“Brother,” “Sister,” Thee,” and “Thou”: We’re Doing it All Wrong

I distinctly remember being a child trying to figure out Mormon and non-Mormon forms of address. For a while I thought that all adults were named “Brother” and “Sister.” That led to at least one highly embarrassing moment with my father’s boss. But, like all good Mormon kids, I soon figured it out: members of the Church are named “Brother” and “Sister.” Other adults are named “Mister” and “Missus” (or occasionally “Miss”). And never, ever call a grown up by their first name.

This simple rule of thumb got me all the way to college, where I learned that some Brothers and Sisters (and Misters and Missuses) prefer to be called “Doctor.” And among the Brothers (but not the Sisters) are those you are supposed to call “Elder.” And neither Doctors nor Elders like it when you call them “Sam.”

But when you poke around Church history enough, you see that those forms of address involving last names were once rarer than they are now, and those involving first names were much more common. Brigham Young was almost never “Brother Young.” He was “Brother Brigham,” just like Joseph Smith was “Brother Joseph.” These forms of address functioned very differently in the early Church.

Nothing illustrates the schizophrenic nature of modern Mormonism better than the shift from “Brother Joseph” to “Brother Smith” in our interactions with each other. The “brother” and “sister” forms of address were designed to go with first names, to enhance the familiarity. Among adults in our culture, the use of a first name implies friendship and intimacy, and the addition of “brother” or “sister” enhances the intimacy by extending our sense of family into the friendship.

When we use the “brother” and “sister” title with a last name, however, we increase the formality and decrease the sense of kinship. “Brother Austin” is a much more formal way to address me than just “Mike.” It creates a distance, signals an institutional connection rather than a personal one, and (because family connections are usually identified through a last name) emphasizes the fictive nature of our kinship rather than the kinship itself.

I do not believe that it is a coincidence that this linguistic shift in how we relate to each other parallels a similar linguistic shift in how we relate to God.

Let me be more specific. Latter-day Saints are among the very few denominations who still insist on using 17th century forms of address in public prayers. Even though most of us really don’t know how to use early-modern grammar, we do our best to sound spiritual with terms like “thee,” “thou,” thine,” “art,” and “doth.” We do this, of course, because it is how God is addressed in the King James Version of the Bible, which all Latter-day Saints are instructed to use, and in the Book of Mormon, which reflects the KJV on almost every page.

But here’s the problem. In 1611, when the KJV was first translated, the second person familiar (“thee,” “thou,” etc.) was a common way to show intimacy. These were the pronouns that parents and children, husbands and wives, and good friends used with each other. To use this form of address with God indicated a closeness with deity that made God seem approachable and familiar. This was even true, though to a lesser extent, in 19th century America, where the early-modern usage survived among Quakers and other religious movements.

In 2016, exactly the reverse is true. “Thee” and “thou” are archaisms that we use only to address God. We are so unfamiliar with these 17th century verb tenses that we almost never conjugate them correctly. Rather than making God familiar and approachable, they make Him impossibly distant. God is so far removed from us, and so unimaginable as part of our day-to-day context, that we must communicate with Him in a verb tense that we do not use for anything else in our lives.

Thesed drifts in forms of address have real implications for how we interact with each other and with God. For a variety of reasons, linguistic mechanisms for creating familiarity (which literally means treating somebody like family) now do precisely the opposite: they prevent us from using more familiar forms of address with the people we are trying to love, and they encourage us to see God as something distant and alien from our everyday lives.

I have no hope of reversing these trends single-handedly by writing blog posts. But I do recommend that sympathetic Saints join me in a few acts of everyday rebellion. Address the people in your ward as “Brother John” and “Sister Mary.” Pray to God using “you” and “your.” Try to reclaim the original intention of these familiar forms of address whenever you can. People will probably look at you funny, but every family has a crazy aunt or uncle. Beest thou the change thou wantstest to see.

Comments

  1. Amen, Brother Mike!

  2. I’m fully on board. For the last year or so I’ve “translated” the Book of Mormon on the fly as we’ve read it as a family. With three kids six and under it goes a long way to increasing their comprehension.

  3. i agree and applaud. But I’d like a reality check. I shifted to Brother Chris and you and your a long time ago (decades?) for very much the reasons outlined. (I acknowledge that’s a conscious choice sort of thing, and I’m sure my actual practice is all over the map.) Didn’t everybody? Maybe I should pay better attention?

  4. Certain other languages do things differently. Specifically, German uses “du” (used with close friends, children, and pets) when addressing God instead of the more formal “Sie.”

    I seem to remember a General Conference talk a while back on how important it was to use the formal terms, and I remember thinking the German members listening to that talk must have had a good laugh at how silly those American church leaders can be.

  5. Calling here for a quick, totally informal poll: how many of us still use “thee” and “thou” in our prayers? When I’m put on the spot to pray formally, I still sometimes use them, but I’ve mostly used common pronouns for probably 15 years or more, and I don’t think I’ve ever been called out in classes or anywhere else for doing so. Has anyone out there experienced such chastisement? Does it actually happen? Or does the legacy of these archaic constructions hold on solely because we all–like me–sometimes get fearful that Elder Oaks or the ghost of President J. Reuben Clark will somehow hear us, and thus we fall back on what we were taught in Primary, even though by now, in actuality, no one cares?

