Feast upon the Word Blog

A blog focused on LDS scriptures and teaching

Presiding and providing vs. nurturing

Posted by Robert C. on May 4, 2007

As a follow up to the previous post which touched on gender issues, I’d like to discuss the following passage from the Proclamation on the Family:

By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners.

Discussions on topics like this in the bloggernacle tend to move quickly and get a bit off-topic (and often quite contentious), so I’d like to set some parameters for discussion. I’d like to discuss the Proclamation as a whole, and this passage in particular, faithfully, in the sense of presupposing that it is inspired of God and that we can learn something important and meaningful from it. That is not to say, for example, that we must take these fatherly and motherly responsibilities as eternal in nature, because that is not what the statement says (at least not clearly—the eternal nature of gender described previously in the Proclamation might point in this direction, but then again it might not…). I don’t anticipate problems because those that post here are almost always very good about respecting others, but it probably doesn’t hurt on a sensitive topic like this to reiterate the importance of being respectful.

Here are some questions to get things started (they’re kind of lame questions, but I don’t have time right now to think up better ones—so, following the advice/example of Elder Holland, I think it was, feel free to discuss questions I should’ve asked, or pose your own questions about this Proclamation passage…):

(1) Should we take these assigned responsibilities as eternal in nature, or only in this life?

(2) Should we take these assigned responsibilities as pertaining to the here-and-now of the Church, or as responsibilities that pertain to all time on earth?

(3) How does this passage from the Proclamation help us understand gender and family roles in scripture?

22 Responses to “Presiding and providing vs. nurturing”

  1. Jim said

    Robert,
    I’ve thought about these words too. Please point me to any other posts or comments on preside/provide vs nurture. As a husband and father, I take my responsibility as patriarch seriously and often ask myself exactly what I as the patriarch should be doing within my family.

    About your questions, the Proclamation indicates that gender is eternal. I suppose that after this life, men will continue to preside and provide and women will continue to nurture, but perhaps those words will take on slightly different meaning. For example, today, under the role of provider, much of the man’s time is consumed with providing for the physical needs of his family- earning a living to provide the necessities (and hopefully some wants!). That’s not to say that women cannot make a valuable contribution to this effort, but ideally, this responsibility falls on the man. In the next life, will the man have to spend most of his waking hours providing for these needs? I don’t think so, but I don’t know. Perhaps the man will be more “free” to focus on presiding.

    I look forward to other comments and hope there will be several….

  2. m&m said

    OH boy. This is a topic I have been thinking about A LOT the past few months. Can’t articulate it all here and now, but will mull s’more and think of what I could share in a comment and what I should just write up. :)

  3. Julie M. Smith said

    Should we take these assigned responsibilities as eternal in nature, or only in this life?

    I can’t imagine them being eternal: What physical needs would a father need to provide in the eternities? In what way would it be correct to say that God the Father does _not_ nurture us? What would we need protecting from? (I’m open to other ideas on this–when I say I ‘can’t imagine’, I mean that literally.)

    Should we take these assigned responsibilities as pertaining to the here-and-now of the Church, or as responsibilities that pertain to all time on earth?

    I think this one is more debatable than the first, but given the differences in family set up (i.e., agricultural, industrialized, telecommuting) I think most role division has to do with our current circumstances, but perhaps some also to all situations on earth.

    How does this passage from the Proclamation help us understand gender and family roles in scripture?

    This may be a dangerous question *if* it means that we read scriptures under the assumption that they teach the same thing the Proc does. As an example, I don’t think the Proverbs 31 woman fits the Proc very well, neither do many other scriptural women (Deborah, Huldah, Eve laboring with her husband, etc.)

  4. m&m said

    Julie,
    Help me understand why you think Eve’s working and laboring with her husband doesn’t teach the same principle as working as partners as the Proclamation declares we should? Are you reading “labor” as “providing” in a strict sense?

  5. Robert C. said

    Jim #1, sorry I don’t have any specific posts in mind, it just seems that gender roles is a topic that comes up frequently in the bloggernacle. You might try searching the ‘nacle using the search function at Mormon Archipelago (ldselect also has a good list of recent blog posts, and I think I’ve seen several related posts at Feminist Mormon Housewives). Good point about the day-to-day responsibilities.

