“Mission President and His Wife;” or Why Titles Matter

President, Bishop, High Priest, Priest, Mission President, Assistant to the President, Deacon, Teacher, Seventy.

Titles matter. Titles matter in the church, but only for men.

Because in the past few months, we’ve lost (or in one instance not gained) titles for women in the church.

In October it was announced that the Young Women groups would no longer have names of Laurels, Mia Maids or Beehives, but instead would just be named the age groups as directed by the ward themselves. In our ward that means we have the 11-13 year-olds, the 13-15 year-olds, and the 15-18 year olds.

I keep imagining these groups being listed on the whiteboard of our bishop’s office, in direct comparison to the Priests, Teachers, and Deacons, whose names are scriptural. Or when announcements are made in the ward: “The Priests and 15-18 year-old young women will be doing XXX this Wednesday.” It just makes my heart hurt to think we’ve given them a number instead of a name.

I’ve noticed that even the general priesthood leaders don’t know what to call the women in general leadership positions, going from “President” to “Sister” and back again, regardless of their calling. And, to be frank, it’s mostly “Sister” even if they hold a president calling.

And today, I saw the new missionary handbook had been released, ten years since the previous one. And I saw this: “Mission Leaders: Your Mission President and His Wife: Your mission president and his wife, who serve together as your mission leaders, are called of God and set apart to lead the mission. Together they love and serve you, help you fulfill your purpose as a missionary, and help keep you safe and happy.”

So even though they are “called of God and set apart” and noted as both “leaders” only the husband gets a title. Why would it be so hard to call them both Mission Presidents serving together? As it is, it just looks so bad. And as a woman only designated by her relationship to her husband, it’s hard not to see that they are not actually equal as mission leaders and that’s wrong..

Before you say we don’t care about titles in this church (and again, check out the entire Doctrine and Covenants for multiple examples of being precise with titles) I saw an LDS Living article just this week that asked “Should We Still Call a Former Bishop “Bishop”?”

The answer, of course, was yes. In fact the article quoted Beverly Campbell as saying “We show proper respect to our Church leaders by referring to them in Church-related functions by their ecclesiastical titles. We may refer to a bishop as ‘Bishop Garza’ or a stake president as ‘President Leiben,’ for example. The titles Bishop and President (designating members of temple, mission, stake, and district presidencies and branch presidencies) are appropriate even after the leader has been released.”

Titles are so important that they are seen as a respect thing for men even after they’ve been released. What does this say to our young women and women when we call them by a number or by a relationship.

A lot.


Comments

  1. ” Why would it be so hard to call them both Mission Presidents serving together?”

    Because, answering myself in a cynical but musical way, that’s too much preside which rhymes with priesthood and that stands for pool.

  2. I just started reading The Awakening by Kate Chopin: “looking at his wife as one looks at valuable piece of personal property”. We are still stuck in 1899 when we can’t get away from phrases like “mission president and his wife”.

    I didn’t have any strong attachment to the YW names (they felt made-up to me, even as a teen) but I agree with you: the numbers are way worse. (Very happy about the flexibility for class groupings though.)

  3. “What does this say to our young women and women when we call them by a number or by a relationship.
    A lot.”

    And conversely, far too little.

  4. “The Priests and 15-18 year-old young women will be doing XXX this Wednesday.” Is this the new youth program they’ve been talking about?

  5. What’s even more ‘equal’ is how the man needs a wife to get the calling (as far as I know, it’s policy that a bishop, stake president, mission president, seventy, apostle, and so on must be married), but the wife gets no title, no recognition, and sometimes even gets shunted out of the work. But she has to carry the invisible burdens that go with her husband’s big title.

    My mission president often joked that the way they choose mission presidents is to see who is the hardest working, most faithful, dedicated, spiritual giant woman in the whole church…then call her husband to do the job.

  6. Oh, all these lack of titles, this lack of autonomy or ownership, of women being defined by their relationships to men or their marital status …. it burns us, precious! It hurts us like not belonging! We wants the church to be for us, too, precious! Not a church for men where we are their guests and appendages.

  7. Rambling thoughts says:

    I think they are not just numbers, but I guess they might as well be since the title is just a capitalized descriptor by age and sex:
    “Classes should be referred to by the unifying title of ‘Young Women.’ To identify a specific class, include the age—for example, ‘Young Women 12–14’; ‘Young Women 15–18′.” Handbook 2: Administering the Church, 10.1.5, ChurchofJesusChrist.org.

