Passive-aggressive presiding post

20020For consideration of the Church Magazine Committee:

“Julie, wake up! It’s time for scriptures and morning prayers!”

Julie stared blearily at the clock and sighed. Already 6 a.m.? Her mom’s voice came again from downstairs, “Now!”

Julie shrugged out of her blankets, salvaging one to wrap around her and made her way downstairs. Her siblings sat sloppily eating their cereal and her dad rushed in to grab some toast.

“Honey?” Her mother said to her dad as he slathered the homemade jam across the top.

“Oh yes, sorry.” He grabbed the scriptures, “Now where were we?” Her mother came over, pointed to the verse, “Right here.”

“Oh right. ‘And if came to pass that they did call on the name of the Lord, in their might, even until they had all fallen to the earth, save it were one of the Lamanitish…’”

Julie tried listening attentively, her head in her hands, but sleep lured her quietly that it wasn’t until she heard her mother’s voice again that she snapped back to attention. “Ok, dear, ask the children what they learned.”


“Something about people falling?”

“More like falling asleep.” Her brother giggled.

Her mother smiled and turned back to her father. “Dear, why don’t you call on someone for morning prayers?”

“Alright, why don’t you do it.” Julie watched as her mother serenely closed eyes and began praying for their family’s safety for the day. With the “amen” the rush of her dad heading out to work and the kids readying for school began.

Later that night, at a party, Julie watched as her friends opened the pizza boxes. Suddenly, she felt a nagging. They should pray over this food, they were all LDS. She looked around, there was John, the newly-minted priest and oldest of her friends. “John? Should you call on someone to pray?”

“Oh, sure. Um, Camille, you want to bless the pizza?”


Julie smiled as she bowed her head and a warmth spread through her. She finally understood the influence of a righteous woman. Focusing her friends on the spiritual was wonderful practice for when she would become a mother. A mother who knew exactly how to speak up and then step back to allow those with the priesthood to preside.


  1. This is exactly the picture of what I was taught a woman’s role was growing up. You have just given us a snapshot into the life of the ideal Mormon family. I love it!

  2. The thought that a 16 year old priest “presides” over his female peers just because of his gender is real cause for concern. This is a cultural accretion that has the potential to do harm.

  3. Creepy.

  4. @john f. When does a 16 year old priest preside over anyone? The only time I can think of is when they are in the priest quorum presidency, in which case he would only preside over the priest quorum. I can’t think of any situation a 16 year old priest would preside over any woman, except in the rare case that he married very young and presided over his little home.

  5. J Ensing, in the minds of many, many Mormons, the 16 year old priest presides everywhere there isn’t an older priesthood holder who holds at least the office of a priest.

    Based on the teachings about priesthood and presiding in the mid to late twentieth century, many Mormons whom I know in my parent’s generation (I’m brushing 40) and a significant number in my own generation, actually believe that a 12 year old deacon presides in a house when the dad is gone and only the mom and the sisters are present. Because the 12 year old son holds the priesthood, and thus “presides” over the women, even an adult woman who is endowed in the temple and sealed as one with a Melchizedek Priesthood holding husband.

    If you think this isn’t right, then I agree with you. We need to work very hard to change this perception/interpretation. At the very least, we need to accept that a mother presides in her home over her own children, even if the children happen to be male.

  6. I am tempted to write the sequel, about “Harris” who, after his father dies early in his life, watches how his mother takes over with presiding in his home and he realizes that there is much more to explore about the keys and authority of the priesthood.

  7. J Ensing, I can confirm what john f said. I’m in my 40s, and I remember as a 12-year-old deacon being asked by my mother to call on someone to say the blessing at dinner. I felt pretty awkward at the time “presiding” over my mother and older sister.

  8. bingo

  9. Unfortunately, I don’t think this works as passive-aggressive. My sense of the Mormon community at large (which is, of course, subject to all kinds of sampling error and confirmation bias) is that a large majority of the community would read and say “yes, that’s how it is, isn’t that great.” Or wonder why the father is not more directive of the scripture reading and think that’s where the teaching moment is.