    Julie #3, thanks for your several thoughts. I had the “preside” bit in mind more than “provide” in terms of eternal roles, but your point is well taken. One way we might think of these roles is in terms of how we would attend to needs of our children in worlds of our own (e.g. with our own spirit children…). I suggested on the previous post that we might think of the Mother as playing a more hidden role as it pertains to us in this sphere of existence. In this sense, we might think of the Father providing protection for us that is visible, protecting us from our enemies, storms, draughts, etc., while the Mother nurtures us in more hidden ways, comforting, guiding, etc. (although food itself is an interesting case, since food can be viewed as both a provision and something we are nurtured by…).

    I also mentioned on the previous post the fact that we only have record of male figures in the First Vision. On the one hand, we might argue that this is simply b/c the world wasn’t ready to accept a vision of Heavenly Mother. On the other hand, perhaps the Mother’s role is simply different than the Father’s, and the Mother’s role is more hidden. This latter view doesn’t require that we view scriptures and Church leadership (starting with the First Vision) as somehow “tainted by” wordly sexism, but perhaps this latter view is itself unavoidably sexist. That’s one of the core issues I’m trying to think about.

    m&m #4, I can’t speak for Julie, but your question makes me wonder about the division we have have in this world between “providing” and “nurturing”—I’m inclined to think that in the eternities this division will collapse.

  6. I have only a moment, but I’d like to highlight the word “responsibility.” Doesn’t this word imply a liability to being called on the carpet? That is, if husbands and fathers have the responsibility to preside/provide, then if the family is not taken care of in these ways, the father is, so to speak, guilty, the culprit. And again, if wives and mothers have the responsibility to nurture, then if the children are not nurtured, it is the mother who is, so to speak, guilty, the culprit. If one reads such a spirit into these first sentences, then the statement about “equality” should be read as defining the interrelation of two separately accountable persons who are bound together by covenant.

    Or some such thing. More than anything, I’m trying to loosen up our reading of the text with this comment (read: Don’t take anything I’ve just said as some kind of interpretation I will be held to… at all).

  7. Robert C. said

    Part of what I don’t like about the questions I posed above is that they seem to encourage too much reckless speculation about the eternities. What I think is most important is how we think about these issues in the here and now—of course how we understand eternity will affect this, but somehow I think it’s dangerous to get too focused on things that we simply don’t know.

    This raises another interesting tension I’d like to discuss more sometime, between being content with what we have been given to know vs. the call we are given to seek understanding of the mysteries of God. But actually I see this as a very related question, since I’m currently thinking that there is a deep and important relationship between femininity as described in Holy Writ and hiddenness. To make the connection between this idea and the Proclamation, I am thinking about providing and presiding in terms of non-hiddenness. That is, I provide for me family by working outside my family, and in presiding I am called on to speak to others in representing my family. On the other hand, nurturing seems self-contained (i.e. hidden) within the family unit. This is one line of thinking I had in mind in terms of using the Proclamation to help us understand scripture better…..

  8. BRoz said

    Fathers provide for temperal and spiritual welfare.
    Mothers provide for emotional and social welfare (nurture).
    Pretty much covers it.

  9. BRoz said

    If gender and identity are eternal than I suppose gender roles may be as well. We also know that the same sociality that exists here will exist in the eternal world.

  10. MAC said

    I can’t imagine them being eternal: What physical needs would a father need to provide in the eternities?

    Hey, I never thought of it that way. Like a big eternal vacation. I am almost tempted to run my car into a concrete pylon.

    All I have to do is preside. I can do that with one hand tied behind my back.

    Thanks Julie, you made my day.

  11. m&m said

    One of the things I think helps a discussion like this is to try to detach ourselves from worldly definitions and boundaries and demands of things like “sexism.” I personally don’t think we can have fully productive and “righteous” discussions about this without suspending our mortal ways of thinking a bit. IMO. Not that I think we should allow for unrestrained sexism, mind you, but my feeling is that the only way to really come to start to understand and accept concepts in the Proclamation is to accept that perhaps sexism isn’t the golden ruler by which to measure the goodness or rightness of gender concepts in our faith.

    And, Robert, your comment 7 is interesting. Very interesting.

  12. m&m said

    p.s. That was more a general comment than a specific response to anyone in particular.

    Robert, are you sure you want to send a nice man like Jim to discussions about patriachy at FMH? :)

  13. Julie M. Smith said

    Re #4:

    I think that Eve laboring with Adam suggests that there was not a 100% division between him as breadwinner and her as nurturer. I don’t think that division existed among agricultural households in general, where both parents “worked” and both parents “took care of the kids.” I’m open to other readings, of course, but that’s the one that makes the most sense to me right now.

