Yes, President: On ecclesiastical titles

Titles in the Church have often bothered me, and probably not for very good reasons.  A somewhat recent link in the BCC sidebar noted, according to Judith Dushku, Governor Romney’s preference for being called by his ecclesiastical titles.  Reading this made me uncomfortable, and not because I do not use ecclesiastical titles.  It just feels unseemly.  I remember hearing a Bishop being told that one of the reasons he might be struggling to motivate people in the Ward is because he did not refer to himself enough by his official title and that he should request this from other members.  Similarly I know of Stake Presidents who insist on using proper titles, even referring to the deacon’s quorum president as President X.  All this strikes me as peculiar or did until I recently re-watched The West Wing.  Specifically, this TV show prompted me to question the extent to which the status of Bishop is governed by a different set of dialogic parameters than other types of conversation?

President Josiah Bartlet is a commanding figure in the show.  In one episode a priest visits the President, and this minister, who has known ‘Jed’ as his local padre, asks whether he would prefer to be called by his official title. President Bartlet requests that he use his title.  Again and again this title is used, not as a sign of divine power but as a symbol of a particular relationship that is currently enforce.  This is a relationship that these parties have agreed to participate in; a feature which is somewhat similar to our local wards.

This shift in parameters is often signified by a specific series of cues, including: space (often an office or a private environment), special clothing (suit and tie) and props (such as scriptures).  Titles also serve as one of these cues.  They are a linguistic reminder that the current conversation is governed by a different set of assumptions.  Yet, within Mormonism it is not always clear what those parameters are, especially because each leader understands those parameters differently.  It is often difficult to avoid the fact that those parameters imply some sort of inequality, precisely because we do not use the generic brother or sister.  This inequality can be uncomfortable because it seems like (and can become) unrighteous dominion.  My experience suggests that claims regarding unrighteous dominion often involve conflict over the set of parameters that govern these dialogues.  For example, I suspect that using the title of Bishop in order to get people to do things is inappropriate but others clearly do not.

Yet, despite these differences, this title does in actuality enact a particular relationship.  As such I want to outline what I believe are the two parameters that most Mormons bring to these encounters, although there is certainly some nuance regarding how we experience and interpret them.  When speaking to an ecclesiastical leader, many members of the Church will assume that the conversation could involve divine guidance.  Often, it is believed that this person (i.e. the Bishop), in this role – and therefore in this specific conversation – is capable of engaging in a form of revelatory dialogue that would not be possible if the same person were in a different role.  As such, the words of the Bishop are often considered to reflect (a greater measure of) God’s will because of this assumption and in this context the relationship between the speaker and the listener shifts.  What is at stake here, at least for some, is that rejecting titles is also a way of rejecting the parameters that are embedded in this form of dialogue.  Refusing these titles is also refusing the possibility of revelation in this dialogue.  Hence, resistance is to be expected when someone articulates a different set of parameters and why some leaders will feel strongly (and often in misdirected ways) about insisting on these titles.

An additional parameter is confidentiality.  To my mind, more than anything else, it this that shapes much of what is distinct about these types of dialogue .  Conversations with the Bishop should be governed by certain forms of trust that make them unique and also, in my view, potentially revelatory.  In one sense it is a similar dynamic to that discussed by Brad in his recent post on self-deception and prayer.  This title signifies a form of trust and confidentiality between those persons involved in a dialogue that is different from everyday conversation.  More than anything else, I believe that titles, particularly in certain settings, can serve to open up new modes of conversation that might not ordinarily be possible and with that experience God’s influence in ways that might have previously eluded us.

It is still a little strange to refer to the Deacons Quorum President as President X, but I have come to sense something about the work that these titles do in a Ward; and it is not just about dominion but it is also about trust.

Comments

  1. I have no problem with calling a bishop “bishop,” but I think that at lower levels in the ward (EQ, for example) such titles put an unnecessary distance between the leader of the organization and the other members. I wonder if that’s why Joseph Smith was often called “Brother Joseph.”

  2. When I refer to my bishop by his title (now that the bishop is no longer my husband!), it serves to remind me that I sustain him as my local priesthood leader. It shows my respect for the office. I don’t have a problem with this at all; in fact, it seems like a gift to me, an outward action to reinforce an inner conviction.

  3. i’ve generally rejected the significance of symbols and titles, so I really don’t care of one’s position within this or that. But I call my bishop “Bishop ___” when I talk to him. Just a sign of respect within the culture. If I meet Barack Obama, I’ll call him President Obama, or Mr. Obama (both seem a sign of respect for the office and the man). I’m not going to call someone in the “lower” callings President this or that because that feeds this weird fetish for submitting to authority that I don’t care for anymore. Sister and Brother so and so work just fine, are respectful, and put me on equal par with my peers within the church.