  6. A Happy Hubby says:

    Brother Russell, That talk by Brother Dallin did crack the whip a bit. Maybe we should just go with “Bro” from now on.

  7. I know a church member who uses thee and thou when giving priesthood blessings. It’s … different.

    The only time I use “brother” or “sister” is when I’m speaking to someone at church where I would otherwise use “mister” or “missus”. In other words, people my parents ago or older with whom I’m not well acquainted. I call everyone else by their first names.

  8. I love this post, in all its parts.

    About “prayer language”: I had wondered what the plurals of thou and thee might be, in the case of addressing both my Father and my Mother and found it simpler to use you and your. I only made this switch when my thought process of the addressees of my prayers shifted. So, even though the unknown-to-me grammar of the 17th century may parallel our everyday grammar, it signifies a thought shift to me–I purposefully visualize the plural use of you and your when using it in [personal] prayer.

  9. Please let this protest take off. I generally just correct people at church and tell them my name is Jay, not “brother _____.” (I could start using the old classic, ‘brother _____ was my father, ha ha ha’ but I don’t think I will).

    And I pretty much always use normal modern pronouns, except sometimes in public prayers when I feel unstated social pressure to go with the norm. But I’ll cut that out.

  10. Brother Mike, I am sure you read / listened to this talk “The language of Prayer” from Oaks (after reading your article, I’m not sure if I should call him Elder Oaks or Brother Dallin or Elder Dallin or “the man whom we sustain as apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ”. To avoid inappropriate addressing, I’ll just call him Oaks). Here’s a few excerpts

    “The men whom we sustain as prophets, seers, and revelators have consistently taught and urged English-speaking members of our Church to phrase their petitions to the Almighty in the special language of prayer. President Spencer W. Kimball said, “In all our prayers, it is well to use the pronouns thee, thou, thy, and thine instead of you, your, and yours inasmuch as they have come to indicate respect.””

    And this:

    “In our day the English words thee, thou, thy, and thine are suitable for the language of prayer, not because of how they were used anciently but because they are currently obsolete in common English discourse. Being unused in everyday communications, they are now available as a distinctive form of address in English, appropriate to symbolize respect, closeness, and reverence for the one being addressed.”

    So, either the 1611 KJ bible totally got it wrong or Oaks was uninspired.

  11. I love everything about this.

    To add a related observation (because I love it when people analogize sports and the gospel), I’ve always thought it was no accident that the probably greatest NBA coach ever (Poppovich), of the probably greatest team-basketball team ever (the Spurs), calls his players almost exclusively by their first names, unlike almost everyone else in the NBA. I really think there’s something to it, and think we’d be wise to do the same as members of the Church.

  12. Eponymous says:

    Given that we’re now a global Church it’s probably important to recall that this is strictly an English issue. In French the use of the familiar “tu” instead of the formal “vous” when addressing God encourages that same intimacy as once was experienced in English usage.

  13. Suzanne says:

    Good grief! I’d rather be found following the counsel of the brethren and hanging on to the intimacy I feel toward Heavenly Father by using language set apart just for Him… Just sayin’…

  14. Our daughter called our non-member neighbours Brother and Sister Williams until she was old enough to realize we used the terms to refer to members. The neighbours were charmed by her habit. We lived in Mexico for a number of years and it was common where we were to just use first names along with Hermano and Hermana. I was Bishop for 6 years and was always referred to as Obispo Alan.

  15. Sigh. I did this for a while and stopped a couple of months ago. I stopped because I figured that I’m Mormon and this is our “language”. We can’t defend it, but it’s how we speak. So I gave up fighting it. I’m not sure it’s a fight worth fighting (although I do think it’s dumb that we do this and justify it so badly). Then again, there are lots of things that we do because we’re Mormon that I’m not willing to do, so maybe it’s not worth acquiescing.

  16. Kevin Barney says:

    We used to have a SP member whom I considered a friend, and so I always called him by his first name (sans “brother” or “president”). One time he privately remarked to me how much he appreciated the familiarity of the way I addressed him, as the usual formality of address to him made him feel somewhat removed from so many members of the stake rather than a friend.

  17. Never been a SP member (and I never will be), but back when I was an EQP–a fact that would shock members of my current ward–I hated being called “President” because of the distance it created. I didn’t mind it coming from the Stake Presidency, but it irritated me when it came from a member of the quorum, regardless of whether they were doing it because they were trying to be “super righteous” or because they were kissing up.

  18. Jason K. says:

    The collects I write for the Mormon Lectionary Project have been using “you” and “your” for quite some time now. It’s possible to have prayers that are rather more formal than Mormon prayers tend to be notwithstanding the more familiar pronouns. Of course, part of what I’m after in writing those prayers is challenging the whole distinction between formal and more personal. Mormon extempore prayer can be just as rote as anything in the Book of Common Prayer, while liturgical prayers in some cases feel more heartfelt to me than whatever I could come up with at the moment. So, ultimately I don’t care much whether people use the old words or the new (although, as an early modernist, I do wish people would get the conjugations and cases right). All I hope for is spirited prayer, reached by whatever path works.