  10. Aggressive Presiding Post:<<If I were to title the comment I'm about to say.

    Let me explain something quite clearly about presiding in the home and in church. Women are taught from very young ages that they should speak up, but then they should always step back.

    Over and over and over again.

    In fact, we see an additional problem with this in that women are so good at stepping back that they are becoming reticent to even speak up, see all the recent discussion about this about ward councils and Elder Nelson's recent talk. But even with the encouragement to speak up, women are still expected to step back. This happens in the home as illustrated in the above story. And it happens in the church anytime you see an authority figure or male be the final speaker. Or when a man visits a YW/RS/Primary class and the complete deference is a given. You rarely see men give deference to women as an authority in church even in women only spaces.

    And you see it on the general level. Three big examples come to my mind: The women's meeting in General Conference has women speaking up about issues, but then they step back as it is concluded by one of the presiding authorities.

    Sister missionaries speak and teach to potential converts but then always step back for the Elders to do the interviews and perform the baptisms.

    Eve spoke up and then quite literally steps back as portrayed in the temple ceremony.

    And I'm sure we can come up with many others. We are making strides in the church to remember the strong women in our past, to make changes to make women more visible, asking them to speak up more. But it is expected that they will always step back to those with priesthood as the priesthood presides.

  11. EmJen’s comment is spiot on. I was raised with these attitudes and practices towards presiding and they have very negatively affected my personal and professional working relationships. It is unconscionable to expose your children to this in a religious context. We get enough of it from the broader culture and popular media, it absolutely should not be reinforced by religious doctrine/policies/practices. If you think your kids are smart and discerning enough to tune out these dangerous messages that boys are more important than girls, you’re wrong. As a parent, your kids deserve better than this.

  12. Also Anon says:

    EmJen, thank you for drawing attention to this very real problem. As a woman, I’ve so internalized this pattern of speaking up and stepping back, starting in early childhood, that it’s caused challenges for me in my professional life. Now in my late 30’s, with an advanced degree and progressively more responsible professional positions, I’ve had frank discussions with mentors at work about how hard it is for me to feel like I can speak up–and follow through–in professional meetings. I’m working on it, but it’s not trivial to overcome such strong conditioning. I must say, though, that it’s been rewarding to realize that when I do speak up at work, people take me and my ideas seriously. I wish I could say the same about speaking up at church.

  13. EmJen, I failed to say earlier that I like the original post (in that I find it creepy and disturbing), even though I fear that it doesn’t work as intended. And if the Aggressive Presiding Post is in any way a response to my criticism, well done. In any event, I agree. I’ve seen it. And I’ve seen a revealing contrast when adult women join the church and try to get involved, women who did not get the “speak up step back” lesson from an early age.

  14. Studio C nailed this last night! Season 6, Episode 7. Check out.

  15. J Ensing:
    The other name for a Priest quorum presidency is “Bishopric”. No 16-year old priest would rightly preside.

    There was a recent news article covering a discovered FLDS homework assignment for girls – like a job application for the position of “mother”. Just as disturbing as this piece, or any number of old publications we could find.

  16. I must say, though, that it’s been rewarding to realize that when I do speak up at work, people take me and my ideas seriously. I wish I could say the same about speaking up at church.

    That is so painful to read — we’ve really failed at that and need to improve.

  17. eponymous says:

    With regards to the question of whether a mother presides in her own home I perceive the Q15 are trying to change the perception that a Priesthood holding son would preside. I don’t know how else to read Elder Oaks discussing his mother presiding or the single mother presiding in the absence of a father.

    There are obvious strides to take there. This Summer when my family was visiting with some very close friends in the mountain west and the mother consistently insisted that I call on someone to pray – because her husband was traveling – I found myself baffled at the request. This was her house, she is the one who should calling on someone to pray.

  18. Did you say something? Because a lot of this will be men saying something.

    *there can be a myriad of reasons why one would not say something, but I like my second point enough to ask you pointedly.

  19. This was her house, she is the one who should calling on someone to pray.

    Completely agree, obviously.

