Last year, I had a difficult time with “Presiding”. I talked to my husband about it and he thought I was directing my frustration at him, since he “presides” in our home. I said, “No. Everywhere I go in the church–there is someone to preside over me. Always over me. Always a man. I’m in the Primary Presidency and we can’t make final decisions about such little things as room assignments or days for primary activities. We can’t be in the church by ourselves without a man there to guard us. It starts to feel like we either aren’t trustworthy or else we aren’t intelligent enough to handle our own stewardship.”
And so I began looking for what Presiding should look like, and feel like, when done exactly right. And I realized that it might look exactly the same if done right or wrong, the difference is in the motivation and attitude of both the presider and the presidee. The June 2012 Ensign came during the height of my wondering about this, and the first article, Counseling Together in Marriage taught me something important. Presiding is Protecting. Alma 6:1 explains, “[Alma] ordained priests and elders, by laying on his hands according to the order of God, to preside and watch over the church.” Presiding means you protect and watch over the people in your stewardship. I can handle that. I love to be protected. So whether it is physically protected with a house and a steady source of food and electricity provided by my husband, or spiritually protected by making sure we have family scripture study and prayer–or even that he insists that we turn a show or song off because it is harming the spirit in our home. That is good protection and I appreciate it. Usually, in our home, we are both protecting and both presiding. Elder Oaks spoke about this in Priesthood Authority in the Family and in the Church. In the church, our priesthood leaders protect us from false doctrine, and they proactively protect us by administering the ordinances that give us more spiritual power. Wards also provide temporal protection to people who need help with food or shelter or care of their homes. When I look at the stand and see the men watching over and protecting me, I don’t feel resentful. I feel grateful.
Protecting the church and family through presiding is really about accountability. The buck stops with priesthood-bearing men–they are accountable to God for how their quorum or congregation or family turned out during the time that they were “presiding” over it. So for a bishop, he presides for four or five years–he is accountable for the spiritual and temporal well-being of the members in his ward for that time. He has to protect them from sin, or evil or even silliness or light-mindedness. Husbands and fathers preside for their entire life. My husband says he feels the weight of that accountability, a mantle of presiding in the home. We have seen it, as a church, on new Presidents of the Church and general authorities. We are all accountable for our own decisions and we women will be accountable to God for how our lives turned out and how well we executed our part of the plan, and the Priesthood bearers are responsible for reporting their part.
Unfortunately, some men treat the job of presiding as the job of Boss. They intimidate, disfellowship and demand. They are just wrong. It’s not a systematic failure of the church, just the weakness of a few hot-heads. Don’t let them give the whole program a bad rap.
“No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long suffering, by gentleness and meekness and by love unfeigned; by kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy and without guile.” –D&C 121:41-42
That’s what it should look like: not like a boss; more like a kind and gentle superhero, watching over us with love and protecting us from evil. And I am grateful for their service and care.