Titles, Positions, and Honors

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This morning, I was reading this passage from the New Testament, where Christ talks about the importance of humility:

Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples, Saying, The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat: All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not. For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments, And love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues, And greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi. But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren. And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven. Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ. But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.

The passage talks about those who love to be given honor by others for their position, their authority, and their learning. A modern day equivalent, I think, may be educated individuals to take delight in being called “Doctor _______,” and feel as if the academic laureate somehow reflects on their worth as a human being. I think sometimes we really are re-enacting the traditions of the pharisees in academia, always referring to our professors (or expecting our students to refer to us) using titles and honors.

The truth is, we are all brothers and sisters, and though some of us have more education than others, why should we expect that to be acknowledged in all of our daily interactions?  What benefit is that to us, except an increased sense of deference to academic authority? And is that really a righteous system?

I love the fact that at BYU-Idaho, there is a different tradition—students usually just call their professors “Brother ______” or “Sister ______.” I really wish we’d do the same thing at BYU. I don’t like the atmosphere of deference to academic achievement, as if the titles and honors actually made us superior in some way.

On a related note, I wonder how much this applies in a church context. In the church, we have a tradition of referring to people by their office—such as “Bishop Allsop” or “President Turner,” or whatever. I think that in some ways, it’s important for us to recognize the priesthood authority of those who hold priesthood office—a constant reminder that there are priesthood hierarchies that we ought to give deference to. But I wonder, where did the tradition start where we constantly refer to people by their office? At what point does it cross the line and become somewhat like what Christ was warning about?

I don’t in any way think that bishops and stake presidents are going about “enlarging their phylacteries” or just loving being called “bishop” and “president.” But at what point do we forget that we are also all brothers and sisters, and varying priesthood offices in no way reflects on our eternal worth or divine approval. A nursery leader is just as likely to receive the approbation of God as a stake president—what could we do to remind ourselves of this? What can we do to emphasize, in daily interaction, that although a man holds a priesthood office (and his decisions should therefore be given deference), he is not any closer to heaven, redemption or salvation, than someone who holds no office at all?

The path to heaven leads through Christ. The path to heaven is not a stairway of church offices, responsibilities, etc. Envying those with a large church stewardship is not only unnecessary (since a stake president receives no greater reward in heaven than a nursery leader), but is a sin. We are not to envy or seek authority over others. My question: does referring to those in authority always by their titles engender or cultivate the perception that such authority and stewardship should be sought after? I don’t know. Thoughts?


  1. Don’t. =) There’s no reason to violate long-standing traditions that seem to have the approval of church leadership. I’m not questioning their leadership or the tradition—I’m just wondering what differentiates the tradition from what Christ warns against.

    I recognize that not all traditions are revelatory in origin. Some traditions are cultural artifacts. But it’s not my role to draw that distinction, or to cause people to question church leadership.

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