nice picture of an egalitarian marriage with a priesthood holder who gives father’s blessings sometimes. (If women without the priesthood could still give blessings of healing etc as was commonplace in the early church, it would remove the last piece that isn’t totally the same. Though I would say as-is it’s pretty equal without being the same.)

    Here’s my question: what part of this paragraph above is the male “presiding” part? If we removed the word “preside” from the Proclamation entirely, and just left in the “as equal partners” part, would the Proclamation cease to describe some important aspect of the marriage you have painted here? (As I said above, even without the word “preside” we would be able to say that men give priesthood blessings, so that can’t be it.) Would the Proclamation’s ability to tell future generations of married couples how to have the good marriage you just described be diminished by the omission of the word “preside”? How?

    I would argue there is no “presiding” in your picture. So either (1) your description is incorrect and you’ve painted a picture that is “too equal” relative to what God’s will for marriage is, or (2) the word “preside” in the Proclamation is supposed to be there but that usage of the word is supposed to have no meaning beyond “be equal” and everybody is supposed to know that that was obviously the intended meaning, or (3) it isn’t really God’s eternal will for marriage that there be “presiding” in the sense that everybody and the dictionary would understand that word, and it just ended up in the Proclamation either through foibles of men or God did want it there but only in accommodation to the fallen nature of man (i.e., some kind of argument that men weren’t “ready” at that point in history to receive the fullness of truth that they don’t preside, because they were too used to Father Knows Best presiding in marriage).

    I tend to lean towards (3), obviously.

  127. Alain #125 “My wife and I joke that Dad presides sitting up on the stand above the fray while poor Mom has to fend with the craziness of small children on the pew.”

    Are you sure your wife thinks that joke is very funny?

  128. There are really only 3 choices to be had; A. The father presides=no equality, B. The mother and father are equal=no one presides, or C. The Proclamation is a Crock-lamation.

  129. just sayin' says:

    EOR, you almost always make me smile with your dry, but oh-so-amusing comments! Although we would seem to have very little in common, looking from the outside, I think we’d be good friends if we ever met. Thanks for sharing your wit, and also your more serious comments.

  130. I think C has some more nuance. I’m ok with telling men that their marriages should be de facto equal, even if de jure they are King! Kiiiiing!! if it makes a generation of men feel more comfortable with having a de facto equal marriage. I think such a calculus could be truly inspired, making the document inspired. I’m not necessarily wed to that view, but I think it’s a possible view. (We do know that it has been downgraded from the title “revelation” per the post-conference edits to Packer’s conference talk a while back.)

  131. Alain: one problem. Our leaders ain’t Jesus. They’re inspired, but they ain’t Jesus. And women can be inspired, too, so drawing a distinction of “presiding” in the church based on gender seems unnecessary, and I think, increasingly counter-productive. (At risk of tangent, it is possible you underestimate the role of women during Jesus’s earthly ministry and early Christian community based on reckoning with scripture written by dudes, however inspired.)

  132. #128, Gina, I’m absolutely certain. She tells the joke in reference to the incongruities we both see in the preside and nurture relationship as stated in the Proclamation. You’re assuming something from afar and reacting based on no information. I would gladly trade places with her – sitting on the stand is not my choice but we’re blessed with many friends who gladly keep the children occupied to lessen the burden on her. The metaphor definitely does not extend into our home life.

    In response to the others I believe there is a nuance to “preside” that is both an artifact of cultural bias reflected in the lives of the men who crafted the Proclamation – as already stated – and yet one that is also aligned with stewardship. I’m perfectly comfortable with the idea of women laying on hands given the historical basis – I’ve studied the same history. But I think the stewardship is something more than just giving priesthood blessings.

    I don’t know the answer to the next question Cynthia is going to ask, so don’t women have an equal stewardship? Yes, they do. But men have a covenant that binds them to a responsibility as the priesthood holder in the home. It exists and while it does I recognize it as such. And yes I recognize the tautological nature of the argument. If (hopefully when) the day comes that women have the priesthood also then this becomes a moot question. I’m stepping delicately here because I’ve been around long enough to know where the trip lines are in this issue. And maybe I’ve already tripped one but I’m hoping you will see I am not deliberately attempting to do so.

    I’m not trying to justify the word “preside” or the concept. But I think there is a connection somewhere tightly aligned to being the priesthood bearer in the home. And in that sense, I take the direct quote from Elder Oaks’ talk that was linked earlier: “Men are not ‘the priesthood.'” They just simply happen to be the ones who hold it currently and as such hold an accountability for the family.