  20. Thanks for this post, Emily, and also for its more aggressive cousin in the comments. This stuff isn’t going to change without acute diagnosis like you’ve performed here.

  21. And I’ll add that I, too, was expected as a 12-year-old to pick people to pray when my dad was traveling. So, nudging the anecdotal in the direction of data.

  22. Yossarian says:

    I like the point EmJen makes in her “pointed question” that a lot of what will drive change in this area is men saying something. I want to rise up to that challenge, but I honestly don’t know how. I feel trapped in a terrible catch 22 here.

    Let me describe my problem: Every time a missionary, home teacher, bishop, or other member of the church visits our home for the kind of visit that involves a prayer before they leave, they ask me to choose who will offer the prayer. I’ve made a point of always redirecting that question to my wife. Sometimes I’ll say “Julie can pick someone.” Other times I’ll say “You can ask Julie who should like to offer the prayer.” I’ve tried probably 20 different ways of phrasing this. The problem is, it has been universally seen by our guests as me delegating my presiding authority to my wife. I’m entirely certain that not one single visitor has interpreted my actions as an effort to assert my wife’s authority as co-president of our family.

    The same situation plays out in basically the exact same way when my wife and I are asked to speak in church. I am always asked to speak second, and always ask that the order be reversed. In those cases, I’m rather certain that my efforts have been understood as laziness (not wanting to take on the responsibility of speaking last). Despite a reputation for being emphatically not lazy in every other aspect of my life and church-going, this is never interpreted as a gesture toward my wife’s equal standing.

    So, what am I to do in these situations? Seriously. How do you say something that will make a difference? I could be much more blunt and say something like “Actually, no, I won’t chose who prays. My wife is co-president and equally capable of making that decision.” In my experience, though, saying something that direct and accusatory invites only retrenchment and dismissiveness. I have never seen it succeed in changing someone’s opinion. Never.

    My wife could just jump in and chose someone to say the prayer herself (maybe she could even chose me to be especially emphatic about it). However, for reasons that are plain to understand and impossible to fault, she doesn’t feel comfortable doing that. Until the culture changes, she never will. But the culture’s never going to change with me just keeping my current course.

    So, in all seriousness, what do I do to change this?

  23. Yossarian
    You could say, “my wife presides in the area of choosing who should pray.” I don’t know that anything you say is necessarily going to change minds of bishopric, missionaries, or home teachers, but it could change the mind of children and other family members.

  24. “That’s Julie’s stewardship” might work, too.

  25. Yossarian says:

    Those are fair suggestions. I’ll probably try them out. But I have to admit, I’m not nuts about the underlying idea. It feels just a short step away from “Julie also presides in cleaning the house and caring for the children.”

    I’d much prefer a shared stewardship of all our responsibilities. That is, in fact, how we operate. It’s just really hard to communicate that in a non-threatening way when you live in a culture that’s so thoroughly bought in to the man-as-president paradigm.

  26. Yossarian: Here’s one man’s view from the trenches. First, direction from the top seems pretty clear in terms of women speaking *and* men listening. (That’s very recent. And perhaps it is clearer in our immediate case than the average because Elder Rasband is a member of our ward and speaks up in the ward.) Second, if you (as a man) sit as bishop or stake president you can make a real difference right now by what you say and how you act. Third, if you (as a man) do not sit in a high chair at the moment, what you describe is about all you can do. I would continue, ignoring all the possible misinterpretation or misunderstanding. Culture change takes lots of time and repetition. Fourth, but maybe First, I really think women will have to carry the heavy load on this issue. Speak up, insist on being listened to, and keep at it. For some this entails a move out of comfort zone, and will be counter culture. But I don’t think there’s any good alternative. Women will have to make it happen in the end. Also, teach the young women accordingly, which teaching is mostly assigned to women as it is.

  27. Yoassarian, I believe a good natured “Why are you asking me to choose?” would probably work. It would likely be followed by “Cause you’re the head of the household.” Or “Since you’re presiding.” To which you say “Oh, we don’t do that in our house.”

