The Rise of Righteous Rulers: An Open Letter to Men
I’ve been working on this particular article for months, maybe close to a year. I can keep tweaking this over and over or I can just share what I’ve got thus far, so that’s what I’m doing.
Because I am a man, I’m writing this from the perspective of a man particularly to the men out there. I’m writing this to me, to the men in my family, my friends, perfect strangers and especially to the men that will dare to go near my daughters one day (sorry, that’s just the papa bear speaking). I’m writing this to hold myself accountable for the things I understand and hope that the information might help improve a relationship out there somewhere.
It is up to you to take what is useful and cast aside what isn’t.
I’ve been surrounded by females my entire life. I have three little sisters (no brothers) and am a father of four daughters (no sons) and my wife has four sisters. (and one brother, whew!) My life has been heavily influenced by females and so understanding the dynamics of men and women in life and in the gospel has always been an interesting topic to me personally.
I am repulsed at the thought or the sight of any man, including myself, oppressing my mother, wife, sisters or daughters through selfishness or “unrighteous dominion.” (D&C 121:39) More and more we see domestic violence, divorce, depression and an absence of the oneness God seems to intend. I’ve seen the criticisms of policies and doctrines of the LDS Church that some argue place men above women. It’s an understatement to say that this is a complex issue with many facets and it is not my intention to address all of them at the moment.
My attempt is to provide a perspective or paradigm that personally helps me navigate some these tricky waters and actively apply proper principles in my own life.
The basis of this article centers on 6 principles from the teachings of King Benjamin (Mosiah chapter 2) that I believe can help us better understand how a righteous husband should treat his family. But first, it is going to be necessary to examine the core relationship between husband and wife as taught in the scriptures and attempt to demystify some things.
“He shall rule over thee”
In the beginning, we are told that Adam was created first, and Eve was created second. Later, in a chiastic reversal, Eve partakes of the fruit first followed by Adam second. Adam and Eve each had unique, but complementary roles to play in the initiation of the fall. I believe that this foreshadowed unique, but complementary roles in mankind’s redemption from the fall.
God introduced a particular order in the relationship and responsibilities between Adam and Eve in their fallen state.
Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children, and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.
And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; (Genesis 3:16-17)
First of all, God said that men and women would each need to endure sorrow of a particular nature, the women through birth and men “in the sweat of [their] face” (Genesis 3:19). The Webster’s 1828 Dictionary defines sorrow as:
SOR’ROW, noun The uneasiness or pain of mind which is produced by the loss of any good. or of frustrated hopes of good, or expected loss of happiness; to grieve; to be sad.
Out of Eden, a new, more difficult path lay ahead, and God gave them instructions particular to their gender. Eve must now bear children and Adam must now work for the survival of his family. These distinct roles ensured the perpetuation and survival of God’s posterity in mortality.
Please note that I am not proposing that being a woman is all about having babies and that being a man is all about working. (Although some might think that this is the case) Due to physical limitations, not every woman can have children and not every man is capable of working. I do believe that we still have this pattern or archetype in the Adam and Eve story that says something about what God desires for us.
After the fall, God observes whether or not men and women would follow his established order righteously as did all other intelligences in the first 5 states of creation (Abraham 4:9-12,18,21,24,25,31). Maybe man and woman would work together and obey God’s order, or maybe they would seek to avoid the imposed “sorrow” altogether by building their own towers to heaven.
In this relationship, God said that Adam was to “rule over” Eve.
The very idea of women being “ruled over” by men is an anachronism in today’s ‘progressive’ world. This also seems to be a contradiction; how can two become one, when one is “ruling over” the other? Isn’t that inequality and the opposite of oneness?
The apostle Paul taught the same doctrine as we find in Genesis but adds some very important clarity.
Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything.
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, because we are members of His body. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and shall be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church. Nevertheless, each individual among you also is to love his own wife even as himself, and the wife must see to it that she respects her husband. (Ephesians 5:23-33, NASB)
Paul teaches that wives should be subject to their husbands and that the husband is the head of the wife. I don’t see these verses quoted very often in public or even in church for that matter! However, lest the man think this is a license to unrighteously dominate his wife, Paul gives context to the doctrine by comparing the relationship between Christ and his church.