  133. And I came across this in the New Yorker yesterday which I’m surprised no one has linked to or mentioned on BCC because it so ironically presses the point home perfectly.

    http://www.newyorker.com/humor/issuecartoons/2012/05/28/cartoons_20120521#slide=14

    I would have at least expected a commented link in the sideblog.

  134. just sayin’ (130) It’s been an age since I blushed this hard :) I’m sure we would be great friends too.

  135. Where I disagree with Clark is in the way he wants to excuse the word from having any connotation of inequality

    I’m certainly not making that claim. My point was more that when analyzing what the proclamation is referring to we can’t let the connotation dominate the discussion as it typically does. But I assure everyone I grasp the connotations same as everyone else.

  136. “we can’t let the connotation dominate the discussion as it typically does.”

    Clark, I think it’s easier for the declared presider to dismiss discussion of it than the presided-over, wouldn’t you agree?

    Back to your treatise on realist/anti-realist dichotomy:
    “But what determines their meaning isn’t a dictionary, a particular community, and especially not someone defining their own language. Rather it is the reality of the universe in which we live that determines their meaning.”

    I don’t think that method of analysis makes as much sense as you think it does when analyzing a prescriptive text. It is describing something and declaring that reality should bend to match the description, not trying to describe an existing reality we are all familiar with in words. In the latter case, I can see why it’s ok to use words in really unconventional ways because we all know the reality and can bend our understanding of the words to match that. The question is, if you don’t want reality to bend towards men presiding over wives and children in some reasonably conventional sense of preside, why would you write a document announcing that to the world? At least not without a fattie footnote explaining that that word doesn’t mean at all what you think it means. (Sure, the religion is full of words in descriptive and prescriptive uses that mean things we don’t normally use–“fear” God, for example–but mostly that can be chalked up to the Bible being really old. A document written in our lifetimes should use words that people in our lifetimes will understand.)

    Relatedly, Clark, I’d be really interested in your take on the questions I posed to Alain:

    If we removed the word “preside” from the Proclamation entirely, and just left in the “as equal partners” part, would the Proclamation cease to describe some important aspect of marriage? Would the Proclamation’s ability to tell future generations of married couples how to have a good marriage be diminished by the omission of the word “preside”? How?

    (Equivalently, you could imagine the word preside not being eliminated, but just attached to both men and women as co-presiders over the family.)

  137. I think this is a silly argument. “Preside” in the context of the Church means only to be the final decision maker. Anyone who has served in any position in the Church knows that consensus is critical and unanimity is the goal in any Church setting, but at the end of the day, someone has to make the final decision. That person is the one who is “presiding” but there’s really no question that the right to make that decision means nothing if you don’t have the support of the Ward Council or PEC or quorum or family or whatever. You seek unanimity, you often settle for a consensus, and if you can’t get that, you table the discussion for later unless a decision has to be made. This is true in most business settings as well. We don’t often use the word “preside” in business, but being the CEO is the same thing. That’s why we don’t see co-equal CEOs trying to run a business. It doesn’t work. Even in partnerships, one person has to make the decisions and take final responsibility or nothing gets done. Every board has a chairman and every business has a chief executive. It doesn’t mean they act like dictators, it just means they have to take responsibility for the decisions and make sure the decisions get made.

  138. Kristine says:

    Only someone who isn’t categorically excluded from the job would say “_only_ to be the final decision maker.”

  139. MCQ (138) whether you know it or not, you are actually proving our point. Those who Preside do not have equals, thus Preside and Equal Partnership do not belong in the same sentence describing the same relationship.

  140. Sounds like MCQ has been reading Keepa’s “Ethics for Young Girls” series:

    “When authority is divided between two heads, things do not get into working order; there is indefiniteness in work; one depends upon the other for the execution of work, and oftentimes neither does it. If you have ever worked on committees, you know how unsatisfactory are the results, unless there is a head to direct matters and apportion the work to be done. All governments recognize the fact that divided authority is no authority; therefore one person is placed at the head of each department or government. The same principle holds true in the home; and for that reason God placed husband at the head of the family, and He tells us that we should obey our husbands in righteousness. As soon as young wives recognize this principle as an ethical law, much of the friction between husband and wife will vanish.”

    So get over it, Kristine. As soon as you recognize this principle as an ethical law, much of the friction between you and presiderers will vanish.

