By Eric Johnson
Russell M. Nelson, the 17th president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, made a claim that God personally revealed to him how “LDS,” “Mormon,” “Mormonism,” and other nicknames referring to the church, the religion and its adherents are offensive to God. Nelson first explained this revelation on August 16, 2018 where he said that “the Lord impressed upon my mind the importance of the name He decreed for His Church, even The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” (For more on this statement, go here.)
As he toured central and eastern Canada a few days later, he seemed surprised by the hubbub caused by his announcement. He told one crowd, “We released that announcement to the media on Thursday, and oh, they’re pretty excited about it—‘it can’t be done. I know it can’t—but it’s going to be, because the Lord wants it that way.”
Speaking at the October 2018 general conference, Nelson argued that the new policy was not a “name change,” “rebranding,” “cosmetic,” “a whim,” or “inconsequential.” He started his main talk by saying,
Some weeks ago, I released a statement regarding a course correction for the name of the Church. . . . Instead, it is a correction. It is the command of the Lord. Joseph Smith did not name the Church restored through him; neither did Mormon. It was the Savior Himself who said, “For thus shall my church be called in the last days, even The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” . . . Thus, the name of the Church is not negotiable. When the Savior clearly states what the name of His Church should be and even precedes His declaration with, “Thus shall my church be called,” He is serious. And if we allow nicknames to be used or adopt or even sponsor those nicknames ourselves, He is offended. (“The Correct Name of the Church”)
To say that God is offended when people use nicknames of this church is a pretty serious charge, seemingly on the same level as the breaking of the First Commandment. Such a claim has no biblical origins, as no biblical apostle or prophet ever argued about what the early church and its people ought to be called. According to Acts 11:26, “the disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.” Referenced only three times in the New Testament, the word “Christian” appears to have been a derogatory reference used by the enemies of the early church—notice, the name was “given” to them and not something they apparently appointed for themselves. It certainly was not used positively by King Agrippa in Acts 17:28 when he asked Paul, “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?”
Nelson continued in his conference talk,
What’s in a name or, in this case, a nickname? When it comes to nicknames of the Church, such as the “LDS Church,” the “Mormon Church,” or the “Church of the Latter-day Saints,” the most important thing in those names is the absence of the Savior’s name. To remove the Lord’s name from the Lord’s Church is a major victory for Satan. When we discard the Savior’s name, we are subtly disregarding all that Jesus Christ did for us—even His Atonement. . . . When we omit His name from His Church, we are inadvertently removing Him as the central focus of our lives.”
If Nelson’s church is supposed to be a restoration of Christianity, where do we find anything in the Bible to say that the early church was called after the name of Jesus? In the quotes given by Nelson above (including the name of his conference talk), notice how Nelson continually uses “the Church” (capitalized, of course, as he is referencing “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints”). Shouldn’t God be offended by Nelson’s lack of reference to Jesus in reference to the “Church” in the same way that He is said to be “offended” when someone uses “LDS” or “Mormon”? After all, both examples fail to use “Jesus” in the name God supposedly gave to Joseph Smith.
Another question. Was God “offended” when Nelson’s church did not have the name of Jesus Christ in its early years? MRM founder Bill McKeever writes,
If Mormons wish to use this argument, they must answer as to why their own church was called merely “The Church of the Latter-day Saints” from 1834-1838. By their reasoning their own church must have been in apostasy for at least four years. Those who belonged to the early Christian church were known more by their geographic location rather than an “organizational” name. In I Thessalonians 1:1 Paul addresses “The church of the Thessalonians.” Are we to assume that Paul was addressing a false church? Source
Nelson decided to give two pragmatic reasons for why the change was needed:
For much of the world, the Lord’s Church is presently disguised as the “Mormon Church.” But we as members of the Lord’s Church know who stands at its head: Jesus Christ Himself. Unfortunately, many who hear the term Mormon may think that we worship Mormon. Not so! We honor and respect that great ancient American prophet. But we are not Mormon’s disciples. We are the Lord’s disciples.
The idea that “Mormon” in “Mormon Church” is a reference to the fictional character by the same name found in the Book of “Mormon” is something I certainly have never thought of, nor do I think the average person thinks this is the case. It sure seems to be a stretch to even make this point.
(Photos: Statue titled Eyes Westward located in Salt Lake City. Check out the first sentence. This picture was taken more than a half year after Nelson’s fall 2018 edict.)
For his second reason, Nelson said,
In the early days of the restored Church, terms such as Mormon Church and Mormons were often used as epithets—as cruel terms, abusive terms—designed to obliterate God’s hand in restoring the Church of Jesus Christ in these latter days.
