Mr. Priest, I Refuse to Call You “Father”

Mr. Priest, I Refuse to Call You “Father” October 8, 2015

I grew up in anti-Catholic Mormonism. Catholicism was the “Great and Abominable Church” and it was the “Whore of All the Earth.” The Catholic Church damaged the Bible. Priests tampered with and lifted large blocks of the text out of the Bible leaving the sacred book only partially complete and difficult to interpret. It went from plain to opaque thanks to the work, over many centuries, of the Catholics. The Catholic Church was like a tree rotten at the roots deserving only to be hacked down with a few swings of a sharp ax and then thrown in the fire. I am not happy to report that these ideas were the mother’s milk of my childhood religious instruction.
So how did this acculturation play out in my practical life experience?

I had a very good friend that was Catholic. From time to time I would attend mass with his family. However, I was so biased by the prejudices embedded in so many Mormon teachings of the day that I refused to even attempt to find Christ in the mass. I enjoyed my friendship with these Catholics from Chicago but deep down I was convinced they belonged to a mess of a religion. Simply, acculturation is a very powerful force in our lives. It took a great deal of thrust to escape the gravitational pull of anti-Catholicism. And that didn’t happen until after I served part of my mission in Omaha, Nebraska. Home to Creighton University–Catholics were everywhere!
On one occasion I was standing on a corner next to a Catholic priest. We were waiting for the light to change so that we could cross the street. Three ministers of Jesus standing shoulder-to-shoulder. He was friendly and greeted me and my companion with open sociality. I was faced with a dilemma. What should I call this friendly man? Immediately I recalled the instructions of Jesus to call no man “Father.” I turned to him and said, “How are you today, Sir?” There you have it. I would not afford him the respect to call him by his priestly appellation. At the time I felt like I had done the right thing. Like I had just followed Jesus and was pleasing in His site. In hindsight I am nothing but disgusted by my behavior and my words that day. I have been haunted by this experience for the last thirty-two years.

I can’t explain why this offense is so glaring in my mind, but it is. I have done a lot of dumb things and just as many sinful things, and yet my behavior toward this priest looms large in my mind. Why can’t I simply pass this off to the instruction received from Mormon adults about the hideousness of Catholics? My conclusion is this: some abuses cross lines that are simply unacceptable under any circumstances. No pass cards. No tolerable excuses. I should have known better no matter what. On the face of Christianity is the clear and forthright command to treat others with kindness, benevolence, and respect. I failed on all three markers of Christian discipleship. My encounter with the priest was such a blatant breach that I cannot reasonable duck the blame that I deserve.

Fortunately, Mormonism is no longer anti-Catholic. Quite the opposite, there are strong and positive relations uniting the two. However, I am not exaggerating the anti-Catholic sentiments that I encountered through church instruction in my youth. Sunday school, priesthood meetings, sacrament meetings and writings of apostles including Talmage and McConkie. Likewise, I am not exaggerating the justifiable condemnation that I heap upon myself all these years later. One of the wishes of my heart is to go back in time to that street corner just so that I could cheerfully utter one word—Father! But such a journey through time is not possible. I can only live with my regret and learn from my mistake. I can say that I have never botched similar opportunities since that day. Father, pastor, rabbi, sheik, guru to name a few. Freely showing respect toward Godly men and women is just a kind manifestation of respect, civility and love. And so, let the appellations flow. After all, these important religious persons are not part of the problem, they are a critical part of the solution!

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