Wednesday, March 25, 2015

"Brother" As an Honorific

As a church, we've lost the point of the use of the terms "brother" and "sister."

The idea is to grow intimacy. You aren't a stranger, you're my brother (or sister). But then I undermine that intimacy when I combine the title with your surname instead of your given name.

Is it significant that early members of the church knew "Brother Joseph" and "Brother Brigham," but today we know "Brother Jones" and "Sister Davis"? I think it is. The surname short-circuits any familial intimacy the "brother" or "sister" had hinted at. I'm supposed to treat you as family so we can build up Zion, but then you're so distinct from family that I'm not even allowed to use your given name.

The article to which I linked in my previous post calls a guy "brother" when there is no connection to his status as a church member. He's a member of the public who did an interesting thing as a member of the public, not as a church employee or as a church official. Why does his status as a church member matter? What if he hadn't been a church member, or if he had collaborated with a non-member? Would the article refer to such a duo as "Brother Johnson and Mr. Harris"?

Here the term "brother" has been further undermined, not just losing its intimacy through its coupling with a surname, but losing its universality through signifying in-group/out-group status. The point of calling ANYONE "brother" is that ALL men are my brothers. While the struggle of a Zion mentality is to expand the circle of affection, the exclusionary use of "brother" and the coupling of the term with a surname builds a wall around the in-group and then compartmentalizes each member of the in-group in isolation. This is not an expansion of the circle of affection, but its greatest possible contraction.

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