As mentioned above, the term “Christian” was not self-appointed by the biblical apostles. Rather, it was given and apparently used by outsiders in a deriding manner. Yet the days of “Mormon” being a “cruel” or “abusive” term are long over. Nobody watching the Broadway play The Book of Mormon will walk away thinking such a thing. Neither do the Latter-day Saints themselves who have used these terms in an affectionate manner in reference to themselves. This is why, until October 2018, there was a “Mormon Tabernacle Choir.” And what about the “I am a Mormon” campaign, the “Meet the Mormons” movie that began playing at Temple Square in 2014, or the website “Mormon.org”? Over the years the word Mormon has been a common descriptor used by the church leaders and its members as well as outsiders such as the media and MRM. With so many other issues that God could communicate to Nelson about, why this one? And why now?
What should the church be called?
At the end of Nelson’s talk, he said,
Our revised style guide is helpful. It states: “In the first reference, the full name of the Church is preferred: ‘The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.’ When a shortened [second] reference is needed, the terms ‘the Church’ or the ‘Church of Jesus Christ’ are encouraged. The ‘restored Church of Jesus Christ’ is also accurate and encouraged.”
There are problems with the command given by Nelson. For instance,
- The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints takes 47 keystrokes to write. It is unwieldy and would be laborious to write (and read) over and over again.
- It is redundant. When we talk about a person, we can use personal pronouns (he, him, etc) that help minimize the redundancy. The same is needed for the proper name of this church.
- Imagine how many Latter-day Saints might think the Christian is mocking them by repeating the church’s whole name over and over again.
- There is a theological problem with Christians referring to this religious organization as “the Church” (capitalized), the “Church of Jesus Christ,” or “the restored Church of Jesus Christ.” These names are truth claims. Christians don’t hold that this is God’s “Church,” nor do they believe it is Jesus’s church or that Christ’s church even needed to be “restored.” (Calling it the “restored church” would mean that we agree with the “great apostasy,” something Christians completely reject. As blogger Jana Reiss points out:
This is problematic for reporters and writers. It is not the job of a religion-neutral media to adopt or validate the truth claims of whatever religions they’re writing about. Source
She adds that, “with Mormonism, ‘the restored Church’ is a term of comparatively recent vintage” and then shows how this term was first introduced in the 1910’s, becoming most popular in the 21st century. In fact, the term was used more than 100 times since 2000, more than the last three decades of the twentieth century. It was never utilized by any leader–including the first five presidents of this religious organization–and only 13 times total in the decades of 1910-1940.
Why should outsiders be required to shorten “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” to “the Church” (as used by Nelson in his talk) or “the restored Church” when these terms were rarely used in the first century of this religion? Are we supposed to bow down to the whims of current church leaders “just because”?
- Nelson references D&C 115:4 (from the Standard Works) to support his case. It says, “For thus shall my church be called in the last days, even The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” If this is the church’s name, then why does Nelson encourage his followers to use names that are different from this command? After all, if “Mormon Church” or “LDS Church” are offensive to God because they are not the “real” names of the church, then how is it any better to call it the “Church of Jesus Christ” or even “the Church,” a name that completely omits the name of Jesus? His reasoning seems inconsistent.
The church-owned Deseret News printed a story regarding the name change that explained how difficult it is to come up with suitable alternative references. On August 25, 2018, reporter Doug Wilks wrote,
Fundamentally, there is no Mormon church nor Latter-day Saint (LDS) church. Yet over the decades those terms have been accepted, perhaps as a way to draw distinction from other Christian denominations, or in an effort to reclaim a term (Mormon) that was once used as a slur against church members.
Wilks went on to say that the church has every right to self-name itself and therefore journalists should consider the wishes of this organization. It is true that the church leadership can ask to be called by any name it wants. But when its leaders demand that truth claim names ought to be used in replacement, the line is drawn and we won’t cross it. This revelation is going to cause many problems with headlines in newspapers—imagine having to use the full name of the church in headlines and take up all the space. What is most frustrating for both the secular media as well as apologetic ministries such as Mormonism Research Ministry is that Nelson does not provide suitable alternatives while merely offering faith-promoting choices that are not appropriate for outside organizations to use.
Despite Nelson’s edict, Salt Lake Tribune’s Peggy Fletcher Stack—Nelson said at a press conference that he knows this religion reporter’s family personally—continues to use “LDS,” “Mormon” and “Mormonism” throughout her writing. Typically, she uses the church’s complete name at the beginning of her story before referencing it with these other abbreviations and names.