  19. In Spanish Mormondom, they always use “tu” in prayer and scripture – never “usted”. Tu is informal and intimate. While tu and thou clearly have similar etiology, the reasons church members use the two words are completely opposite.

  20. *etymology

  21. For some reason in my little branch, many people call each other brother or sister with the first name. I think it’s because we are so small, we were just calling each other by our first names and and then we were told to use the titles of brother and sister, so people just added the title. I still either use brother/sister last name or just first name only. Also, it has something to do with the fact that half of us don’t even know the last names of some of the members!

  22. The Bishop I grew up with encouraged and used the original LDS intent of Brother and Sister among our ward and stake members. It was cool to hear and it does foster a familial love when you use a first name. Especially for women who take on a spouses surname, now suddenly you are your mother-in-law and you really aren’t you. I like the old way on that one. If your ever Bishop invoke it. It works.

  23. Ah, I love this post! I’ve waffled about this one for years. I still remember being a little kid and have my prayers “corrected” by a Sunday School teacher if one of us said “you” instead of “Thee.” I rebelled against this later in life, but then I think I fell back into the practice when my political leanings moved from conservative to liberal, because I think I thought the least I could do is conform in this one topic if I am going to be the odd duck for the rest.

    My kids are learning to pray now, though, and we have ALWAYS used “you” and “your” in our prayers with them, because we want them to not associate prayer with confusing new words.

    And I wrote the Mormon Lectionary collect today and definitely used “thee” in it. Dang. I have a mind to go revise and resubmit.

    Truthfully, I feel like I’m more honest with God when I use “you” instead of “thee.” It wakes me up a bit, I think, and makes me more aware of other ways to signal respect beside just using archaic diction.

  24. Left Field says:

    I’m okay with “thou” in prayer. Mostly because precisely speaking, “thou” *is* the familiar form of address.

    On the other hand, I can’t quite fathom what line of thinking gets MBen to his last paragraph.

  25. Olde Skool says:

    As for me and my house, we will always use “you” and “your,” for all the reasons the OP offers. I can’t remember ever using a fake-formal early modern idiom, because when I talk to God I talk as myself and as if I’m talking with my beloved parents, which I am. No one’s ever said anything.

    I also call folks by their names in church, and gently suggest my first name without title when others address me using the Mormon familial. Mostly for the same reasons. I was told once that we should use the sibling form of address to recognize that we’re all part of the family of God, which logic I’d find more persuasive with if our usage of such terms were extended toward anyone other than other Mormons.

  26. I attended an Episcopalian service last year where we were all invited to learn the (first) names of 3 people every week, and to think of them as our siblings in the family of Christ. When several people asked my name, I told them, but the hurricane to explain that as a visitor they didn’t have to remember me.

    Father Scott, the minister who invited me to the service overheard me, and when the sermon resumed, he pointed out to the entire congregation that there were no visitors among the children of God. He then shared my reasons for attended, as a reporter, and encouraged everyone in the congregation to call me Sister Julia.

    I’m still pleasantly surprised, almost 9 months later, how many of the members of the congregation address me as Sister Julia, (or Sister Journalist/Sister Reporter if they have forgotten my first name) when I run into them around town. When I mentioned it to Father Scott when we were at a community meeting last month, he said that the whole congregation appreciated that I spent several months getting to know the congregation, as part of understanding the social justice work they are involved in. He told me that as far as he was concerned, as long as I lived my life in a Christian way, and cared about the same causes his congregation did, that I would always be a Sister when I walked in the doors.

    That experience in seeing Christians as connected through common cause, outside of congregation or creed, has given me a more thoughtful approach to thinking about who my Brothers and Sisters are.

    Thanks for your comment Old Skool, which inspired me to share a little more of my thoughts. I appreciate the entire discussion.

  27. Hedgehog says:

    Agree very much with your observations re. the distance created, and have said as much myself in the past.

    “And never, ever call a grown up by their first name.”
    This is what I was taught, drummed into me. Problem was, once I was a grown up I found it nearly impossible to address anyone a decade or more older than me by their first name if I had first known them as Brother/Sister, Mr/Mrs/Miss etc.

  28. Hedgehog says:

    Jay “…brother _____ was my father, ha ha ha…”
    My sister tells me she once panicked when bishopric member conducting the meeting said they’d ‘like to thank sister _____ for playing the piano’ and she was thinking ‘but mum doesn’t play the piano!’

  29. True Blue says:

    Agree it is much friendlier to use first names. Can we also drop the initial in GA names. I don’t know if its a church thing, I dont hear Mitt? Romney or Donald? Trump.

    Local people occasionally when sustaining local leaders add in the initials, which sounds really strange.

  30. Catherine says:

    The linguist in me loves this post. Ok, all of me loves this post.

