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Friday, November 03, 2017

Call no man 'Father'



So, buckle up church-going buttercups. Unless your church decides to observe All Saint's Day this Sunday, you're going to hear Matthew quoting Jesus' rant about Scribes and Pharisees and his final wind up and pitch right across home plate to call no earthly person "Rabbi" or "Father" or "Instructor".

Here are the lectionary lessons for this week

For the last 40 years - at least - I've been hearing the argument about how we, in The Episcopal Church, need to stop calling men who are priests "Father" - and, likewise, stop calling women who are priests "Mother".

Or, conversely, if we call men "Father" then we should absolutely call women "Mother".

I am really, really weary of this conversation so I'm going to cut right to the chase here.

Yes, I know. The title "father/mother" is meant to be a spiritual honorific which alludes to the ancient tradition of the church recognizing the nurturing and guidance of spiritual leaders in the life of faith in the Spirit.

I understand.

What amuses me - when it doesn't flat-out annoy me - is that the very ordained men and women who adhere most to that title usually don't know the first thing about being a "spiritual nurturer" much less a "spiritual guide".

In my experience, most of them haven't worked through their own ... spiritual crap .... to guide anyone anywhere. They may be fine biological parents (although a surprising number have no children) but that is a very, very different role from being a spiritual guide and providing spiritual nourishment/sustenance.

Yes, I know. That passage is taken way too literally. Yes, I know, the applications in today's world are very different. No, I'm not being anti-Roman Catholic - although I note that more and more RC clergy are being called "pastor".

And yes, I know, there are clergy - male and female - in The Episcopal Church, who demand it. They usually follow it up with either "that has always been the tradition here" (See also: seven last words of a dying church) - OR - "but, the people like it - they WANT to call me Father/Mother."

Yada. Yada. Yada. See also: 40 years of conversation.

And, of all of the things I've heard that last one is the most transparent. It's simply shocking how many clergy have absolutely NO insight into their own behavior. I mean, if you are in your 20s or 30s (I wouldn't pay to be 20 or 30 again!), I suppose it's understandable. But, eventually - like it or not - we all have to grow up, kids.

Let me rush to put a fine point on it:
*It is absolutely poor pastoral theology to call clergy "Father" or "Mother". 
*It infantilizes the laity. 
*It sets up the congregation as a repository for all their family dysfunction - and then we wonder why our congregations implode when there is conflict.
I don't know how many times I'm going to have to say this, but I'll say it again:
"Mother is a false equivalent to Father." 
Like it or not, it just is. "Mother" simply does not have the same authority and power as "Father" in the authority structure of a family dynamic.

Now, I will agree with those who say that the effect on our psyches of the archetype of "Mother" can be more powerful than the archetype of "Father" - but, more often than not in a very damaging way.

Do we really want that dynamic operational in a congregational setting?

There is so much more to this than just a title.

What will it take for us to come out from behind the protective wall of church tradition, stop dressing up our neurosis in church satin and lace, put down the thurible that blows smoke everywhere and listen to what we are doing to ourselves, the church, the Body of Christ?

And, with that question, here endth the rant.

PS: Someone just posted this on my FB page. I wanted to make sure I added it in a place where I could return to it:
Marion Hatchett, of blessed memory, always said that the ordination rites in the book of common prayer answered this question quite succinctly:

"When the ordinand is presented, his/her full name (designated by the symbol N.N.) is used. Thereafter, it is appropriate to refer to him/her only by the Christian name by which he wishes to be known." BCP 536, 524

10 comments:

Clark Hendley said...

The problem is, the Protestant “Reverend” is grammatically incorrect. So what’s a layman to do?��

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Yes, Clark. I mention that in my post. As I said, when parents ask what their children should call me to show respect, I "split the difference" and have them call me "Reverand Elizabeth". That said, unless it is a situation demanding formality, I prefer we all call each other by our baptismal names. If a parishioner is introducing me to a visitor or friend, I prefer "And, this is my priest, Elizabeth Kaeton." If I'm in a situation demanding formality, I introduce myself as "the Rev Dr. . . ." If then asked "What shall I call you, I deflect to Dr. It amazes me how often men will call me "Rev Kaeton." Which, of course, is grammatically incorrect. But, it's really all they can handle. LOL.

Lionel Deimel said...

Whenever this issue arises, I mention the comment made by a female priest I know: “Where I come from, ‘mother’ is only half a word.”

The clear solution is to use “Priest.” We often address deacons using their office: Deacon Jones or Deacon Jane. “Priest Elizabeth” may sound odd at first, but everyone will get used to it. The language changes by means of the way we use it.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

I've often said that very thing. It's amazing to me how many clergy hold onto that title - especially men. Single men. Of all colors. Low and high Anglicans. So, some women dig their heels in and insist on Mother. I have the hardest time convincing them that it's a false equivalency.

I'm okay with "priest". It IS awkward. It's better than Father/Mother. But, if we do that, why not a title for the laity? "Baptized Lionel.". Then, we'll all have titles. Sounds fair to me.

My first choice? My baptismal name.

Lionel Deimel said...

I’m find with the baptismal name, but sometimes a title is necessary. A major problem is addressing a letter, particularly to a priest you don’t know. You can’t write “Dear The Rev. So-and-So:” “Dear Priest So-and-So:” works fine.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

You are grammatically correct. I've had letters addressed to "the Rev Dr. Elizabeth Kaeton" and then the salutation is Dear Pastor Kaeton or Dear Dr. Kaeton. Works for me. So does Priest. Awkward. It'll take some time to get used to it. That's not the problem. The problem is the (mostly) men and (some) women who absolutely refuse to give up the title Father/Mother.

8thday said...

One of the reasons I walked away from organized religion is that I could no longer reconcile the spiritual, humble vision of religion that the gospel offered me and the political/money/ego-centric beaucracy of today's religious institutions. I find this particularly true of the Catholic and Episcopal churches with all their titles and hierarchy. I wonder if Jesus would even recognize his church.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

I take some comfort in the fact that Jesus didn't establish the church; his disciples did.

8thday said...

I guess that's what happens when you leave it to a group of men : )

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Well said, 8thday. Well said.