The headline writers at this paper are also not catering to this church’s whim. Here are some recent article headlines from the past month that were used in the online edition of the Salt Lake Tribune:
- “A dozen new LDS temples announced”—Oct. 8, 2018
- “Put serving God and his children before chores, urge Mormon’s women leaders”—Oct. 7, 2018
- “About the new Mormon Sunday meeting schedule”—Oct. 7, 2018
- “Mormons rejoice at news of shorter Sunday services”—Oct. 7, 2018
- “With the church’s blessing, Mormon girls are passing the sacrament”—Oct. 3, 2018
- “USU names finalists to head up Mormon studies program”—Oct. 2, 2018
- “Nelson and the ‘R” word: Why this Mormon prophet speaks more openly about revelations from God than his predecessors did”—Oct. 2, 2018
- “More millennial Mormons are choosing a middle way”—Sept. 29, 2018
- “No Scouting doesn’t mean an end to church-sponsored camping for Mormon youths”—Sept. 21, 2018
- “Mormon church takes another step in its anti-Prop 2 push”—September 20, 2018
When Latter-day Saints are questioned by outsiders about their religious affiliation, Nelson gave a way to respond:
If someone should ask, “Are you a Mormon?” you could reply, “If you are asking if I am a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, yes, I am!” If someone asks, “Are you a Latter-day Saint?” you might respond, “Yes, I am. I believe in Jesus Christ and am a member of His restored Church.”
The first response sounds prideful. The questioner wasn’t asking if the person was a “member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” but whether the person is a “Mormon.” Instead of simply stating it as it is (i.e., responding with “our prophet has asked us to refer to Latter-day Saints and not ‘Mormons’”), a correction is given in the answer that is the question that ought to have been asked and is nothing more than an end-around. If it were me, I’d rather the Latter-day Saint be upfront than play the game that Nelson is encouraging.
Unwittingly, as Keith Walker from Evidence Ministries points out, Nelson’s advice is actually saying that a “Mormon” and “a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” are synonymous terms. Consider his meme to the right.
Changes of names in church organizations
Before the October 2018 general conference began, the church announced that the name of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir was changed to “The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square.” The old website “mormontabernaclechoir.org” has been rerouted to “thetabernaclechoir.org,” even though the first sentence on the site still reads “Visitors to Salt Lake City may attend a live broadcast of Music and the Spoken Word featuring the Mormon Tabernacle Choir on Sunday mornings.” (Imagine the impossible job given to the webmaster in charge of the church’s websites to change all of the thousands of articles using the wrong names!)
At the time of this article, the website Mormon.org has remained the same and has not been forwarded to a site with a new name. However, its main page has been changed and begins this way: “Welcome. This is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a community where we’re all trying to be a little bit better, a little bit kinder, a little more helpful—because that’s what Jesus taught. Welcome.”
Many other websites or names have not been changed, including “Lds.org” and “Ldschurchnews.com.” Hundreds of videos that came from the “I’m a Mormon” campaign that took place between 2010-2015 are still listed on a church-owned website. Unless the church decides to take these videos down, this series seems to be at great risk, especially if God is truly offended at the nickname “Mormon.”
A revelation from God? Or an old general authority’s prejudice?
Nelson is claiming that he has received nothing less than a “revelation” from God, making it clear that God “impressed” this command into his mind. We must wonder if this policy change will need to be added into the Doctrine and Covenants, the place where other modern revelations of God—mostly given to Joseph Smith—have been placed. In her 10/2/18 article titled “Nelson and the ‘R’ word: Why this Mormon prophet speaks more openly about revelations from God than his predecessors did,” Salt Lake Tribune writer Peggy Fletcher Stack wrote,
By his own account, Russell M. Nelson speaks often to God, or, rather, God speaks often to him. Nelson, the 94-year-old president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said recently that he was awakened at 2 a.m. with a distinct impression that he should go to the Dominican Republic. Within days, the Church News reported, the energetic nonagenarian was on a plane to that Caribbean nation. . . . Indeed, in his first nearly nine months as the Utah-based faith’s top “prophet, seer and revelator,” Nelson has used the term “revelation” again and again to describe his motivation for initiatives and changes.
Noting that few of Nelson’s predecessors have used the “revelation” card when it came to receiving communication from God, Stack writes that Nelson has never shied away from the word, saying,
In January, the month Nelson took the faith’s reins, his wife, Wendy Watson Nelson, reported that one night she was prompted to leave her husband alone in their bedroom. “Two hours later, he emerged from the room,” Wendy Nelson told apostle Neil L. Andersen, who reported it on Facebook. “Wendy, you won’t believe what’s been happening,” the church president told his wife, according to Andersen’s account. “The Lord has given me detailed instructions on what I am to do.”