  31. Mark B. says:

    All of which is one more reason to find repulsive the suggestion that a whole lot more people in the church should be addressed as “President.” We should move in exactly the opposite direction, and get rid of the titles for everybody. Brother or Sister [first name] would be great.

  32. Daniel Truslove says:

    Maybe it’s just because I’m Australian, but in our ward (and as far as I can tell cluster of stakes) the tone of voice makes more difference than the actual titles used. Using a person’s first name can be disparaging and isolationist as much as referring to someone as just Bishop can show love and acceptance.
    Our ward has used Brother/Sister SomeVariationOnTheLastName, or a lost meaning nickname*, for as long as I’ve been a member and the only person who gets called President Last Name is the Mission President cause he’s foreign.

    *Nicknames that have been used so long no one is really sure where they came from – even the person with the nickname

  33. Daniel Smith says:

    While the KJV was published in 1611, its language is actually much older. Even in its own time it was a very conservative translation that relied extensively on previous English translations. Its language is actually much more indicative of speech from about a century earlier when the you/thou distinction was used exclusively to distinguish number, and not familiarity.

  34. Not much to add, other than a heart Amen to Jason K.’s comment. I use thee and thou in my prayers, but I do so conscious of the fact that it is the informal mode of address in (what is now an obsolete form of) English, like Left Field mentions.

    But if that makes God seem distant and using you and your works better, then I say go for it. I think God cares a lot more about whether we are praying and how into it we are, than the pronouns we use when we do it.

    As for Brother and Sister, I like Brother Firstname and Sister Firstname, but since few people talk that way anymore, it does seem out of place when someone uses it at church. I usually just use first names alone, but out of respect for tradition, I usually say President and Bishop when I’m talking to our Bishop or Stake President. (And as long as we are doing that, I think we ought to say President to RS Presidents as well.) But saying Brother Firstname to my friends at church I think would be more distancing that just using first names alone.

  35. “Agree it is much friendlier to use first names. Can we also drop the initial in GA names. I don’t know if its a church thing, I dont hear Mitt? Romney or Donald? Trump”

    My husband heartily agrees and has been pointing this out for the past few years.
    It does seem to be a church thing. We don’t use middle initials when we refer to our governmental leaders–local or federal. Did Joseph Smith have a middle name/initial?
    Brigham Young?

  36. I have long felt that we, and especially our leaders, pay entirely too much attention (put too much focus) on reverence and spirituality at the expense of fostering a sense of community and unity. One particular peeve is that in the Sunday printed program all the names are preceded by the title of brother or sister. Another, new one, is that one of the bishopric stands at the pulpit for about 5 minutes before sacrament meeting starts and we are expected to stop chatting and reconnecting with our friends, new move-ins (not that we would know since they NEVER read in the 5-8 names of families that have moved in during the past month), etc to sit in quiet reverence contemplating something “spiritual.”

    How “inspired” and clueless is that? !

  37. I work in the temple and call everybody Brother/Sister Lastname. I’m going to switch to Firstname. There is already a unique friendship among temple workers, so it’s a good laboratory. I’ll return and report.

  38. Michael says:

    I’ve been the ward executive secretary for nearly five years now. We just had a change of Bishopric, and the old Bishop specifically asked us to simply address him by his first name. I think I’m the only one who adheres to that request, and it’s amazing to see his face light up whenever he hears his name now. When he was released, it was like a 200-lb weight was removed from his back.

    We’ve got another gentleman in the ward who is a former bishop. I can see the look of panic on his face whenever somebody actually calls him Bishop, like he’s about to get hit by a bus full of tourists on their way to Wendover.

    Sometimes there’s a real joy at being able to return to the rank and file, to simply teach Primary for a season, to know that a shift on the watchtower is complete.

  39. Steve G. says:

    This is a great topic. I served my mission in Germany, so I always smile a little when people talk about using the formals in prayer. German du-sprache conjugates very close to English Thou-speak. I point this out fairly regularly when trying to explain why I don’t much care for the “formal” language of prayer. My wife has tried to urge our kids to change their mode of prayer a few times, but I’ve never backed her on it because God is distant enough as it is. Why add distance by using an unfamiliar way of addressing him? I think its good for them to try and understand the language enough to be able to use it, but I’d rather they learn it through scripture study rather than in prayer.

    I never felt the isolation of using titles rather than first names at all until I was called as Bishop. It’s hard to hear myself being referred to as Bishop rather than Steve among my close friends, especially when not in a church setting. I’ve often thought of correcting them, but back off recognizing that for them the term is an endearment as well.

  40. When I was in the YW program (about 15 years ago), we preferred to call our YW leaders by their first names. We felt close to them, they were our friends. One day the Bishop came to our opening exercises to tell us that we were no longer allowed to call them by their first names. It promoted disrespect and familiarity that was not becoming of our organization. I thought that was completely bizarre and opposite how I felt. It also made me want to do the exact opposite. I continued to call them by their first names, which didn’t bother them in the slightest, and when anyone from the bishopric was around I would call them Sister First name. As an adult, when I received a calling into the YW presidency, I insisted that they girls call me by my first name.