    I have wondered how the class name issue could have been better handled. My imagination is not good enough to be able to think up anything that wouldn’t have been merely arbitrary and, if on a church-wide basis, getting in the way of local determination of class splits.

    That’s not quite the same problem as the one posed by the “mission president and his wife,” though at least a tiny step has been made in officially referring to them together as the “mission leaders”. My long-ago mission presidents’ [plural] wives [one each :)! ] varied greatly. One was well loved, but not a leader in any respect discernible by the missionaries or members. The other was a sometimes vicious, critical, two-faced busybody. I suspect I saw the two extremes and that a better defined role (titled or not) could have been helpful. I hope my old experience is irrelevant to the current group of mission leaders.

    I have also wondered idly why the dominant Mormon culture does not insist on continuing to call Relief Society, Primary, Young Women, and Sunday School Presidents “President” after they are released. (Sister Campbell’s quoted comment applies that suggestion only to “temple, mission, stake, and district presidencies and branch presidencies”) For me titles such as Bishop or President do not convey any notion of respect whether before or after release. I may be an outlier in at least that regard. My respect for persons in those positions (taking “president” in its broadest usage) hinges on my perception of what they do and say and not on their leadership positions or titles.

  8. EmJen that is a fabulous cynical and musical comment !

  9. Very well written, and this is good food for thought.

    When the names Miamaids, Beehives and Laurels were removed, honestly, my first thought was that it was overdue; the names were outdated and confusing to outsiders. But I agree that not having a name is a problem. The new structure gives wards more flexibility if they have only one or two girls in the 14-15 age range, but it’s hard to name classes when even the number of classes is not defined.

    On the article about calling people by their titles even after they leave a calling… Some of that is new to me. The bishop is an office on the Aaronic priesthood, akin to Deacon, Teacher, or priest, so in that sense once one is a Bishop they are always a Bishop, even after they no longer have stewardship over a ward. This is not the case for stake presidents. For this reason, I’ve always treated the Bishop’s title as permanent, but not the others. As far as I know, the LDS Living article is not supported by any official guidance, nor is it authoritative, but it does signal a potential cultural norm.

  10. Capitalizing The Wife adds on the injury.

  11. I agree 100% with removing the names Miamaids, Beehives and Laurels. They are traditional and quaint, but not helpful in describing anything. When I was still an outsider (though, I suppose I still am an outsider for the most part) I met a friend’s daughter who was introduced as a, “new beehive” and I remember wondering to myself, “what did this poor, sweet girl do to get such a label.”

    Regarding the Mission President and His Wife….I am quite confused, I suppose. The wife of the Temple President has a title, but my understanding is that there are expected duties that come with it. It seems to me, with my limited experience, that the Mission President’s wife makes of that role what she chooses…or are there job responsibilities that are delineated for her like a Temple Matron would have? If she is allowed to make what she wants or the role, then a title doesn’t seem to fit…but if she is held to account for her own responsibilities, then it would?

  12. Jack Hughes says:

    Perhaps its only because they can’t come up with anything better. Finding an egalitarian title for a mission president’s wife is a hornet’s nest. Calling them both “president” gets into potential doctrinal/priesthood authority problems, and makes it harder to differentiate the two individuals. “I would like to talk to President Jones, please…no I meant the female President Jones, you know, the wife of President Jones…” and many other potential awkward and confusing interactions in the field. Temple presidents’ wives are called matrons, which is not really a title (they are still addressed as Sister) and in my mind “matron” suggests an elderly dowager or grandmother figure, which may not necessarily reflect the actual role of a mission president’s wife.

    One possible solution for naming young women classes is to use the female equivalents of the corresponding priesthood offices (deaconess, priestess) which do have biblical precedent. Teacher, of course, is gender-neutral.

    On a side note, the last line on that paragraph from the new handbook, “…help keep you safe and happy” is misleading. Ask any full-time missionary, past or present. Happiness is not part of the program. Never has been.

  13. Jennifer Roach,

    I do not understand your logic about titles in the second paragraph. So I’m going to distill my answer to

    If you are set apart, you should have a title.

