Marriage and the Patriarchal Order
September 1982

“Marriage and the Patriarchal Order,” Ensign, Sept. 1982, 6

Marriage and the Patriarchal Order

These comments on the importance of the patriarchal order in marriage represent my personal views. They are expressed in the hope that they will be helpful to those who are married or who are contemplating marriage.

The patriarchal system provides a basis for government in the kingdom of God. It places parents in a position of accountability for their own direct family, and it links these family kingdoms in a patriarchal order that lends cohesiveness to the greater kingdom of God of which they are a part. The patriarchal order has no relevance in the eternal worlds except for those husbands and wives and families who have entered into the covenant of eternal marriage.

The Lord has explained, regarding those who do not make these covenants and abide by them, “For these … did not abide my law; therefore, they cannot be enlarged, but remain separately and singly, without exaltation, in their saved condition, to all eternity.” (D&C 132:17.)

We understand that all worthy Saints will eventually have the opportunity to make the covenants of eternal marriage, whether or not that privilege becomes a reality in mortal life. This tenet of our faith should not, however, be understood to mean that those who willfully procrastinate or knowingly avoid the responsibilities of celestial marriage will forever have that opportunity open to them. The Lord will not be mocked in this matter. He sets the requirements and the conditions; we do not. We are free to follow our own wills in this and other equally important matters, but we are not free to determine the ultimate consequences of these choices.

The Lord has said, “And everything that is in the world, whether it be ordained of men, by thrones, or principalities, or powers, or things of name, whatsoever they may be, that are not by me or by my word, saith the Lord, shall be thrown down, and shall not remain after men are dead, neither in nor after the resurrection, saith the Lord your God.” (D&C 132:13.)

Therefore, couples who continue to fail to meet the requirements to qualify for temple marriage, and single members who are of marriageable age and full accountability who are not actively seeking, within the limits imposed upon them by their societies, cultures, or circumstances, to enter into the covenant of eternal marriage with a worthy companion, are as unwise as if they avoided the covenants of baptism or of the priesthood. It matters not that they may have been endowed or that they regularly attend the temple and fulfill other responsibilities in the Church. All of these things are simply preparatory and preliminary to the ordinance of celestial marriage.

“In the celestial glory there are three heavens or degrees;

“And in order to obtain the highest, a man must enter into this order of the priesthood [meaning the new and everlasting covenant of marriage];

“And if he does not, he cannot obtain it.

“He may enter into the other, but that is the end of his kingdom; he cannot have an increase.” (D&C 131:1–4.)

Those who are in a position to marry but who procrastinate the responsibilities and opportunities of marriage must be willing to face the consequences of that choice. The patriarchal order places that accountability upon them.

We often associate the patriarchal order with the times of Abraham and the Old Testament patriarchs. Perhaps it is inevitable, therefore, that we think of some of the conditions of the patriarchal order as being similar to those that are described in the Old Testament record, particularly as these things relate to relationships between men and women—husbands and wives. One cannot read this record without receiving the impression that women of that time generally played a very submissive and secondary role. They are infrequently mentioned as individuals and personalities and are often not even included in the census of the people. A superficial reading of the Old Testament account can easily leave one with the feeling that women were the property of men, consigned simply to do the bidding of their husbands and masters. There was much about the culture and the customs of ancient Israel that contributed to this general impression, and occasionally we encounter men of our own time who have allowed their knowledge of those ancient customs to influence their view of the patriarchal order.

Recently I was visited in my office by a young woman at whose forthcoming temple marriage I had been invited to officiate. She was distraught and tearful and disclosed that she had some serious questions about whether she should go ahead with the marriage. As we discussed the reasons for these questions, the young prospective bride told me of a conversation she had had the previous evening with her fiancé. In a fashion uncharacteristic of their relationship, he had, at the insistence of his father, he said, laid down the law and the conditions that would have to prevail in their marriage. He was to be the unquestioned authority. His word would be law. She was to be willing to submit to his rule. It was important, he said, that she understand these conditions which would now be imposed on her by covenant in the temple ceremony.