  41. the other Marie says:

    I grumble about the nonsensical thee/thou thing when others use it as a reason to avoid consulting modern translations of the Bible (and I’ve been reading modern translations almost exclusively for 10-15 years), but I still bow to peer pressure/habit and use thee/thou when praying. I think I will take your challenge in my next public prayer and see if the sky falls. I don’t know that I’ll dare to do “Brother/Sister Firstname,” however. Somehow I’d feel more comfortable calling my former Brother/Sister Lastnames by their first name alone. And I’m pretty sure that my new midsingles’ ward bishop would NOT be cool with us calling him by his first name, even preceded by “Bishop.”

  42. My (always limited) experience is that Brother/Sister Firstname (even Bishop Firstname) goes over quite well, mostly with a smile, seldom any comment. You and your in prayers is more likely to receive comment. My guess is that comments about prayer language are almost all related to the 1993 “The Language of Prayer” talk. That is, not principle or etymology or usage, but simply do as you’re told.

  43. True Blue,
    Looking at the list of Prophet names, the first 5-Joseph Smith through Lorenzo Snow, did not include the middle initial. After that, they all did. I can understand using a middle initial/name to distinguish those with names to their fathers or someone with a similar name (Joseph F. Smith, Joseph Fielding Smith, George Albert Smith etc), but why do most/all GAs use middle initials?

  44. I work with the youth in my stake. Many of the teenagers that play sports with me use my first name, while those who only interact with me at firesides use my last name. Both groups are respectful, but it is much easier for those who are on a first name basis with me to sit down and have a meaningful talk.

  45. I gave a prayer at a BYU devotional four years ago. Beforehand, I was sent instructions to wear Sunday dress and to use formal prayer language, which I did. I don’t see this rule changing without permission from SLC, but I’d love it if it did change.
    In our Primary it is common for the leaders to call children by “Brother/Sister Lastname,” possibly because we have sets of identical twins, and some siblings so close in age that they can’t remember who is who. It’s a handy trick, but it creates a normalcy for “Brother/Sister Lastname” among even the very young.
    When I was RS president I did not like being called President Lastname. But I understood the goal of recognizing auxiliary leaders, so I never corrected it. It was always the bishopric using it. I don’t see it catching on with regular members in my ward.
    It has taken a little time for me to get used to the you/your reference to God in non-KJV Bibles and Protestant worship that I listen to, but I like it now.
    I remember a prayer by a very formal French gentleman, hearing him use “Tu.” I was jealous that he had a way to feel close to God that I, as an English-speaking Mormon, lacked.

  46. Jenny Svendsen says:

    I find it very interesting that, when I pray, I use Thee, Thou etc. I grew up in Denmark, and we use du=you etc. I’ve lived in Canada since 1971 and I find it strange to revert back to the familiar, I was taught (here in Canada), that to use Thee and Thou shows reverence to heavenly Father. However, in our branch we all call each other by first name, I like the way of saying Sister or Brother and then their first name, I’ll start doing that.
    Good article!

  47. Elsie K says:

    The lesson I taught in Primary yesterday had a section that emphasized teaching children formal speech for prayer. I skipped it (as I do most things in the manual).

    https://www.lds.org/manual/primary-2/lesson-10?lang=eng

    If they were older, I would consider using these ideas for discussion. As it is, the kids are only six, and it was bad enough they were discussing praying to Satan. (I did not provoke that in any way, and it actually came from the part of the lesson I did follow in the manual. Two kids were arguing over what to do when someone prays for bad things and why someone might choose to do so. There are days I wonder what their parents must think, but I haven’t been released yet…)

  48. Elsie K says:

    Every Sunday for the past five or so years our bishopric conducts Sacrament meeting by saying, “Welcome, I am Bishop (or Brother) Smith. I serve as the Bishop (or counselor in the Bishopric) in this ward.” That sounds nice the first time and might be helpful for visitors or anyone new, but it gets old really fast and is a very rigid and formal introduction to the meeting. It’s also unnecessary since everyone has a program. After five years the speakers now do it too, so not only is everyone in the program, they are announced by full “Brother/Sister first and last name” at least twice by the person conducting, and again by themselves, and depending upon the situation, it can happen more frequently than that. I was acknowledged by full name three times the last time I spoke. I refused to reintroduce myself, although many people choose to do so.

  49. the other Marie says:

    christiankimball–I’ve attended singles’ wards for 20 years now (!!!) and think there’s a special dynamic in most singles’ wards when it comes to acceptable ways for ward members to address the bishopric and their wives. It’s probably partly that these couples are nearly always unknown to most members of the ward when they are first called, and that’s understandable. But even at the end of a bishopric’s term of service, after 2-3 years of acquaintance, I’ve only rarely seen a single ward member who has not been serving in a RS or EQ presidency or some similar calling call or refer to a bishopric member or his wife by first name without last name (with or without “Bishop/Brother/Sister” before it). Similarly, the married couples called to teach our “relationships” classes for 1-2 years are almost universally addressed by their surnames, while they address us by our first names.