    I imagine since I’ve not been in a setting apart of mission presidents, that there have been many (if not all) instances of the time within the setting apart where the title should go, the title is, by default, that of “Mission President’s Wife.” In the lack of titles, the calling becomes the relationship, with all the blessing of them being a comfort to their husband as well as leading the mission. For bishops and stake presidents, the wife is usually blessed to be a comfort unto to their husband within a blessing, but not set apart as a calling.

    We know these women are set apart, it says so above. They should have a title. It looks so bad to have them called “Mission President and His Wife.”

  14. EMJen – I’m sorry for being unclear. Write it off as my ignorance. I suppose my question is: What are the assigned duties of a mission president’s wife? It seems to me (and please correct me if I am wrong here, literally no snark intended) that the duties of being temple matron are clear, while the duties of being a mission president’s wife are whatever she wants to make them. Or perhaps I am over-reading the situation?

  15. Also in comments about this elsewhere, I’ve heard both informally and formally that people who make these decisions about the youth names and the mission president’s wife just don’t know what to do with the lack of scriptural instruction for titles for women.

    That makes me so sad and points to the problem that we, as a church that has direct access to continuing revelation, do not see this as an important enough issue to petition the Lord.

    That, or women “don’t want titles.” Which is such a lazy sexist answer where especially in this time of celebrating women getting the vote in Utah and the US, we should really know better.

  16. EmJen, re your comment two or three above this one, about settings apart: I have managed to gather the setting apart blessings of dozens (maybe 40 or 50 in all?) of women accompanying their mission president husbands in the first half of the 20th century. If I can ever figure out what sort of writing to do with these blessings, I will publish them. These women are nearly always set apart “to accompany your husband” but without any particular title.

    However, title or not, they are very often given specific assignments both toward the missionaries and toward the women (always the women, and sometimes children) in their missions. Some of those assignments are general (watch over the elders as a mother) and some are very specific (supervision if the Relief Societies of the mission). They are also often blessed with skills or comforts to help them in those assignments (not to feel a sense of fear as they speak before audiences). Not every woman is given the same assignments, if these settings apart are any guide. A very few are set apart only to care for their husbands and families; others are set apart to serve as full-fledged missionaries.

    I don’t have any information at all about current settings apart or the duties that may be assigned to women today. But seeing how conservative we are with wording in other types of blessings, I would not be surprised to learn that the settings apart are very similar today — nor would I be surprised to learn that in recent years they are given other, more administrative assignments.

    That’s about all I can ever offer: a glimpse of how things were at some point in the past.

  17. Jennifer,

    Yes overthinking it. The new handbook makes clear many responsibilities for both of them. And I don’t think we should determine titles by how much flexibility someone has or chooses to make within their calling.

    Another way of putting it is that we have so many missionaries who give up their names for their title. Who then go into the mission field and see their mission president “and his wife” leading the mission. It’s a disconnect that than translates into a “well they must not be as important to not even warrant their own title.”

  18. Ardis,

    Thank you. That is fascinating. And so sad. Women as supportive accessories on the arm of their husband theologically cemented within these blessings. How could you not feel constrained to do your service in silent ways, giving all glory to your titled husband with beginnings like that?

  19. Dropping the odd Young Womens classes titles is fine, but not replacing it with something else is bad. They could have gone with Priestesses, and Deaconesses, but would have been stuck for Teacheresses. Maybe rename the Teachers quorum and avoid confusion among non-members about why the Teachers in the church are 14 and 15 year olds.
    I get the reasoning behind the policy to continue to call Bishop’s Bishop after their release. But it’s always been explained to me that that doesn’t apply to Presidents. Presidents are released. Presidents go back to being Brother or Sister.
    In addition after a couple of boundary changes, move ins and move outs, most everyone has forgotten (or never knew) that brother so-and-so was a Bishop at some point and no one refers to them as Bishop.
    The one time I can think of of when it didn’t apply was when two brothers were in the same ward. We had a recent convert pick up on the fact that only one not-currently-President member of the ward was referred to as President, and the reason was because it provided a distinction between him and his brother.

  20. Ardis and EmJen….So are the duties of a Mission President’s wife cemented things she is held accountable for? Or not? Is there a job description? If there are described duties, she should have a title. If it is just whatever she wants to make it, or duties that are not different than any other Sister in any ward, why would she have a title? That wouldn’t make any sense. Titles have to mean something, otherwise they are just decoration. And the very last thing a woman without power needs is decoration.