  4. I always found it interesting, watching old episodes of “24” how often “Mr. President,” or, addressing the president by his title was brought up until a second viewing. I forgot about that episode of The West Wing, so I’ll have to take another gander at it.

    I think titles can be interesting. On one hand, they can be empowering to those that might need an extra “something” to fully accept the weight of their responsibility. I love hearing a RS President referred to as “President Smith,” in public occasions (for example, ward council), simply because it levels the playing field and allows everyone to know that this person is in charge of their “flock.” For working with the youth, I’ve found that my boys take their calling as the president of their quorum a bit more seriously if I refer to them by their title publicly in front of their quorum members. I don’t think anyone is arguing the fact that the titles can be empowering.

    However, titles do a couple of negative things. First, I think they can become too stiff and formal. It can be uncomfortable. When I was an EQP in college, I hated people referring to me as “President brandt” outside of formal meetings because it felt very…well…uninviting. Secondly, how many stories have we heard about people going rogue, and thinking that the title they have is an excuse for allowing unacceptable behavior.

    On a side note, I actually had a bishop in college at BYU-Idaho who not only tried to use his ecclesiastical calling, but his profession as a religion instructor in meetings with him. He was talking to us about having kids, and he said “And if you think that by coming to my ward you won’t feel pressure to have children, you are mistaken. As a religion instructor, I’m going to pressure you to have kids. You’ve made covenants…”

    Yeah, after he said that, we were out of there. Perhaps the student ward wasn’t as bad as we thought.

  5. It is good that there are TV shows available that can help people consider in ways they hadn’t before that there is more to the relationship between the bishop and his ward than just dominion.

  6. When we were little, there was a hierarchy of attention-getting appellations for my dad. We’d start with “daddy,” then try “Richard,” and if he still didn’t look up from what he was doing we’d call him “Bishop.” It worked every time.

    One night when he was putting on his tie to go to meetings at church, my little brother asked “dad, where are you going?” My dad responded that he was going to church, and lb said “oh. Goodbye, bishop.”

    Which is cute and a little sad and a roundabout way of saying that I like your post, Aaron. I think there’s a dynamic at work that’s complicated and potentially dangerous, but which, at its best, enacts some of the best things about our community.

    Also, I sort of love the way “bishop” becomes a term of endearment after the bishop is released–I think that points to the multiple valences of the signal of the title. It’s not merely a recognition of the power relationship; there can be a certain tenderness in it, too.

  7. Tim, why might that distance be important as we move up the hierarchy? That sense of distance is one of the reasons I have resisted titles, I want my leaders to be close to me and I want to be close to those whom I have been called to serve.

    Angie, I’m glad that you have not struggled with this. It is difficult for me to understand why I have struggled but it has taken me three years to work through this. What’s sad is that it is so obvious to me now.

    Daniel, I think I need you to elaborate: if you use titles as a sign of respect then it would seem you have not wholly rejected the symbolic value of titles? I have clearly misunderstood something.

    brandt, your right to suggest that there are a variety of other tensions in how we use titles. That formality is very important in some instances and it is only that, I suspect, that allows people to get through the difficult conversations.

    Kristine, the original post was longer and included some more caveats drawing out that tension you mention. I agree that there are some very real problems with how titles function in the Church; I’m just glad that I have begun to see some of the good that they can potentially do as well. It has taken me too long I think. Thank you for sharing those experiences about your family; I was never in a family with prominent Priesthood leaders and so I did not have to deal with those same issues.

  8. Aaron,

    I said I generally reject symbols and titles, not wholly. I think that’s where you might have misunderstood.

  9. Our ward has a good dichotomy; in formal or public settings, everyone gets called by their titles, Bishop, President, Brother, Sister. On the Ultimate Frisbee field, or dinner together or similar things, the Bishop is just Chris.

  10. “Also, I sort of love the way “bishop” becomes a term of endearment after the bishop is released–I think that points to the multiple valences of the signal of the title. It’s not merely a recognition of the power relationship; there can be a certain tenderness in it, too.”

    Is this practice anything more than endearment? I’d be interested to know if anyone has ever been instructed to always call a former bishop by the title “Bishop,” or if anyone knows how the practice originated. I feel kind of rebellious for calling a former bishop in my ward “Brother” when it seems to me that everyone else calls him “Bishop.” He was never my bishop, and I have never had any revelatory or confidential dialogue with him. It feels weird for me to call him “Bishop.” Also, it seems to me that having multiple “Bishops” in a ward might lead to confusion. Am I breaking some unwritten code of Mormon conduct?

