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Friday, August 19, 2011

Patriarchy Post #1: A Modern Patriarch

by Saint Mark (bio)

As my brother-in-law and I went on a walk around the park with our children and wives, I couldn't help but ask him his view on patriarchy. He seems to me to epitomize a good patriarch: he is humble, understanding, spiritual and leads his family as the Holy Ghost dictates. Because he is a seminary teacher, I tend to bend his ear on a variety of gospel topics since I feel he spends much more time ruminating about the things of eternity than I.

Coming from a home where only poor examples of patriarchs abounded, I have been cautious in my approach as my own family's patriarch. I know it's important not to be full of anger or abusive or chauvenistic; those were the obvious characteristics I viewed and knew to avoid. But, in a world that reverse-subjugates masculinity and patriarchy in the name of retribution for the past centuries of women being subjugated, I find it difficult to navigate my patriarchy. In other words, how does a man be a patriarch when most women and the world recoil at such a "mysoginstic" concept?

Definitions of "Patriarchy"

Reading the definition in Merriam-Webster's Dictionary does not help in making me feel any better. It defines patriarchy as "social organization marked by the supremacy of the father in the clan or family, the legal dependence of wives and children, and the reckoning of descent and inheritance in the male line; broadly: control by men of a disproportionately large share of power."

Now, if this was the only definition of patriarchy that I knew of then I would cease to ever be a patriarch in my home. I've studied feminist theory and the arc of marginalization of women from ancient civilizations to the modern day. I do not desire to participate in the subjugating form of patriarchy and I'm glad that the traditional form of patriarchy is going the way of the dodo bird.

The Family: A Proclamation to the World rebukes this approach to patriarchy. It states that "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." Thus, it is a man's duty to preside, provide and protect his wife and children. Provide (earn some money) and protect (lock the doors) I think I've got down. But, it's "preside" that has me up at night typing a blog post. The Proclamation's view on motherhood helps me in understanding how to preside as a patriarch. "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. Disability, death, or other circumstances may necessitate individual adaptation." The Prophet and Apostles are not advocating for men to "control" their wives but for there to be an equality, a power sharing, that is based on the needs and circumstances of each household.

And, there are other definitions of patriarchy that I am interested in applying and am speaking about in this post. In the "Bible Dictionary" of the LDS-version of the scriptures, patriarchy or patriarch is defined as follows: "The word as used in the Bible seems to denote also a title of honor to early leaders of the Israelites, such as David (Acts 2:29) and the 12 sons of Jacob (Acts 7:8–9). The word is of Greek derivation and means father-ruler; the Hebrew word it translates is simply father. "Father." I like that. Inherent in the title of "father" are all of the glories and ghouls you can conjure up, but to me, father is one of the greatest titles a man can ever have, next to husband. In fact, we as Latter-day Saints use this intimate term for calling on God in prayer, recognizing the Most High God as simply yet powerfully as our "Father in Heaven."

Traditional vs. Modern

The scriptures give additional insight on patriarchy as well. Doctrine and Covenants Section 121 is the seminal statement on how to preside in our homes as a modern patriarch while overcoming the tug of traditional patriarchy and its pitfalls (check out the entire section here). Consider verses 39-46 for example.

To me, this is one of the most utilitarian and helpful sections of scripture in all the canon, next to the Sermon on the Mount, the dual charity sections and King Benjamin's address. These verses help to enlighten me on how I should act as a patriarch, as a father, as a husband, as a priestholder of God's authority and as a man. Note the diction used to describe righteous patriarchy: full of charity, virtue, confidence, gentleness, meekness, love unfeigned, faithfulness, increase of love.

Juxtapose this language with the language of the world in describing men and ancient patriarchy: subjugation, domination, unrighteous dominion, marginalization, abuse, anger, intimidation, threatenings, scarring, trauma, hurt, pain, apathy, hegemony. When I think of patriarchy, I think of the patriarchy of the former, not of the latter.

Notice how it speaks of "unrighteous dominion." This seems to allude to traditional patriarchy. Verses 34-38 of Doctrine and Covenants Section 121 tell us what are some of the signs of an unrighteous patriarch. You and I can see how easy it is to fall into the devastating abuses of unrighteous patriarchy. But, the scriptures use a qualifier regarding the term "dominion": "any degree of unrighteous" and "unrighteous dominion." So what about righteous dominion? Is there such a thing?

Righteous Dominion?

I think there is. It's modern, righteous patriarchy. I think God has laid out the pattern for us in observing righteous dominion. It is children heeding, submitting to, and honoring the counsel of their parents as their parents act within righteous patriarchy. It is wives hearkening to, submitting to, and honoring the counsel of their husbands as their husbands act within righteous patriarchy. And, it is husbands leading, persuading, and gently guiding their wives and children as they follow, honor and submit to the counsel of God. I used the words hearken, submit, honor, heed, obey and follow interchangeably to express synonymous variations. I like the term honor the best but the idea of what it means to be in a family patriarchal order is what I wanted to convey. It is in this wisdom and order that you and I as patriarchs can be Christ-like men and have "righteous dominion" in our families and marriages. It is in this wisdom and order that wives can honor their children, their husbands and God by leading their families as an equal partner with their husbands.


Now, following this order of patriarchy or organization in the family does not mean that women are silenced or children's input is ignored by fathers and husbands. Far from it! In fact, if a father is apathetic and disinterested in the ideas, suggestions, and counsel of his wife and children, I believe he is "kicking against the pricks," ie hurting himself and his family and practicing unrighteous dominion. Thus, being a modern righteous patriarch, to me, means counseling with our children, counseling with our wives, and counseling with God in prayer. There must be order in all things and there must be one person to be the head of the family. God has chosen men and, for better or for worse, it is this order that we can utilize to edify our families or to crush ourselves against. I know that it is when there is a break in this chain of honor and counsel -- the chain that leads from children to wives to husbands and to God -- that there is tension, trauma and tragedy in the home.

Latter-day Saint men and their wives covenant to obey God's commands, which include those sacred promises located in the scriptures and in the temple. I know that if my wife and I follow God's counsel and keep our covenants that we have made to him, our home will be a heaven on earth and the Holy Ghost will sustain and sanctify our family and our marriage. And the Holy Ghost has, as I have thrown off the garb and practices of traditional patriarchy and embraced becoming a modern, righteous patriarch. It's a work in progress, but progress is the key.

In conclusion

When it comes down to it, I believe the best way to preside as a righteous patriarch in my home is to be a spiritual source of love, service and compassion to my wife and my children. I know that as I strive to follow the example of Jesus Christ and hearken to His teachings, my righteous dominion will not be the world's connotation of patriarchy but the Lord's definition of presiding as a great father, a great husband, a modern patriarch.

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