Paul does not use Herod or Caesar as the model for us to emulate, he uses Jesus Christ. I do not have any problem at all being subject to Jesus Christ and having him rule over me because I think he would have my best interests in mind and actually serve to improve my condition rather than oppress me.
But we men are not Jesus and many of us are far, far from it!
How does a woman process this when instead of emulating Jesus, we men resemble the “men” we see on TV, in the movies and in popular culture. We may not be intentionally seeking to emulate bad examples, but what do our actions prove? Are we hypocrites that put on a kind demeanor to all around us at church, at work and even to strangers and then become rude, impatient and even violent within the sacred walls of our own homes?
James E. Talmage, once wrote some very interesting things about the mortal state and ultimate destiny of women:
“In the restored Church of Jesus Christ the Holy Priesthood is conferred, as an individual bestowal, upon men only, and this in accordance with Divine requirement. It is not given to woman to exercise the authority of the Priesthood independently; nevertheless, in the sacred endowments associated with the ordinances pertaining to the House of the Lord, woman shares with man the blessings of the Priesthood. When the frailities and imperfections of mortality are left behind, in the glorified state of the blessed hereafter, husband and wife will administer in their respective stations, seeing and understanding alike, and cooperating to the full in the government of their family kingdom.
Then shall woman be recompensed in rich measure for all the injustice that womanhood has endured in mortality. Then shall woman reign by Divine right, a queen in the resplendent realm of her glorified state, even as exalted man shall stand, priest and king unto the Most High God. Mortal eye cannot see nor mind comprehend the beauty, glory, and majesty of the righteous woman made perfect in the celestial kingdom of God.” (“The Eternity of Sex”, Young Woman’s Journal, Oct. 1914: 602-3 page 138)
Talmage seems to indicate that this world does indeed hold a measure of injustice for womanhood. It appears, however, that this is all part of the plan and that this is part of what is necessary to achieve something much higher. The gender roles in the Church and family are part of the order that God has given us and he is observing how we respond. I’m not saying that we’ve got it all quite right as of yet, and perhaps many places we have it wrong, but that doesn’t mean we cast aside these roles altogether. Our purpose is to properly align to them, realizing that they serve to contribute to our mortal experience, to see what we will do with what we have been given.
The Proclamation on the Family states:
“Husbands and wives—mothers and fathers—will be held accountable before God for the discharge of these obligations…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. 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.“
Unrighteous dominion has no place in the family or in the Kingdom of God and is expressly condemned by the Lord:
We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion. Hence many are called, but few are chosen. 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 121:39-42)
Initially, I’m nauseated by the idea men being put over women to “rule over” them because it makes me think of the abusive relationships (physically or verbally) we all rightly condemn in today’s world. Is this what God means? It can’t be what he intends because the scriptures teach something different. When I think of the word “ruler” I think of monarchy, oppression, tyranny, etc., but what does God mean by “ruler?”
I’m going to attempt to return to the word “ruler” in the context of husband and wife and perhaps restore it to a more noble and necessary station.
What if we were able to observe a righteous ruler in action? The following 6 principles help illustrate the principles that govern the attitudes and behavior of a righteousness ruler. Force is not the way, only persuasion and the way of peace and love outlined by the Lord. While Christ is a perfect example for us to follow, God has given us another fine example of a righteous ruler: King Benjamin.
The 6 principles of righteous ruling from King Benjamin’s example
There are six principles, among many others, illustrated by King Benjamin’s example that can help fathers and husbands better understand what it means to be a righteous ruler. If all fathers and husbands followed these principles, I’m sure we would see greater peace, equality and understanding in our homes and in society. The following 6 principles are drawn from Mosiah chapter 2 in the Book of Mormon and are only a small sampling of what we can learn from him.