    Re #5:

    I think your comment points to the biggest gap that believers in eternal gender roles have to explain away: why is the nurturing of our Mother so not evident but the nurturing of our Father so very evident if the opposite roles are supposed to be eternal ones? My take on it is that (1) those roles are for the benefit of mortal families but not eternal and (2) I think that “God” is an office occupied by a perfected man and woman. (Although I realize that there isn’t enough hard evidence for this to convince any of you who don’t already believe it.)

  14. m&m said

    13
    Interesting. What laboring means to me in concept is basically what the Proclamation talks about…husband and wife working together as equal partners to get the stuff of life taken care of. Of course, the division of labor would have looked a little different, but I think I labor with my husband even though I don’t earn us any money. I suppose the interpretation would depend on the definition of the word “labor.”

  15. m&m said

    even though I don’t earn us any money

    Someday, though, I’m gonna keep a log of the money I save via sales, insurance policy shopping, mortgage management, etc. :)

  16. Mark IV said

    I always wonder how our brothers and sisters outside of North America interpret those parts of the proclamation.

    The plain and simple fact of the matter is that 90% of the world’s population, male and female, has to work extremely hard, just to sustain life. Our church even extends microcredit so women can buy a sewing machine or a noodle maker so they CAN work for money and help provide for their families. I don’t blame sister Arroyo in the Phillipines if she thinks that all of our discussions about whether mothers should work outside the home are simply a way for wealthy Americans to indulge their neuroses. For most of our fellow saints, it simply isn’t even an option.

    So, to answer the questions – No only do I not believe these assigned responsibilities are eternal in nature; I do not even believe they apply equally to the membership of the church at the present time. I think it was meant for the here and now, with here meaning North America. And even then, there is a lot of room for interpretation, since the proclamation states that spouses are to help one another as needed, and that individual adaptation is often necessary.

  17. Robert C. said

    Julie #13, I emphatically agree that the Proclamation is not telling us we need 100% division between breadwinner and nurturer (the father’s responsibility to nurture seems esp. obvious), but that the distinction the Proclamation points to somehow has more to do with ultimate accountability as Joe suggests in #6.

    I also like this idea of thinking about God as an office occupied by a perfected man and woman. However, I think this still begs the question as to why we know so little about Heavenly Mother, and I can’t seem to get beyond thinking there is an unavoidable tension here between thinking in terms of feminine hiddenness/sacredness vs. this being a result of the World or Church not being righteous enough to know more about her. Hmmm, I guess this way of putting the matter suggests already a notion of sacredness at the root of both views, that we can learn more about Her—whether through Church-wide or individual revelation—if only we become more prepared for such new knowledge….

  18. BRoz said

    I don’t believe in 100% division. I think its telling fathers to “listen up” to their wives when it comes to their kids emotional and social needs. Women are just (generally speaking) better to decern these needs. However, much of a kids nurture depends on a good relationship with their Dad. So, that obviously requires a lot of “daddy time.” The other roles work in the same way.

  19. Mark IV, thanks for those very important comments. I think my own comments above on “responsibility,” if taken up with yours, give us a very clear picture: we read the Proclamation in a very North American way. I take the title of the Proclamation very seriously, and I think that the Brethren had the whole world in mind when they wrote it. But it does not say anything like: “Women, if you go to work, you are sinning. Men, if you stay home with the kids, you are sinning. We are, as a Church hierarchy, going to force on everyone who is baptized the gender roles that obtained in the American 1950s.” I would assume that a good LDS family in Peru would take the Proclamation seriously, but they would read it clearly for what it actually says, not for what an unthinking American would assume it simply must say.

  20. Oh, yeah:

    Julie, thanks for the comments about agrarian society. I totally agree. And to be honest, I wish we still lived that way!

  21. Julie M. Smith said

    Re #17:

    I think we know so little because there is nothing to know: everything we know about Him applies to Her. I don’t think there is anything meaningful that we could know about the one that wouldn’t also be true about the other. I don’t think they have separate roles, etc. (Again, I realize this is speculative–I can’t prove it to anyone.)

    Re #20:

    Well . . . the gender and family part would be good. The backbreaking labor, crop failures, illness, and early death I could do without. :)

  22. m&m said

    I think we know so little because there is nothing to know: everything we know about Him applies to Her.

    I think I agree with this to a point, in character and love and involvement in our lives, but I’m not sure I am on the “no roles in the hereafter” bandwagon. Not that I picture strict roles per se, but I can fully imagine a “different but equal” approach in the hereafter. If gender is eternal, I would suspect there might still somehow be gender roles.

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