I have been aware for some time of Professor Valerie Hudson‘s particular interest in titles as a mechanism for indicating and enabling partnership between men and women in church administration. Known for her revolutionary work in gender equality’s impact on countries’ financial and military stability, Hudson this month uses the Spring Issue of Square Two, the online journal she edits and on which I sit on the board, to open up the question of titles to readers and all members. She invites all to participate in a survey asking for alternatives to today’s current naming system. I know that Hudson has the credibility and relationships to take the thoughts generated by this survey to those who will pray about and consider making our naming system more reflective of our day’s needs. Visit Square Two here or go directly to the survey in Google Docs.

I have noted in Women at Church that “Sister” is the only formal designation for women in the Church, aside from “matron” which is used as a descriptor rather than a title (i.e. “the temple matron is Sister Smith” rather than “Matron Smith”). While “Sister” has beautiful meaning and encompasses the essence of the Plan of Salvation in it, its use reaches a limit when we are trying to recognize and name and honor the tremendous work our women do within the Church. I have also noted that while men’s titles have become more and more grandiose and extended since our early days (i.e. we’ve gone from “Brother Joseph” and “Brother Brigham” to extensive uses of “President” and “Elder” not to mention “Bishop”), women’s titles have become more and more narrow and less formal (i.e. we’ve gone from “Presidentess Smith” and “Prophetess Snow” to  universal “Sister”).

We understand the doctrinal importance of naming from reading accounts of the Creation and from our experiences in the temple. Naming is a mechanism of honoring those doing specific types of work, but it also acts as a mantle members of the kingdom take on when their particular responsibilities in that kingdom change, even for a limited time. I would be fascinated to learn of the psychological and spiritual impact the assumption of the title “Elder” has on a teenaged boy when he is set apart as a missionary. While they put on a similar name tag, I’m not sure that the continued designation of “Sister” has the same impact on our girls. How would the partnership between a husband and wife change when they serve as “mission parents” or “mission presidents” jointly, instead of our current failing to name the woman’s specific role?

Let’s work together to offer options and ideas to those who will take them to the Lord.