This is a guest post from Tyler Scott.
After President Nelson’s press release indicating that it is no longer appropriate to use the word Mormon in reference to the church or it’s members I have found myself increasingly upset by what this announcement represents. The following is my attempt to articulate why this change, which may seem minor on it’s surface, has proven to trouble me a great deal.
1. People calling us Mormons is not a bad thing and is probably a good thing.
“Hey Tyler I hear you are Mormon”
“Yeah, that’s right, I’ve grown up in the church my whole life”
“Cool, I had some Mormon neighbors in graduate school. They were really nice. If you don’t mind me asking, why are use guys called Mormons, is it just because of the book?”
“Yeah, good question, it’s kind of a nickname that has stuck, the name of the church is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It’s a bit of a mouth full so we just roll with the nickname. Mormon was actually a cool guy that lived about 1600 years ago in central America and consolidated the history of the people who lived there into a cliff notes version of their faith promoting stories. What do you know about the Book of Mormon?”
……and we’re off with hopefully a non-awkward but genuine missionary experience. All because we aren’t freaked out about being called Mormon and the actual word Mormon can lead to open discussions about his book and the unique nature of our faith. This is, decidedly, a good thing.
2. Mormon is a good brand. Just go with it.
Some examples include:
“Mormon helping hands” with their attendant T-shirts helps people recognize our service efforts and often makes the local news, this is a hallmark of good branding.
“I’m a Mormon” is a highly relatable PR and missionary campaign that has been well received by Mormons and future-baptized-against-their-dead-bodies-will Mormons.
“Meet the Mormons” was a well done mainstream movie which served to destigmatize and demystify our faith and it’s people.
“The Mormon Tabernacle Choir” is perhaps our best and most well known brand across the world. From their beloved Christmas music, to their incredibly long running weekly broadcast, and their appearances at such world events as the Olympic Games and the swearing in of America’s first autocratic dictator; the Mo Tab is known and beloved across myriad demographics. This is what branding success looks like. Don’t mess with success Russell!
3. We’ve already seen the rebranding movie before. No one liked it.
In short, this has been tried before. Several times. It didn’t work. It’s not going to work this time either.
Why? First, and this one is slightly nuanced but critical to understand so don’t read too quickly…..No. One. Cares.
Second, 99.9% of the uses of the word Mormon aren’t meant as a passive-aggressive dig at our ongoing insecurity that “the world” doesn’t see us a Christian.
It’s just short. It’s easy. It’s convenient.
People tweeting with limited characters and parents at BBQs with crying babies don’t want to summon the internal capacity it takes to write or say “My friend who belongs to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints once told me….”. They just want to type or say Mormon.
Russell, my friend, it’s not an insult to be called Mormon, it’s just practical.
4. The logic here is not consistent with our own scripture and doctrine.
Here are the first four verses of section 107 of the Doctrine and Covenants:
1 There are, in the church, two priesthoods, namely, the Melchizedek and Aaronic, including the Levitical Priesthood.
2 Why the first is called the Melchizedek Priesthood is because Melchizedek was such a great high priest.
3 Before his day it was called the Holy Priesthood, after the Order of the Son of God.
4 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.
Ok, so which is it?
a. God is super concerned with people repeating the name of Supreme Beings too frequently so he allows and even encourages His institutions to take on the name of a mortal man (preferably with a strange name that starts with M)
b. God is super concerned with people not saying the name of Supreme Beings enough so He tells His prophet to stop letting people call His institutions after the names of “M” men and directs that prophet to make sure people say ‘Jesus Christ’ a LOT more often.
So is it A or is it B? Let’s get clear with our logic and then stick with it.
This point about our own scripture sanctioning the use of a man’s name in place of the Lord’s name also applies to another well know part of the church’s brand; their flagship university.
Mormon, Melchizedek, and Brigham Young all act as place holders for church institutions that could otherwise have the name of deity explicitly stated in their title. If President Nelson sees the need to eliminate the usage of one of these I would submit that abolishing Mormon is the wrong one to focus on.
Mormon has no published history of racism, imperialism, or misogyny and appears to have avoided teaching false doctrine during his time as a prophet. The same cannot be said for Brother Brigham.
If we are going to ask the world to refer to one of our institutions differently lets stop naming our university system after a man who taught the Adam-God doctrine, the blood atonement, and kicked off more than a century of institutionalized racism.
BYU with it’s nationally televised football contract can do more to change the cultural zeitgeist than any church sanctioned style guide. Just think of the impact it would have to hear ESPN announcers start saying, “Welcome to Provo for tonight’s match-up between San Diego State and the University of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Aztecs and Cougars are both off to a great start this season…..”