  28. wreddyornot says:

    “…I really think women will have to carry the heavy load on this issue….”

    I know where the problem originated (with men) and where it now resides for changes to happen (with men). While I laud the courage of women who carry the heavy load of change, I would like men to have enough courage to see to change. The squeaky wheel idiom applies. Just witness the changes since early 2013 when many women showed their mettle.

    Yossarian seems to recognize a responsibility that all men need to see.

  29. What Starfoxy said.

  30. I actually considered adding to the story where she visits a family where there is no clear presider in choosing a prayer and, confused, she asks about it.

    And thanks to Kyle, I had ready dialogue: “Preside over my wife? That’s ridiculous. We love each other and we’re friends.”

  31. Around 5 years ago my 12 year old son tried pulling some crap about having more authority than me because he had the priesthood. That little coup d’etat was quickly and quietly squelched.

  32. In common parliamentary law, the presiding officer has formal authority to direct a meeting, recognize speakers, rule on points of order (subject to appeal), and the like, but does not have the authority to unilaterally make just about any substantive decision. That is where this wonderful little institution called voting comes in.

    Of course if there is a higher level parliamentary body, the lower level one can’t generally just ignore its instructions, but there is no particular reason why a presiding officer should come to the conclusion that ‘preside’ is a synonym for ‘command’. It isn’t. A presiding officer is not a commanding officer, and presiding has little to do with commanding. No officer presides over a group if he only accepts others input as merely advisory, for example. That is someone who commands a group. Completely different idea.

  33. eponymous says:

    EmJen, I did say something to my friend about how it was her house and she should choose. I got a blank stare in response to which my wife shoved me in the shoulder and whispered “Just make her happy, this isn’t going to be a productive conversation starter.”

    I later debated this with my wife and learned that the expectation from our friend was that I was helping set the right precedent for her sons that the priesthood presides. To which my response was, what exactly are we teaching the daughters then? I did my best to avoid being around when prayers were said in a form of silent protest for the next few days because apparently open protest didn’t work.

  34. The problem of being passive aggressive is that you never say what you really mean. I interpret the desire behind the story as: “I want to preside”. I suppose one could say, I want women to preside. Maybe even, I want both men and women to preside. Personally, I think the most important trait of the person presiding is that they don’t seek to preside.

  35. Jay,
    So if a man wants to preside in his family then he no longer does and the woman then presides? Is that what you’re saying? I could be reading you incorrectly, but this argument has been used against women in the church for a long time. You can’t preside. If you want to, then you’re not righteous enough to preside. If you don’t want to, then you already have what you want so sit down and shut up.
    I’ve never heard of any lesson at church to the Elder’s Quorum that tells them they should not want to preside.

  36. If presiding is all about serving, as I’ve heard my whole life it is, then why on earth would it be wrong to want to preside and serve?

  37. Jay: “Personally, I think the most important trait of the person presiding is that they don’t seek to preside.”

    “Reluctant presiding” seems to be a less effective approach as opposed to cooperation among equals and consensus building. The latter approach is how we try to work it in our house. There are times when my wife or I alternately take the lead, so to speak, but I find this usually happens when one of us is at the end of our rope with one of the kids and the other steps in for a rescue. That’s service and I wouldn’t call it presiding anyway, though it’s the closest thing we get to it in our house.

    By the way: notice this really only works for two-parent households when there are plenty of households in the church that are different. Elder Oaks recognized this issue when he spoke of his mother presiding so to speak. In a one-parent household the idea of presiding seems to make more sense given the imbalance between a child and a parent, but in a couple that imbalance doesn’t really make sense today, which is why the idea of “presiding” in the home is being redefined in the church over the past decade or so, and I expect it will continue to shift. The Restoration rolls on.

  38. “Around 5 years ago my 12 year old son tried pulling some crap about having more authority than me because he had the priesthood. That little coup d’etat was quickly and quietly squelched.”


    I get the concerns re: preside, but the idea that it is a common practice for 12 year olds to rule when dad’s away is a bit much. It just seems like sometimes I am reading about a religion and culture I am not familiar with. And I grew up in the church.