  21. The myriad of ways mission pressident couples work together and influence their missionaries for good for decades after means that she definitely has power. But she continues untitled.

  22. So, and I’m not trying to be contentious here, it sounds like she has no job description. THAT is probably the place to start. It’s really hard to title something as ambiguous as “the myriad of ways (they)..work together” It’s hard to title something that isn’t defined.

  23. She has a job description, as much as any other calling in the church, unless you want to get into scrpitural definitions. Mostly, she’s set apart, which means she has a calling. An untitled, or worse, relationship-defined title, depending on how you want to look at it.

  24. And I’m a bit sad that I have to argue that what she does is worth a title.

  25. Here is some of what I’m getting at, “And the role differs from mission to mission.”
    https://www.thechurchnews.com/archives/1995-02-18/roles-are-varied-for-mission-presidents-wife-137453 and things like, “her role varies according to her background, number of children, etc.” I don’t think anyone is arguing that her role is not important, or that she doesn’t play her role well. But to me, and please point out a link if I am wrong, it seems like she comes to the role, and creates it to be what she wants it to be. That’s quite different than taking on a role where there are laid out responsibilities that she is accountable for. I adore my mission president’s wife, and I think she takes on a wonderful role, but its very different than the last mission president’s wife. It doesn’t seem helpful to give them the same title. I dunno…to me titles should mean something, not just be given because we feel bad that she doesn’t have one.

  26. I’d be remiss to not mention Alison Moore Smith’s call for titles almost ten years ago.

    And nothing has changed: https://www.timesandseasons.org/harchive/2010/03/do-titles-matter/

  27. I understand the sadness. But it makes me sad to think of pedestal-izing her with a title that may or may not describe what she actually does. That is mere decoration and does not serve the hope that women can take on a larger role (which is my hope!). It seems to me that if you really want to see change, you make the role solidified with actual responsibilities she is accountable for and THEN give it a title. But as long as it “varies mission to mission” based on what else she has going on in her life, giving a title doesn’t make any sense.

  28. Jesus’ opinion differs from Beverly Campbell’s:
    Mathew 23:8:
    “But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers.”
    … and sisters

    Q: are we supposed to call a Deacons ore Teachers quorum president ‘President Leiben’ for the rest of his life? They are two of the four persons in the ward holding priesthood keys (branch presidents don’t).

  29. Thanks for this post. It’s really interesting that we keep insisting men aren’t the priesthood yet we insist on defining them by priesthood titles. If we meant business, we would refer to the priesthood session of general conference as the men’s session. It makes sense to have titles that come when one is set apart, like relief society president, elders quorum president, and bishop, but there is no reason to refer to anyone in our church as anything other than brother and sister. If sister is good enough for female missionaries, why not brother for elders?

    In terms of having titles for roles that are defined with clear responsibilities, I was just called as the relief society communications specialist. This is a made up title. I just met with the president to define my responsibilities. These are flexible and some overlap with the relief society secretary. Nevertheless, it is appropriate for my calling to have a title. If one is set apart to perform a function, whether that is explicitly defined or not, one should have a title.

    The gospel of Jesus Christ is for everyone. It’s time to make our church reflect this and stop supporting designations that speak so loudly that this is a church made for men and run by men.

  30. Wait a minute, you mean the comments from leaders that they find the most righteous person for the job and call her husband isn’t enough for you gals? (Sarcasm)

  31. This post & discussion about titles would appear to be relevant to the discussion here: https://wheatandtares.org/2014/04/24/titles-help-or-hindrance/
    Personally I dislike all titles. I am also unfamiliar with the practice of addressing former serving bishops as bishop. That just doesn’t seem to be a thing here in Britain, so I was very surprised to read here that LDS living advocate it. I’m as much at a loss to know where to place a mission president’s wife as I am a GAs wife. At least as they travel , and in worldwide broadcasts the wives seem to have a greater role than in earlier times, but they aren’t called, sustained, set apart… and it also appears to sideline the general women officers to some degree. In some ways it’s a big mess.

  32. Some thoughts in response to Jennifer Roach.

    There is no position in the church more demanding than that of mission president. To be mission presidents, a couple must uproot their lives, move to a distant place, and take on life-or-death responsibilities leading scores of young, inexperienced men and women who are learning to be on their own for the first time. Often, the mission presidents do this in places that are not only far away from their familiar home, but also far away from the church’s established structure of support. This isolation, combined with great responsibility, makes the job extremely challenging.

