The Church Formerly Known as Mormon

“The Lord has impressed upon my mind the importance of the name he has revealed for his church, even The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”

So said President Russell M. Nelson, President of said church, the one with the unwieldy name that will never enter common parlance, because The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has eleven syllables, and “Mormon” only has two.

But that’s not going to stop us from going to war against nearly two centuries of colloquial speech. “We have work before us to bring ourselves in harmony with his will,” President Nelson said. “In recent weeks, various church leaders and departments have initiated the necessary steps to do so. Additional information about this important matter will be made available in the coming months.”

That information will likely include the fate of, the “I’m a Mormon” media campaign, and, of course, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, all of which are at the forefront of Church communications and, apparently, out of harmony with the will of the Lord. “LDS” is now verboten, too, which is a problem, as is the LDS Church’s official website – oh, wait, I mean the official website of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  Having invested billions of dollars to define the word “Mormon,” we will now engage in a Quixotic attempt to keep people from using a word we’ve labored to define since 1830, and which we will now try to pretend doesn’t exist.

Call me faithless if you want to, but I just don’t get it.

It’s not like we chose the label “Mormon.” It was inflicted on us by our critics, and there was no escaping it. (The same is true, incidentally for the label “Christian” in the New Testament, as Acts 11:26 makes clear.) Eventually, we embraced it, and it became part of our identity. Every attempt to purge it from who we are has failed miserably, and this latest attempt, even though it has the imprimatur of revelation and the will of the Lord, is likely to fail, too.

And now, a story.

I was serving as a Mormon missionary- pardon me, I mean a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints – in Scotland back in 1989 when then-Church President Ezra Taft Benson gave a masterful talk on the evils of pride. (Actually, it was read by President Hinckley, as President Benson was too ill to address his fellow Mormon – oops, I mean his fellow members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints – at the time.)

The talk was probably the most powerful message of President Benson’s entire tenure in the Church, and I recommend its contents to you without qualification. The problem was that it included the following paragraph:

In the scriptures there is no such thing as righteous pride—it is always considered a sin. Therefore, no matter how the world uses the term, we must understand how God uses the term so we can understand the language of holy writ and profit thereby.

Nothing wrong with that, right? After all, language changes considerably over the years, and how a word is used in holy writ is not always compatible with how it is used in colloquial speech. The word “charity,” for instance, is seldom used in conversation the way it is employed by Paul in the King James translation, and most modern versions of the Bible render the word as “love” instead. The fact that the scriptures don’t ever have Mosiah telling his son Ammon, “Hey, look at all those arms you cut off! I’m proud of you, kiddo!” doesn’t mean that using the word in that context is a violation of God’s will.

Or does it?

I was sitting in a sacrament meeting in Galashiels, Scotland, when a visiting member of the High Council of the local Mormon congregation – I’m so sorry, I mean the local congregation of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints – referenced President Benson’s talk and made it clear that the primary message he had received was the word “proud” was now not to be used in any positive context. Now when his kid came home with a good grade, or, say, he chopped off a lot of arms, he would say he was “pleased,” not “proud.”

I thought this was just one guy, but in the weeks, months, and even years to follow, I sat through scores of sermons where “pleased” became the preferred synonym for “proud.” It wasn’t until 2010 – 21 years later! – when Dieter Uchtdorf made me pleased to say “proud” again.

“For a while it almost became taboo among Church members to say that they were “proud” of their children or their country or that they took “pride” in their work,” President Uchtdorf said. “The very word pride seemed to become an outcast in our vocabulary.”

Gee, ya think? But then President Uchtdorf set the record straight:

I believe there is a difference between being proud of certain things and being prideful. I am proud of many things. I am proud of my wife. I am proud of our children and grandchildren.

I am proud of the youth of the Church, and I rejoice in their goodness. I am proud of you, my dear and faithful brethren. I am proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with you as a bearer of the holy priesthood of God.

He was also the first member of the First Presidency to admit to drinking Diet Coke. Bless him.

The “proud” taboo, however, was largely due to a misunderstanding of a prophet’s intent, not a direct prophetic decree. President Nelson seems quite serious about this, and I fully expect we’re going to hear about this in October as we devote a great deal of time and energy to undo centuries of prophets lauding Mormons, Mormonism, LDS stuff, and all the shibboleths we’re no longer supposed to say.