It was interesting to me that this young man, who had won the hand and the heart of his sweetheart through a loving and gentle courtship, now was constrained to impose a strict dominion upon her. In so doing he was appealing to his misunderstanding of the patriarchal order, for there could hardly have been a greater distortion or misrepresentation of the actual conditions that must prevail within that order.

One whose view of the husband-wife relationship is based upon prevailing customs and culture of the Old Testament people is capable of creating much unhappiness for himself, his wife, and his family. To qualify his view, he should give careful consideration to the counsel of prophetic leaders who have taken pains to instruct us correctly in these matters.

I have been impressed by the counsel given by Jacob, the brother of Nephi, to his people as he met with them under commandment and direction from the Lord in the temple in the land of Nephi. I will not cite in detail from Jacob’s powerful instruction on that occasion, but I would suggest a careful reading of chapters two and three in the book of Jacob. The specifics of the instruction given by Jacob on this occasion are no less powerful than the spirit that was carried in this great sermon, particularly as this was associated with the relationship between husbands and wives. One cannot consider this sermon without sensing deeply the gentleness, compassion, and concern Jacob felt for the wives and daughters who were a part of his congregation. Nor can one easily ignore the impatience, disgust, and disappointment that Jacob reflects for the men who have abused the trust bestowed upon them in their leadership over their families.

The Apostle Paul is sometimes criticized for some of his statements regarding the status and role of women. Yet there have likely been no more significant instructions given on the true nature of the husband-wife relationship than those delivered by Paul to the Ephesian Saints:

“Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.

“For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. …

“Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it.” (Eph. 5:22–23, 25.)

Any husband who gives leadership to his wife and family on the same basis or principles as Christ demonstrated in his leadership of the Church will not go far off the mark. Love, service, and sacrifice, combined with consistently setting a proper example, are the attributes of husbands who lead in this way.

In the Lord’s system of government, every organizational unit must have a presiding officer. He has decreed that in the family organization the father assumes this role. He bears the priesthood ordination. He is accountable before the Lord for this leadership.

There is no place in the Lord’s system, however, for dictatorship. The premise for leadership in the Lord’s plan is enunciated best in D&C 121:34–46, where specific warning is given against compulsion, pride, control, unrighteous dominion, vain ambition, hypocrisy, and guile. On the other hand, emphasis is given to the need for persuasion, long-suffering, gentleness, meekness, love unfeigned, kindness, pure knowledge, faithfulness, charity, and virtue.

In a relationship where these elements are present, the wife acts as a loving, knowledgeable counselor, helpmate, and partner. A wide range of individual responsibilities must be carried by the leaders and by good counselors in every successful organization, including the family organization. These responsibilities should be agreed upon and then honored as a sacred trust. The particulars may vary in each marriage unit by agreement of the husband and wife, but the ultimate responsibility for leadership cannot be successfully delegated.

There are distinctive roles for both husbands and wives in the marriage relationship. There is also a combined or common role for them to fill. The Savior acknowledged this when on one occasion the Pharisees asked him whether it was lawful for a man to put away his wife. I presume they had reference to divorce. In his response to the Pharisees, the Savior pointed to both the separate and individual roles of the husband and wife, and to the combined responsibility they must share as one. He said:

“Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, [The allusion to distinctions is obvious.]

“… For this cause [for the cause of forming a new marriage relationship] shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh?

“Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh.” (Matt. 19:4–6.)

It is worth pondering that in some significant ways husband and wife are to be “no more twain,” even though they are also male and female and, therefore, different in many of the attributes each can bring to bear in the common cause of marriage and family. Latter-day Saints explain the Savior’s declaration that he and the Father are “one” by maintaining that they are one in, among other ways, purpose, feeling, and objectives. Their “oneness” does not imply that they are one personage, although many of the denominations of our day profess such a belief. There exists with the Father and the Son such a unity of understanding, commitment, and effort that they can actually be considered as being in complete oneness and harmony in all of these things.

It seems to me that the Savior’s response to the Pharisees was intended to attach this same kind of oneness to the marriage relationship. In terms of the purpose and direction of the family’s achievements, the acquisition or expenditure of the family’s resources, the “where are we going and how do we get there” kinds of considerations, there must be a unity of understanding and a unified course of action. To achieve this kind of unity there must be some degree of involvement and investment of interest and effort from both of the marriage partners. Unity cannot be successfully achieved when one of the partners is totally passive. An abdication of concern or interest by one in order to avoid conflict or competition with the other is not the answer. It must be unity with understanding, so that a spirit of teamwork and mutual support can develop.