    Of course, the job has some specified responsibilities, but the job of mission president is different in every mission. Partly that’s because of the varieties of cultural and economic difference throughout the world, but it’s also because of the personal differences among the missions presidents themselves. Mission president couples figure it out, making their personal strengths and weaknesses fit the extraordinary and unique circumstances each of them faces. It’s not just the women who have to figure out what their job is and how to do it. It’s the men too. There is no template to follow in their job; there can’t be a template for such a job.

    It is wise to require that mission presidents be married. The job is so big that it absolutely takes two people to do it, and at that, it takes two extraordinary people working together seamlessly to do it well. In most cases, one person alone would have no chance.

    So my point is this: in fact, in practice, and by design, the wives in mission president couples do a job that is just as challenging as anything their husbands take on. If the couple succeeds, they succeed together, as one. There would be no pedestalizing in giving the wife a title, just the beginning of acknowledgement for the remarkable work she’s already doing.

  33. In Brazil, they’ve sort of gotten around this. Sort of. There, if I’m referring to any sister in the church, she’s, for example, Irmā Silva. But when a woman is called as a missionary, mission president’s wife, general officer of the church, or general authority’s wife, she becomes Sister Silva.

    Sister becomes the Portuguese equivalent of Elder. This a solution that in some ways raises as many problems as it solves, and I fondly remember a lengthy discussion with a group of Brazilian women (some Sisters some Irmãs) about the merits and limitations and problems with this system. All of this was twenty years ago, but I believe the usage is still standard.

    I’m definitely in the titles matter camp, at least in the context of our church’s culture.

  34. I am on the more informal side of the debate. All men are “Brother” (Didn’t Joseph Smith’s associates call him “Brother Joseph?”) all women are “Sister.” Recent Bishop tried to get everyone to call him “Bishop.” So I called him by his first name.

  35. Rambling thoughts says:

    It has been many decades since the Church stopped calling male missionaries Aeltester (Elder) and started calling them Bruder (Brother) in the German speaking countries. In German the word Aeltester was even more ridiculous and confusing than Elder as a title for an 18 year old boy in English. The thing Mormon culture has about titles in church-related conversation (which I follow not at all or only erratically) has often struck me as off-putting. Perhaps the brother/sister + last-name approach to all such conversation once emphasized our all being children of God. Now it has become a distancing formality rather than anything that could draw us together. This is not very different from the sometimes insistence on using for deity the former English familiar forms — thee, thou, thine — as a sign of respect rather than close familiarity. That’s a twisting of language into what I call Mormon-speak (though it is not entirely unique to Mormon culture). Those old GenConf talks on the subject cannot even be translated into German, but can only be explained as a unique twisting of English rather than any kind of principle. I think I deal better with real respect (or lack thereof) better than I deal with language intended by some to denote respect whether deserved or not.

  36. I’m not big on titles, period. At grad school, I called my professors by their first names. My neighbor, who was a bishop, I call by his first name. My doctors, I call by their first names. In the service, I pretty much used first names (with a few important exceptions). I have enough education to have earned a title. But I don’t use it.

    I don’t like “brother” or “sister” either. These appellations make us sound like a cult. I call my home teachers (aka ministers) by their first names. We were given first names for a reason, let’s use them. It’s okay to add a few new titles, but lets also get read of many of them. Both help establish equality.

    When my grandfather was a bishop, I’m sure my grandmother did a lot of the heavy lifting. I’m sure my MPs shared responsibilities with their spouses. The pair needs to be treated as equals. And that goes for many Church positions.

  37. Once again, time for some Janis Joplin.

  38. I’ve gotten enough education to have earned a title, too. I ask my students to call me Leona; I inwardly roll my eyes at my colleagues who pull rank. But here’s the thing, I -could- ask people to call me “doctor” if I wanted to. I can have a title on par with anybody else.

    Now, I’m totally with the people who prefer a world with no titles. In my perfect world, we’d all be on a first-name basis at church. I wish I could have the kids I’ve taught in Primary call me Leona. I tried, but it didn’t fly. Because, of course, that’s not how our church culture works.