  141. Kristine says:

    So many inappropriate responses, so little time…

  142. *gulp* I hope you realize how far my tongue was pushed into my cheek and aren’t classifying my response as inappropriate …

  143. Kristine says:

    absolutely :)

  144. Thanks, Ardis. A nice citation supporting what I was saying in #118, that “preside” in marriage used to really mean preside.

  145. Cynthia (137) My sense is that the proclamation is attempting to make sense of both certain things within the temple as well as passages of scripture. The problem is that preside within western culture is conceived of in terms of power and being able to make declarations to be followed. However D&C 121:36-7 clearly and pretty definitely says that can’t be how one presides.

    Certainly as a practical matter when you look at how people have tended to preside they do end up presiding in terms of dominating others to get them to do what they want. I think though that if we take the scriptures serious we have to conclude that’s simply wrong. So those who condemn the word preside because of that history have a strong point. I might disagree on the semantics but on the history we probably would be is strong agreement.

    Thus I return to the question on how on earth God wants this to work. I fear that when we reject one view (the unrighteous dominion) we instinctively simply pick the alternative within our culture which is democracy or quasi democracy. I’m not sure that’s the answer either.

    Folks appear to want me to have the answer but I confess to being flummoxed in all this. I think that being skeptical of easy answers doesn’t mean I have to have an answer. As I said I just think being aware of our ignorance is a positive thing. As Kristine notes, most people are highly influenced by the social mores around them in how they run their households. But if we looks at the social mores of the 19th century and the 1950’s (the two popular ones to attack) why should we simply assume that the social mores of 2012 are the correct ones? They might be better but that’s frankly setting a low standard.

    Getting back to the proclamation I think they want to emphasize the equality but emphasize different roles to. Their problem is that I don’t think they fully know what those roles are. They point to a difference without being able to define clearly what the differences are – especially once technology eliminates a lot of the biological issues of the 19th century and before.

  146. “The problem is that preside within western culture is conceived of in terms of power and being able to make declarations to be followed.”

    Seriously? You think any translation of the word in eastern (or any other) culture means something different?

  147. Mommie Dearest says:

    “I fear that when we reject one view (the unrighteous dominion) we instinctively simply pick the alternative within our culture which is democracy or quasi democracy.”

    This is not the alternative that anyone has suggested. Equal partnering in a family is not democracy. Equal parenting is definitely not democracy. A woman presiding is not democracy, either, but it would equalize the categorically unequal presiderer structure that currently exists.

    The Proclamation is great; I like it, but it has this flaw. I’m not going to pretend that I don’t see it. It would be easier to fix the flaw than to do the contortions you propose.

  148. “Only someone who isn’t categorically excluded from the job would say “_only_ to be the final decision maker.””

    That’s probably right Kristine, but it doesn’t change the fact that someone has to be the final decision maker and that the actual power involved in that role is, in practice, very limited.

    Yes, EOR, I agree with you and always have: there is no strictly equal partnership when one person is presiding.

  149. Ardis, I have not in fact ever read that before, and I disagree completely that it is an “ethical law” but most of that paragraph you quoted, up until the final two sentences, is simply a statement of uncontrovertible fact.

  150. MCQ said: “the fact that someone has to be the final decision maker and that the actual power involved in that role is, in practice, very limited.”

    What you seem to be saying is that there is an unequal partnership but the margin of inequality between partners is so thin as to render the fact of inequality insignificant–even though that margin of inequality is all that is needed to assign the role of “final decision maker” to one and not the other.

    The “final decision maker” has “limited” power only to the extent that the the decision has limited stakes. You yourself made the comparison to CEOs: if their status as final decision maker wielded limited power, one would think such limitation of power would be more readily discernible in their salaries.

    Furthermore: even if one were to accept as true everything you’ve said, or that “Ethics for Young Girls” says, about the impossibility of governing-by-committee without a final decision maker (which, btw, I don’t), I fail to see how one would extrapolate from that that one partner and not the other should always assume ultimate “decider” status in all circumstances. If the real issue was the simple pragmatic need for somebody to have the final say, and the outcome of that final say wasn’t very high stakes anyway, seems to me like a flipped coin could determine authority as easily as a chromosome.

