Titles of Inequality

Guest post by Green.


The church has a long history of members referring to each other as “brother” or “sister.” In the early days of the church, the prophet was known as “Brother Joseph (one example from the Joseph Smith papers is here). I like this idea; it makes the church seem a familial place, focused on families and inclusion. But I think this title history is more complex.


There are quite a few blog posts online discussing the concept behind “Bother” and Sister” titles, much the rhetoric is focused in a very good way- teaching that we are all children of God, and need to look out for each other as we would in a family. In 2018, LDSLiving posted a piece on the “brother and sister” title ideology, claiming that it “It Reminds Us We Are All Equal.”


As God’s children, we are all equal because ” all are alike unto God” (2 Nephi 26:33). Using “brother” and “sister” reminds us of this. We may have different callings like Relief Society president, bishop, Primary president, stake president, etc., but this doesn’t mean we are better than each other. Because we all carry the title “brother” and “sister,” we don’t set anyone higher than the other. No job position, marital status, or amount of wealth sets us apart because when we walk through the chapel doors, we are all “brother” and “sister” and we are all trying to live the gospel. 


Except that last part is not true. We are not equal within the church structure, nor do we speak to each other as equals. For example, when is the last time you called your bishop, “brother”? Over the past decade I have heard of bishops and branch presidents referring to female primary and relief society presidents as “President Smith,” as a means of showing respect to their position—possibly in reaction to the Ordain Women movement. But this does not mean that the bishop sees, respects, speaks to, or listens to a primary or relief society president as an equal.


A BYU devotional titled “Brotherly Love,” wherein two-gendered titles are revered, is laughably ironic. And the church’s own website includes a piece arguing that referring to each other as “brother” or “sister”  “help(s) us best relate to each other.” (?) This particular piece also includes the stipulation that “the titles Bishop and President  are appropriate even after the (male) leader has been released.” So, uh… they aren’t a part of that big holy family with the rest of us, but rather a part of a class of folks that are deserving of bigger titles. *sigh*


Simply put, we are NOT equal in the church. The church is a patriarchal structure, even when we use titles that we pretend are equal. Calling me a “sister” to another person’s “brother” only serves as a reminder that my position in the church is lower because of my gender, which is highlighted by the “sister” church title. Why else are male missionaries called “Elder” to the title of “sister” for female missionaries?


“Sisters” cannot raise to the title of elder or bishop, whereas a “brother” may do so. Thus the title of brother is inherently more powerful than the title of sister. Men will always have greater authority and power than women so long as we continue to use the term “presiding,” and we ban women from holding “priesthood keys.” We are constantly reminded of our lower position in the church by use of these gendered titles.


I have found that calling each other by these titles is further problematic because of the confusion it brings to those outside of the church. Years ago, when I was in the Hill Cumorah Pageant, non-members were known to ask where I had trained to obtain the title of “Sister”, as displayed on my name badge. “Did you obtain that title at BYU?” they would ask. It became a much more common discussion topic than the intended missionary work.


In addition to the divisive sexism these gendered titles enforce, in the age of LGBTQIA+,

these titles are discriminatory. As a diagnostically intersex individual, I feel for my LGBTQIA+ community. Though I identify as female, I feel for those who have XX chromosomes and testicles. I ache for those who have XXY chromosomes, beards and breasts, and I fear for those who chose to not identify with a specific gender. Are these people not our eternal siblings as well?



I suggest that we retire these sexist, gendered, discriminatory titles as call each other ‘Saints’. After all, this is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. ‘Saints’ to me is much more inclusive

and reflective of the mission of the church to be of service and love to all. It reflects my mind and heart, and not my body. It gives me a matching title to my spouse, and reminds us that we are truly equal because we have the same label.


It is a baby step. But it is an important baby step.


  1. Tired of all the kvetching!
    I was referred to as president as much as 30 years ago, both when I was local RS president and when i was stake RS president.