  50. the other Marie (3:23 pm): Your comment doesn’t require any response. It’s all about our individual experience anyway. But you call me out so I will respond by saying:
    (a) I’ve attended singles wards too, as a single adult, as part of a married couple called to serve, and as a bishop. I agree that the formality of is what happens a lot.
    (b) But not always, and not necessarily, and when I was in a position to have an opinion I didn’t like it. The reinforces hierarchy and emphasizes the bishop as an authority figure. That’s already too strong in Mormon practice (in my opinion) and doesn’t need any reinforcement.

  51. If only language was that cut and dry? The situation and the relationship and the intent, changes with each circumstance. If I’m talking to my neighbor over the fence; Joe, at church it might be Brother Jones, if in an official business it might be appropriate to address him as president Jones.
    How ever you address someone show respect in your voice. Thanks you. Lynn

  52. Poestrysansionions: Love your second more-information comment. Thank you for sharing that experience!

  53. Love this Michael, and thanks for it! I like to use “brother” and “sister” [first name] as a fun/familiar way of greeting people, and it (secretly) annoys me when members in my unit insist on calling me “Brother Smith” after I’ve asked them them to call me by my first name. That said, while “bro”/”sis” [first name] was certainly not unusual in the early church, I haven’t seen it as ubiquitous as our church videos make it out to have been. The majority of the usages that I’ve run across in 1830s and 1840s church documents are bro/sis [last name] or bro/sis [full name].

  54. Maybe it all depends where you are from. The way I was raised I wouldn’t have dared to call another person by their given name unless I was asked to after we had know each other for a while. I do remember that at one Stake Conference the members were asked to call each other Brother/Sister – last name – while we were in church, partly because there is less and less respect shown to others.
    When it comes to Thee and Thou, I distinctly remember President Kimball telling us to use that form of speech in our prayers. Yes, I know that was in the ‘old’ times the ‘familiar’ form as it is used in some other languages as well, but I prefer to follow the prophet.

  55. Left Field says:

    I prefer people not to micromanage my prayer. If I were given a requirement to use “formal prayer language,” I might just assume they wanted me to use the formal “you” instead of the familiar “thou.” By the time they realized that they might not have given quite the instructions they thought, it would be too late.

  56. Bonnie Wood says:

    “The Language of Prayer” talk given by Dallin H Oaks seems to run counter to this article regarding the use of thee and thou.

  57. Sister H says:

    I’m a bit surprised at the article’s ending asking to disregard something the apostles have asked us to do concerning prayer using thee and thou. I was going to quote from Elder Oaks that these terms are used to show respect for Diety…but saw MBen had already
    I personally try to use these terms despite my getting it wrong sometimes. I made my mind up to obey this little thing long ago and the more I try in personal and family prayers the better I get in public. It comes naturally in my prayers most of the time now and I feel immeasurable closeness with my Heavenly Father when praying, even when making mistakes. Consistent obedience and faith in prayers brings that closeness, not changing words to you and your.
    I taught my kids when young. Kids are smart, you can teach them any good thing. Don’t underestimate your children learning these words. Teach them and use them yourself consistently when praying instead of rationalizing why it’s easier not to.

  58. Wow, you can spot the exact moment, from the comments, when LDS Living picked up this post.

  59. Adam the Younger says:

    Building on what the other Marie said: In my west coast YSA ward, the bishopric and their wives are addressed formally (Bishop/Brother/Sister Lastname), but are nonetheless very intimate with the members of the ward. They call us almost exclusively by first names alone, which is how we address each other.

    Can anyone speak from experience about whether first name-exclusive address is standard in young adult wards?

  60. never forget says:

    I had the same experience in the YSA wards I attended for 10 years before getting married a few years ago, also in the west coast. Bishopric and their wives were called formally, but no one called each other brother/sister. I’ve continued to do the same thing and call people by their first name, unless they are specifically a generation older than me, like a few of my parents/family friends from growing up, I’ll never be able to call them anything but ‘Brother xxx.’ Most of them I now call by their first name. I think I’ll stick with Brother/Sister xxx when the person is 40 or 50 years older then me. Just seems right.
    As for the language of prayer, I’ve unconsciously drifted away from using thee’s and thine’s over the years and I don’t really care. I realized this giving the closing prayer in sacrament on Sunday. Maybe I should.

  61. Glenn Thigpen says:

    I don’t have any heartburn either way. I have always used “thee”, “thou”, “thine”, etc. in my prayers. That is the way I read it in the Bible and it stuck with me.
    I call some people at church sometimes by their given name or surname. I call my cousin “Vickie”, Vickie. I just don’t get hung up on appellations.
    I do agree and believe that we should strive to become closer, more friendly, more approachable as members of our wards and branches.

    Glenn

  62. I have met German speakers who admire English speakers for using the now perceived formality of thee and thou. Yes, it was originally the informal, but usage has changed over time. Du in German is used with close acquaintances, but also when addressing children and pets. Du could be seen as perhaps overly familiar (careful using it with the boss), though it is traditional in addressing God in German.

    In any event, to each his own natural speech. Reden, wie einem der Schnabel gewachsen ist.