    At present, for women, our church culture works more like this: the mission president’s wife does all the work to earn the Ph.D.; she does the coursework, writes the dissertation, and successfully defends it, and the degree is conferred, but SHE can’t be called doctor. Because we don’t do that for women, silly!

    It grates. And most women are really very pleasant about it, but we notice, and it doesn’t sit well.

  39. Well Leona, I too am a woman, with a PhD (in a predominantly male field). And while I agree the disparity in treatment of men and women at church grates, and I do notice, I do not believe more titles for everyone will solve the problems, which I see as with too much deference to hierarchy resulting in leader worship, and a disinclination to think for oneself. I simply try not to use titles at all in a church setting. In a discussion with a former member of the mission presidency on the topic I was told I was an anarchist. I’m not holding my breath on any changes in culture from the top, however. My W&T post I linked in my earlier comment refers to a conference address by RMN in which the use of titles and their importance and the respect they apparently show is another of his bug bears. Well for me, respect is earned. It’s how a person serves and treats others, not what their position is. I often find that those I respect most in my ward serve in the humblest callings.

  40. I think “wife” is a noble title and an important job. “Husband” is, too. They mean, “This is a partner bound by covenant.”

  41. Hedgehog,

    I read your (very insightful!) post. I think I mostly agree with your take on the way titles function. I agree that in an ideal world we’d eschew them entirely. In the absence of the (probably unlikely) abolishment of all titles at church, you feel something closer to parity between men and women would be a case of two wrongs not getting us any closer to right? I see that point. In fact, you may well be thinking through this more clearly than I am.

    And yet, I still would rather have something closer to parity in place of what we have now. It feels like a more achievable aim that would mitigate a lot of harm.

    Also, my Ph.D. is definitely -not- in a male-dominated field. Good on ya!

  42. A Turtle Named Mack says:

    Setting apart a woman as Mission President’s Wife is redundant. She’s already the Mission President’s wife.

  43. A Turtle Named Mack says:

    On another note, legacy titles, such as Bishop-for-life are very unnerving for me. But what I find even more annoying is the tendency to use the title as the person’s identity, or their first name. For example: “We need to ask Bishop…”, or “Bishop is out of town this week.” It’s THE Bishop! That’s his title, not his name.

  44. Leona, yes that’s it. Creating more titles feels like we’d be moving further away from where we need to be headed, and in a way that feels like we’d be less likely ever to get there. That’s not to say I’m not all in favour of women getting equal access to roles, input on counsels etc. But I don’t think we need to be addressing anyone as their role.
    I do have some sympathy for your point of view nevertheless.

  45. “that asked “Should We Still Call a Former Bishop “Bishop”?”

    The answer, of course, was yes.”

    Yes? Say what now? That answer, of course, should be “no”. It’s not appropriate. I don’t call anyone at church by their former title. I do like the idea of formerly calling the RS president “president” though.

  46. Jack Hughes says:

    A Turtle Named Mack,
    Agreed! It just sounds weird when the title is used as his name like that. In a previous ward I lived in, the bishop’s wife frequently referred to her own husband that way, using “Bishop” like it was his name all along–“Years ago, when Bishop and I were first married…” It’s very odd indeed.

    I’ll wager that a not insignificant number of bishops and stake presidents look forward to their eventual release as a time when they get their own names back and can go back to being themselves, without all the pretense that comes with the titles.

  47. We recently moved to a densely Mormon area and everyone calls the Bishop “Bishop”. Is this a Mormon Corridor thing? I’ve never experienced it before.

  48. James Stone says:

    As typical for a BCC blog post, lots of murmuring but no solutions. That’s what happens when someone sees more virtue in complaining and playing the victim card than actually having a constructive dialogue.

  49. Hey James Stone: Did you really just drop in here and murmur, without offering solutions, about a BCC blog post you find problematic? I guess that’s what happens when someone sees more virtue in complaining and playing the victim card than actually having a constructive dialogue. Too funny.

  50. @gayle2nturner says: “I think “wife” is a noble title and an important job. “Husband” is, too. They mean, “This is a partner bound by covenant.”’

    True, true. I agree that it is important to teach that “wife” is an important and beautiful title. Absolutely. But if honoring marital roles is all that is needed to address the problem that EmJen points out, then we would call our mission president’s “husband.”

    But we don’t.

