Oh, “Brother.”

When I was a kid, I had a really hard time with titles. I felt awkward calling people “Aunt Sarah” or “Mr. Smith,” possibly because my parents never bothered to use titles in front of me. They called their friends and relatives by their first names, and that felt natural to me. Whenever I heard other kids refer to my mother as “Mrs,” I thought of this scene from Anne of Green Gables:

“What am I to call you?” asked Anne.  “Shall I always say
Miss Cuthbert?  Can I call you Aunt Marilla?”

“No; you’ll call me just plain Marilla.  I’m not used to
being called Miss Cuthbert and it would make me nervous.”

“It sounds awfully disrespectful to just say Marilla,”
protested Anne.

“I guess there’ll be nothing disrespectful in it if you’re
careful to speak respectfully.  Everybody, young and old,
in Avonlea calls me Marilla except the minister.  He says
Miss Cuthbert–when he thinks of it.”

In church, titles became even more awkward. Since we were all brothers and sisters in Christ, we were supposed to treat each other like family. What this meant, in practice, was that instead of calling each other “Jane” or “Ms. Doe,” we would call each other “Sister Jane.” (One pastor in a church we visited liked to call me “sister” + my father’s name as some kind of weird joke. I was furious. “I have a name!” I remember yelling at him, which only made him do it more.)

My mom thought this situation was pretty silly. We had a relative in a convent whom we called Sister, so perhaps she felt the practice was too Catholic. I’ve always enjoyed her response to the pretentiousness of calling one’s best friend “Sister Jane” or “Brother Mike”:

“You don’t call your actual brothers and sisters ‘brother’ and ‘sister.’ You just use their names. If you really believe that you’re brother and sister in Christ, you should be able to call each other by your first names.”

Ultimately, the only people I called “Brother” were pastors, including the infamous “Brother Branham.”

Daughter of the Patriarchy, epilogue: What does leaving fundamentalism look like?
Blogging update
Prospect.org: Purity Culture is Rape Culture
The Fistfight Fallacy: rape culture’s ahistorical premise
  • http://twitter.com/nicoleintrovert Nicole Introvert (@nicoleintrovert)

    It’s very strange but even though I have no problem with calling people by titles such as my “Aunt Sue”, I feel uncomfortable when they are applied to me. I prefer my nieces just call me by my first name. And even though I am 31 years old, I am scared to death of addressing my friends’ parents and my in-laws. I never know what to call them.

  • Purina Chow

    Well Sierra, interestingly enough, it appears that Brother Reverend Mister Branham would agree with you on this point:

    I know I sign my name “Reverend.” That’s exactly right; that’s just a–a custom thing of the day,
    but it shouldn’t be done.
    Reverend,” and “Bishop,” and “Doctor,” and all those things are manmade titles,
    and they’re nonsense.
    In the Bible they were “Peter,” “James,” “Paul,” “John,” and all the rest of them.

    • http://nonprophetmessage.wordpress.com Sierra

      It does happen occasionally. Nobody is 100% wrong. ;)

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