When Nelson wanted “to strengthen [his] proposal to his second wife Wendy (his first wife, Dantzel, had died), he told his prospective wife, “I know about revelation and how to receive it.” (Wouldn’t every single guy like to have such an advantage?) When he was the president of the apostles in January 2016, Nelson used the word “revelation” to describe a church policy on homosexuals mandating that married same-sex couples be considered “apostates” and their children be excluded from church rituals until they are 18.
According to Wendy, her husband “thrives on change.” In a five minute video interview that aired the last week of October 2018, she said,
I have seen him changing in the last 10 months. It is as though he’s been unleashed. He’s free to finally do what he came to earth to do. . . . He’s free to follow through with things he’s been concerned about but could never do. Now that he’s president of [the church], he can do those things. He’s not afraid to do something different. If we’re really preparing the church and the world for the Second Coming of the Savior, he is sincere about that. He doesn’t want us spending money, time, energy on anything that isn’t really focused on that. . . . I’ve seen him become younger. I’ve seen him become happier because he’s doing what he came to earth to do. (Salt Lake Tribune, “LDS Church Leader Thrives on Change, his wife says,” Oct 1, 2018, p. A5).
In that same video, Nelson said to buckle up because we haven’t seen anything yet. He enthusiastically stated,
If you think the church has been fully restored, you’re just seeing the beginning. There is much more to come . . . . Wait till next year. And then the next year. Eat your vitamin pills. Get your rest. It’s going to be exciting.
Latter-day Saints who may have enjoyed the “status quo” may be a bit concerned. After all, is this a man who has taken his personal views–including the idea that “Mormon” and “LDS” are offensive to God–and manipulated his people to think that it is God who is directing him to act. What incredible power there is to be the top dog in this religious organization!
Has the church been doing it “wrong” all along?
To me, the most amazing comment in his general conference address is where he references Jesus:
After all He had endured—and after all He had done for humankind—I realize with profound regret that we have unwittingly acquiesced in the Lord’s restored Church being called by other names, each of which expunges the sacred name of Jesus Christ!
Notice carefully what Nelson is saying when he says “we have unwittingly acquiesced in the Lord’s restored Church being called by other names.” Whether it was done intentionally or not, he is saying that is has been wrong by leaders to have left the name of Jesus out of any reference to the church.
To understand the power of the statement, it needs to be made clear that Latter-day Saint leaders do not “apologize.” The words used by Neslon (“profound regret”) is the closest an LDS leader gets to admitting something was not right. As an example, consider the words of Henry B. Eyring who, at the time the first counselor in the First Presidency. Speaking at a special ceremony commemorating the 150th anniversary of the tragic Mountain Meadows Massacre, he said:
What was done here long ago by members of our Church represents a terrible and inexcusable departure from Christian teaching and conduct. We cannot change what happened, but we can remember and honor those who were killed here. We express profound regret for the massacre carried out in this valley 150 years ago today and for the undue and untold suffering experienced by the victims then and by their relatives to the present time. A separate expression of regret is owed to the Paiute people who have unjustly borne for too long the principal blame for what occurred during the massacre. Although the extent of their involvement is disputed, it is believed they would not have participated without the direction and stimulus provided by local Church leaders and members” (Newsroom).
Although several media outlets (including the church-owned Deseret News) announced that Eyring had “apologized,” this was not accurate. In fact, church spokesman Mark Tuttle felt the need to clarify the media’s mistake soon afterward when he told the media, “We don’t use the word ‘apology.’ We used ‘profound regret.’” The phrase “profound regret” is purposely meant to be a rung below “apology,” but it is still mightily strong.
By using the word “we” in the above quote, we should understand that this is a reference to previous LDS leaders. As an apostle speaking at the April 1990 general conference, Nelson firmly laid out his thinking in a message titled “Thus Shall My Church Be Called.” He cited D&C 115:4 (“Thus shall my church be called in the last days, even The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints”) and said,
Note carefully the language of the Lord. He did not say, “Thus shall my church be named.” He said, “Thus shall my church be called.” Years ago, its members were cautioned by the Brethren who wrote: “We feel that some may be misled by the too frequent use of the term ‘Mormon Church.’” (Member-Missionary Class—Instructor’s Guide, Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1982, p. 2.) Before any other name is considered to be a legitimate substitute, the thoughtful person might reverently consider the feelings of the Heavenly Parent who bestowed that name. Source
I am unclear about the difference between the words “named” and “called.” Wasn’t the church “named” The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints? And isn’t that what it is supposed to be called?