  51. It shows little more than we lack creativity. We wouldn’t be talking about women holding the priesthood or someday maybe being ordained to it when we’d realize that, contra Oaks the men (who hold the priesthood and exercise it righteously) are in fact “the priesthood” as much as God is; if we equally realized and fleshed out the idea of priestesshood.

    Brotherhood is a collection of brothers. Priesthood is a collection of priests – or men holding the power of God.

    Sisterhood is a collection of sisters. Priestesshood is a collection of priestesses – or women holding the power of God.

    There issue is it’s just too wordy. Priests vs priestesses.

    I’d also say the issue is we’ve confused office and calling. A prior office ordination entailed certain responsibility. You didn’t need a calling in addition to that. Your office was the calling. The priest had certain roles. You don’t need to then give the priest a calling.

    So the reality is “teacher” means not much for our teachers because they’re not usually doing much teaching while our actual teachers in Relief Society, YW, Elders Quorums aren’t actually ordained as teachers when they are doing the teaching.

    We do things out of tradition and deference for the past to maintain a connection to it, but it’s clear we need to bring this aspect of our practiced theology inline with how we think about things today.

    Doesn’t mean it’s wrong then or even bad and sexist, etc. I’m no pretesting feminist, but I think the dissonance created by our incongruous labeling and outright mislabeling — Deacons are ministers in the technical language sense and we fall all over ourselves referring to ministering brothers and sisters with mouthfuls of words to describe them, while meanwhile calling young boys to be ministers who rarely minister (often no more than once a week pass a tray). Clearly in that linguistic sense a ministering Sister is a “deacon”, ie a ministering servant.

  52. Titles are important and if, in your ward, the Elders Quorum president is referred to as “President” then the Relief Society president should be referred to in the same way. Random aside, calling the Elders Quorum president by his quorum title in general ward business is something that’s happened during my 40-year lifetime. Frankly, in ward situations, I’d be perfectly happy referring to everyone as “Brother” or “Sister,” including the Bishop. Though I do recognize that there are times when it’s helpful for congregants to refer to the bishop by a title, I just think us Mormons are a little to hierarchical for our own good.

    I’m not sure how to resolve the Mission President situation, though an easy fix would be to refer to them as President and Sister President. I’d also be okay with using “President” for both of them, but since they’re likely to have the same last name, that could get confusing.

    Aside: I’m not a fan of most “feminized” titles. I think a priest should be a priest regardless of sex, just like a prophet should be a prophet or a seer should be a seer. But that’s just how I roll.

    In conclusion: I just had a flash of inspiration and I say we use Biblical female prophets as titles for the YW age groups. So YW 12-14 could be Miriams, YW 14-16 could be Huldahs, and YW 16-18 could be Deborahs; or something along those lines. Hey, if we’ve got the wriggle room we might as well use it.

  53. I was reading an article in the January 1938 Relief Society magazine about a Social Work Conference held at the University of Utah. Some of the wording describing the RS president would never be used today. It says “President Louise Y. Robinson with her usual grace and dignity, presided during the closing session of the Conference”. In all the articles she is always referred to as President Robinsion never Sister, and today the words preside and RS president would not appear in the same sentence. Just thought that was interesting.

  54. Not a president of anything says:

    Megan…
    “I’m not sure how to resolve the Mission President situation, though an easy fix would be to refer to them as President and Sister President. I’d also be okay with using “President” for both of them, but since they’re likely to have the same last name, that could get confusing.”

    How about Brother and Sister X, presidents of the Y Mission? Why is the word president assumed to be male? Why do we have to qualify president with ‘sister’ so people know she’s a woman (same with missionaries)? If we’re going to use Sister President then we also need to use Brother President.

    My vote is to call everyone by their actual names and drop the titles all together.

  55. The Other Brother Jones says:

    Megan et al,
    In my mission it was very common to refer to them ans President and “Sister Pres”. But once I accidentally called her that to her face. I apologized, but she said she didn’t mind. She was pretty cool. And very knowledgeable about the scriptures. She definitely pulled her weight in the mission. The previous Sister Pres, not so much. The only interaction I had with her was when my companion told me she suggested I was ready for a haircut. She never told you directly, always through your comp!

  56. I’d suggest that “Rabbi” would be great–if any of them actually wished it. And they should adopt Matthew 23:7 as their motto.

