Power in Humility

October 25, 2007

This week’s theme has me thinking about something that has been on my brain for months — the relationship between priesthood/patriarchy/presiding and partnership. But John’s post got me thinking about something else as well, so I am going to attempt to sort through all of these thoughts a bit here.
Whenever I hear someone (particularly a woman) express concern about priesthood, or patriarchy, or the man’s role to preside, I think of the verses at the end of Doctrine and Covenants 121. The verses, in my mind, describe how priesthood, patriarchy and presiding are supposed to be, and they bring me a lot of comfort and perspective about what these three things are about. If a man exercises unrighteous dominion, he is not presiding, exercising priesthood, or fulfilling a role as patriarch in the way God intended. In fact, true presiding in my mind is about Christlike, inclusive, others-focused, and service-oriented behavior. There is no reason to fear True Presiding because it is based in love and selflessness and the Greater Good. Some think presiding/priesthood/patriarchy are incompatible with partnership, but I think they are inextricably connected, at least as the Lord has prescribed them.

If my husband is a True Presider, by definition, he will seek to counsel with me in all our doings. He will treat me as a complete equal. He will serve and love. There is no threat to partnership in a marriage like that. Of course, no husband will ever be perfect in this way. But any man worth his salt should be striving to be that kind of presider.

In a similar way, in the ideal, there is no threat to true partnership in a Church that runs with that kind of leadership. There are exceptions, but I think we should assume that leaders are striving to be this kind of leader.

The Lord is the perfect example of servant-leadership. He also has what I think is the underlying characteristic that makes presiding, priesthood and patriarchy work: humility. He never focused on self. In large part because of His perfect humility, He was given power, because God knew He could be trusted with it. The Savior always — always — used that power to benefit others and to bring glory to God. He never sought to pursue His own course or put Himself before others or God.

D&C 121 teaches that priesthood holders will never fully tap into the powers of heaven without Christlike humility. There should be no motive whatsoever directed at personal gain, praise, position, control, or any other self-focused behavior.
John pointed out yesterday that, “The one called had best go about creating an atmosphere where they can be trusted, or they will not be able to fulfill their sacred responsibilities.” We know that the Lord can be trusted because, “He doeth not anything save it be for the benefit of the world; for he loveth the world, even that he layeth down his own life that he may draw all men unto him” (2 Nephi 26:24). What an example! What humility!

But I can’t believe it’s all on the priesthood holders’ shoulders to harness the power of God through their righteousness for the good of the members of their congregations or families. All individuals have great responsibility both for their own access to heavenly power and also to help leaders fulfill their duties so that the power of heaven can be available to the congregation or family (or Church) as a whole.

President Packer recently reminded us that we all have available to us the power of testimony and the power of revelation — some of the power of heaven! I believe the promises of D&C 121 apply to all of us. I believe as we come to be more Christlike, more worthy of the Spirit, more filled with charity, more unceasingly virtuous in thought and action, we will find that the powers of heaven will flow into our lives. But the flip side is also true for all of us. If we violate principles of righteousness, we can cut ourselves off from the power of heaven.

I want to take this one step further. I think the fullest potential for manifestation of power that God has and wants to give us comes only as leaders and followers work together in unity, and particularly with humility. Pride and selfishness can come from the top down, but also from the bottom up. (President Benson talked about this in his famous talk on pride.) Any sort of pride can hinder the power available to the group. This puts a great deal of responsibility not only on the leaders to lead according to the counsel in D&C 121, but also for followers to practice the principles taught therein.

We are taught in this section that it’s “the nature and disposition of all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.” True humility could change that. True humility is essential if a leader wants to tap into the powers of heaven.

But I think it’s also often the nature and disposition of people to resist someone else’s authority in pride. I think it’s possible for us to also “cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion” as followers, or as partners, of those who preside. How easy it is to blame a leader for a choice to leave the Church, or to blame a spouse as we run for the divorce papers [NOT that this isn’t justified in some seriously abusive situations, but too often, it’s not). Or, on a smaller scale, how easy it is to hold grudges, or to withhold loyalty and support for or to undermine (or try to compete with) the authority of someone who may not be the perfect leader. How easy also to try to manipulate or use other subtle (or not-so-subtle!) control tactics to get a leader to accept one’s point of view.

I just can’t help but wonder if sometimes we could step things up a notch in our following as much or not more than leaders could improve their leadership. Does every flaw need to be pointed out? Does every wrong opinion need to be fought? Couldn’t we all let go and forgive and move forward and work together just a bit more?

We can remember that the Savior was not only the perfect leader; He was the perfect follower. He never worried about his station in life. He didn’t seek for power or position. He wasn’t concerned about glory or praise of men. His whole purpose was to glorify the Father. What about us?