  11. As a relatively new bishop, I have had a hard time accepting the title, especially with friends whom I have known for a long time. I have also been uncomfortable in many cases introducing myself as bishop, becuase of the separation that it implies. I apreciate this post, because it gives me a couple good reasons to accept and use the title. The possibilities for increased trust and potential for revelatory conversation are compelling.

    That said, for me I hope the use of titles will remain contextually appropriate. I don’t want my friends coming to my house for dinner and calling me Bishop for the same reasons noted above. I don’t want to suggest that even informal conversations among friends carry the same weight as they might in an ecclesiastical context. I’m hopeful that people will be able appropriately to slip in and out of the parameters you have articulated. I wonder how others feel about the calling and title extending beyond the formalities of “church business.”

  12. Thanks, Aaron, I appreciate this nuanced view of titles.
    but
    ..don’t you just hate when the bishop’s wife refers to her husband as “Bishop?” ugh.

  13. I’m not going to call someone in the “lower” callings President this or that because that feeds this weird fetish for submitting to authority that I don’t care for anymore.

    Whereas I think of calling a deacon’s quorum president “president” as making him accountable.

    Like the post.

  14. While I certainly agree about the danger of unrighteous dominion, I like calling my 12-year old son “President Tucker” as a way to honor the fact that he is the Deacon Quorum President. When I say it, I try to express my love and respect for him, as well as his office. Granted, there is very little danger of unrighteous dominion–not only can he hardly keep his own room clean, but the only other deacon in his quorum turned 12 about two weeks ago. I also find it useful to establish certain parameters when I speak to the Bishop, who is “James” when we are talking about golf and “Bishop Gentry” when I anticipate the parameters described above. Oh, and over the summer, we had an interesting family kickball game. One daughter is the Lauren Class President and the other is the Miamaid Class President. My son is the Deacon Quorum President. Those three were on one team, with my wife, 8 year-old son, and I on the other. We called it “The Presidents versus the Non-Presidents.”

  15. Daniel, I’m not trying to be difficult but your comment still has me wondering. You state that you ‘generally’ reject titles and their symbolic value but you use Bishop, President, brother and sister all as a sign of respect. Rather, it seems that you have only rejected those titles of a particular group who you consider to be asserting some kind of authority when they use them. I’m not criticising your viewpoint, but why does a Bishop receive that respect and not the EQP?

    BiV, yep.

    Thanks, Stephen.

    Shawn, to my mind, there are other ways of helping youth leaders (i.e. Mi Maid and Deacon etc.) feel a sense of responsibility for the other people in their class/quorum. My concern with the youth is not so much unrighteous dominion but rather the way it distinguishes young women from young men.

  16. I think we show respect for the title as well as the person holding it at the time. I generally reserve the titles on former leaders on those who were MY leaders, not on those whom I did not know as leaders. As for the younger AP leaders, it is to help them understand their calling and responsbility more than anything else.

    but I do have a hard time with people who introduce themselves as “Brother or Sister” so and so. That seems a bit standoffish to me. I prefer people use my first name when I am not serving in a calling with a title.

  17. Many years ago when I was investigating the church (on my own, sans missionaries) I looked up the telephone number of the local LDS church so I could find out what time to show up and where. I had NO clue how wards and stakes operated, much less about titles. I did know (from reading) that the Bishop was a person in charge. So when the man answered the phone I asked to speak to the Bishop. The man responded with an instant and firm correction that he was the *PRESIDENT.* I apologized (I could tell from his tone that I blundered) and I explained I knew nothing about such things and was only interested in finding out where to go for church and at what time. To this day, I get irritated that “the title” was so important to that man, that he had to correct me so firmly before he even knew who he was talking to. But I have had several Bishops since then who are just the opposite, and who are loving and humble and I enjoy calling them “Bishop.” How a title is projected and used has to do with the ego of the person wearing it.

  18. My ward has taken to calling presidents of organizations “President.” I find it jarring and a little silly when someone calls me “president” (I’m president of the EQ). On the other hand, every time someone does call me “president,” I think to myself “Crap, I forgot to call so-and-so who wants to know who his new home teachers are.”

  19. Maybe the solution is to just call everyone “President” since chances are we all held the position at one time or another! :)

  20. How does calling everyone “President” distinguish from the Stake Presidency?

    I don’t use the title when talking to auxiliary presidents.

  21. Interesting post.

    Personally I would never dream of addressing my bishop or stake president by first name, even in informal settings (except at work if we work together).

    That said, when I was called as bishop I was very slow to introduce myself as Bishop. My wife and I went to dinner with my first counselor and his wife and the wives (both of whom who had fathers who served as bishop) convinced me that ward members deserved to have a bishop who knew he was a bishop. I accepted their view.

    When I was counselor to a bishop in another ward in another stake, our bishop was known by his first name to his first counselor, but I just couldn’t bring myself to call him by his first name.

