So, I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m still feeling like a Mormon. The funny thing is, I remember back in the ’80s that there was this push to use the church’s official name, emphasizing Jesus Christ, to help others outside the church see that we weren’t a cult like the Godmakers film claimed. But then, Pres. Benson got into office and immediately went on record singing, “Marmin boy, Marmin boy, yes, I am a Marmin boy.” So that was that. Calling ourselves Mormon was back in style. Satan rejoiced.

But now, the winds have shifted and the word Mormon is out in a big way, literally becoming a marker between those who are orthodox and those who aren’t. But I’m 51 years old. I didn’t have a problem with ditching the word Mormon when I was a teenager, but now . . . well, I’ve been using it for a few decades. I created an “I’m a Mormon” profile. I’ve embraced the term. It’s not that easy to just ditch it, and it’s nearly impossible to convince me that it’s morally wrong. I guess if people can have an identity crisis, so can institutions. To illustrate just how Mormon I am, I immediately looked up identity crisis in the dictionary, as if I was preparing for a talk:

“a period of uncertainty and confusion in which a person’s sense of identity becomes insecure, typically due to a change in their expected aims or role in society.”

So what are the church’s aims or its role in society that it is seeking to change by ditching the name Mormon? The first that comes to mind is not letting outsiders define us. The nickname Mormon originated when outsiders called church members the name of the book of scripture that was unique to them. Church members, for a change, decided not to fight city hall and instead embraced the name. Another aim that is likely at play is the desire to fit in with other branches of Christianity by emphasizing the name of Jesus Christ. Along these lines, there is potentially some literalistic reading of the naming of the church passage in the D&C.

Magritte’s famous surreal painting Ceci n’est pas une pipe exemplifies the problem with images (including names). They aren’t the thing itself. They only point to the thing. They represent it. They shorthand it.

Naming is related to the desire to define oneself in relation to others: as belonging or standing apart. In making this change, we are showing we “belong” to Christianity, and we “stand apart” from churches that don’t prominently display the Savior’s name.

Recently my daughter and I were talking about where she wanted to go to college. She was lukewarm on BYU (my alma mater) because, as she put it, “I don’t want to be a Molly . . . member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.” It doesn’t exactly roll right off the tongue, does it? With the retirement of the moniker “Mormon” from the lexicon of the faithful, Mormonism is re-evaluating its identity. What is identity? Is it who we are, who we want to be, who others think we are?

I shared a story in my mission memoir, The Legend of Hermana Plunge, about my first trainee. As a companionship, we had some downtime due to illness, and we often played games when we couldn’t work. From the book:

“She also introduced me to kokology. These are psychological tests, popularized in Japan, that walk you through a scenario, and your answer reveals something about your psyche. One simple test was to name three animals. The first animal represented how you think the world perceives you, the second was how others really see you, and the third was how you really are. My three animals were a chipmunk, a dolphin, and a lobster. I was pretty pleased with my answers. A chipmunk is energetic, cute and friendly. A dolphin is powerful and sleek and intelligent. And a lobster is hard on the outside but soft on the inside, and you can see all the parts because of the exoskeleton.”

Let’s explore these questions with the Church as a whole.

How does the Church perceive itself?

An Owl.[1] It’s large, powerful, wise, all-seeing. The Church sees itself as the one true church of Jesus Christ, restored by modern prophets. It sees itself as authoritative, a living entity under a living God, and the sole proprietor of ordinances that can save humanity. Given this self-image, it’s not hard to see why “Mormon” doesn’t encompass that vision.

How do others see the Church?

A Hummingbird. It’s flitting around so quickly, it’s hard to even see it. Is it even a bird or is it a bug? It’s constantly changing. Hard to pin down. Some Christian sects see the church as a threat (due to proselyting and doctrines they consider heretical). Many larger Christian sects simply don’t see the Church as significant. It’s fairly new to the stage without the gravitas of millenial history or reformation (aka baggage). It’s not well understood or known in society at large, although more well known in the western US than elsewhere. Many outsiders know only negative things about the church: that it’s sexist, racist, homophobic, or that its adherents are hopelessly naive.

How is the Church really?

This one’s harder to pin down. I’m really not sure–I’m probably too close to say. I know for sure it’s not an owl or a hummingbird. Is it an aspen forest? A turtle? A finch? A platypus? A kiwi bird?

What do you think?


[1] These animals are just guesses based on my understanding of the questions in relation to the Church.