Then, at the end of the talk, Nelson cited from D&C 63 and said that
just as we revere His holy name, we likewise revere the name that He decreed for His church. As members of His church, we are privileged to participate in its divine destiny. May we so honor Him who declared, “Thus shall my church be called … The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” I pray in the sacred name of Jesus Christ, amen. Source
Six months later, future 15th President Gordon B. Hinckley—who was Nelson’s superior and served at that time as the first counselor in the First Presidency—gave additional insight. In his October 1990 talk “Mormon Should Mean ‘More Good,’” Hinckley made a direct reference to Nelson’s message. He cited the following poem:
Father calls me William,
Sister calls me Will,
Mother calls me Willie,
But the fellers call me Bill.
Then he said,
I suppose that regardless of our efforts, we may never convert the world to general use of the full and correct name of the Church. Because of the shortness of the word Mormon and the ease with which it is spoken and written, they will continue to call us the Mormons, the Mormon church, and so forth. They could do worse.
When he asked a friend how Latter-day Saints could get people to use the proper name of the church, his friend replied,
“You can’t. The word Mormon is too deeply ingrained and too easy to say.” He went on, “I’ve quit trying. While I’m thankful for the privilege of being a follower of Jesus Christ and a member of the Church which bears His name, I am not ashamed of the nickname Mormon.” “Look,” he went on to say, “if there is any name that is totally honorable in its derivation, it is the name Mormon. And so, when someone asks me about it and what it means, I quietly say—‘Mormon means more good.’” (The Prophet Joseph Smith first said this in 1843; see Times and Seasons, 4:194; Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pp. 299–300.)
Later, Hinckley said, “We may not be able to change the nickname, but we can make it shine with added luster.” Referring to the name Mormon, he said,
After all, it is the name of a man who was a great prophet who struggled to save his nation, and also the name of a book which is a mighty testament of eternal truth, a veritable witness of the divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ. May I remind you for a moment of the greatness and of the goodness of this man Mormon.
In a quote that must have chafed the current president’s hide and clearly contradicts the Lord’s feelings as supposedly revealed by Nelson in 2018, Hinckley went on to say,
And so, while I sometimes regret that people do not call this church by its proper name, I am happy that the nickname they use is one of great honor made so by a remarkable man and a book which gives an unmatched testimony concerning the Redeemer of the world. Anyone who comes to know the man Mormon, through the reading and pondering of his words, anyone who reads this precious trove of history which was assembled and preserved in large measure by him, will come to know that Mormon is not a word of disrepute, but that it represents the greatest good—that good which is of God.
Hinckley concluded by saying how ”in a very real sense Mormonism must mean that greater good which the Lord Jesus Christ exemplified.”
I must ask what Nelson meant when he expressed “profound regret” for those who “unwittingly acquiesced” by not using the name of Jesus in conjunction with the church’s name. Could he have been referencing those like Hinckley who more than a quarter century who may have upstaged Nelson’s earlier talk?
Blogger Jana Reiss may have gotten it right when she described a Jekyll and Hyde Russell M. Nelson, the earlier version who did not appear too forceful in placing his belief on others and the most recent version, a man in complete control of this organization, that seems a bit more ornery and demanding. She explained,
The main difference between the two talks is not in their arguments, which are remarkably consistent, but their tone. President Nelson has adopted a far less conciliatory tone than Elder Nelson did 28 years ago.
She also wrote:
President Nelson has essentially rebuked the entire church and all of the deceased presidents who preceded him, particularly President Hinckley, for all those satanic victories. President Hinckley’s if-we-can’t-beat-em-we’ll-join-em attitude informed the notion that while “Mormon” was an incomplete nickname, members of the Church could redeem the word by doing “more good” in the world.