This kind of combined effort should be employed in planning family budgets, in major purchases of household goods and equipment, and in the investment of family resources. Agreement should be reached prayerfully and after careful discussion and review of the alternatives. The same process should apply in disciplining children and planning family schedules and major family activities. Husbands and wives who will follow this course will find them “no more twain, but one flesh.”

The maleness and femaleness of the husband and wife make it possible for each of the partners to make distinctive contributions to the success and happiness of the marriage and the family.

I cannot think of a better pattern for the decision-making process in the family than that which is followed in the presiding councils of the Church. In these circles, when a matter of importance surfaces for consideration, it is often necessary for considerable staff work or committee work to be done to research past decisions and to review all of the circumstances and facts that may have a bearing upon final decisions. When reports have been made regarding these details, then is the time for careful and prayerful consideration and discussion. When all has been considered and every point of view heard, it is the responsibility of the leader to propose or place before the council a recommended decision. Once this decision is reached, it becomes the consensus and position of every member of the council regardless of what private views may have been held prior to the decision. It is only in this way that harmony and order can prevail.

In the process of fact-finding and review prior to the decision-making, it is the duty and responsibility of every member of the council to make his views and feelings known. If he has information that may affect the decision, he is duty-bound to present the information before the council. If there are avenues of investigation open to him, he is obligated to pursue them in order to be as helpful as possible in the decision-making process. If he fails to do this, he is acting unaccountably and is shirking his responsibility. If he has strong feelings about the outcome, he must do all in his power to persuade others to his point of view.

When a decision is reached, however, he has a solemn obligation to honor that decision as though it were his own, knowing that his views have been fully heard and considered. It would be destructive to unity and harmony and totally unacceptable for him to continue to lobby or complain or solicit support for his personal position once the decision is made.

It seems to me that this same principle can operate well in the leadership of a family. The husband must assume the role of leadership and see his wife as a knowledgeable counselor and partner in decision-making.

In every important matter, both have the duty and responsibility to contribute information and insight, and to express their feelings. If a decision is difficult, or if complete accord has not been reached, the couple may decide to delay a decision while more study or prayer is devoted to the decision. If, ultimately, a husband must propose a course of action in the absence of complete agreement, he must sense the great responsibility in taking this role and should do so with great care. It should never be done precipitously, whimsically, or egotistically, but always thoughtfully and with the welfare of those involved uppermost in mind. The powers of inspiration can more easily and readily be brought to bear in this way.

When a decision is reached in any matter, the two marriage partners must be as one in pursuing the objective, whatever it may be. A wise couple will learn to sustain and support each other in their proper roles in leadership and partnership. There will never be lobbying with family or friends for support against a decision made in the proper way. To do so would be to invite contention and competition which will surely be destructive to the happiness and harmony of the marriage.

President Stephen L Richards made some significant observations regarding the distinctive role of husbands and wives in a general conference talk in April 1958. He said with regard to the man’s position:

“To all who believe that order is the law of heaven and that the kingdom of God is established on the principles of righteousness, I submit these questions: Can order be maintained without acceptance of law and without discipline? Is discipline possible without recognition of authority? In human institutions and the government of men is it not essential that authority be vested in personalities? Where is the personality more perfectly endowed by nature and divine ordinance to receive and exercise authority in his own household than the father of that household.”

Regarding the wife’s obligations, President Richards said the following:

“We have many brilliant women. I have admiration for their superior accomplishments. They are continually becoming more influential in all aspects of life and living, and I have no doubt but that their contributions will be of lasting value. If any of these brilliant women is a mother, I give it as my firm belief that however potent she may be in matters extraneous to the home, she has no higher, loftier, and more divinely given calling and obligation than to be the right kind of wife and mother in her home. And however superior her attainments may be, she owes a duty to her husband, to respect him as head of the family and adequately teach her children to do likewise.” (In Conference Report, Apr. 1958, pp. 97, 95.)