The Spirit will be grieved and heaven will withdraw from any of us who choose to let pride, selfishness, sin, or other unrighteousness drive our actions. Imagine what would happen if we all sought and prayed for more Christlike humility, whether leader or follower! For the Lord’s work to work, it takes everyone willingly and humbly filling their roles, seeking only God’s glory and not our own. In fact, I think a key purpose of the order of things (in the family and in the Church) is to teach all of us humility.

Of course, things never work perfectly, because we are all imperfect people, but I have caught a glimpse of what happens when people work together in a spirit of faith, unity and humility. There is power, peace and progress when people truly put aside their selfish goals, concerns, desires and insecurities, and seek to be instruments in God’s hands — whether program-passer-outer or presiding authority.

President Packer reminded us that, “There is the natural tendency to look at those who are sustained to presiding positions, to consider them to be higher and of more value in the Church or to their families than an ordinary member. Somehow we feel they are worth more to the Lord than are we. It just does not work that way!”

We can recognize that all the Father has is available to every one of us, regardless of our roles, position, or gender. Whatever our particular stewardships are, all the Lord asks is that we fulfill those roles in faith and humility, with all of our hearts. If we do this, I believe He will bless us with His power, individually and collectively.


  1. If my husband is a True Presider, by definition, he will seek to counsel with me in all our doings. He will treat me as a complete equal. He will serve and love. There is no threat to partnership in a marriage like that.

    This thought just came to mind: If presiding does not entail any hierarchical inequality–if the husband, the “presider,” is in fact 100% equal to his wife and does not have the right to the “final say” or any other indicator of superior authority–then in what sense does “presiding” differ from what the wife does? In other words, wouldn’t it be more correct to speak of “presiding” as a duty that is shared, equally, by husband and wife? That would seemingly indicate true partnership. And given your description of what it means to preside (which I have seen in many church talks and publications, and which I would agree with), it doesn’t seem right to call the husband the “presider” while denying that title to the wife. In a true partnership, and under your definition of “presiding,” I think it only right to call them co-presiders.

  2. And given your description of what it means to preside (which I have seen in many church talks and publications, and which I would agree with), it doesn’t seem right to call the husband the “presider” while denying that title to the wife.

    I thought this might come up. My thought is no, it isn’t the same, because the man can set the tone for this equality to happen. I think there are also things that the man is supposed to lead out on, even while being in partnership with his wife.

    I think that our leaders are pretty smart. If we really were supposed to both have the title/role of presider, we would. But we don’t, and I believe that is very deliberate. You can’t have patriarchal order without a presider, and the patriarchal order is an eternal order. I also believe it fills mortal purposes as well.

    I believe there is something about that role that is necessary for the man, and for the woman. There is something about a man choosing to lead and involve his wife that does something to and for him and his wife and family, I believe. It’s a choice to be a True Presider and make it possible for True Partnership to take place. I believe that there is also something about a woman choosing to support her husband as the presider while at the same time being his equal partner (this doesn’t mean equal in task/role/responsibility but in importance, and I think that is important to remember). It’s like Pres. Packer said…no one is more important in God’s work. God is no respecter of persons. But that doesn’t mean He doesn’t give different assingments and callings to men and women and to different people in the Church.

    I don’t fully understand it, but just as Pres. Packer says that no calling is more important than another, no role in the family is more important. THAT SAID, Pres. Packer also turns around and talks about the order of things in the Church. He also says elsewhere that there is an order in terms of family organization as well.

    There are references to a patriarchal priesthood. The patriarchal order is not a third, separate priesthood. (See D&C 84:6–17; D&C 107:40–57.) Whatever relates to the patriarchal order is embraced in the Melchizedek Priesthood. “All other authorities or offices in the church are appendages to [the Melchizedek] priesthood.” (D&C 107:5.) The patriarchal order is a part of the Melchizedek Priesthood which enables endowed and worthy men to preside over their posterity in time and eternity. (Boyd K. Packer, “What Every Elder Should Know—and Every Sister as Well: A Primer on Principles of Priesthood Government,” Ensign, Feb 1993, 7)

    Like I said, I don’t fully understand it, but I feel strongly that the role of presider is deliberate and has a purpose, now and eternally. I think when we look at these things, we have to suspend our mortal understanding and definitions and seek to understand what they mean through the Spirit.

    What I do know is that when my husband and I respect these roles…when he is truly presiding and I am fulfilling my roles as nurturer, partner, etc. then there is a peace and power in our home and things just work. There is no worry about titles or anyting, we are just united. Whenever he steps out of that mode, things get chaotic and it’s harder to be true partners. It turns into me nagging or controlling and him either letting me run the show or feeling pounced on. It’s hard to describe why I know it works and know it’s true, but I do.

    And now you can send the sexist police after me. This is not popular talk, I know. 🙂

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