The Presiding Authority of President Eubank

sharon-eubanks-leap-of-faith-led-her-to-relief-society_2

Photo from Church News profile of President Eubank.

President Sharon Eubank gave a masterful sermon this morning on being Christlike. She effortlessly spoke with power and authority, quoting scripture (while adding gender parity), admonishing us to lift and light together, and reminding us that Jesus Christ reached out to all.

President Eubank is a force for good, both as a member of the General Relief Society Presidency and as the Director of LDS Charities (the first woman to hold that position). When she proclaims: “You are making progress. Keep going. He sees all your hidden sacrifices and counts them to your good and the good of those you love. Your work is not in vain. You are not alone. His very name, Emmanuel, means God With Us. He is surely with you,” she knows of what she speaks.

A few weeks ago, President Eubank also spoke as the featured guest at a stake women’s conference. Her message was a similarly powerful one on the themes of love and service.

And yet who presided at this stake meeting?  As listed in the program, it was the stake president.

Presiding, as it is defined, means “to be in the position of authority in a meeting or other gathering.” In Mormon parlance, presiding means that the person over the meeting has final say and judgment about what happens at the meeting, with the obligation to spiritually and physically protect those in attendance.

I’ve been thinking about women as presiders ever since J’s recent post about women presiding at their own meetings until the 1960s. In a recent ward conference, I paid close attention to the sustaining order.  This order (as best as I can recall) started with church-wide positions, in the same order as Saturday Afternoon General Conference Sessions:

  • Prophet
  • First Presidency
  • Apostles
  • Seventies
  • all other General Auxiliary Officers (including women officers) as now constituted.

Then in my ward conference, we sustained local positions:

  • Stake Presidency
  • Bishopric
  • Elder’s Quorum
  • Relief Society
  • Primary
  • Young Men
  • Young Women
  • Sunday School

So thinking back on the stake women’s conference, following my ward’s sustaining order should have had President Eubank as a general officer presiding over local stake officers.

But then I looked at the order we follow for purposes of solemn assemblies, and realized it’s subtly different.  In last year’s solemn assembly to sustain a new prophet, first presidency, and quorum of the twelve, we “voted by quorums and groups.” The voting order was:

  • First Presidency
  • Apostles
  • Seventies / Presiding Bishopric
  • Melchizedek Priesthood holders
  • Relief Society members
  • Aaronic Priesthood holders
  • Young Women
  • Everyone else (including children)

This, I think, is the “Priesthood Order.” Although a solemn assembly is only for the purpose of sustaining the Prophet and Apostles, and is thus not like general conference or ward conference sustainings for all other church offices, it’s ordering signals that all Melchizedek priesthood holders have more keys and authority than all women. This includes President Eubank as a counselor in the General Relief Society Presidency. Under that priesthood order, President Eubank should be presided over by any stake president, or any elder’s quorum president, or even the most brand new 18-year-old elder in any stake she visits.  

Can that be right?

Perhaps not. The solemn assembly order also recognizes that all adult Relief Society women hold more authority than Aaronic priesthood holders (whether they are teenagers or adults).  This recognizes, like Elder Oaks has taught, that members of the Relief Society exercise priesthood power and that women’s priesthood authority tracks the priesthood keys of the man who sustained her. Under that reasoning, shouldn’t then President Eubank, ordained by worldwide (presumably Melchizedek priesthood) leadership, exercise worldwide priesthood keys?

As described by President Oaks, women have priesthood authority by virtue of their callings and temple experience. And in fact, Elder Quentin Cook brought up this issue in his talk Saturday morning: “When a man and woman are sealed in the temple, they enter the holy order of matrimony in the new and everlasting covenant and order of the priesthood. Together, they obtain and receive priesthood blessings and power to direct the affairs of their family. Women and men have unique roles, as outlined in The Family: A Proclamation to the World. But their stewardships are equal in value and importance. They have equal power to receive revelation for their family.”

Considering the Relief Society’s recognized priesthood keys, women’s equal temple covenants, and combined with the fact that women did preside at their own meetings until the 1960s, I think the argument is strong to say that “we just are not accustomed to speaking of womenpresiding, but they should.  President Eubank, as a general auxiliary leader with priesthood keys given to her as befitting her general churchwide calling, should have been recognized as presiding at that stake women’s conference meeting.

President Eubank’s work and service is Christlike and inspiring. Let’s recognize and amplify her authority.

Thanks to Carolyn for helping edit and bolster this post.

 

 

Comments

  1. When I was the executive secretary, I listed the RS president’s name and phone number above the HP/EQ leadership in the bulletin, the YW president before the YM, and the Primary president above the SS president. Just doing my part.

    (I think that Eubanks’ talk was one of the top 5 of the whole conference.)

  2. Patrick says:

    This assumes that the order of sustaining in a ward or general conference (or the voting order in a solemn assembly) reflects the relative “keys and authority” vested in the various callings and groups. While this may be a widely held view, are there any prophetic or scriptural statements supporting this assumption?

  3. Dr Cocoa says:

    This post reminds me so much of Luke 9:46-48 that it makes me sad. Worrying about who presides at a meeting smacks of pride. Jesus most certainly wouldn’t care who is listed as “presiding”, and I doubt Sister Eubank does. It’s the “least” among us that is the greatest; those quietly doing good for Christ’s sake, and not those posturing for the appearance of authority.

  4. Carolyn says:

    Dr. Cocoa: by your exact same logic, no priesthood leader should ever preside ever because that’s a point of status and pride unbecoming the servant-leader model.

    No defaulting to bishops presiding in ward meetings, no defaulting to the first presidency presiding in general conference, just us all joining togetherness in unity as moved on by the spirit like when we spontaneously sing campfire hymns without a conductor.