Principle 1: God is at the center
And it came to pass that…the people gathered themselves together throughout all the land, that they might go up to the temple to hear the words which king Benjamin should speak unto them. (Mosiah 2:1)
King Benjamin gathered his people to the temple, the House of the Lord, to bless them spiritually by teaching them and explaining clearly his relationship to them as their ruler. He explained that his purpose was to lift and exalt those he served instead of placing himself above them. He pointed the way to God and made sure that this was clear by bringing them to the “house” that symbolized his presence among them.
King Benjamin was a great man who took his divinely appointed role seriously and put the needs of his people and the work of the Lord above his own. Today, we can put God, who is love, at the center of our families by applying those things that result in peace, harmony and goodness. Temple principles are perhaps one of the most appropriate ways to do this. By remembering temple covenants and the meanings contained in the temple garments we wear, we can champion truth.
Contention is of the devil (3 Nephi 11:29) and when it appears, we can consciously choose to be peacemakers instead of stoking the flames.
Principle 2: A ruler is a servant and not one to be feared
I have not commanded you to come up hither that ye should fear me, or that ye should think that I of myself am more than a mortal man. But I am like as yourselves, subject to all manner of infirmities in body and mind; yet I have been chosen by this people, and consecrated by my father, and was suffered by the hand of the Lord that I should be a ruler and a king over this people; and have been kept and preserved by his matchless power, to serve you with all the might, mind and strength which the Lord hath granted unto me. (Mosiah 2:10-11)
Do we get things done using threats and fear or by persuasion and patience? What if we want something done right now? It’s important! It needs to get done and nobody is listening!
The easiest thing to do is raise your voice, make a few threats, and drill that evil eye into every soul to get the job done. Sure, it is necessary to keep the house clean and to get the chores done, but at what cost? How can we justify trampling the tender feelings of our wife and children to satisfy what we think is most important?
Are dishes, messy rooms, and homework as important as creating a world? Note that in the creation, God and his servants “watched those things which they had ordered until they obeyed” (Abraham 4:18). Yes, there are occasions where time is limited and correct action is critical, but perhaps we can discover better ways to handle these moments without damaging souls.
We are also mortal men, full of flaws and the same tendencies to disobey and fall short of the expectations of God. Extend the same compassion and patience that God has with us to those God has given us stewardship over to love and serve.
Principle 3: Work to ease the burdens of others
I say unto you that as I have been suffered to spend my days in your service, even up to this time, and have not sought gold nor silver nor any manner of riches of you; Neither have I suffered that ye should be confined in dungeons, nor that ye should make slaves one of another,… And even I, myself, have labored with mine own hands that I might serve you, and that ye should not be laden with taxes, and that there should nothing come upon you which was grievous to be borne—and of all these things which I have spoken, ye yourselves are witnesses this day. (Mosiah 2:12-14)
Our wife and children are not our servants, we are their servant and as such ought to labor to ease their burdens instead of sitting on the throne of our couches issuing decrees like a tyrant. King Benjamin worked with his own hands in his kingdom so that others didn’t have to extend their labor or money to support him and his lifestyle.
It is easy to grow complacent when our wives takes the lead in handling so many of the affairs of the home. King Benjamin could have grown just as complacent, he was the king after all, few people would have questioned him if he demanded a few taxes and built himself a nice palace. Yet he did not seek gold, silver, riches, prisoners, slaves or taxes, he worked so that nobody else had to be burdened.
We come home from work, and are tired because we have been working all day, but so have our wives, perhaps even more so. Why not lead by example, work together and invite the children to help until all the work is done and then we can rest together as a family.
Think of how these principles apply in marital intimacy. Are our most intimate moments together as husband and wife made up of one-sided selfish acts or a true union and contribution to oneness? These principles apply on every level of our lives.
Principle 4: Do not boast or accuse
Yet, my brethren, I have not done these things that I might boast, neither do I tell these things that thereby I might accuse you; but I tell you these things that ye may know that I can answer a clear conscience before God this day. Behold, I say unto you that because I said unto you that I had spent my days in your service, I do not desire to boast, for I have only been in the service of God. And behold, I tell you these things that ye may learn wisdom; that ye may learn that when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God. Behold, ye have called me your king; and if I, whom ye call your king, do labor to serve you, then ought not ye to labor to serve one another? (Mosiah 2:15-18)
King Benjamin could have easily pointed out all that he did for his people to make himself look mighty in their eyes. He could have accused them for falling below the example that he provided for them, but he didn’t do any of that. He didn’t say, “I’ve been hard at work all day long, what have you been doing?” King Benjamin didn’t seek to verbally place himself above others.