    When I served as bishop in Venezuela, I tried to invite my Spanish-speaking counselor to address me with informal speech, but he was never comfortable doing so, and after trying for a few weeks, he apologized and moved back to formal speech.

    In he end, a bishop is a servant and should do what will allow his congregation to seek him out when they need to.

    (BTW, Kristine, my daughter would have a similar story to tell; she caught my attention more than once by calling me bishop when simply dad would not do. She would start at Dad, then call out Paul, then call out Bishop, though always in a church setting. On those rare occassions when I was actually home when they were awake, I did respond to Dad.)

  22. Those who oppose the use of titles most likely have personal issues and most likely either have had past issues with someone exhibiting unrighteous dominion, hates being controlled, or secretly wishes for the perceived esteem one might get from having such a calling.

    Titles are appropriate when used as a sign of respect. One would be wise to encourage the use of titles in church settings, but not demand it. We should all be okay with Brother or Sister if one is uncomfortable. On the other hand, if one is uncomfortable, I would suggest looking inward and finding out why.

    Either way, calling one’s husband “Bishop” is strange.

  23. Jeff #16 brings up a pet peeve of mine. I’m annoyed when someone my age refers to me as “Brother B”. Just call me by my first name! I use “Brother” or “Sister” when speaking to those I would otherwise address as “Mr.” or “Mrs./Ms.” outside of church (e.g., people the same age as my parents).

    When we were first married we lived in a stake in Salt Lake where titles were used, but not excessively. One day “Jeff” introduced himself to me, and it was only after we talked for a few moments that I realized he was our stake president.

  24. I’m bad with names–particularly first names–so the titles often save me. For me, it’s not about recognizing authority as much as just being lazy and a little slow.

  25. Another memory… A few years ago when I had just been called as EQ president, my wife answered the phone. Handing me the phone she said, “It’s for President B.” Then she pulled the phone back slightly and added, with a smile, “Don’t expect me to call you that.”

  26. #23 Why are you annoyed? Does it just make you feel uncomfortable?

    We have been taught that we are to treat the Sabbath Day different than the rest of the week. Church leaders have suggested that we respect that and one way to do that is by calling one another Brother and Sister. You have the six other days of the week to call people by their first name. Try calling people by Brother and Sister and the Sabbath and it will shortly feel fine….and then good.

    It is from my experience that newlyweds often have a hard time calling their spouse husband or wife (or being called one’s husband or wife), but over time it becomes natural and then desires.

  27. MR, do you call your wife ‘wife’ and does she call you ‘husband’?

  28. Of course not, but the point is that it is often strange for newlyweds to refer to their spouse as husband or wife and say “My wife is…” or some other such thing.

    In the same way, maybe people find it strange at first to say “Brother Smith” or “Sister Young”. But over time it feels natural and even good.

  29. Also, I have never had past issues with unrighteous dominion personally, although I know others who have, and titles never really bothered until I was the one they were applied to. With that said I do have some personal issues with having authority because I fear being guilty of hurting others, especially if their assumptions about my role do not match my own.

  30. Peter LLC says:

    Titles are appropriate when used as a sign of respect.

    Titles are also a sign of social distance and power differentials, which is what I suspect many people who reject titles are responding to.

  31. Aaron,
    As usual you bring your considerable intelligence and sensitivity to a Mormon peculiarity. As for me, I just think the use of titles like “president” sounds American.

  32. #30 Peter I agree to the extent that this is true for worldly titles and this feeling has unfortunately infiltrated our use of titles within the Church. We have to be honest that those with titles in the church have them for a reason (usually they have certain keys and stewardship over groups of people). Sadly, some with these keys and stewardship equate this to power, but I assume that it is more common for people to feel such power differential because of themselves and their own shortcomings.

    We as a people need to recognize this.

    However, titles such as Brother and Sister is the opposite of your comment and promote equality. If the complaints were consistent with your comment, then I suppose there would be more support for the use of Brother or Sister…which I am not seeing.

  33. “Bishop” for me has always been more of an appellation than a title. It indicates a certain level of affection or comfortableness, of respect, and of expectations. The exception is when I use “Bishop Surname” which really is to say, hey, lacking the affection or comfort, respect, and you’re letting down my expectations here.

    “President” goes for the Stake President mostly because I see him so rarely that I can never remember his name.

    After that? It’s a mixed bags of first names and “Brother” or “Sister” so and so with no indication of office and more indication of my familiarity with that person.

    Though if an EQP or similar station below Bishop were to request being referred to as a title I’d likely chortle.

  34. btw, when did we switch from first name to last name (e.g. Brother Joseph vs Brother Smith)? Anyone know?