  151. I’m not advocating that a chromosome be the determining factor, Jeremy. I’m not some warrior for the status quo or gender role apologist. I couldn’t care less if the presider is male or female, as long as there is one. You may dismiss the essential nature of having a final decision maker, but my experience in governing bodies argues otherwise. I have worked with male and female CEOs and chairpersons and I have seen plenty of good and bad decision makers of both sexes, so I have no prejudice for one vs the other. I only have a prejudice against chaos and wasting everyone’s time. Given my experience, I can tell you that decision making by coin flip is not a prescription for healthy outcomes. That’s assuming, against my better judgment, that your suggestion was serious, rather than simply assinine.

  152. Left Field says:

    In 15 years of marriage, we have yet to designate a “final decision maker.” Every decision is made by consensus. Somehow, stuff still seems to get done.

  153. I dont’ understand “final decision maker” either. There are only two people in the marriage…it’s not like managing a committee of 12. we either have consensus or we table the matter. Either of us “call a meeting to order”. or whatever. normally we just talk, pray and make decisions together. If it’s a family meeting the parents are the boss. I’m struggling to figure out when you would need a final decision maker…how would it not be unrighteous dominion to continually make decisions against the other person’s will, despite their objections? If you both agree…what is a final decision maker for?

    Compromise, work things out, talk more to discover why the other person feels a certain way…you know…communicate.

  154. Left Field says:

    An article in the June Ensign is very clear that there is no “final decision maker” in marriage, and that both parties are to counsel together until they reach a consensus.

  155. The fact that there needed to be an article in the Ensign about it makes me a sad panda.

  156. I made a comment to my wife this morning about being the “final decision maker” and she laughed out loud.

  157. In my home, I make all the big decisions. My wife makes all the small ones. So far, there has been no big decisions to be made.

  158. wreddyornot says:

    Regarding other issues in TT’s posting on reason and authority. In August of 2004, Clark said that “…There is no indication that there shouldn’t be gender roles within the priesthood and considerable reason to think gender is an essential aspect of how the priesthood functions.” In that same entry he said, “…feminists don’t just want women to have priesthood in some theological sense. They don’t want gender differences as we act within the order of the priesthood.” These comments were in Don’s posting entitled Women holding the priesthood? So I wonder, do feminists agree with Clark’s characterization ? I wonder how others think the meaning and place of gender should be amplified in and by the Church relative to the PotF? I hope perhaps someone will do a posting in BCC related to such matters.

  159. There seems to be some lack of understanding regarding the word “equal”. Perhaps I can help shed some light on the subject, from the scriptures. In D&C 90:6, we learn that the three members of the First Presidency are “equal” in holding the keys of the kingdom. There is no final decision-maker in the First Presidency; they come to their decisions by consensus. Maybe that’s the pattern…

    ;-)

  160. Chris Kimball says:

    Re 160: (I see the :-); don’t take this as criticism but just furthering discussion) D&C 90:6’s “equal with thee in holding the keys of this last dispensation” defines a form of, a meaning for, a limited use for “equal”–in this case as holding the same keys. So far as I know, the President still presides and I think there IS a final decision-maker in the First Presidency.

    What this reminds is that “equal” probably has connotation and qualification, as does “preside”. We can say that “equal” in the mathematical identity sense, and “preside” in any sense anybody has so far imagined, cannot coexist in the same sentence. But a qualified “equal” (“equal in keys”, “equal in vote”, “equal in x dimension”) and a certain kind of “preside” (i.e., on a different dimension than “equal” is meant), can readily be used in the same sentence. In fact, I suspect there is more flex in the Mormon usage of “equal” than in the Mormon usage of “preside”.

    This is not to say that “equal . . . but preside” is good doctrine or that I agree with any of the meanings I can put to it, but simply that the text of the PotF can be given meaning by fiddling with the definition of “equal.”

    (Is anyone besides me stifling the urge to quote Animal Farm?)

  161. I think everyone is making this all too hard. Really, whatever a man and a woman, a husband and a wife, decide and work out among themselves is right for them. So there is no need to come to a final definition of “preside” or a final definition of “equal” that is considered as dispositive and applicable to every family. One couple might approach a particular situation differently than another couple — that’s okay. Our leaders teach correct principles, and then we govern ourselves. I like that thought.

    I see a family as a sovereign unit, not a sub-unit of a Church ward. I do not see a father as subordinate to a bishop (or even the President of the Church) on an organization chart. He might be subordinate to a priesthood leader for priesthood purposes, but not for family purposes.