    Great! I agree! Let’s abolish all hierarchy and be one with Christ.

  5. Dr Cocoa says:

    Yes, Carolyn, that is exactly my point. I believe Christ would have us worrying about more important things.

    Although I don’t foresee the Church institution giving up this posturing any time soon, as individuals we each can do our part by refusing to care about trivial things such as this.

  6. Considering the Relief Society’s recognized priesthood keys, women’s equal temple covenants, and combined with the fact that women did preside at their own meetings until the 1960s, I think the argument is strong to say that “we just are not accustomed to speaking of women” presiding, but they should.

    RS presidency general or stake or ward does not have any keys conferred upon any of them. Reread Handbook 2, Section 2.1.1. All authority is delegated and specific to the calling which is why Eubanks would not preside over a stake meeting where the stake president is the key holder. If they did I don’t think “we” or GA’s would have any problem speaking of women as presiding.

  7. If it had been a stake meeting without the stake president there, would she have presided?

    Or does no keys mean no presiding at all?

  8. In my opinion only: First I would distinguish “preside.” I know the secular definition mentioned in the OP, but I think of “preside” for church purposes (even in PoTF) as “responsible for,” as in responsible for edifying and uplifting those in attendance. As far as I know, “general” officers of the church are not given keys of any kind. They are general because they have no immediate territorial jurisdiction. I’ve attended training meetings where members of the general SS, YW, RS and Primary put on the training, but the “sponsoring stake” where the meeting was held always had a presiding officer (member of local stake presidency) in attendance. As a real life matter, stake presidents accommodate and respect the wishes of leaders visiting from SLC. And most of the time, the local area authority 70 attends and presides over the meeting. A Stake President is given keys, not his counselors. Yet, when the first or second counselor visits a local unit, he presides over the sacrament meeting (or whatever other meeting is going on.) It can’t be because of keys — he has none. It’s because the stake presidency “presides” over all things that take place within the stake boundaries. Suppose the ward EQP decides to sit in on a typical ward RS meeting the second Sunday of the month, second hour. That EQP does not “preside” at the RS meeting. The RS Presidency does until such time as the Bishop or one of his counselors sits in on the meeting because the bishopric forms the High Priest presidency in the ward and ultimately is in charge of all meetings that take place in the ward. Who “presides” when RS has an “other meeting?” I guess if you want to say the RS “presides”, you can. But, she is not doing so independently but always under the direction of the bishop. (Handbook 2, 9.2.1) Again, my opinion only: General YM/YW/RS/Prim/SS officers do not “preside” anywhere because all areas are covered by stakes. They have no keys, therefore they have no “right” to preside. But, at President Nelson’s request and under his authority, could they preside? I guess if he specifically authorizes them to, but I still think it unlikely given the structure of priesthood lines of authority in the church as it currently exists.

  9. Steve G. says:

    I understand the sentiment here, but I am not sure its right. If we were to substitute the General Sunday School President in instead of the General Relief Society President, Would the General Sunday School President preside at a Stake meeting? I don’t think so, because the General Sunday School President is not in any priesthood line of authority.

    Still one day I’d love to see the Relief Society gain its autonomy back and I agree with the general sentiment of the OP.

  10. I know it’s just a dream, but they should seriously make Sharon Eubank an Apostle, even if they aren’t yet ready to give women the Priesthood.

  11. Interesting post, EmJen. Seems like the issue, for purposes of deciding who presides, is whether the local relief society is considered part of the stake, with the General R.S. officers giving additional support, or part of the church-wide R.S, with the stake presidency giving additional support. My understanding is that local relief societies used to be considered more like branches of the church-wide R.S. organization, but that correlation put the focus on the stake level, with the stake president presiding over all auxiliaries in the stake, and relegated general auxiliary presidents, including RS, YM, and SS to offering support, but not direct leadership or supervision.

  12. Since Correlation took effect in the ’60s, we have an anomaly in the Church: presidents who don’t preside. Both the general RS president and every stake RS president are not line officers. They do not preside over stake or ward Relief Society presidents, respectively. The general president does not call or set apart stake RS presidents, and stake RS presidents do not call or set apart ward RS presidents. These women are called and set apart by stake presidents and bishops. Ward RS presidents report to the bishop, who presides over them. Stake RS presidents report to the stake president, who presides over them. In reality, general and stake RS presidents function more as consultants, not as line officers who have any actual authority over stake and ward Relief Societies, respectively. Since Relief Society was swept into the priesthood institutional web, it has ceased to function as a semi-independent organization. It no longer publishes its own magazine or lesson manuals, and it no longer has its own budget. Sort of makes you wonder why we even have general and stake auxiliary presidencies any more.

  13. “I know it’s just a dream, but they should seriously make Sharon Eubank an Apostle, even if they aren’t yet ready to give women the Priesthood.” LOVE THIS STATEMENT!

    But really, why are we so stuck on keys? I don’t mean the following to be inflammatory but keys aren’t ‘real’, they are verbal tool we use to describe an ability and authority (although sometimes just the authority) to act. In a really simplified way keys are whatever we say they are, which is why the use of the term and what it means has changed over the years.

    As we, hopefully, understand better the full equality of the sexes why are we still hung up on ways of limiting full participation? The questions shouldn’t be why can’t President Eubank preside (technical answers follow), but why shouldn’t President Eubank preside? Why shouldn’t we update our verbal tools to match our broader understanding?

    There was once a day when ordaining a twelve year old to the priesthood wouldn’t have been considered. When Deacons were grown and responsible adults (like in every other faith tradition), we updated our understanding to adapt to needs and a chosen direction. Why shouldn’t we do the same today?

  14. Sharon Eubank is, speaking precisely, a badass.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.