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The first iteration of this post began in early 2020. It was never completed because (at least in part) I couldn't figure out why this obvious contradiction needed to be spelled out. Still, the issue comes up again and again. So here is my explanation of the problem.

Quotes from The Proclamation

…fathers are to preside over their families…

The Family: A Proclamation to the World

…fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners.

The Family: A Proclamation to the World

Definitions Matter

Preside

  • to hold the position of authority or control
  • to be in charge

Equal

  • one not inferior or superior to another
  • one having the same rank, station, office, strength

Mutually Exclusive

If someone has a position of authority/control, there is a submissive counterpart being presided over. The second person is not, by definition, equal to the first.

The unwritten practical infallibility narrative (another topic on the list) in church culture, leads us to equivocate when we should be trying to clarify and refine.

Are husbands and wives truly equal? Are we just giving lip-service to spousal equality, to assuage modern sensibilities? Are we gaming the semantics of the word “equal” to mean something that sounds more palatable (even if false)?

Partnership is Worth the Effort

My parents were both born in the 1920s. My dad worked full time and my mom was almost exclusively a homemaker. Yet, they had one of the most egalitarian marriages I've witnessed to this day.

I grew up thinking that was normal and typical. (It wasn't, either in the church or out of it.) My dad never demanded the final say in decision making. He didn't lay down the law or expect compliance. When they had a decision to make, they each brought their best ideas to the table, they discussed, they came to a mutually agreeable solution.

When I married my dear husband (almost 39 years ago), I simply expected our dynamic to be similar. Although my husband was not raised in a similar household, his intellectual bent made it seem appropriate, fair, and utterly doable. So, we did it.

Why is egalitarianism so hard to fathom within marriage and the church itself?

Yes, partnership requires more initial work than a single, omnipotent party calling all the shots, with subservient followers. Yes, partnership requires two people, coming together in respect, love, and consideration.

Do we not agree that our Heavenly Parents truly work together as a team, as one?

What Is Our True Dogma?

The gender imbalance in the church was almost never addressed when I was a child. Rather, it was reinforced at almost every turn. Questioning the status quo was (as is often still the case) deemed near apostasy.

Often these distinctions are dismissed in a sweeping, fuzzy way with undefined “roles.” But there is little substantive discussion about what that entails. What, for example, is the “role” of our invisible Heavenly Mother?

Today, we seem (institutionally) to be trying to straddle contradictory positions. I'm glad for movement on these issues, but wish we would acknowledge them more openly and with intellectual (and spiritual?) honesty.

We also seem to be trying to game semantics.

One example is the rather sudden explosion of claims that women have priesthood authority and power (something that would have been deemed heretical just a couple of decades ago), but will not consider priesthood ordination or keys. (What is a priestess?) That issue warrants a discussion of its own.

Further, we claim women have “full access to priesthood blessings,” but are willfully blind to the reality that these blessings are a subset of the priesthood blessings offered to men. So, no, they aren't full access.

Perhaps it all comes down to a deep dive into what truly constitutes eternal doctrine. (Working through this, but currently I think there are only 4–5 things that qualify.) If/when that can be established, we will have to grapple with the reality that the remainder of policy/practice is peripheral to core doctrine.

That will likely be a painful exorcism.

Alison Moore Smith is a 59-year-old entrepreneur. She has been (very happily) married to Samuel M. Smith for 38 years. They are parents of six incredible children and grandparents to two astounding grandsons.