  39. Marc, it’s people (our parents) who took the 1973 Ensign article ( and the 1982 Ensign article ( as Gospel truth, not thinking or daring to sort out cultural chaff from any wheat that might have been there. (And even though the 1982 article, in particular, expressly states that it is the author’s personal views in the first sentence.)

  40. (rolls eyes; shakes hands, pleading with heaven; bows head, then shakes head; sighs) I don’t… (sigh) I can’t… (sigh) I just… (sigh)

    Does everyone’s original opinion feel reinforced, whether in agreement or disagreement with the tone and message presented? I keep seeing the face of Inigo Montoya and hearing him say, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” There’s no dialogue here. Just two sides telling each other that they’re wrong (one side much louder than the other) and neither side is willing to look outside of their preconceived notions about why they’re right or wrong and consider a 3rd alternative (and the others beyond that!). Sometimes, being a (very fringe) member of this community sucks.

    At this point I’ll challenge everyone: Preside. You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

  41. john f., I will concede that there are old embarrassing Ensign articles. But I honestly cannot think of any families I know, both present and past, that believed a young boy was in charge or presided when Dad left. And I know a lot of weird Mormon families. Maybe some families actually believed this but they would be the exception rather than the rule. The Ensign articles you cite don’t even speak to mother/son relationships.

    We were all taught the ten commandments in our childhood right? Didn’t honor your mother trump someone’s interpretation of a1973 Ensign article? If sons presiding over mom when dad left was a widespread practice others can weigh in and tell me I am wrong. But it just seems very unfamiliar to me.

  42. Marc, in my family, it was more of a formality. Even though , as the oldest priesthood holder, I called on someone to pray, no one thought I was in charge any other way. I did know many other families that did that.

  43. Well, if all men did was call on people to pray we wouldn’t be having this conversation and so much handwringing over the word “preside”. the problem is we all know “preside” means something more than “call on people to pray” or “serve”, but we don’t like admitting/recognizing that for all our modern sensitivities, “preside” means “preside”. You know, being in a position of authority over, or in charge of. Sure, you need to be nice and polite about it, but presiding over someone means that you are in a position of power over him or her. Thank goodness that most Mormon males are benevolent patriarchs, but it’s disingenuous to say that men presiding over their wives and children doesn’t mean what it says.

  44. Well said Anon2. “Preside” to me connotes power and authority. It is not the same as doing a good deed. I think the idea that a person presiding is bestowed with power and authority is consistent with the Holy Scriptures. According to The Guide to the Scriptures:

    “To have power over someone or something is to have the ability to control or command that person or thing. In the scriptures, power is often connected with the power of God or the power of heaven. It is often closely related to priesthood authority, which is the permission or right to act for God.”

    Priesthood power and authority always depends on the consent of the righteous governed. It is lost with compulsion. It is maintained by “love unfeigned”. It is not lost by unrighteous rebellion of the governed.

    A person who presides still presides whether they want to or not, so long as they consent to act in that office. Let me rephrase what I said earlier. An important trait of those who preside is that they don’t seek for power or authority. I would hope they carry out their duties faithfully, but when the time comes to relinquish that power and authority they do so without hesitation. However, you don’t get to stop being a father or a husband, if you want an eternal marriage. I also don’t necessarily think you always act in the capacity of the president of the family every minute of everyday. Sort of like a prophet only when acting as such.

  45. fuddyduddy says:

    @owen that was something else. Folks, seriously, go watch the Studio C sketch, “Men vs women on new office reality show.”

  46. At our extended family gatherings, either the male head of household “presided” (called on people to pray, generally called people to order, took responsibility to moderate any arguments), or, if there was no male in the household, then the highest ranking priesthood officer presided (even if a teenager). I never thought it odd until my widowed mom expected my husband to preside at a gathering in her home. My husband was clearly uncomfortable at the idea of assuming authority in someone else’s house. Just another testimony that this is a real “thing” in Mormon culture.

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