Valerie Hudson’s article in the April Ensign, Equal Partnership in Marriage, is a contemporary approach to the workings and doctrine of Mormon marriage. While strikingly different in thesis, it is just as strikingly similar to Brent Barlow’s article published in the Ensign 40 years ago, Strengthening the Patriarchal Order in the Home.
While the theses of these articles are in opposition to one another, both use the same rhetorical techniques to support their ideas. Hudson claims it is eternal doctrine that marriage partners are to be equals, while Barlow claims it is eternal doctrine for the father to rule in the home.
Arguably the ideas of both of these articles could be examined independently (Barlow’s has been examined here), or jointly (two versions of chicken patriarchy playing chicken); however the purpose of this post is to show how both views use truth claims and scripture to support opposing ideas in a shift from patriarchal marriage toward marital equality.
First, both Hudson and Barlow use the story of Adam and Eve as the first married couple and their marital order to support the proper pattern of marriage. Both cite Genesis 3:16.
Barlow: The recent trend in family government is also a departure from biblical teachings. The apostle Paul admonished, “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands. …” (Eph. 5:22; see also Col. 3:18.) He also taught that “the husband is the head of the wife. …” (Eph. 5:23.) In addition, the Lord instructed Eve in the Garden of Eden that “thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.” (Gen. 3:16.)
Hudson: As Elder Earl C. Tingey, formerly of the Presidency of the Seventy, has said: “You must not misunderstand what the Lord meant when Adam was told he was to have a helpmeet. A helpmeet is a companion suited to or equal to [the other]. [They] walk side by side … not one before or behind the other. A helpmeet results in an absolute equal partnership between a husband and a wife. Eve was to be equal to Adam as a husband and wife are to be equal to each other.”3…Genesis 3:16 states that Adam is to ‘rule over’ Eve, but this doesn’t make Adam a dictator. … Over in ‘rule over’ uses the Hebrew bet, which means ruling ‘with,’ not ruling ‘over.’ … The concept of interdependent, equal partners is well-grounded in the doctrine of the restored gospel. Eve was Adam’s ‘help meet’ (Genesis 2:18). The original Hebrew for meet means that Eve was adequate for, or equal to, Adam. She wasn’t his servant or his subordinate.”
Both appeal to divine authority setting the pattern for marriage.
Barlow (quoting Joseph F Smith): The patriarchal order is of divine origin and will continue throughout time and eternity.
Hudson: The restored gospel of Jesus Christ proclaims the doctrine of equal partnership between men and women, here and in the eternities.
Barlow: In the home the presiding authority is always vested in the father, and in all home affairs and family matters there is no other authority paramount.
Hudson: Latter-day Saint theology teaches that gender difference does not superimpose a hierarchy between men and women.
Both claim the marriage pattern they describe is the best prescription for happiness within marriage.
Hudson:Equal Partnership Brings Joy One of the most precious wellsprings of joy is a sincerely equal partnership between husband and wife. In a very real and meaningful sense, couples who stand as equals before each other find greater joy.
Barlow: If the patriarchal order of marriage is practiced as outlined by Church leaders and the scriptures, there is little question that Latter-day Saint husbands and wives will experience happier, more stable and satisfactory marriages.
Both assert that their prescribed marriage structure is the best for bringing up children by appealing to social science.
Barlow (quoting Ryder 1): “Little scientific evidence is in at this time, but there is concern expressed in some quarters that the growing rebellion of youth is a logical extension of the shift toward equalitarianism. In a new way and in ever increasing numbers, the youth today are demanding a voice in education, marriage, sexual expression, and other significant areas of life. As woman challenges the authority of man, so youth challenges the authority of the family and all other related social institutions.” (Heaven forbid children want a say in their own education and marriage!)
Barlow: By strengthening the patriarchal order in Latter-day Saint homes, not only will the husband-wife relationship be enhanced, but the parent-child relationship will improve as well. When a wife challenges the right of her husband to officiate in the home, is it not a logical consequence that the children will challenge that right also? Furthermore, is it possible that a child will then not only challenge the right of the father, but also that of either parent to make decisions affecting his life? (No science here, but not any real science in the preceding quote either).
Hudson: Social science research supports the prophetic instruction that couples who have an equal partnership have happier relationships, more effective parenting practices, and better-functioning children. Scholars have consistently found that equal partners are more satisfied and have better overall marital quality than couples where one spouse dominates. Equal-partner relationships have less negative interaction and more positive interaction. Moreover, there is evidence that equal partners are more satisfied with the quality of the physical intimacy in their relationship.
Interpretations of scripture and ideas about family life and structure have shifted and continue to do so. The eternal truths of today might not be the eternal truths of tomorrow.
1. Edward J. Rydman, in the foreword of Handbook of Marriage Counseling, Ben N. Ard, Jr., and Constance Ard, ed. (Science and Behavior Books, Inc., 1969), p. vii.