  35. #26 – My experience is the opposite. I’ve known many a newlywed who refer to their significant other as “my wife” or “my husband,” their voices bursting with enthusiasm and happiness.

  36. #35 Janell, very true…for some it is easy. But for many it is not.

    #34 Good question….never thought of that

    There have been two experiences that have had a lasting impact on me:

    1. I attend church a few months ago when President Eyring was visiting. We know how he loves the youth and often speaks to the young men during Priesthood Session. During the opening announcements during Priesthood, he thanked the Deacons Quorum President for a story he shared saying something like “Thank you President Smith…I’ve had a similar experience as President Smith….” If President Eyring calls this young deacon President, then I will too!

    2. I remember very much fearing my Stake President growing up. He was a psychiatrist and had an aura about him where he knew exactly the questions to ask and often sat quiet as you squirmed and feeling he knew your thoughts you would continue talking and “confessing”. Anyway, my fear was extinguished over time as you called me Brother “Smith”. It made me feel as his equal. He liked being called either President or Brother (as did Brother Joseph). When I saw that he did not insist on being called President, I wanted (on my own accord) to call him President…out of respect. It was much easier to call him President when I knew he considered me his “Brother”

  37. as HE called me Brother “Smith”

  38. My dad held various leadership positions when I was growing up. I went with him once to drop off some Christmas cookies to a less active family and they called him Kent the entire time. Later when I asked him why they didn’t call him bishop, he said they had no idea what his calling was. Later, when this same family moved out of the ward, I remember watching the father threw his arms around my dad and cried and said, “I love you Kent.” Clearly they didn’t love him because of his title but because of the love they felt from him. Even as a young girl, I understood that.

    It’s my Mom who would never let anyone meet my dad without making sure that they knew what his title was. Very important to my mom…not so to my dad. No matter who he was introduced to, he always introduced himself with his first and last name and never his title.

    When he was released as stake pres, I remembered my dad telling everyone that his one request was that if they insisted on continuing to call him president, to please say ‘my former stake president’ and not ‘my old stake president’.

  39. Hope I’m not thread-jacking, but while we’re on the subject of titles, the lack of a few of them drives me crazy. Mission president’s wife? I’m sorry. Is she not called for the same amt of time? To leave her family, home and friends also? To basically be called that important man with a title’s wife?

    I rebel and refer to her as the 1st lady. I do the same to the bishop’s wife because “mother of the ward” makes me ill.

    (By the way, I wouldn’t use quotes so much if I could get my durn italics to work!)

  40. Chris Gordon says:

    @27, for what it’s worth, I occasionally call my wife “Wife,” and she calls me “Husband,” but mostly as a joke. Occasionally we call each other “Eternal Companion,” as a joking homage to Elder Bednar’s counsel once upon a time to tell our eternal companions that we love each other.

    My personal take on this of late is that I dislike being called by anything titular, but I sort of get a kick out of it at the same time. I enjoy telling the missionaries that Brother Gordon was my father, and have enjoyed the opportunity to deflect titles as a way to try to communicate that I want the person to feel at ease, and that I’m not speaking with them officially.

    As an AP holder, I kind of appreciated and was humbled when leaders made it appoint to refer to me as “President Gordon,” (even though it was a default as the only boy my age as often as not). Thought it was a gentle reminder that they respected the office.

    (Sorry, this is ballooning into a long comment) Recently, one of my closest friends in our ward was called as bishop. I enjoy switching back and forth between calling him Bishop in official settings and even as salutations in “official” emails, and then calling him by his first name when I speak to him as a friend. I’ve even done it in the same conversation, unconsciously at first-intentionally now, when the subject changes. For me, the one is a cue that I sustain and respect his calling and the other is a sign of continued friendship and that even he is allowed to just be himself among his friends with no worries that we disrespect the calling he now has.

  41. The best “title” story I ever heard was from Elder Loren Dunn of the Seventy. He had been at a regional training meeting with a whole pile of stake presidents for two days and was walking through Dulles Airport when he saw a face he recognized, but couldn’t remember the name. So he went up and shook his hand and said “Hello, President.” In response he got a scowl.

    Then he remembered the man’s name. It was Gary Hart.

  42. I had to chuckle about the family members calling their dad “Bishop” to finally get his attention. It brought to mind an experience I had in my last year as bishop.

    My family had come to Utah on vacation over the Christmas holidays, While shopping at a mall in Davis county, I heard someone call out “Bishop!” loudly twice, and I looked to see who it was, then stopped, figuring that there were probably half a dozen other men in that mall at that same time who could answer to the title. Turns out that it was for me., as a missionary who had recently served in our ward had just returned home, and saw us in the mall.