Could Nelson have been waiting close to three decades to make his prophetic move? Yet it’s not as if other leaders haven’t talked about the issue in apparent agreement with Nelson. For instance, Marion G. Romney, a member of the First Presidency, believed with Nelson that the correct name of the church is its full name, though he wasn’t fazed by the use of “Mormons” or the “Mormon church.” He said,
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. Its correct name is, as we have already explained, “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” (D&C 115:4). Source
At the April 2011 general conference, senior apostle Boyd K. Packer explained,
Obedient to revelation, we call ourselves The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints rather than the Mormon Church. It is one thing for others to refer to the Church as the Mormon Church or to us as Mormons; it is quite another for us to do so. (“Guided by the Holy Spirit”). Source
Sixteenth President Thomas S. Monson also used the term “Mormon” to refer to Latter-day Saints. Cited in a book that was just published as a Christmas gift by the LDS First Presidency in 2011, Monson told this story:
I enlisted in the navy just 10 days before I would have been drafted into the army. Navy boot camp was a never-to-be-forgotten experience. For the first three weeks I was convinced my very life was in jeopardy. The navy didn’t seem to be trying to train but rather to kill me. Finally came Sunday and the welcome news that all recruits would go to church. Standing at attention in a brisk California breeze, I heard the words of the chief petty officer: “Today, everybody goes to church. Those of you who are Catholic, you meet in Camp Decatur. Forward, march!” A rather sizeable (sic) contingent moved out. ‘Those of you who are Jewish, forward, march!’ A somewhat smaller group marched on. “The rest of you Protestants, you meet in Camp Farragut. Forward, march!” Instantly there flashed through my mind the thought: Monson, you aren’t Catholic. Monson, you aren’t Jewish. Monson, you aren’t Protestant. You are a Mormon. I stood fast. Then came the perplexed comment of the petty officer. Sweeter words I have not heard. “Just what do you guys call yourselves?” For the first time I knew there were others standing behind me on that drill grinder. In union we replied, “We’re Mormons.” He queried, “Mormons? Well, go find somewhere to meet” (Thomas S. Monson, Pathways to Perfection: Discourses of Thomas S. Monson, pp. 141-142. Italics in original)
At the October 2014 conference, Ballard said he had been given a “clear impression” to tell his people how “we should not” reference the church as Mormon Church or LDS Church.” A divine commandment, it wasn’t. But, then contradicting Nelson’s latest edict, he also said,
The term Mormon can be appropriately used in some contexts to refer to members of the Church, such as Mormon pioneers, or to institutions, such as the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Church members are widely known as Mormons, and in interactions with those not of our faith, we may fittingly refer to ourselves as Mormons, provided we couple this with the full name of the Church. Source
Let’s consider some of the other leaders who have used these synonyms when referring to their own church or people, as referenced from Bill McKeever’s wonderful resource book In their Own Words:
“CHRISTIANITY WILL BEAR HONEST INVESTIGATION.—We call ourselves Christians, that is, we Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Episcopalians and Mormons, we all call ourselves Christians. Well, perhaps we are, and then, perhaps we are not” (John Taylor, The Gospel Kingdom, pp. 75)
“Now I come to us, Mormons. We are the only true Church, so we say. We have the only true faith, so we say and believe. I believe we have many great and true principles revealed from the heavens. I will tell you how I feel about it, and what I have said many times when I have been abroad among the priests, people, and philosophers. If any man under the heavens can show me one principle of error that I have entertained, I will lay it aside forthwith, and be thankful for the information” (John Taylor, The Gospel Kingdom, p. 50).
“The Latter-day Saints, so commonly called “Mormons,” have no animosity towards the Negro. Neither have they described him as belonging to an ‘inferior race’” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Answers to Gospel Questions 4:170).
(In a book titled–ironically–“Mormon Doctrine of Deity”) “Some of the sectarian ministers are saying that we Mormons are ashamed of the doctrine announced by President Brigham Young, to the effect that Adam will thus be the God of this world. No, friends, it is not that we are ashamed of that doctrine. If you see any change coming over our countenance when this doctrine is named, it is surprise, astonishment, that any one at all capable of grasping the largeness and extent of the universe, the grandeur of existence and the possibilities in man for growth, for progress, should be so lean of intellect, should have such a paucity of understanding as to call it in question at all. That is what our change in countenance means – not shame for the doctrine Brigham Young taught” (B.H. Roberts, Mormon Doctrine of Deity, pp. 42-43)
“Enemies of the Church, or stupid people, reading also that Adam is ‘our father and our God.’ have heralded far and wide that the Mormons believe that Jesus Christ was begotten of Adam” (John A. Widtsoe, Evidences and Reconciliations, p. 56).
“All men, regardless of the degree of their guilt or innocence, will be resurrected from the dead, and this belief also becomes a foundation stone in the structure of the Mormon Church. But in addition to this general salvation through the atonement, every soul that lives in mortality to the age of responsibility may place himself within the reach of divine mercy and may obtain a remission of sin” (Hugh B. Brown, Conference Reports, April 1965, p. 43).
