If Not a Mormon, Then What?

In October General Conference, President Russell M. Nelson spoke to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints about the name of our church. He asked us to use the proper name of the church when referring to ourselves as members as well as other entities associated with the church. There was a lot of surprise and backlash from this request, especially as it included re-branding several existing entities such as Mormon.org and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir which had very established branding.

Personally, I was happy to hear the re-emphasis on the proper name of the church. I remembered President Hinckley giving a similar charge back in 1990. Even though I was only 5 years old at the time that call had stuck with me. I went back and looked up President Hinckley’s talk. I found this portion especially interesting –

Six months ago in our conference Elder Russell M. Nelson delivered an excellent address on the correct name of the Church. He quoted the words of the Lord Himself:
“Thus shall my church be called in the last days, even The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” (D&C 115:4.)

I was interested that it was Elder Nelson who had originally inspired President Hinckley to give us that charge. Now that same Elder Nelson has the role of President of the church and he’s back saying, “Ok guys, I’ve said this before almost 30 years ago but let’s do this again. Maybe a little louder for those of you in the back?” Far from being something new, this is something he has been saying for literally decades.

All through my school years I was dogmatic about using the proper name of the church. The prophet had asked us to be careful about how we referred to ourselves and it was something that my family took very seriously. In fact all through my growing up years to call ourselves “Mormons” was akin to swearing in our household. All the way through college I don’t think I once called myself a Mormon without having first used the proper name of the church. I remember introducing myself to friends at school and stating my religion as “I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” and then if I got a look of confusion I might follow up with “Some people call us Mormons but we don’t really like to be called that.” Believe me, if you’ve had that whispered conversation in French class in the few minutes before the bell rings, while trying not to trip over the many words in the name of our church – it sticks with you 😛

So in 2010 I was a little dismayed to hear that the church was starting a new campaign introducing the website Mormon.org. I was confused that after all these years of really trying to eschew the nickname of Mormons that we were suddenly changing paths. I imagined President Hinckley rolling in his grave at the introduction of this new website.

At the same time, as a web professional I understood the value of taking ownership of the name and search term. Hopefully rather than someone running a google search for Mormons and finding sketchy websites run by detractors from our faith – they could come to our site and see for themselves what we believe. That to me made sense from an SEO standpoint. Ideally we would want people to call us by our proper name but you have to play the hand you’re dealt not the hand you want. There was a lot more “brand recognition” if you will for Mormon – and can you blame people? One word is a lot easier to remember than the whole string that titles our church. We still weren’t calling ourselves Mormons, just using the term as a way to help people find out more about us. That seemed justifiable to me.

If I was dismayed with the introduction of Mormon.org I felt almost betrayed a year later in 2011 with the introduction of the I’m a Mormon campaign. Again, I understood the motives of wanting to take ownership of the term. I liked that the people who worked with the church were saying “Look, there’s nothing bad about being associated with the church, let’s not allow others to take this term and use it as derogatory. It isn’t a derogatory thing to be associated with the church so let’s take this and be proud of it.” I really do think the motivations were pure and good and I think a lot of good came from that campaign. Despite my confusion at the change in course, I am proud of my faith. So I filled out a profile on Mormon.org, stuck an “I’m a Mormon” badge on my blog and proclaimed myself as a “Mormon” on my social media profiles. If this was what our church leaders had approved then I was all in.

Image result for i'm a mormon

After that I dropped the crusade of using the proper name of the church. I had done my part to use the proper name for so long, but if it wasn’t going to be taken seriously even at church headquarters then there didn’t seem to be a point in me taking it seriously either. To be honest, the word Mormon is a lot easier to use. From a brand perspective it’s easy to fit “I’m a Mormon” in a 160 character Twitter profile. To write “I’m a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” takes 63 characters as opposed to 12 – leaving more room to make other statements about why someone would want to follow me. In conversation it’s easier to talk about our community as “Mormons” rather than “members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints”. In a recent conversation a fellow member used the term Mormons about a dozen times and I didn’t stop her because I recognized the impracticality of adding over 100 words to what she was saying.