  57. nobody, really says:

    My mission president had very precise, written instructions for how the APs were to pick up new missionaries from the airport. There were exact sentences that needed to be said at exact times, at exact mile markers, exactly as written. All of these instructions included using “President” as a first name. “President is strict, but he’ll be your best friend.” “President wants a baptizing mission, not a service mission.” For brand new, off-the-plane missionaries, it was meant as a clear example of what we were to do.

    His wife would typically appear at one zone conference per year to give us instructions on proper grammar usage. “If we are going to baptize professional people, we must conduct ourselves as professionals.” We were also told she was in charge of “unique health issues for the sister missionaries” – kind of like when the boys and girls were separated in gym class. She had small children at home, so we didn’t think too much of the fact that she wasn’t involved in mission management.

  58. Kevin Barney says:

    I agree with Megan about superfluous feminized endings. There’s a specific, technical reason why I would argue against deaconesses. Consider:

    Romans 16:1 – I commend unto you Phebe our sister, which is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea:

    The word servant is a translation of diakonos, one who serves, servant, deacon. The noun is masculine in form, even though the word itself In this context is feminine in gender. This is one of 22 words in the GNT that take a masculine form irrespective of whether the referent is masculine or feminine. Another example is theos God/Goddess; the masculine form is used either way.

    So if we ever called our young women deacons, I would argue we should follow the biblical usage and not add a superfluous feminine ending.

  59. Know who else is in favor of feminized endings?

    Kings and queens.
    Priests and priestesses.

    Nothing more needs to be said.

  60. Then there’s that classic girls camp movie, “Once I was a Twelve-Year-Old.”

  61. The main issue with titles has to do with keys. The Young Men’s Presidents (they still exist until January) were not given keys, so they were referred to as “brother” rather than “president.” Same with the Sunday School President. Counselors in the Bishopric are given no keys, so they are referred to as “brother.” The Deacon’s Quorum President is given keys and should be referred to as “President.”

    I think it just depends on whether you believe there are priesthood keys. If you think it’s just a lot of rigmarole invented by men, then it isn’t really defensible.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/President_(LDS_Church_honorific)

  62. Our friends at COB are trying to figure out a better name to call the Co-President couples. Also, a friend recently was called to be president. He was getting set apart my a 12 and she was getting set apart by a 70. She kindly asked why since the whole family would be there that day. The COB got back to her and said they were wrong and from now on all husband and wife president couples would be set apart by a 12, and they were sorry they hadn’t done that before. Bass by steps.

  63. So you’re saying that the counselors in a stake presidency should be referred to as “brother”?

  64. Gg, “Our friends at COB are trying to figure out a better name to call the Co-President couples.”
    And how do you know that? Who do you mean by “friends at COB”? Heck, they haven’t even figured out how to delete a section from Handbook 1 that was announced as rescinded back in early April.

  65. your food allergy is fake says:

    Michael Umphrey, But what is the reason for keys –> presidential title? Brother Joseph certainly held keys.

  66. I can back up what Gg says – a couple I know recently began their three-year term as mission president and partner, and because they’re good friends I heard about everything step by step. When he was called, it was as the mission president; she was officially called as a full-time missionary for the church. They began fairly lengthy training, most of which took place on-line – they either watched already recorded material, or took part in WebEx sessions with other president-to-be couples. That was followed by a three-day marathon in the MTC with the first presidency and the quorum of the twelve. During the process (and I think this was before their MTC training but I don’t remember) they were actually given a sort of survey that asked for input on what they thought about a title for the wife. I know this because they texted me to see if I had any suggestions. I think they ended up saying Sister Mission President because they were adamant that both positions were equally important, responsible, and weighty.

  67. Sean Escobar says:

    Good for you for speaking out. I freaking love it!

  68. It’s always been a pet peeve of mine when people refer to their spouse as “President ” or “Sister ” or “Bishop “. You’re married – call them by their first name – everyone knows it and it seems weird to me otherwise! I’ve been blessed during my time serving as Bishop that my wife has referred to me as “Brian” in all talks, testimonies and meetings.

    Titles have never really been my thing… It’s a nice sign of respect, but I think the titles of “Brother” or “Sister” suffice. I don’t know that there is anything derived from most of them we use. The fact is I look back on my life and realize that the most influential people did not have titles but just love and concern – that is what is important to me.

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