“Mormons are true Christians; their worship is the pure, unadulterated Christianity authored by Christ and accepted by Peter, James, and John and all the ancient saints” (Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 1966, p. 513).
“It is true that many of the Christian churches worship a different Jesus Christ than is worshiped by the Mormons or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” (Bernard P. Brockbank, “The Living Christ,” Ensign (Conference Edition), May 1977, p. 26)
Many other examples from church leaders could be given. (In fact, go to my earlier article here for similar citations.) Were these the type of citations for which Nelson expressed “profound regret”? Did these men wrongly use these nicknames “unwittingly”? Or did these leaders know better and were not in step with God’s will? (If they are general authorities of the church, shouldn’t they have known better?)
Another question: If Nelson understood that it was wrong to use LDS and Mormon in 1990–and he clearly did–then why did it take him (and the church) so long to reveal God’s will for this religion? More than a quarter of a century has passed by and yet the leaders sat back, doing nothing officially, while approving the “I am a Mormon” campaign and hosting websites such as Mormon.org and LDS.org?
Facebook commentator Steve McKnight makes a great point when he commented,
It has been my experience that when a new boss is put in charge, the first thing they want to do is renovate their office, give it a new look. This has to be a personal preference as this issue with the names hadn’t been a problem in the past and was even promoted at one point. Had this been an issue with the Mormon god as LDS President Nelson has suggested, why has their god(s) not impressed this upon past LDS prophets?
We must state the obvious: By his statement, Nelson has now placed any misuse of the name of the church into the sin category. If this is the case, then what about those leaders who used these inappropriate nicknames and abbreviations who are now passed away? If they offended the Lord by using these terms, wasn’t repentance required? In fact, how many living Latter-day Saints who commonly used “Mormon,” “LDS,” and “Mormonsim”–all the while offending God–have repented of their sins on this issue? Doesn’t all sin need repentance, even if it isn’t recognized by the person as sin? It seems Nelson has placed his people, both dead and living, in quite the precarious position.
Meanwhile, a number of LDS authors writing about their own religion have referenced a banned term such as “Mormon” in the titles of their books. Consider just four:
- What should we now call Bruce R. McConkie’s classic work Mormon Doctrine (“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint Doctrine”)?
- Popular young writer Al Carraway’s book “More than the Tattooed Mormon” needs to be changed to “More than the Tattooed Latter-day Saint”
- Charles R. Harrell needs to reinvent his book’s title, “This is My Doctrine”: The Development of Mormon Theology.
- And BYU professor Stephen E. Robinson needs to adjust his title of Are Mormons Christian?
I’m just touching the tip of the iceberg.
Misuse of the church’s name on websites
Current church website www.mormon.org (when will that site’s name be changed?) references the religious organization and its people in the old ways. For instance, consider just one page on the site https://www.mormon.org/beliefs/church-community:
- “What’s the Mormon community like? Generally speaking, Mormon Church communities are where we learn about our relationship with God and His plan for us and are founded on the teachings of Jesus Christ.”
- “Because they follow Jesus, Mormons actively care for and help each other. One way Mormons do this is by participating in a monthly fast where they don’t eat or drink for two consecutive meals. They then donate the money they would have spent on the two meals—or more money if they choose—to help people in need.”
On the “mormonnewsroom.org” website (again, when will that site’s name get changed?), an article titled “What to expect at Mormon Church services” has been changed to eliminate the word “Mormon.” Source Another article on that site, “Church Leaders Break Ground on Two South American Temples,” used the word “Mormon” in front of “church leaders” from March 4, 2017 until just after Nelson’s announcement. Source
Will MRM change its name?
Some have asked if we at MRM will be changing our ministry name. The answer is, simply, no. While Nelson did not mention “Mormonism” as a banned word in a Latter-day Saint’s vocabulary, it is talked about on the church’s oxymoronic website www.mormonnewsroom.org. It says,
The term “Mormonism” is inaccurate and should not be used. When describing the combination of doctrine, culture and lifestyle unique to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the term “the restored gospel of Jesus Christ” is accurate and preferred.
This is in complete disagreement with another page on this website titled “Mormonism 101: What is Mormonism?” An article here (current at the time I wrote this piece) reads
Mormonism is a term defining the religious beliefs and practices of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also known as Mormons. Mormonism describes the doctrines of the Church that were restored to the earth through the Prophet Joseph Smith. When asked what Mormonism is, members of the Church will often speak of their love of the Savior Jesus Christ. To them, the Savior is central to Mormonism.
We agree with this statement, even if the top leader of today’s LDS Church has changed his mind.