Let me sum it up the point this way:
‘I hold the Melchizedek priesthood and attend Brigham Young University but don’t you dare call me a Mormon.’
Really? Does that make any sense? I think not.
Sounds like Russell needs to do a little more ponderizing about this before posting his pet topic on mormonnewsroom.org….oops, I mean therestoredchurchofjesuschristoflatterdaysaintsnewsroom.org
5. Rebranding is really a corporate thing. We don’t need any help looking more corporate.
A church that generates 10s of billions of dollars a year in revenue, who is unapologetically engaged in multiple multi-billion dollar commercial mall developments, who owns and operates innumerable for-profit enterprises and does so in the name of building God’s kingdom yet without any transparency about the origin or dispersion of this money, really doesn’t need to try any harder to look like a corporation.
Aren’t prophets usually focused on happiness, and salvation, and stuff of eternal import rather than launching unnecessary rebranding campaigns?
6. Opportunity cost and a gross misallocation of resources
Enacting a solution when there is no problem isn’t just an incomprehensible academic exercise. It costs a lot; a lot of money, a lot of time, and perhaps most importantly, a lot of attention.
How much money will it take to strip and redo all church owned buildings, websites, publications, and offerings of the words Mormon and LDS? How many man-hours? How many meetings, emails, and memos?
Would the God who declares that His work and His glory is to bring about the immortality and eternal life of all men find a different way to allocate those resources given that broader and more impactful goal?
I can think of few Biblically supported places that the kingdom of God is asked to focus their time, money, and attention that have very little to do with what “the world” says or writes in reference to that kingdom.
7. No One Wins
There are generally three categories of Mormons I read about and know of in my life; the disaffected, the rank-and-file, and the pharisaical. Let’s examine how this change is likely to affect each group.
The disaffected — They are pissed. (See items 8–10)
The rank-and-file — They don’t care. They just want a two hour block and to stop hearing talks/lessons about ministering.
The pharisaical — They are given another cudgel with which to beat the rest of us over the head with when we say the “wrong” name of the church or it’s members……Ok, so I was wrong, there is a winner after all.
8. “Never mistake activity for achievement” — John Wooden
It’s a terrible mistake to confuse activity with achievement. Achievement means accomplishing something of importance and value while activity merely means you’ve done… something.
Bustling around making meaningless changes about our name all over our church makes it look like we are busy carrying out the revelation of a modern prophet but it’s totally absent of any substantive achievement or productivity.
9. This is a distraction of Trumpian proportions
Our current church leader seems to be taking a page from our current US political leader. Namely, when faced with multiple crises of your own creation make sure that you routinely make leadershipy looking announcements that don’t address the things your people are really concerned with and that will draw attention away from those crises.
Face increasing evidence of collusion with a foreign power = Announce the formation of Space Force, a totally unnecessary new branch of the military.
Face increasing fallout and criticism of about your ongoing marginalization of women = change the name of home and visiting teaching and make a HUGE deal out of it.
Be confronted with the hate-motivated separation of asylum seeking families and cage their children = Make a meaningless and ultimately embarrassing trip to visit the dictator of a foregin nuclear power (or do it twice)
Be confronted with the hate-motivated subjugation of LGBTQ people = Insist that people call your subjugating organization by a very specific name and make sure to release a style guide for everyone to study.
10. This can’t possibly be what keeps Jesus up at night
Russell, my man, my main prophet man, is this really the most pressing matter facing our world and our church? Is it even in the top 20? Of all the things that ail this world and this church, is this really the thing God has “impressed on your mind”?
The world needs your leadership. The church wants your leadership. But they only want it and need it on things that matter, things that are salient in our world and our culture right now.
Things that impact our happiness, wholeness and the arc of our eternal experience. Things like ecclesiastical abuse, rape culture, victim blaming, systemic sexual shaming of youth, invasive questioning of our kids, and cultural homophobia.
Things like the alarming suicide rates and mental anguish of our gay members, the increasing exodus of millennial members over opaque cover-ups regarding our problematic history, and the insidious sadness and pain caused by our intentional subversion of women within our patriarchal culture. President Nelson, I implore you, please don’t get caught up in “the thick of thin things”.
An alleged prophet who has not had these critical issues impressed on his mind, is distracted from these issues by branding efforts, and/or lacks the moral courage to enact needed reform stands in need of a great deal more than our sustaining vote. He needs our moral outrage. He needs our kind yet pointed critiques.
The fallibility of prophets is a doctrine we believe in. It’s time to take that doctrine seriously. It’s time we start expecting more of our leaders than name changes and style guides. We can do better, we must do better.