He had nothing to boast of because he had only been in the service of God. He pointed out his example to illustrate the principle of service so that his people might be inspired to serve one another. He wanted to show that you can still serve no matter how busy or massive your responsibilities are.
Principle 5: All thanks goes to God
And behold also, if I, whom ye call your king, who has spent his days in your service, and yet has been in the service of God, do merit any thanks from you, O how you ought to thank your heavenly King! (Mosiah 2:19)
King Benjamin told his people that if he merited any thanks at all, then how much greater they ought to thank their heavenly King (or Father). Though King Benjamin was the instrument, he credited God as the one who kept and preserved them and granted them that they should live in peace.
Principle 6: I am no greater than you
And I, even I, whom ye call your king, am no better than ye yourselves are; for I am also of the dust. (Mosiah 2:26)
The King, the father or the patriarch is no greater than those he serves, he is made of the same dust that all belongs to God. When a father as a righteous ruler understands that he is no greater than those he serves, he follows the pattern of the Master, Jesus Christ.
The Greatest of all
This painting by Arnold Friberg depicts the wicked King Noah, an archetype of unrighteous dominion.
He is slothful, selfish and even surrounds himself with beasts to evoke fear and dread. He’s the big boss, the man in charge, and the one to be served. His cup of spilled wine and other objects lay upon the floor for some servant to pick up later. Today, presidents, prime ministers, kings, queens and other leaders evoke an almost worshipful instinct in those who dwell within their borders.
Is this what God would have us emulate in our families and in our Church callings?
Look at the painting below and identify the righteous ruler; is it the man sitting in the chair having his feet washed or the man on his knees with rolled up sleeves doing the washing? Who should we be patterning our behaviors after? We need more husbands and fathers who are righteous “rulers” like Christ and King Benjamin and less “tyrants” like King Noah.
Who can see God’s order as unjust or unequal when it is practiced according to proper principles and built upon solid doctrine? How could any woman feel like a second-class citizen when the men in her life serve her like Christ served his church? Men, we can do this, we can be better, we can do better, we can begin with small things. We can know the Savior better as we serve others in the ways that he did. It isn’t enough to just preside, provide and protect, with our mights and strength, but to nurture and serve with our minds and hearts.
God’s order is not in error, the lens of our understanding is caked with the grime of mortal traditions and paradigms. The answers are in properly understanding and living God’s order. I believe that putting these principles into practice will cause husbands, wives and their families to rejoice in true oneness. I have noticed the change as I have sought to implement these principles into my life and family.
I believe that these things are essential to peace and harmony in family life and help to reconcile modern understanding with ancient wisdom. I realize that there is much more that I have not covered such as the dynamics of men and women in church leadership, etc. But I do think that these foundational principles are a start and lay a good foundation for approaching some of these other topics.
By understanding the roles of men and women that God has given to us in mortality, I think we can improve policies, practices, language and understanding. The world and the Church are constantly changing, diverging and uniting, but we can create our own Zions within the walls of our own homes. We can be the change that we wish to see in the world (Gandhi) and even in the church.
As men, we will feel better about ourselves, we will be happier and so will all of those around us. The love and respect that we feel that we need comes as we earn it by being one worthy of love and respect. We can begin today, right now; we can humble ourselves to the dust and then arise from it with a new and fresh determination to do and be better.
“arise from the dust … and be men, and be determined in one mind and in one heart, united in all things … Awake … put on the armor of righteousness. Shake off the chains with which ye are bound, and come forth out of obscurity, and arise from the dust.” (2 Nephi 1:21-23)
What do you think?
- What other examples has God given us of righteous rulers?
- What other principles from King Benjamin would help us be better men?
- What are you going to do differently today based on what you have learned?