    Try getting the choir to sing a chorus of “How Great You Are.” It just doesn’t sound the same.

  63. NO. Not the way it should be.

  64. Emily U says:

    Speaking of Quakers, it was in reading Angle of Repose that I first realized thee/thou was the familiar, not the formal, in antiquated English. Which negated what I’d been taught about that kind of language, which was that we use it to show respect and deference to God. I use “you” in my prayers now.

    It would be nice if the Church would adopt another version of the Bible, but I don’t expect they ever will because 1) the KJV supports the Book of Mormon’s language and 2) I don’t see this Church ever lending approval to a modern translation, because OUR prophets are the only true source of modern revelation and true interpretation. (sarcasm intentional)

  65. Michelle says:

    I have only ever used Brother or Sister in places where I would usually use Mr or Mrs: adults when I was a kid, older members that I dont know well now. I do have one friend from Peru that calls me Sister Michelle and I call her Sister Isabel in return sometimes, but mostly just call her Isabel. I also insisted my kid use Brother, Sister, Mr or Mrs for adults. I think it shows respect for her elders that many kids seem to lack these days. As for the thee, thou, you, yours thing: it doesnt bother me either way. I have never seen anyone called on it. To me, because I have prayed with thee and thou all my life, it is associated in my head with my Father and doesnt seem distant at all. I can see where someone who didnt grow up using it would find it distancing, though.

  66. With all due respect, one of our current apostles has counseled us to the contrary. I distinctly remember this talk given by Elder Dallin H. Oaks, giving members the directive to use respectful language at all times and most especially, in our prayers to God. https://www.lds.org/general-conference/1993/04/the-language-of-prayer?lang=eng

  67. I quit using thee/thou in prayers about 15 years ago. I was self-conscious of it at first when I prayed at church, but now I don’t even think of it. I have never had anyone say anything to m about it, but there have been people who “correct” my kids when they do it.

  68. T. D. James says:

    I come from a home where we weren’t corrected on whether or not we said “you” or “your” or “thee,” “thou,” or any of those. But my parents have always used “thee” or “thou” in prayers and I adopted that. I feel my prayers are more focused when I use those terms, and when I don’t use those I feel a little disrespectful, like I’m not taking time with my prayers. So, pray with what helps you feel close to God, but you’re the only one who creates the distance between you and God.

  69. The constructions I use in my vocal/public prayers are such that I rarely use thee/thou or you/your, but in those times that I do, it’s always the former. It sounds strange in my head not to. That said, as I think about it, during my most fervent and spontaneous moments of personal and silent prayer to God I always think “you.” Maybe that means it’s time for me to switch the vocal practice.

  70. Great post, Michael. I particularly like your observation that we’ve taken what was originally a convention that increased familiarity (Brother/Sister firstname) and turned it on its head so that the result is the opposite of the original (Brother/Sister lastname).

  71. Born and raised in Europe I was taught to use formal language for someone older than me to show respect and I want to show the same respect to my Heavenly Father by using Thee and Thou. For the same reason the parents of my friends were always Mrs and Mr last name and in church we used Sister and Brother. In our Ward members were chastised by Stake Presidency for calling the Bishop by his first name, it shows respect for the office but it feels strange when they are lifelong friends. The world has become more casual and that is just fine but showing respect is never wrong either.
    Personally I like using Sister and Brother especially when I forget names but I would feel a nun if someone would call me sister Mary :-).

  72. President Spencer W. Kimball said, “In all our prayers, it is well to use the pronouns thee, thou, thy, and thine instead of you, your, and yours inasmuch as they have come to indicate respect.” (Faith Precedes the Miracle, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1972, p. 201.)

  73. A Happy Hubby says:

    nancy – I think most of us are aware of the talks, but what if it feels wrong to talk with God that way?

  74. Barbara says:

    My maternal grandfather’s family were Quaker. I grew up knowing that thee/thou was the FAMILIAR/INFORMAL, and you/your was the FORMAL/NON-FAMILIAR. Growing up Catholic, my parents insisted on using you/your as it indicated a FORMAL relationship with God!

    To me, thee/thou is NOT used to be respectful or formal; rather it signifies our close familial relationship. I really have trouble using ‘you/your’ in prayer — to me that is putting Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ on a pedestal rather than celebrating the intimacy of our relationship.

    “Sister/Brother first name” makes a great deal of sense to me. After all, part of using the Sister/Brother salutation is to indicate that our relationship is FAMILIAL as Brothers and Sisters in Christ.

  75. Please, remove the word ‘schizophrenic’ from this. While I agree with your article, this one word has spoiled it entirely. It is inappropriate to use a mental illness to make your point, and even if it were okay, it is incorrectly used here. Schizophrenia is a tragic and very serious disease, and dropping the name does not add humor or cleverness. You can make your point without trivializing a group of struggling people.

  76. I have always thought that the use of Brother Lastname was due to laziness. If you can’t remember first names, then you can just use an overarching clan name. Can cover an entire family of 12, and you only have to remember one name. I really think that’s why Ward leades call my wife and I, Sister/Brother Lastname. It’s not worth their time to really know our names.