    Some 9 years after getting released, I still have a number of ward members who still call me bishop, including a few folks who never lived in our ward while I was serving. I’m fine with “Brother F”, or “Kevin”, but the title of bishop reminds me of my commitment to serve in whatever capacity, whenever called. It helps to keep me focused on the right things, and not to think about current callings as “lesser” callings, if that makes sense.

  43. It’s always bugged me when people continue referring to a bishop by that title after they’ve been released, mostly because they think it’s weird when I don’t. I like what Kristine pointed out, about it sometimes being a term of endearment, and it wouldn’t bother me if that were always the case. But in every Texas ward I’ve been in, people thought it was disrespectful if you called a former bishop “brother” whatever. In a way, I feel like that implies that people see the position as indicative of the person’s worthiness or general good-ness… And basically I think it shows a sort of loss of focus on what the position is really supposed to be.

    There’s a definite tendency in the church to be obsessed with ceremony, and I’ve often felt that members care more about the letter of the law than the spirit of the law. In my experience, this has been another example of that. It’s almost like people see the hierarchy as spiritual–once you’ve been elevated to the rank of bishop, you’re elevated forever, even when you no longer have the authority, responsibility, or stewardship of the calling.

  44. The title “bishop” is partially about power differential. Even the general public recognizes it. A bishop has a group of people behind him. Address your bishop as “bishop” in front of police, hospital staff, or just about anybody, and they will generally treat him more respectfully and circumspectly.

    Most of the time when we need advice we just talk with friends or family, but that doesn’t always meet the need. Sometimes when things have gotten too big for us (such as a crises or when seeking absolution) we want to counsel with somebody with more power or authority than ourselves, and the “bishop” serves that role. That, of course, places an enormous pressure on bishops. It’s easy for people to be disappointed when their bishop doesn’t live up to the Christlike authority figure they want him to be.

  45. #42 Kevinf your comment reminded me of two experiences:

    First, while serving as bishop in Michigan, a dear friend moved into our ward. We had previously lived in another Michigan ward, and each of our families went to different overseas assignments. We came home first and I was called as bishop. About a year later, she and her family returned to our new ward. When she saw me in the hallway their first Sunday, she called out, “Paul! How are you?” In our very title-conscious ward, you could have heard a pin drop on the carpeted floor of the hallway…

    After I was released, we stayed in the ward for two years, then went overseas again. Upon our return, many members who knew me as Bishop B still call me bishop (even though I now always introduce myself by my first name); those who didn’t call me by my first name or call me Brother B. (I was thrilled to have a first name again in our overseas ward…)

    I think the tradition of calling bishops Bishop after their release acknowledges that they still retail the priesthood office even after their release. I think the practice of calling stake presidents President after their release is a false extension of the bishop practice, or perhaps it’s just out of habit. But in both cases, for most people I know, it’s a term of endearment for those who have been released.

  46. I lean against using titles, although I will if the person wants the title used or it seems contextually important.

    I used to work closely with a counselor in the SP in a PA calling, and I always called him by his first name. As far as I could tell I was the only one who did. He one day told me how much he appreciated me doing that, as the title seemed to distance him from the people, and he loved people and wanted to be friends on a more intimate basis than the cold, austere title seemed to allow.

  47. I think with bishops, part of the reason people keep using the title after they have been released is that “Bishop” is an office in the priesthood as well as leadership calling, so while a bishop is released as the bishop of a particular ward, he remains a bishop.

    Of course, that does not explain why some of us continue to call a stake president “president,” nor does it explain why we don’t call deacons “Deacon so-and-so,” high priests “High Priest so-and-so,” etc. But I would guess that the reason some are particularly emphatic about released bishops (as Miri describes in Texas wards in 43) traces back to this distinction.

  48. When my father served as a bishop, I don’t think he ever really got comfortable with the title. He would always just introduce himself by his name. I sometimes called him “Bishop Dad” just to tease him.

    A few years ago I moved near a former bishop of mine who was at the time serving in the stake presidency and was also my bishop. When I’d see him at church I’d sometimes refer to him as Bishop/President/Brother/Doctor/Neighbor Wilson” (to which he would always grin and reply, “call me whatever you like, just don’t call me late for dinner!”)

    For me, titles serve as a sign of respect, an acknowlegement that I recognize that the other person is in a special position. I have never been comfortable calling those older than me by their first names, and titles feel more natural.

    I had a hard time when I got my first job. It didn’t feel natural calling my manager (who was old enough to be my father) by his first name, but “Mr.” was far too formal. I finally took to calling him “boss” in kind of a tongue-in-cheek way. It worked for both of us. When a co-worker about my age succeeded him as manager, I stayed with the “boss” appellation, but now even more tongue-in-cheek, simultaneously meaning “yes, I recognize you as my manager” and “dude, don’t get too full of yourself!”