    So because of this, I really think there is no necessity to come to a final definition of “preside” or “equal” — let every family work out the particulars for themselves, with the insight of correct principles.

  162. ji the point is simply that teaching that preside and equal can co-exist in a relationship is not a correct principle. That is at least why I am arguing it–I can’t speak for others.

    I will always govern myself whether that is in spite of or in agreement with Church teachings. Ultimately and firstly my relationship with God is my own and I will answer for my own sins. In the case of the PoF it is absolutely an “in spite of” situation for me.

  163. Remember that the Proclamation on the Family is not scripture, is not revelation. It is honest and good men trying to teach correct principles. They were, I suppose, also trying to be as open as possible to as many as possible, so they wanted to use the word “equal” so as not to anger some of the women among us while still upholding some principle connected to the word “preside”. Maybe they should have left out either “equal” or “preside”.

    But I think preside and equal can co-exist. The three members of the First Presidency are equal, and the Quorum of the Twelve as a whole is equal to the First Presidency as a whole. But we still understand there is room for “preside” even among these “equal” persons and bodies. In my mind, the word “preside” does not have to carry a negative connotation — an honorable man can see his wife as his equal and still preside in his family. Indeed, it seems to me that a wife can see herself as equal with her husband and still allow him to preside in the family. In my mind, it isn’t so hard as a general principle. Of course, it can become much harder depending on the persons in the family, and making an ideal principle work in a real family is often hard and sometimes unattainable for a time.

  164. Kristine says:

    “(Is anyone besides me stifling the urge to quote Animal Farm?)”

    Constantly.

  165. “…so as not to anger some of the women among us…”

    “…it seems to me that a wife can see herself as equal with her husband and still allow him to preside in the family.”

    Who needs Animal Farm?

  166. Mommie Dearest says:

    ‘Maybe they should have left out either “equal” or “preside”.’

    Only if they wanted a document without this flaw.

  167. Kristine says:

    “they wanted to use the word “equal” so as not to anger some of the women among us”

    My sense is that the Brethren generally don’t worry overmuch about the tender feelings of women with feminist sensibilities.

  168. as long as they can keep their shoes free of mud, who really cares?

  169. Re: Animal Farm

    Already did. See #52.

  170. mmiles (147) I don’t know enough about power relations in other cultures to offer an opinion. I can only speak for the cultures I’m familiar with. I’m not making any bigger point than that.

  171. andr3wh says:

    Cynthia L. (#118) said,

    we are AMPLY demonstrating (or performing) Taylor’s point that “the document must still be interpreted.

    I also agree with TT’s overall point, just not the specific critique that a relationship of equal partners where one presides is a logical impossibility. You only arrive at the paradox if you throw out the entire development of scriptural and gospel teachings and practices on leadership in favor of the dictionary definitions.

    Marriages have become more equal over time, requiring a schism in the usage of the word “preside” between church and marriage applications.

    Are we abandoning the idea that there is a contradiction in the Family Proclamation in favor of the idea there there is a contradiction in our historical understanding of presiding in the family? If so, I call that progress!

    [Elder Oaks' talk] says almost nothing in the “do’s” category, just the “don’ts” category. So we still don’t know what “preside” looks like

    Explaining the “do’s and don’ts” was not the purpose of his talk, and it’s not why I brought it up. I don’t think that the meaning of presiding is a great mystery, either, but this discussion is helping me understand why it can be confusing.

    First, there is presiding in the church hierarchy that is perfectly in line with dictionary definitions. D&C 107:21 says “Of necessity there are presidents, or presiding officers.” I think that “of necessity” refers to the conditions of a fallen world, where disagreements are going to happen and need to be settled by someone who has the “last word” for there to be order and efficiency. See also: MCQ’s comments in this discussion.

    However, there is a different kind of presiding structure in the home (per Elder Oaks). There is no heirarchy, but husband and wife are equal partners (per the Family Proclamation). Because of the intimacy and importance of the marriage relationship, couples should and are going to be able to come to consensus and unanimity far more often than your average ward council. Also, since there is no “final decision maker” for everything, couples with either make decisions together or divide and adapt the presiding responsibilties like they would if helping each another with the nurturing, providing, or protecting responsibilities (also per the Family Proclamation). Where no agreement can be made no decision should be made.

    Lastly, there is the kind of presiding, which the Father does over the Godhead, which I explained earlier. You wouldn’t find this kind of presiding in the dictionary any more than you would find “being your servant” as the definition for “greatest” among you.