    • Meri, I wonder if you’re tired of “kvetching” why you are taking time to read and comment on this blog? Isn’t your comment a form of the “kvetching” you are criticizing? Your experience 30 years ago although positive does not erase the experience of this author who has identified herself as intersex and who makes cogent arguments about the harm done by gendered, heirarchical church titles that are at odds with the church’s doctrine on everyone being equal, or “alike unto God.”

      • My experiences spanned 25 years in three states (Far West, Deep South, and Midwest).
        I have also had a couple of very negative experiences with priesthood leaders, but I will not let that keep me from the gospel. I recognize that they were in error and that they will someday have to answer for that. I was responding specifically to the complaint about titles. Things that are done inappropriately by church leaders (of either sex) are NOT automatically universal, as many people here seem to think.

    • Hi meri. Thank you for commenting. As for kvetching…. I am grateful for all of the kvetching by our fellow Jewish siblings so Mormons no longer baptise for the dead unless permitted. I believe kvetching has a place for good in the word, and for the church.

      I am not of the opinion that your statement in your second comment “as many people here seem to think,” is as Christlike as you might desire it to be.

      I am very happy that you were afforded the title of “President” when you were a relief society president decades ago. Are you still called “president” like bishops and stake presidents are, even after they are released from their callings?

  2. And if “Sister” was a title that brought questions, I think that “Saint” would feel like a statement of self-righteousness and arrogance to most of the Christian world. I can just hear it now: “Who dies and made you a Saint?”

    • I understand. I suggested Saint because … well… the church of Latter-day Saints. So we call ourselves Saints already in the same of the church. So those judgements about Mormon sainthood have existed for almost as long as the church itself. Embracing it further makes me believe that we might act the title of “Saint” better than we are currently doing.

  3. Thank you for raising this issue. I haven’t put thought into a non-gendered title, but I see the value. And I agree that our current practice where women are almost always “sister” and men are “brother” unless they have any number of other priesthood titles, some of which they retain even after release from a calling, is inherently unequal. And it is beyond time to be more inclusive of intersex and non-binary individuals.

  4. How about calling each other “sibling”. We are still brothers and sisters, but we just stop worrying so much about gender. On my husband’s mission they used the German word for “sibling” like we use “brothers and sisters”. Starting a talk was “Dear Siblings,” rather than “dear brothers and sisters.” So much easier. But some of the male missionaries were a bit insulted at first, and couldn’t explain why “siblings” was really any different than “brothers and sisters.” But I suspect that they didn’t like being lumped in with the women because “siblings” doesn’t recognize their status as different than the women the same way “brothers” did.

    And we can drop the titles of “president” and “bishop” and stop thinking we have to recognize by giving them a title that they are “over” us. So, Sibling Rusty becomes one of us, rather than someone with much greater status. (Why does that begging to remind me of the communist use of “comrade” ?)

    Anyway, there is a lot that has been problematic about the use of “brother” or “elder” and “sister”, besides just for missionaries. When I was a kid, 60 years or so ago, my mother had a friend who was a professor at BYU who didn’t yet have her doctorate. She was extremely frustrated by being called “sister” while the male professors who also lacked the PhD were called by some title that I forget, I think “professor”. She was almost gloating that upon completion of the PhD, she would go by the title of “doctor” making her equal to her male counterparts, rather than “sister” that implied she was lower than the males she was actually equal to.

    Also, when the Church News used to announce mission presidents in the Utah newspapers, they identified the couple as “President and Sister John Doe.” As if the title “brother and sister” goes by the same grammar rules as “Mr. and Mrs.” Hint, it doesn’t. There is no such thing as a “sister John Doe,” anymore than there is a Brother Relief Society President to identify the RSP’s husband as was jokingly used on my husband when I was RSP. The proper way to say it would be to use “President John Doe and Sister Jane Doe.” But they didn’t want to bother with listing both names as if she is something other than an appendage to him, so they insult her with “Sister John Doe.” I do believe they changed this horrendous usage a few years before they stopped announcing them in the newspapers, but some of us grammar purists have never forgiven them. Just think of the grammar mistake, not to mention insult to her, saved by listing them as Siblings John and Jane Doe. She has a *calling* as Mission President just as much as her husband, so, let’s not treat her as his appendage rather than a human in her own right. It affects her life as much as his and gives her specific duties, but it is never recognized now as her calling anymore than her husband’s left arm is given separate recognition as a calling separate from his right. She is exactly equal to one of his appendages.