In instructing the presiding quorums of the Church in the decision-making process, the Lord revealed the following principles which may find application also in marriage and the family:

“And every decision made by either of these quorums must be by the unanimous voice of the same; that is, every member in each quorum must be agreed to its decisions, in order to make their decisions of the same power or validity one with the other—

“A majority may form a quorum when circumstances render it impossible to be otherwise—

“Unless this is the case, their decisions are not entitled to the same blessings which the decisions of a quorum of three presidents were anciently, who were ordained after the order of Melchizedek, and were righteous and holy men.

“The decisions of these quorums, or either of them, are to be made in all righteousness, in holiness, and lowliness of heart, meekness and long suffering, and in faith, and virtue, and knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness and charity.” (D&C 107:27–30.)

As indicated earlier, by mutual acceptance of the husband and wife, specific areas of responsibility may be agreed upon and managed. Within these areas, each may be required to make many incidental daily decisions without pursuing the processes described above.

I learned a vital lesson on one occasion as a young and inexperienced bishop that may have a bearing on this idea of cooperation and unity in marriage. We were involved in raising funds and making plans for a new ward chapel. The time came when it was necessary to acquire some property on which the new building could be erected. Having no firm feelings of my own about where the chapel should be built in our small community, I determined to lay the matter before the priesthood holders in the ward. One Sunday morning in a ward priesthood meeting I invited all of the priesthood brethren to give thought to this matter and then to give me their recommendations.

I was a little surprised at the enthusiasm with which this matter was discussed among the ward members. Enthusiasm soon began to grow into feelings of strong bias and conviction. I was deluged with the recommendations I had solicited. Each ward member seemed to have his own favorite site and strong sentiments as to why his choice was the right one. Within a week, as the ward members shared with each other their personal preferences, there began to emerge a spirit of disagreement, and, in some instances, even contention.

Seeing this development, I called my counselors together, and in earnest prayer we sought the inspiration of the Lord with regard to the proper place for our new chapel. When we had agreed upon the tract, I then met with the members of the ward and asked if they would sustain the decision of their ward leaders in the site selection. The sustaining vote was given, and the momentary furor subsided. I had learned an important lesson in leadership: sometimes too much discussion on an issue that is potentially controversial does not contribute to a good solution.

Sometimes the leadership role can be awesome and lonely. It is not always a position to be envied. It requires the steady and knowledgeable support of those who come within the influence of that leadership.

The patriarchal principle in marriage provides for order and a basis for government in the kingdom of God. It places parents, With the father in the leadership role, in a position of accountability for their own direct family kingdom. It is a system of great simplicity and perfect effectiveness. It requires willing compliance with every principle of righteousness. It provides the greatest possible opportunity for individual development within an environment of love and mutual helpfulness, and the ideal framework within which to exercise personal accountability. We understand that exaltation can be achieved in no other state.

As a system of government, the patriarchal order provides for a maximum of opportunity with a minimum of structure and regulation. At its base is the freedom of every individual to act by his own incentive in accordance with correct principles, always with the well-being of others in consideration. Husbands and wives who wish to prepare for an eternal existence in such a system will do their utmost to create homes and families where the principles of the patriarchal order can be observed.

As another comment on marriage and the patriarchal system, let me go back briefly to something the Savior said about marriage in his response to the Pharisees, to which we have alluded earlier. (See Matt. 19:1–5.) He said that when marriage occurs, a man must leave his father and mother and cleave unto his wife. Obviously the wife leaves her father and mother as well. This leaving parents to become “one flesh” is an important principle. It points to the necessity of independence from unwise and unnecessary intervention and involvement of parents and other family members.

I believe we have numerous marriages occurring in the Church today in which this principle is ignored or violated. While the patriarchal system of government requires close extended-family ties, it does not override the necessity for independence and individuality within each family unit. Parents are sometimes guilty of violating this principle by insisting on remaining too much involved in the detailed affairs of their married sons and daughters. They foster a dependency, both materially and emotionally, by this kind of intervention and involvement. It may occur as a result of the parents’ desiring to subsidize a life-style that the new marriage partners cannot yet sustain by their own resources. It may simply result from a reluctance on the part of parents to break off the close emotional ties that have developed over the childhood and growing-up years—a refusal to acknowledge that their son or daughter is now at a point in life where mature independence is absolutely essential. Sometimes these lingering dependencies result from a misunderstanding of the nature of the patriarchal system. Whatever the reasons may be, these too-close, too-involved relationships can be debilitating and destructive to the prospects for a happy, successful marriage.