    And I think the vast majority of Mormon families operate this way in practice and understand these differences even if they have difficulty articulating them to others.

    This comparison doesn’t share ANY of the relevant traits of the original.

    I misunderstood the point you were trying to make, which is now clearer from reading your #118. All I was saying is that couples should strive for unanimity and consensus like the Father and Son are able to. Not even Brigham Young went as far as to say that wives should unquestioningly submit to their husbands.

  172. andr3wh says:

    EOR (#119) said,

    it is complete garbage that “presiding over co-equals…is the ideal and very essence of the gospel” That’s funny, I always thought the Atonement or even the Plan of Salvation was

    The Atonement and plan of Salvation allow us to repent and become like God and Jesus Christ and have the same relationship of love and unity (and where equality and presiding co-exist) with them that they have with each other (John 17, especially verses 11, 21-23).

  173. andr3wh says:

    Cynthia L. (#127) posed the following question to Alain:

    If we removed the word “preside” from the Proclamation entirely, and just left in the “as equal partners” part, would the Proclamation cease to describe some important aspect of marriage? Would the Proclamation’s ability to tell future generations of married couples how to have a good marriage be diminished by the omission of the word “preside”? How?

    I don’t think so. I wouldn’t be opposed to changing the language to “co-preside” because I don’t think it would change the meaning, and it would fall in line with what leaders of the church currently teach and what members of the church currently practice anyways. And it would prevent people from thinking the husband should run the family like a bishop would run a ward council.

    I would argue there is no “presiding” in your picture.

    My view is most in line with your #2, Cynthia L. “Preside” is qualified with “in love and righteousness” and “as equal partners” which helps The World to understand where we’re going with this.

  174. andr3wh while it is important to strive for perfection, at least I personally do not know anyone who has come even close. Preside, and Equal on this Earth at this time is in my opinion not a possibility. Where one presides they exercise dominion–whether righteously or unrighteously. To proclaim that the authority to preside (whether over equals or lessers) lies solely in between someone’s legs is bunk. All on the side of *preside and equal is totally possible, happens all the time* have failed to give an example of it tied to this mortal condition. Whether a father Presiding means he has all the responsibility or it means he has all the say is irrelevant; the fact remains that it is an unequal arrangement.

  175. andr3wh says:

    Preside, and Equal on this Earth at this time is in my opinion not a possibility

    EOR, before I respond to the rest of your comment, let me ask you: have we gone from “presiding over co-equals is impossible” to “presiding over co-equals in this life is impossible”? If so, I call that progress too!

  176. Whenever discussing the Proclamation on The Family I am never talking about the Godhead. I feel they are thoroughly disconnected. I have no idea what will happen in the next life, so I will not pretend to speak intelligently about it. I was always saying it was impossible because I am talking about the here and now, and real, mortal life.

  177. My last comment was needlessly harsh. I believe the PoF was a good faith effort as someone mentioned above. Yje rest of my comment is completely true though–I was always talking about current living humans.

  178. I find it strange that in a lengthy discussion of authority and priesthood in the LDS Church there is no discussion of the principle of common consent.

    Without unduly multiplying words in this tread (which, as far as I have read, is fascinating), I see two scriptural limits or guard rails to the ever present potential of abusive authority within the church: (i) the principle of unanimity (already mentioned) and (ii) the principle of common consent.

    DC 20: 65 is clear: “No person is to be ordained to any office in this church, where there is a regularly organized branch of the same, without the vote of that church…” As strange as it may seem to members of the church, it is they who hold veto power. Here, all members vote equally, men and women.

    That being said, church members in their zeal to follow the prophet have, in this one sense, may have neglected to follow the scriptures by the contemporary and creeping casualness in the exercise of this scriptural right. On a regular basis, ordinary church members can collectively and scripturally say “No”. I suppose in theory, if the women don’t like the way the church treats them… they can throw “da bums out”. (Yes, poor choice of words….) And, practicalities also work against such actions.

    I see the application of presiding in the church somewhat differently than has been expressed above. To me, presiding in church councils, bishoprics, and presidencies is not the right to make the final decision, but the duty to actively see that the right process of arriving at a decision has been followed: that the relevant facts are known, that the facts have been interpreted in their true light, that the decision of the council, bishopric, or presidency has been made by the application of the principles of the Gospel with patience, long suffering, etc., that all have had an opportunity to express their opinion, and FINALLY that there is unanimity among the group members.

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