  77. your food allergy is fake says:

    Lee 12:34: It’s also an incorrect, although unfortunately common, usage of “schizophrenic.” “Multiple personality disorder” is what people mean, but I guess that doesn’t really roll off the tongue as well.

  78. Sorry I’m late to the conversation, but if you want a more thorough and more accurate picture of the history of archaic pronouns and LDS usage of them, please take a look at my Dialogue article from 2014, “What Shall We Do with Thou? Modern Mormonism’s Unruly Usage of Archaic English Pronouns” (vol. 47, no. 2). It isn’t free yet, but you can download a copy for a small fee at https://www.dialoguejournal.com/archive/dialogue-premium-content/summer-2014/.

  79. I was taught using these terms also shows repect. By teaching our children that thee is an intimate respectful way of saying you, we show them that we reverence our God and make an effort to hold onto an ancient form of reference for just that purpose. I see value in striving to hold onto a form of conjugation that exists only in holy writings. The more our children use these terms the easier it will be to read the scriptures with feeling and comprehension. If we start them out doing it when quite young it is language associated with godly interactions. It takes a concerted effort, for sure, But we need to be focused and mindful when addressing diety.

  80. Ronna Lawrence says:

    Usage of the terms promote kind regard and respect, and civility at very least. Deferring to sacred use of Thee and Thou in reference to Deity engenders our human natures to align our wills with His, rather than asking, in his face, for him to listen to us. Already perfect in listening and comprehending us, He needs no lack-luster tutelage from any of His children. We are enabled a more effective method directing our ability to better listen to and understand Him.
    In the LDS Church we are asked to use that proper prayer language. If we substitute that prayer language, to me it suggests that we choose to ignore Him and all He has to offer us as well as our potentially most desirable, intimate, unified relationship with Him and His Son.

  81. Chadwick says:

    I’ve been thinking about this for a few days. My conclusion at this time is that it is extremely narrow to assume that the use of antique words in prayers is somehow pleasing to God. I would like to believe if I were God that the mere fact that my children choose to use faith to engage with me is sufficient. I’m just happy they called. Even if, as Elie Wiesel notes in Night, they are calling to argue with me, I’m still just happy to engage. The frequency and fervency of prayer, the attitude and humility, would mean more to me than the use of unfamiliar words. This seems almost as ridiculous as not being able to use an elevator on the Sabbath because it’s work. But not being God, I recognize I could be wrong in this. Perhaps his main concern is the words we use and not the substance.

    I also feel the same way about the color of one’s shirt at church. I’m personally more concerned with the worthiness of those performing sacrament ordinance that their attire. But again, not being God, I recognize I could be way off the mark here.

  82. Oh my goodness. I couldn’t agree more. What frustrates me the most is, while the arguments of respect and tradition and so forth might be nice arguments, the fact is Mormons who worship in other languages use the more familiar version! (Something that I’m not the first to note here). I grew up mostly in France and have had a really difficult time with thee and thou, I hate the awkwardness of it all. I find God more approachable in French. I hate praying in English for that specific reason. And what’s funny is: I grew up being told we Mormons use the familiar form (tu, toi instead of vous) because we believe in a familiar, approachable God who is literally our father, not an unknowable, ethereal god like what we imagined the catholics saw — who, in France, use the more formal way for addressing God in their memorized prayers. So imagine my confusion upon hearing the exact opposite arguments here in the US… How did translators even translate this general conference talk? https://www.lds.org/general-conference/1993/04/the-language-of-prayer?lang=eng
    I’ve basically resorted to twisting my sentences around when I have to pray out loud so that I don’t have to use thee or thou at all, but I think I’ll just have to start being openly rebellious ;)

  83. And as a side note, in France it was usually pretty weird to use “brother/sister last name” for adults (even as a teenager) that were family friends. I called our YM, YW leaders, Sunday school and seminary teachers by their first names, simply. In a country where there’s excessive formality with teachers and other superiors, church was the place where I truly was close to my leaders.

  84. Interesting thoughts here. Having always used the archaic pronouns it’s never really occurred to me that it could be unfamiliar to others. However having also seen the policing of the use of the ‘right’ pronouns in church meetings, I now wonder if it’s much ado about nothing. This has inspired a blog post in my african lds blog. https://africanlds.wordpress.com/

  85. J. Crown says:

    I like this post a lot. Been trying to incorporate “you” and “your” into personal and family prayers more, but last week kids said in primary they just learned we should be saying “thou”, ” thee”, etc. Ugh.

  86. I love this post. This has bothered me since I was a teenager. On my mission, learning to pray using ‘tu’ made me feel so much closer to God in my prayers, even before I was even very proficient in the language.
    For years after my mission, my private prayers were never in English, because thee and thy felt too distant, and you and your too strange.
    Finally, I gave in to just using modern language in my private prayers, so now I can pray in English again. Over the last couple years, I’ve made more of an effort to do so in public prayers as well. It is a challenge, though, as there is a tacit expectation to use the formal prayer language. When I slip back into it, I instantly have the thought that I’m a scribe, saying prayers to be heard and “seen of men.”