The next question people ask is if we will change our current use of “LDS” and “Mormon” when referencing this church and its people. While we will not, on purpose, use the name “Mormon Church,” we will continue to utilize these nicknames and abbreviations instead of continually using the full name of the church. This was commonly done by many different leaders and Latter-day Saints over the years, as described above. While Russell M. Nelson is the leader of his followers, he is not a recognized Christian leader. Therefore, he does not have authority to instruct us. Because we don’t believe God has spoken to him, we feel perfectly in line to use these same terms in a respectful way, just as many others in the media are doing so.
The reader must understand that our intentions are good. After all, we don’t want to purposely anger the Latter-day Saints. To show that what I am saying is genuine, consider the new book Sharing the Good News with Mormons (Harvest House, 2018) that I co-edited with my friend Sean McDowell. On the first page of the introduction, I explained how I and the book’s contributors would reference the church and its members. I cited LDS apologist Gary C. Lawrence who once wrote, “Our members are properly referred to as Mormons or as Latter-day Saints. Our church may be referred to by its full name or as the LDS Church. We prefer not to be called the Mormon Church.” Based on that citation and other directives given by other leaders, I explained,
Thus, to be respectful and prevent any unnecessary arguments, we will refer to those who belong to this religion as “Latter-day Saints,” “LDS,” or “Mormon.” While we will leave direct quotes using the term “Mormon Church” intact, we will not use this designation in our writing; instead, we will refer to the church using its full name or as “LDS Church.”
Now Nelson demands for us to stop using these other synonyms for the church and its people by claiming God instructed him to ban these words and abbreviations. Please, Mr. Nelson, give us viable alternatives where we, as nonMormons, can reference your people and church without a) offending you or, gasp, God; b) making a truth claim that supports the veracity of this church.
Conclusion: Will this be the end of the derogatory term “anti-Mormon”?
I want to be a “the-glass-is-half-full” kind of guy and say that perhaps some good can come from Nelson’s edict. The term “anti-Mormon” has been used many hundreds of times by well-meaning Latter-day Saints who want to disparage any Christian’s evangelistic ways. I have always disliked this term because “Mormon” has traditionally been a nickname for a person who belongs to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Certainly I am in disagreement with the theology of this organization, but I take the risk to share my faith with Latter-day Saints because I honestly love them and care about them. Yet so often LDS leaders have attacked our approaches and motives. Consider Apostle Bruce R. McConkie:
Ignore, if you can, the endless array of anti-Mormon literature and avoid cults like a plague… There are, of course, answers to all of the false claims of those who array themselves against us—I do not believe the devil has had a new idea for a hundred years—but conversion is not found in the dens of debate. It comes rather to those who read the Book of Mormon in the way Moroni counseled. Most members of the Church would be better off if they simply ignored the specious claims of the professional anti-Mormons (Sermons and Writings of Bruce R. McConkie, p. 233. Italics in original).
And check out this amazing quote found on an apologetic website:
“The term anti-Mormon is herein used to describe any person or organization that is directly and actively opposed to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, its doctrines, policies and programs. It is not, as critics sometimes mischievously try to claim, a catchall term for anyone who does not accept or believe in the Church, but is applied only to those who actively campaign against it. As an adjective, it applies to those specific activities that may with reasonable accuracy be described as attacks upon the Church… So we return to the question with which we began this survey: are anti-Mormons Christian? The answer: of course not. They were never even in the hunt. Their clerical collars and pious platitudes are simply a smokescreen to hide the ugly reality that anti-Mormonism is one of the clear manifestations of the darkest side of human nature; the side that made possible the death camps and burning crosses, the massacre of the Hutus and the wholesale slaughter of the Native Americans. Just as vicious and repressive dictatorships like to give themselves grandiose and liberal-sounding titles like ‘The People’s Democratic Socialist Republic of Such-and-such,’ so these nasty religious haters appropriate the label of ‘Christian’ in order to claim for themselves a specious respectability that their deeds and attitudes do not merit” (Russell McGregor, “Are anti-Mormons Christian?” Ellipsis mine).
For those Christian believers like me who choose to share their faith with Latter-day Saints, maybe Nelson’s edict can be used for good. After all, if there are no more “Mormons” in existence, then there can be no more “anti-Mormons.” I can’t wait to respond with this comeback the next time someone accuses me of being “anti-Mormon”!
Other articles on this topic:
- Something Crucial is Missing from the Mormon Church’s Official Name
- Russell M. Nelson draws a line in the sane over “LDS” and “Mormon” describing his church and people