    • Brilliant comment, Anna, Thank you. I thought of the title “comrade” as well– it made me giggle too much to consider it properly. I like Sibling as well. Staying within a family frame is important, and otherwise lost in maintaining titles like President and Elder, etc. I do like Saint because we are “The Church…. of Latter-day Saints,” so we already call ourselves as such.

    • This is good and non-gendered but it infantilizes. Siblings are the kids, leaders are the parents. Members remain babies in need of leaderly parenting. Time to let the members grow into adulthood and be treated as equals

      • I disagree that calling everyone in the church by “sibling” infantilizes anyone. It no more makes us “children” than calling each other brother and sister does…Oh, but we are not supposed to call our leader by “Brother Rusty!” That is what infantilizes common members, is the ELEVATION of leaders above us. I specifically said that “sibling” would apply to leaders, so they are “children” too. We are all children of God, and I don’t object to that. What I object to with the current way the church is run is that leaders are elevated, above everyone else, and common members are treated like children who are not capable of thinking for themselves. Especially women are treated like children. And I think if we could get away from all the gendered crap, it would help women be treated more like adults. And if we brought the top leaders down to the same level as everyone else, as was the intention of calling each other “brother and sister” rather than “President”, then all of us could be treated more like adults. It is the worship of leaders that infantilizes the common member, and calling “President Nelson” “sibling Rusty” would do a heck of a lot to end leader worship.

  5. Very interesting article. Thank you! I already have a first given name, given by my parents. I love my name. I don’t require any sort of title or label before it. God knows who I am. So, tap me on the shoulder and just use my name!

  6. I agree. BUT. I had a bishop once who was VERY homophobic. He called me by my first name as though we were friends and I felt terribly uncomfortable. I actually called him “Mr. (last name)” rather than “Bishop (last name).” I asked him to call me “Ms.(last name)” but he refused– probably because he knew it bothered me. In the end, I think that over-familiarity can be an uncomfortable problem.

  7. I am so weary of that subset of women in the church working to invalidate the experiences of women who keenly feel gendered inequality. To Wendy, I validate your experience. Good for you. I’m so glad you don’t have to struggle with this particular issue.

    I’ve been the RS president. I’ve been called president. But as president I had very little input into the callings our sisters received, into the counseling they so desperately needed, into any policies that affected them or the lives of their families. I could plan activities and lessons and make sure all of the jobs were covered — and even then I needed male approval every step along the way. So, no I don’t feel equal. I have never felt equal. I believe women should be in all places where decisions are being made.

    • Thank you for noticing this. I left Mormonism because the many LDS women I turned to for help after being abused by a Mormon leader all sided with my abuser. Why? Since they had never been abused by a leader, they decided thst Mormon leader abuse never happens

  8. I wanted to mention that even with the base level, common denominator titles (“brother” and “sister”) we use a special word for plural men: “brethren”. They’re not just “brothers”, oh no, they’re “brethren”. You practically have to reverently whisper it.

  9. Just use my name! Having other adults at church struggle to know whether we are familiar enough to use first names is so stupid. And I hate explaining to my non-member acquaintances why the random person in the grocery store just addressed me like a nun.

    • Not to dismiss the problems with gendered titles! I just don’t like the church specific titles in general, either.

  10. Don’t forget how this applies to the youth as well. The young men are deacons, teachers, and priests. While the young women are……. 13-14 year olds? 16 and 17 year olds? I’m still so bothered by the fact that they took away beehive, Mia Maid, and laurel. They weren’t awesome names, but at least the young women had something to belong to.

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