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Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Mormons & Materialism: Part 6 Titles, Labels and Lemon Juice

Since I have earned the right to be called "Dr." in the academic world, I'm hoping that my ideas on this subject won't be considered sour grapes.

Titles and labels are probably a type of new property. They are intangible but belong to people as do things they own or have control over. They establish barriers and rankings amongst people, much as tangible property does.

Those that have them are considered somehow superior over the rest of us. Using titles or labels such as "President" or "CEO," for example, bring with it a certain distinction.

But, keep in mind these are secular distinctions.

. . .God is no respecter of persons. (See Acts 10:34)
None of these titles or labels last. None of them have any meaning in the next world. They don't actually indicate any superiority in this one other than what our culture and society give them. In the end, they just taste sour and leave a bad aftertaste.

I thought long and hard concerning whether to require my students to refer to me as "Dr." I knew it was unrighteous to consider it a power thing. What I decided was that I would answer to "Dr. or "Professor," "Ms." or "Miss" to my undergraduate students. Most undergraduates don't seem to feel comfortable using a professor's first name. Since many of my graduate students were working professionals I told them they were welcome to use my first name if they wished.

The stories I heard about professors forcing people to use their title offended me. I thought, "Students know I"m the professor. I don't have to beat them over the head with it."

What is particularly offensive is when these academic and other secular titles get used in the Church environment. I've actually heard people refer to someone as Dr. in Sunday School. I think there are very good reasons why we are all "Brother" or "Sister" in Church.  It reinforces our equal status as children of God.

Leadership titles in the Church are temporary. The titles belong to the calling, not the person. When you no longer have the calling you no longer have the title. There is no actual distinction accruing to you as an individual as a result of the calling, just responsibility and accountability.

Having a particular calling does not suggest what your level of righteousness is. Jesus chose Judas Iscariot as one of his Apostles. Saul, David and Solomon all went bad. They all had so-called high-level callings.

We have been told that callings are just opportunities to serve, not a barometer of righteousness. Unfortunately, this has not always been properly reinforced. Sometimes introductions include the so-called important callings someone has served in like a Bishop, Branch President, Relief Society President, High Council Member, etc. You don't find someone proudly claiming they were a Nursery Leader or Sacrament Bulletin Coordinator do you?

In the past, these Church callings were identified in Church magazine articles when someone authored something. This practice has gradually fallen off. The practice should fall off everywhere.

Current leaders should be acknowledged for the calling they hold. We should know who they are so that we know who holds the keys of authority.

But, titles and labels should not be dangled in people's faces or used for personal aggrandizement.

Some people collect titles and labels while others collect things. There is no real difference between them.

1 comment:

  1. One of my favorite bishops was released when I was newly married and didn't have any children. In his talk the Sunday he was released he told us that he would not respond to being called bishop by anyone over the age of eight. If they were younger than that he would help them remember who the new bishop was, but that was it, he had passed the title on to the new bishop.

    He didn't get a new calling for a couple months. I think everyone assumed he would be called to the high council when things got shuffled around. Instead his new calling was as a companion for an autistic primary child. For two years he was that boy's constant companion at church and cub scouts. It allowed the boys mother to be in the YW presidency, and his father to serve as a ward clerk. More importantly it gave those parents some time where they knew they did not have to worry about their son, and it gave the boy the security of knowing he would always have his companion with him. When the boys family was on vacation, this former bishop took his vacation. The only week he wasn't there in those two years was when he was in a car accident on his way to church and had to have the bone set. He still got there for the last 15 minutes so his charge would know he had not left him.

    A few years after that, when he was serving as the Scoutmaster (I am sure the fact that he was called, two weeks after the same boy was ordained a deacon, was part of the Lord's plan.) I asked him if he missed being the bishop. He said that as a young man he had learned from his bishop that serving in any calling is noble and that as long as you served to your full capacity, the Lord would be satisfied.

    I knew he grew up in the ward, and I asked him if that bishop was still in the stake. He said, "Of course he is. You know Brother Wright don't you?" Yes, I knew Brother Wright, he was the physicist who was the head of the physics department at a local university who had done original research for years, and who spent every Sunday for six years on the floor in the nursery room, playing with every toddler who was cranky or fussy or prone to tears. He was also the man who did the church nursery for every RS activity. I had no idea that he had once been a bishop and member of the stake presidency. I did know that every child in our ward would happily crawl up on his lap if it happened to be empty.

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