Please don’t call me “reverend.” Of all the words that one can use to describe a member of the clergy, I think “reverend” might be the worst.
Let’s put aside for a moment that most people don’t even use the word correctly. “Reverend” is an adjective, not a title. “The Reverend Mister Smith” or “the Reverend Doctor Jones” are correct. At least that’s how the English language used the word originally. Of course you’ll find the word used as a title or even as a simple noun in contemporary English. I guess I’m a traditionalist here.
But even when used correctly, I still object to being described as “reverend.” The word has an aura of holiness about it. Literally, a person who is reverend is worthy of reverence, a word that I would reserve for God alone.
Dictionary definitions of “reverence” speak about “awe” and “veneration.” At the very least, the use of “reverend” claims that the bearer of the title is due special honor or respect. As a Christian, to demand that honor for myself is inexcusable .
It especially galls me when I see the title “reverend” used to provide a veneer of religious authority for one’s political opinions. Clergy have no special expertise about the affairs of the world. The use of religious titles in political arguments is a fallacious appeal to authority. Some of the worst offenders are clergy who have little or nothing to do with the actual leadership of Christ’s church.
It’s as if the clergy were due special respect because something of God had rubbed off on them, or that they bore the image of God in the way that others do not. I do not believe this to be true. All human being bears the image of their creator and are due respect for that reason alone. And everyone baptized into the name of Christ bears the image of the Son of God and is an equal member of God’s holy family.
The difference between the clergy and the other members of Christ’s holy church is functional, not ontological. Members of the clergy have a distinct vocation, not a different human essence.
The clergy are not more important or more holy people than the laity are, and they are not worthy of special honor either inside or outside the church. Consider Jesus’ rebuke of religious leaders in Matthew 23:6-12:
They love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others. “But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.
I have concluded that it would not be consistent with the spirit of our Lord’s teaching for me to call myself “reverend.” I won’t embarrass someone who calls me “reverend” by making a big deal out of it, but I will never again identify myself by that word or expect others to use it of me.
Feel free to call me by my first name; it’s the name my parents gave me. Or you can call me “Mr. Lewis,” affording me the same dignity that you would any other member of our race. You can all me “chaplain,” which is the proper military form of address for those in my job. Or if you are a Christian, you can call me “preacher” or “pastor”; these are informal functional titles that describe my role within the church. The actual Biblical title for my office is “presbyter” or (literally) “elder.” Feel free to call me that as well. But please don’t call me “reverend.”