Today’s post is by Wade Nelson. Remember Dieter Uchtdorf?
If you are like me you were thrilled when Dieter Uchtdorf was sustained as a new member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles. His accent was refreshing, so very German rather than the old Utah drawl, a pilot instead of a lawyer or simple business executive (of course President Uchtdorf was also the latter). He was refreshing in his approach to the gospel and the way he presented himself. When he was called to the 1st Presidency , the joy and surprise were even greater. It had been many years since a European convert had served in such an exalted position.
But that person disappeared and was replaced by Dieter F. Uchtdorf.
The addition of the initial was inevitable and is used throughout the Church with such regularity that we almost never notice it any more. For years of course it was never used with women because it was not necessary. I believe that Barbara B. Smith was the first to have the initial bestowed. So, was this deemed unnecessary because women had insufficient position, power or clout to merit the initial?
Try referring to past or present General Authorities without it in a Sunday School or Priesthood lesson. The names sound odd and people will look at you as if you are purposely denigrating them. David McKay, George Smith, Harold Lee, Heber Grant, Tom Perry, Gordon Hinckley, or Boyd Packer–who are you talking about, Brother?
So, why do we use the initial? The conjecture is that the initial became important at the beginning of the 20th century when two Joseph Smiths needed to be distinguished from each other and their more famous ancestor. This reason might make sense to reduce confusion, but how many Dieter Uchtdorfs are there in the church? One? The current practice clearly has nothing to do with reducing confusion. There seems to be another recent trend to use the full middle name as if there were some confusion as to who the person is. Still, you may recall that “Brother Joseph” was just “Brother Joseph.”
So, what is the purpose today? To reinforce members’ respect and deference to authority? To further distance ourselves from those at the highest levels of leadership? As a point of pride for those who have attained high office in the church? A cultural quirk? What do you think?