I fear a worst case scenario where this becomes the central focus of our attention, and the dawn of a sort of pharisaical uneasiness where anyone who slips up and says “Mormon” will be judged as being critical of the prophet. But the word has too much history and is too easy to use for the world to comply, and eventually, maybe 21 years later, an apostle will call himself a Mormon in a Conference talk, and it will all be over.

Or maybe not. Another thought comes to mind.

Mormons – what am I thinking? I mean members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints – conduct official business under the authority of what’s commonly called the “Melchizedek Priesthood.” But as D&C 107 makes clear, that’s not what it’s actually called.

There are, in the church, two priesthoods, namely, the Melchizedek and Aaronic, including the Levitical Priesthood.

Why the first is called the Melchizedek Priesthood is because Melchizedek was such a great high priest.

Before his day it was called the Holy Priesthood, after the Order of the Son of God.

But out of respect or reverence to the name of the Supreme Being, to avoid the too frequent repetition of his name, they, the church, in ancient days, called that priesthood after Melchizedek, or the Melchizedek Priesthood.

So, to summarize, to avoid frequent repetition of the name of Deity, they chose to give the most important priesthood that had a long, unwieldy name a nickname instead, referencing a great prophet whose moniker also coincidentally began with an M.

Aren’t we making precisely the opposite move here?

The more I think about this, the more frustrating it is. We’ve already spent a whole lot of your tithing dollars on the word Mormon – if this was upsetting to the Almighty, it would have been nice to know that prior to buying so much network TV time. And now we’re going to spend millions of dollars to try to go to war against two centuries of colloquial speech?

And this is the most pressing issue facing the Church today?

Now don’t get me wrong. I have learned that “sustain” does not mean “agree,” and I sustain President Nelson and will do my best to comply with his plan here, even though I think it is more than a little goofy. I just worry that the imprimatur of revelation – “the Lord has impressed upon my mind” – is likely to try the faith of many who will become discouraged when the word “Mormon” refuses to conveniently slide down the memory hole.

We’re being set up for failure. Because no matter how many times we say The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints – too frequent repetition of the Lord’s name, anyone? – the fact remains that “Mormon” isn’t going to go away. And I hope we don’t have to wait 21 years to realize that.

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13 thoughts on “The Church Formerly Known as Mormon”

  1. I really think President, eh….Prophet, Seer and Revelator Nelson might want to be having more meaningful chats with the Man above

  2. Consider it from a business standpoint: Recently my manager came in and reminded us of the proper way to answer the phone at work. It seems that about every 5 years we all have to re-learn how to identify ourselves as a company because we get sloppy. So it’s not surprising that a large corporation (which our church is) would need a reminder from it’s CEO.

    You’ll see the statement came through the newsroom and that the Style Guide was updated. If Trump issued an executive order instructing all federal employees to use our country’s full legal name in all of their correspondence, United States of America rather than the commonly accepted United States, US, or USA on all their documents, it wouldn’t be shocking (unless you hate Trump and it would just be further evidence of collusion or something equally horrific). Also, it appears that it is still acceptable to refer to your self (the members) as a Latter-day Saint(s) — if you are looking for something shorter to text.

    Also, have we learned nothing from the Old Testament? You want me to what? Look at a serpent on a rod? Wash myself in the Jordan River seven times? Refer to the name of our church by it’s actual name? Surely you jest!

    Personally, I took this as a gentle reminder of my baptismal covenants and that using the name properly is a chance to stand as a witness first to myself and then to others.

    1. The key difference is that the Israelites were asked to do something ridiculously easy to get a huge reward, whereas we’re now being asked to do something rather difficult that is sure to fail in order to get – what, exactly? Confusion?

      I’ll do it, because I sustain President Nelson, but I still think it’s stupid.

      1. You deserve nothing but effusive praise for having the guts to express your opinion on this subject, but as demonstrated above you will likely just be chastised for your ‘faithlessness’ by most of your fellow active members.

        I would personally be so bold as to say that the points you have raised make it rather evident that this is not in fact revelation, but rather is just Nelson’s own personal preference. Why else would he be going directly against, as you noted, the very sustained efforts previously to employ the term ‘Mormon’ productively? Has that effort been judged to be ineffective? Methinks that Nelson would be very well-served if he were to issue a follow-up statement to at least attempt to address that apparent inconsistency.