Then of course President Nelson reiterated his previous statements about the name of the church. I believe strongly that it was important that the name we took upon ourselves was Christ’s name – not Mormon’s name. I’ve been told in the past that I was not a Christian because Mormons are not Christians. Which bothered me deeply. It’s much more difficult to tell someone who is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that they are not a Christian than it is to think that “Mormons” are probably a weird cult that believes in totally out there things.

Logo of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Image Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

However, I still struggled with the return to the doctrine. For 20 years I had personally worked very hard to not use the term Mormon and always use the full name of the church – and after all that even the people at church headquarters had given up. I know what a mouthful the name of the church is and how regardless of my willingness to say all of that I knew others – especially those who don’t share my faith – would not be so willing. I feared that this would be destined not to stick just as it hadn’t before.

As I pondered on this I composed in my head an open letter to President Nelson to express all that I’ve posted above and to ask him to inquire of the Lord for an approved nickname for church members. I totally agreed that we needed to eschew the use of the nickname Mormon to describe our people and that it was of utmost importance that the name we use was the name that we took upon ourselves at baptism – Jesus Christ. I knew that the correct term was that we are Christians, but that term is so broad and encompasses many different sects of Christianity – Methodists, Catholics, Baptists, Evangelicals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, 7th Day Adventists, Anglicans, Amish – it wasn’t a term we could claim that would show our differences. We share our belief in Christ with all of these, but each sect has important differences that distinguish us from one another. I wanted to find a short name that could explain who I was that still kept the focus on Christ.

I have a background in marketing so I decided to also take the challenge on myself. I figured it was wise to take a leaf out of the Brother of Jared’s book and present a possible solution, not just a problem 😉 I found it interesting to note that of the different denominations of Christianity, the only one whose nickname involved a direct reference to Christ is the Jehovah’s Witnesses. As I thought through it the best name I could come up with as an alternative for Mormon was Christian Restorationist or perhaps Latter-day Christian. The thing that sets us most apart from other Christians is our belief in the restoration of the priesthood keys, prophets, apostles and all of the things that were practiced in Christ’s church when he led it personally on the earth.

Peter gives Paul the priesthood by the laying on of hands.  Image courtesy of ChurchOfJesusChrist.org

This is of course what is supposed to be conveyed in the name of our church – Latter-day Saints is supposed to refer to the fact that we are practicing the same religion as the early saints. We are little s saints meaning followers of Christ who have been sanctified through baptism – not big S Saints like those revered as being holy in the catholic church. Latter days refers to the fact that we are just doing this in a more modern time – a latter day from the original church. Unfortunately that gets a little lost on modern ears and saints has been co-opted so much by the Catholic church that to say that you’re a Latter-day Saint sounds presumptuous – as though we believe we are perfect on a level with their revered Saints. Although it should, the name no longer conveys necessary ties to Christ’s name without the rest of the church’s name.

My degree is in linguistics and I understand that languages change through time and meanings of words are not static. You have to express yourself in terms that are understood by the people receiving your communication. Linguistic success is achieved by conveying meaning, not by using the word you like. I was pretty pleased with this moniker of Christian Restorationist with the only problem being that there are other faiths (Jehovah’s Witnesses, 7th Day Adventists etc) that would also fall under that category, but I felt like it at least got closer to the mark. There would be the issue of adoption outside the church, but it was at least a name that was short enough that I thought it had a chance. But I continued to mull over options and mentally compose that letter.