    I think titles in the Church can serve to provide context to a conversation. In the neighborhood, I call our RS president by her first name. At church, I usually call our RS president “Sister B”, unless if I want to refer to her in her role as RS president, in which case I’ll say “President B.” Outside of church, she’s “Melody.”

  49. #43 There must be something wrong happening in Texas….because that’s not how it is supposed to be

  50. Mark Brown says:

    What makes this dynamic even more interesting is that men at the highest levels of the church sometimes call one another by their first names. When members of the first presidency talk about Gordon and Hal, it gives us even more to think about.

  51. President Boyd K. Packer:

    “A man is ordained a bishop, an office in the priesthood; then he is set apart and given the keys to preside over a ward. He with his two counselors form a bishopric—a type of presidency.

    Once ordained, he is a bishop for the rest of his life. When he is released from presiding over a ward, his ordination becomes dormant. If called again to preside over a ward, his previous ordination is reactivated. When he is released, it becomes dormant again.”

    New Era, June 1980:

    ““If a bishop in the ward has just been released and another bishop put in, do you refer to the former bishop as brother or as bishop?”
    Answer/Brother Roy W. Doxey

    Because of the importance of the office of bishop, considerable space is devoted to this calling in the scriptures and in the writings and sermons of the General Authorities. As far as I am aware, the answer to your question is not available in these sources. This may suggest that the custom of referring to a released bishop by this title is acceptable.

    There should be no compulsion to continue to use the title over a long period of time, however. Certainly, the first few weeks or months after a bishop’s release is the period when the members of the ward will call him by that title. It is probable that as time passes the inclination to use the title bishop will be replaced by brother.

    The axiom “once a bishop always a bishop” is correct because the office of bishop is an office of ordination conferred by the laying on of hands, the same as the Melchizedek Priesthood office of elder or high priest.

    As a stake president, I always referred to a released bishop as bishop, and even to this day, years later, the same salutation is used. Such a relationship continues to bring back memories of times spent in a very special calling. Latter-day Saints use the titles of bishop and president as names of respect. When they do so, they are recognizing that the Lord has called the person to a noble calling and their sustaining help is constant. They also know that when a bishop is released he no longer presides over the ward. The concern which one might voice in calling a former bishop by that title would be if members of the ward believed that he was continuing in the bishop’s role of counselor. Wise released bishops understand that when ward members come to them as though they were active bishops they refer them to their present bishop.

    If I were introducing a former bishop to a congregation or audience, I would refer to him as brother and then possibly mention he is a former bishop.”

  52. Didn’t Pres Monson mention in a few of his talks that the widows we served as Bishop still called him Bishop even after he was a member of he 12 (and thus titled Elder)?

  53. Chris Gordon says:

    @49: “Joke.”

  54. Meldrum the Less says:

    I think we need to be consistent with using titles. I am willing to call a man a Bishop iffin’ I am allowed to call his son a SOB (son of a bishop) especially iffin’ he acts that way.

    On a serious note, the disciples of Jesus asked who was the greatest in the Kingdom?” A child was brought forth. (Matt 18:1-where ever). Jesus said: You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them and the mighty ones exercise authority over them. Not so shall it be among you. (Matt 20: near the end in the MMV, my memory version).

    I have little respect for men who borrow power or praise from their positions and titles. Eventually it weakens the position. It is a subtle warning: this is not of the Kingdom of God. We have one Lord and Master. We are all beggars at his feet and fellow bothers and sisters in His Kingdom. Equality and brotherhood of mankind is one of the fundamental hallmarks of true Christianity. On this point more than most, the mighty Roman empire with its rigid class system was over thrown by the slave religion of Christianity.

    The recent insistence that we Mormons use titles beyond that necessary to communicate is evidence of a weakening of the actual power of the Priesthood and is basically a proto-apostate tendency, in my perspective. As a leader I politely refuse to comply with requests from any level to insist upon any title in the church beyond servant, or child of God.

  55. What can you do with a General
    When he stops being a General?
    Oh, wait, what can you do with a General who retires?

  56. When I taught youth Sunday School, I called all the kids Brother X and Sister Y. I don’t think I did it out of respect for titles though; I did it in an effort to recreate Dead Poet’s Society in our classroom. There were no suicides, but we did occasionally stand on chairs.

  57. it's a series of tubes says:

    evidence of a weakening of the actual power of the Priesthood … basically a proto-apostate tendency…

    This is a great thread. Comments like this are comedy gold if they are serious, and this one seems to be so.

    I can see it now. The priesthood-strengthening, apostate-tendency-squashing phraseology of the true Kingdom of God:
    “After the choir, we will be favored to hear from Boyd K. Packer, a child of God.”