Some newly married couples refuse to assert the independence and separateness that marriage requires of them. They insist on turning to their parents or other family members when any need arises. They habitually make babysitters of grandmothers and grandfathers. If financial stress occurs, it is easier to ask for a gift or a loan from family members than to tighten belts and assert self-reliance.

Whenever or however the principle of “leaving father and mother” is violated, opportunities for growth and the development of marital strength are sacrificed.

I must add here that I am not suggesting that married sons and daughters should never seek for counsel or advice from parents. Obviously there is no better source for this kind of guidance within the patriarchal system. But there is a considerable difference between the seeking and giving of this kind of counsel, and the detailed, intimate involvement of parents in every aspect of the younger married couple’s affairs. Some of the sacredness of the marriage relationship is marred when disclosure is made to outside parties regarding personal and private matters that should be kept between the husband and wife and shared, at times, prayerfully with the Lord.

When legitimate emergencies occur, it is in proper order for financial and material assistance to be given by parents and other family members. This kind of assistance under unusual circumstances should not be confused with the inclination to subsidize or be subsidized in nonessential things. In my personal view, there is a violation of the true principles of the patriarchal system when this kind of unearned dole is given. It inevitably results in a weakening of the accountability and self-reliance of the recipients and robs them of the kind of independence required within the system in order to prepare one for the responsibilities of a celestial life.

I commented earlier upon the fact that the patriarchal order will have no enduring relevance for those who do not qualify for an eternal marriage relationship. This is one of the important reasons for young people to exercise great care in the selection of marriage companions.

The Apostle Paul warned about becoming “unequally yoked together with unbelievers.” (2 Cor. 6:14.) The best and most effective time to be concerned about conflicts over the basic principles that bring happiness to marriage is before the decision to enter into marriage is made. Some of the greatest tragedies occur because of decisions made largely on whimsical, emotional impulses. Every successful marriage requires much selfless effort and adjustment on the part of both partners. The more ideals and fundamental purposes in life that are held in common by the husband and wife, the more likelihood of success in their marriage. When differences exist, they can become a source of constant or recurring stress and contention.

Under these circumstances the importance of patience and adaptability is heightened. The wholesome qualities, interests, and attributes that are valued by both husband and wife should become a center of focus and be reinforced. Husbands and wives should concentrate on the points of acceptable agreement and avoid, as much as possible, those areas that incite disagreement and contention. This may mean staying away from haranguing discussions or arguments over points of doctrinal belief or over areas of personal conduct that cause friction. If a genuine love and respect for one another can be fostered in those areas of the relationship where harmony and understanding are easily achieved, then a foundation is laid upon which one can base some hope for eventual agreement and cooperation in the areas of present conflict.

I am not suggesting that this kind of adaptability should lead either of the partners to compromise on ideals and commitments that are essential to self-respect and a loyalty to true principles. I know of no enduring benefit that has come from this kind of compromise. I am speaking primarily of focusing energy and attention upon the things that do not require such compromise, but that bring mutual satisfaction and a wholesome respect for each other.

The most important thing is to avoid judgment, contention, and criticism. These are destructive to harmony and peace. To do so may require great forbearance and patience, but there are many instances where such patience and forbearance have been rewarded with eventual transformations of belief and performance on the part of the nonconforming partner. In any case, every husband and wife is under the absolute necessity of exhausting every possibility for bringing about success and happiness in marriage. Setting arbitrary deadlines and threatening to dissolve the relationship are of little benefit.

I am convinced that there is something so absolutely sacred in the eyes of the Lord about the marriage covenant that he expects us to devote every energy and resource in our power to make our marriages endure. For those who do, even in the face of great challenges and difficulties, I am certain there will be ultimate blessings realized that are beyond our present comprehension.

Photography by Jon T. Lockwood