A view of the Draper Utah Temple in the evening. Image courtesy of ChurchOfJesusChrist.org

That has been rolling around in my brain for several months. Then, a couple weeks back I was sitting in the temple and pondering on names. I was reminded of a post that a friend made on Facebook. She had been reading the Book of Mormon and had gotten to 4 Nephi and read about how after Christ’s visit to the Americas there were 200 years of incredible peace and prosperity among the people. She was bugged that we have over 500 pages of the Book of Mormon that discuss all of their wars and disputes, but only 24 verses that tell us about this time of amazing peace an prosperity. She pointed out that what she really wanted to be reading was all about how they did the peace and prosperity! Twenty-four measly verses wasn’t enough to teach us all that we needed to know about how to achieve that! Her words stuck with me and I agreed with her wholeheartedly. I decided to go back and re-read those 24 verses to see what I could glean out of them. Here were some of the verses that I read –

15 And it came to pass that there was no contention in the land, because of the love of God which did dwell in the hearts of the people.
16 And there were no envyings, nor strifes, nor tumults, nor whoredoms, nor lyings, nor murders, nor any manner of lasciviousness; and surely there could not be a happier people among all the people who had been created by the hand of God.
17 There were no robbers, nor murderers, neither were there Lamanites, nor any manner of -ites; but they were in one, the children of Christ, and heirs to the kingdom of God.

4 Nephi 1:15-17
Christ in the Land Bountiful, by Simon Dewey. Image courtesy of ChurchOfJesusChrist.org

It struck me that a major portion of what helped the people gain this amazing peace and prosperity was this idea that there was not “any manner of -ites”. They were able to have peace in the land because they allowed what united them – their faith in Christ – to be stronger than what divided them. I went on to read that not only was that what caused their peace, but it was a departure from that which led to their downfall. If you read on you see that the people divide into many different churches with each one focusing on one doctrine or another and ignoring those that didn’t suit them. From there they go from having 200 years of peace and prosperity to (spoiler alert) completely destroying the church and their civilization in the most gruesome ways within the next 200 years.

I pondered on this idea of “ites”. The thought came to me that isn’t this exactly what we do in modern times? Rather than uniting ourselves as followers of Christ under the name Christians, we divide ourselves into our many different denominations. We decide that our differences are more important than our similarities. I had been thinking that the Lord had called us to be a “peculiar people” as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and that we needed a name that reflected that. However when I went to look up that scripture I discovered that it wasn’t a calling given to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but it came from the book of Peter in the New Testament. We are peculiar for being Christians, and the name Christian IS what sets us apart.

Image courtesy of ChurchOfJesusChrist.org

After reading all of this I no longer feel inclined to find a better nickname for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Certainly I would gladly accept one to be able to distinguish ourselves culturally with linguistic efficiency. However, we have taken upon us the name of Christ – we are Christians. That’s enough. If that means that we are lumped in with all of the other denominations of Christianity – well isn’t that wonderful? I don’t believe Christ wants us dividing ourselves, he wants us united in living our faith as best as we can. Yes, your faith might be practiced differently than mine, but that can be as true between members of the same denomination as it is between denominations. If you believe in Christ and are working out your salvation with Him, then I want to stand with you. Whether you wear a cross or a CTR ring. Whether you listen to the pope or the prophet. Whether your baptism was performed with sprinkling or with immersion. I don’t care. We are followers of Christ and that’s the only name we need to take on ourselves.

So who am I? I am a Christian.

I believe in prophets and apostles, both ancient and modern.

I believe in the power of God given to us through the priesthood.

I believe in the scriptures as the word of God given to us to guide us.

I believe in temple ordinances and the power to bind families together forever.

The Resurrected Christ, by Wilson J. Ong Image Courtesy of ChurchOfJesusChrist.org

But above all else – I believe in Jesus Christ. I believe in His atonement to cleanse us from our sins. I believe in His resurrection and that through Him we can all live again. I believe that He is the way, the truth and the light and that all who come unto him can find peace and everlasting life.

I’m a Christian, and I am proud to share that name with anyone else who wants to it take upon themselves.

Tell me your thoughts :)