        P.S. You were in Galashiels? Eeee! I served in that area on my mission. May I ask, were you living in the area or just passing through via missionary service like myself? I’m trying to figure out if I remember you! lol

      2. I served in Galashiels as a missionary in 1989. My guess is that I’m much older than you.

      3. I love you Stallion. You make good sense. But let’s say, just for fun, that he actually was inspired–that this is from Jesus Christ (See D&C 21). I wish you would use your gifts to argue why this is brilliant.

      4. If I could see how it was brilliant, I’d be happy to argue that. From what I can see, it’s the opposite of brilliant.

        D&C 21 is a great scripture, as it tells us to heed the words of the prophet “in all patience and faith.” Patience is the first prerequisite for sustaining fallible leaders with whom you disagree. I sustain President Nelson, and while I think this directive is goofy, I don’t think it’s evil, so I will follow even if I think it’s stupid. (Which I do.)

  3. S.C. I’ll give it a shot.
    Suppose you’re Christ and you have a church whose responsibility is to save all who have ever lived, all who now live, and all who will yet live. Suppose you need a pure people to accomplish that (see D&C 43:14). You warn them that you have a fan in your hand and you plan to thoughly purge your floor (see Matthew 3:12). You tell them that you will “. . . give unto the faithful line upon line, precept upon precept; and you intend to try them and prove them herewith” (D&C 98:12). You tell them they need to trust your prophets as if they spoke with your own mouth (D&C 21:5). And those very revelations they claim to love will try their patience and faith (D&C 21:5).
    So, you have your prophet say, “The Lord impressed me to call our choir The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Conference Center Choir.” I think that would do the trick.
    I send a lot of people to your site. Please keep fighting the good fight.

    1. You lost me with “Suppose you’re Christ.” Because if I’m Christ, I would have a lot of things on my agenda that would be far more important than undoing centuries of colloquial speech.

      1. “Now you may suppose that this is foolishness in me; but behold I say unto you, that by small and simple things are great things brought to pass; and small means in many instances doth confound the wise” (Alma 37:6).

        If He can clean house (to some degree, see D&C 112:25) by a simple name change, I think that’s brilliant.

        You and I are fine with this. My real point is, don’t tell me you couldn’t argue the other side. The reason I follow you is because you’re smarter than me. If you wanted to, you could be making the arguments (or better) that I’m making.

      2. “If you wanted to, you could be making the arguments (or better) that I’m making.”

        But I don’t want to, because I don’t believe those arguments. I feel no obligation to make arguments for things I don’t believe. I think this will end up being a tremendous waste of time and resources.

  4. Glad to see you and I agree on this.

    Last prophet doesn’t mind the use of the word Mormon. This prophet doesn’t like it. It really feels more like personal preference than revelation.

    Also why can’t we just identify as Christians? Is it that we won’t stand out enough?

  5. I’ve been noticing a strong push in recent years for people who either wouldn’t want to or couldn’t in good conscience claim to be active members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to nevertheless claim the term Mormon for themselves. That’s what my mind immediately went to when I read Pres. Nelson’s announcement. Here’s an example of what I’m talking about:

    Editor of Sunstone Lindsey Hansen Park on reddit a year ago:
    “I feel so strongly about this topic [of broadening the term Mormon]. . . I do it because I witness daily the impact that these identity politics have on my group and others. And broadening the term Mormon is resistance to that.

    “When we allow the LDS to define who gets to be Mormon, then we give them power to hurt people who don’t fit in. Too many groups follow their lead in how they define identity.

    …“When I was at Sunstone in Phoenix, I met a woman who is a faithful, very believing, active Mormon. She teaches Gospel Principles in the morning and then goes to the gentleman’s club in the afternoon where she is a stripper. She is completely out to her Mormon ward and they all know what she does.

    “For her, stripping and the LDS church were a stabilizing force in her life and she talks about the two interchangeably. I find this so incredibly fascinating because it disrupts the narrative of what a ‘legitimate Mormon experience’ is.

    “And that narrative should be disrupted, because the reality is that every Mormon’s experience is a legitimate Mormon experience….”

    Forum user comment: “Thank you. Even ExMormonism is a legitimate Mormon experience. The guys in the red chairs in SLC don’t get to define us or our lives.”

    LindsayHansenPark: “Yes, exMormon is still Mormon, just a different way to engage Mormon. It’s legitimate and real and should be claimed. I don’t claim the ex part because to me, it’s all the same. I’m Mormon and always will be, regardless of what the LDS decides to do with me.”

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