Monday, August 3, 2015

The Evolution of Gender Role Responsibilities in Marriage within the LDS Church

Back in October 2008, I wrote two posts, on consecutive days, that generated the most comments in the history of my blog.  They were focused on The Family: A Proclamation to the World and what it said about presiding in the home.  If anyone wants to read them after finishing this post, they are at the following links:

"Fathers Are to Preside" and "Presiding: An Evolution of Definition"

I came across those posts today, and I want to share another commentary on the section in question - worded as a response to something I read in a group forum from a Mormon man who was defending the traditional division of labor within marriage as the one and only righteous model.  He was defending traditional gender roles in marriage and society at large by emphasizing what was said to Adam and Eve when they left the Garden of Eden.  There is a lot more I could say about that approach, but I want to focus this post on the aspect of the LDS Church's current position concerning how spouses are to construct the performance of their parental responsibilities. 

The following is what I said to him - and what I would say to anyone who tried to insist that the traditional delineation still is in place as the requirement to be considered faithful for Mormons:

Have you read, carefully, the section in the Proclamation to the World that describes the Church’s *current” stance on gender roles within marriage – or have you, like so many other members, glossed over that section by assuming it says exactly what you were taught in your formative years, simply because it uses much of the traditional terminology in some places?

The following is a close, tight reading [with commentary, to make an important point] of the actual words: 

“In these sacred responsibilities [all of the responsibilities listed previously in the paragraph, importantly without disclaimers or exceptions], fathers and mothers are obligated [strong word choice] to help one another [not insist that the other perform the traditional responsibilities alone] as equal partners [which means "preside in the home" is being defined very differently than it was in the past and, in practical terms, is merely honorific in the best marriages]. Disability, death, or other circumstances [again, no qualifications or limitations in this wording] may necessitate individual adaptation [change to the traditional norm initiated by the spouses themselves with no need to seek permission from anyone else].” 

There absolutely is room in this statement for the traditional allocation of parental responsibilities (and I believe nearly all of the top leadership still believes that is the ideal, where possible), but there is NO room in it for insisting that those responsibilities are the sole domain of either spouse, ordained by God to be exclusive and definitional. If a man insists that he must provide and his wife must nurture by divine command simply because of their biological sex difference (and neither is obligated or excused in participating in the other spouse’s domain), for example, that man is acting in opposition to the Church’s stated position in the Proclamation. If a man refuses to consider doing dishes or changing a diaper or reading to his children, for example, simply because he is the man and those tasks are not part of his responsibilities – or if a woman refuses to consider working for compensation outside the home simply because she is the woman and that assignment is not part of her responsibilities – in that situation each of the individuals is not in line with the Church’s current counsel regarding marriage. The published standard no longer is about each person individually and separately; it now is about the couple as one, understanding the overall responsibilities of parenthood and figuring out how to make it work so their own marriage can provide what it is supposed to provide – together, helping each other, being equal partners

Too many members don’t understand, but this isn’t the LDS Church of my youth and early adulthood.  The Proclamation doesn’t say what Pres. Benson once said. It’s time members let go of his former counsel and embrace what is quoted above and being taught now. 

As long as a couple is sharing parental responsibilities by helping each other as equal partners, their own individual adaptation of the traditional roles is in line with the current, published standard – and everyone else needs to get out of their home and stop judging them for their righteous exercise of agency – no matter how they structure their marriage differently than anyone else would structure theirs

1 comment:

ji said...

I agree. However a man and woman, married to each other, work things out between them is right for them at that time. If one couple adopts a certain approach to a certain matter, that's fine with me. And if another couple adopts a different approach for what appears to be the same matter, that's fine, too.

I wouldn't want one couple to force its view of "equal" on another couple.