Why Don’t Mormons Want to be Called Mormons?


It’s probably our least dramatic controversy.  Recently President Russell M. Nelson announced that the Church no longer would be using nicknames or abbreviated names that remove the name of Christ from our title.  So “Mormon Church” is out door.  Ditto “LDS Church.”  The Mormon Tabernacle Choir is now the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square, and more changes are on their way.

So much for that “I’m a Mormon” campaign the Church started.

“What’s in a name?” is kind of a sensitive subject for those of us formally known as the M-word.  We believe that the name of the Church was given to Joseph Smith by revelation:  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  The idea, I think, was that the name would be clipped down to “The Church of Jesus Christ” or “Church of Christ,” but that never really caught on.  Instead, we came to be known by a moniker given to us by enemies of the Church:  Mormons.  That name had the advantage (from the perspective of critics of the Church) of labeling us as something other than Christian, and it avoided the admitted mouthful presented by the Church’s full name.

It didn’t take long for the Church to go with the “If you can’t beat them, join them” approach, and eventually the name–never official and never entirely forgetting its origins–came to be adopted by members themselves as a shorthand designation of the faith.  It has been used in advertising campaigns, website titles, and children’s songs.  It has, in many ways, become our brand.  The conversation usually went like this:

“So, Larry, what Church do you belong to?”

“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint.”

“The ladders and what?”

“I’m Mormon.”

“Oh, why didn’t you say so?”

In recent years, the efforts of “mainstream” Christianity to make sure that Latter-day Saints aren’t part of the Christian club have made us M-words a little uncomfortable with having to defend what we believe to be at the very core of our faith:  Our conviction that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, the author of our salvation.  Thus the plethora of articles , books, and blogs (including this one) addressing the question of “Are Mormon Christians?”  Perhaps it would be easier to soften the distinction if we didn’t keep calling ourselves Mormons.

Mormon, if you care to know, was a prophet (one of many) that we believe lived on the American continent.  We believe that he abridged and compiled the record that bears his name, the Book of Mormon.  We contend that the Book of Mormon is sacred scripture, operating hand-in-hand with the Bible to witness the verity that Jesus is the Christ. Mormon is respected by us as Moses or Isaiah or Abraham are respected by Christians.  But we don’t worship him, pray to him, or wear “What would Mormon do?” bracelets.

So, I see this as a course correction by a Church that desires to be more fairly and accurately referred to than we have in the past–either by others or ourselves.  Granted, it is going to be a slow and sometimes awkward transition.  A site I write for that formally was “Mormon Hub” has now become “The Third Hour,” a tongue-in-cheek reference to the announcement that our Sunday services are being reduced from three hours to two.  I’m still undecided on what to do with my “Muttering Mormon” blog, and I don’t foresee going with “churchofjesuschristoflatterdaysaints.reallywanttoknow.wordpress.com”  for this one.  That’s just an invitation to developing carpal tunnel.

The issue is an unusual one, given that I think that “Mormon” has, for the most part, come to have a positive connotation.  It brings to mind strong families, strict morals, not smoking or drinking, clean cut missionaries…I think it is associated more often with good things than bad.  But none of those things is as fundamental to who we are as is the name of the Savior.  We believe He is at the head of this Church.  We believe that we are charged to share His message with the world.  We believe that the most important thing we can be is worthy disciples of the Master.

Having more opportunities to remind people that He is the most important thing in my life is no sacrifice at all.

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