  58. I think that the term of “lower callings” and titles here is kind of interesting…

    The idea that it is the callings with keys that then becomes titles is one that I am glad to see addressed here in the comments. In my experience it is difficult to wear the “different hats” that are required of us in the gospel. I hate referring to myself as “President” and only do it in emails I send to the quorum that are requests for accountability for assignments related to the quorum.

    I have struggled with the idea of the title a bit since the handbook states that the Elders’ Quorum is a brotherhood. Addressing the president as such sets him apart and can build a bit of a barrier between some members of the quorum. As a general principle I understand that it is meant to underscore the nature of the calling and the extra responsibility and accountability that come, but it is still a hard concept to put into action. I prefer to be addressed as brother. By my wife I prefer to be addressed as “babe.”

    I am encountering this in professional life as well. As a “near PhD” with classes my students address me as “Mr.” or “Professor.” Soon they may call me “Dr.” None of these things define me as a person, but they do underscore the particular assignment/role that I am playing at the time.

  59. #51 – Wow, thanks for the explanation. I had never heard that before.

    #34 – My Bishop calls us “Sister [first name]” and “Brother [first name].” I love it. It feels much more comfortable than hearing everyone at church addressed by their last name. Also, in Mexico it is much more common to call people Brother or Sister [first name] than it is in the U.S. I see no reason why we all can’t do the same.

    I propose that we go back to the “Brother Joseph” custom. Who’s in?

  60. I think the mission president’s wife title is place holder, or chief ironer. I would like to be kidding.

    We recently got a new bishop…it will definitely be transition to not call the old bishop, anything but Bishop (he never insisted and would always introduce himself as jim).

    If we say we only call Bishop his title and no one else…what about relief society president?

    The whole title thing reminds me of George Washington and his insistence to look the park, act the part and be called the title. He hoped it would inspire the men to their future to see him sparkling and dignified up there on his horse. I’m not totally convinced…

  61. I think using formal titles when referring to admins of Mormon blogs is important so that one doesn’t get banned. Just ask mein Führer, Herr Evans.

  62. Steve Evans says:

    I’m not your Fuhrer, gst. I’m your Emperor.

  63. Aaron,

    Comment #51 well states why I show at least some respect for a bishop. But again, rejecting the symbolic nature of titles doesn’t mean being a jerk. I’m not gonna go up to my bishop in church and say, “Bob, how’s it going?” (Not his real name). If I meet President Obama I’m not going to say, “Barack, how you doing?” or to President Bush, “George, what’s up?” I just don’t revere the titles as if they mean something more than they are.

  64. I dislike when the full-time missionaries call me “Brother….”. Everyone else calls me by my first name… although one person, for some reason, calls me “President…” He says it which such respect for the title that I don’t have the same ill feeling as when the Elders call me “Brother…” because they sound so distant.

    Strange… isn’t it?

  65. I was asked my a couple who were recent members of the church what to call our former stake president. All they were familiar with were former US presidents and they were still addressed as ‘President’ after their tenure and wanted to know the correct procedure. I told them that was perfectly acceptable but so would calling him ‘Brother’. They looked horrified, as if it was a sign of disrespect.

    The stake YM president sent an email out to all of the ward YM presidencies asking them not to call him President. Of course, my husband then told all of the YM leaders that the stake YM president INSISTED on being called President. Did I mention that the YM in our ward are more mature than their leaders?

  66. Interesting thread! Especially fun to compare are the tones of voice of the writers–from the very casual, “This is what happened to us,” to the sonorous,”Here is the way that it is. And thus, here is the way it should be. I hope I’ve made this clear.”

    On the day of one of his advnaced birthdays, President McKay’s secretary said, “You have a call from President Johnson.” President McKay picked up the phone and said warmly, “Good morning, President Johnson! And just what are you president OF, by the way?” There was a Texas-sized pause, then the voice said, “Of the United States, President McKay.”

    A BYU faculty member said, “Whenever a student comes to my office and calls me ‘Brother Jones,’ I know he wants something he shouldn’t have.”

    When Dallin H. Oaks became president of BYU, he told the faculty, “You can call me President, and in certain circumstances Elder Oaks. But please don’t call me Doctor oaks!” Apparently that form of address was considered pompous by the faculty at Chicago, where the new president had received his degree.

  67. Especially fun to compare are the tones of voice of the writers–from the very casual, “This is what happened to us,” to the sonorous,”Here is the way that it is. And thus, here is the way it should be. I hope I’ve made this clear.”

    This made me smile. A lot. :)

  68. I’d much prefer to call adult women Mrs. B___ or Mrs. D___. It feels more normal, respectful, and quite frankly, less Yearning for Zionesque to me. I do to myself and in print, but avoid nominative case altogether in person.

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