Note: The following was originally printed in the March/April 2022 edition of Mormonism Researched. To request a free subscription, please visit here.
Seventeenth President Nelson announced on August 16, 2018 how the Lord “impressed on my mind the importance of the name he has revealed for his church.” Speaking in general conference a few months later, Nelson insisted that using the proper name “is the command of the Lord” and that the savior is “offended” when members “allow nicknames to be used or adopt or even sponsor those nicknames ourselves.” Nelson went on to say in that same message, “To remove the Lord’s name from the Lord’s Church is a major victory for Satan” (Liahona, November 2018, 87-88).
Nelson’s edict was expanded beyond the name of the church. According to the church’s “style guide” found on its official Newsroom website, journalists are instructed how the terms “‘Mormons’ and ‘LDS’ should not be used, and that the “term ‘Mormonism’ is inaccurate and should not be used.” For much of its history, these nicknames were not at all a problem.
For example, Marion G. Romney, a member of the First Presidency, stated at a general conference in 1979, “Members of the Church do not resent being referred to as Mormons, nor does the Church resent being referred to as the Mormon church. As we have said, however, it is not the correct name of the Church” (“We, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” Ensign (Conference Edition), May 1979, 50). That tolerant attitude seems to be lost.
Search for the word “Mormon” on the church’s official website (churchofjesuschrist.org) and a number of links still pop up. As time goes on, we may see many of these links being scrubbed, although it’s now been more than three years since the 2018 edict.
Much could be said about why we at MRM think Nelson’s arguments are inconsistent with his church’s history, exaggerated, and even somewhat silly. Rather than repeat our concerns here, I suggest that our readers refer to Eric Johnson’s excellent article “Do Nicknames for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Offend Jesus?”
A new concern that I have is how leaders commend members for actually being deceptive when speaking to non-members about their church. Henry B. Eyring, the second counselor in the First Presidency to Russell M. Nelson, stated how he “invited Church members to tell me about the blessings they have received from using the correct name of the Church” (“Thus Shall My Church Be Called,” Liahona, October 2021, 7). He mentions a university professor named Harold who heard a student “summarize a discussion on religion” by saying, “I guess all religions are Christian, except for the Mormons.”
First of all, perhaps a university student could be so ignorant as to think that “all religions are Christian,” but did this student really think religions such as Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, and Shintoism are also Christian? Harold responded, “I told the students that ‘Mormon’ was a nickname given to members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints because of our belief in the Bible and the Book of Mormon as two ancient scriptural witnesses of Jesus Christ.”
My only criticism of Harold’s response is I don’t think the nickname Mormon had much to do with early members’ “belief in the Bible.” Speaking in general conference in October 2011, Apostle M. Russell Ballard said, “Our members have been called Mormons because we believe in the Book of Mormon” (“The Importance of a Name,” Ensign (Conference Edition), November 2011, 81).
Aside from that, I can’t fault Harold for making this clarification, though Eyring provides no information as to how this professor may have made a convincing case for his church to be rightly considered Christian.
However, it is difficult for me to commend the response made by a missionary named Chloe. Eyring writes that “when a man asked Chloe if she was a ‘Mormon missionary,’ she powerfully testified, ‘No, I am a missionary for Jesus Christ.”
Such a response not only smacks of arrogance, but it also gives the appearance that missionaries for the LDS Church have never been referred to as “Mormon missionaries.” Of course, this isn’t true. One need only go to the official churchofjesuschrist.org website and type the words Mormon Missionaries in the search box to see a number of articles that use this phrase.
For example, on April 13, 2012, the official LDS “Newsroom” website announced that The New York Times has published an in-depth piece about “Mormon missionaries in Uganda.” The article, written by Josh Kron, explained “the transformative effect missions have on the young men and women who serve, meticulously follows the active day in the life of missionaries in Uganda and clarifies common misconceptions people have of Mormons.”
When 16th President Thomas S. Monson announced at general conference in October of 2012 that the age of male missionaries would be lowered to 18, the Newsroom site announced, “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ missionary program is one of its most recognized characteristics. Mormon missionaries can be seen on the streets of hundreds of major cities in the world as well as in thousands of smaller communities.” Perhaps Chloe was too young to remember this event, but her retort could easily be seen as deceptive.
In his October 2021 general conference talk titled “The Name of the Church is not Negotiable,” Apostle Neil L. Andersen praised a member named Lauri Ahola. When Mr. Ahola was asked by an acquaintance, “Are you a Mormon?” he replied, “I am a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” (Liahona, November 2021, 117). One can only wonder how many times Ahola referred to himself as a Mormon prior to Nelson’s 2018 mandate. On the Newsroom website is an article titled “I’m a Mormon Campaign.” It begins:
The Church’s national media campaign called “I’m a Mormon” (launched in 2010) included television spots, billboards, and ads on buses and on the Internet. The ads give a glimpse into the lives of Latter-day Saints from all over the world and refer people to the mormon.org website, where they can read the profiles of tens of thousands of Mormons, chat with representatives who will answer questions about the faith and watch dozens of videos about members of the Church. (emphasis mine).
Apparently, “tens of thousands” of members who allowed their testimony to be posted on this site had no problem being known as Mormons. In light of such a campaign, why would any other member shy away from that title? It causes me to also wonder how many of these “tens of thousands” were confused by Nelson’s 2018 decree.
How many members now feign resentment if someone refers to them as Mormon? The mormon.org link now redirects to churchofjesuschrist.org/comeuntochrist. Gone are the “tens of thousands” of testimonies, most likely because many of the individuals referred to themselves by the now prohibited title.
In an October 2011 conference message, Apostle M. Russell Ballard, addressed this apparent contradiction and the impracticality of expecting non members to use the official church title:
Some may ask, what about the Internet sites such as Mormon.org as well as various Church-initiated media campaigns? As I said, referring collectively to members as Mormons is sometimes appropriate. As a practical matter, those outside of our faith come looking for us searching for that term. But once you open up Mormon.org, the proper name of the Church is explained on the home page, and it appears on each additional page on the site. It is impractical to expect people to type the full name of the Church when seeking to find us or when logging on to our website (“The Importance of a Name,” Ensign (Conference Edition), November 2011, 81).
In his 2021 conference message, Andersen referred to a “courageous” ten-year-old Tahitian member named Iriura Jean when he said, “In her school class they discussed their weekend . . . and Iriura talked about . . . church.” When asked by her teacher, “Oh, so you are a Mormon?” Andersen wrote, “Iriura stated boldly, ‘No…I am a member of the church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.’”
It is easy to excuse this child who is merely doing what she was told, but I don’t see how her teacher or, for that matter, Ahola’s acquaintance were trying to be offensive. In both cases they were using a term that, for much of LDS history, was perfectly acceptable by members, including the leaders of this church.
Based on their church’s history, those members who insist that they are not “Mormon” can easily run the risk of sounding deceptive, something that is apparently encouraged by the Mormon leaders themselves.