The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints recently sent word to local leaders that it published updates to its online handbooks. With President Nelson’s overhaul of many Church policies and organizations, this is the third time in less than a year that an official notice of handbook updates has landed in email inboxes. With last weekend’s updates, the news media has focused on the new prohibition of firearms in reaction to a the passing of a recent Texas law. Other members and former members have been surprised by a different section, one suggesting that the forbidden moniker “Mormon” might be, well, acceptable again.
When referring to Church members, it is preferable to use the phrase “members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” As a shortened reference, “Latter-day Saints” is preferred and “Mormons” is acceptable.21.1.34 Referring to the Church and Its Members, Handbook 2
There was some understandable jaw-dropping.
Funny enough, there were some updates to the “Name of the Church” section. Here’s the full text of the section, noting what changed (the old text is an archived version of from October 15, 2018):
Referring to the Church and Its Members
As the Church grows across boundaries, cultures, and languages, the use of its revealed name, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (see
D&CDoctrine and Covenants 115:4), is increasingly important in the responsibility of the Church and its members to proclaim the name of the Savior throughout all the world. Accordingly, references to the Church should include its full name whenever possible. Following an initial reference to the full name of the Church, the contractions “the Church” or “the Church of Jesus Christ” are acceptable.
Referring to the Church as “the Mormon Church,” “the Latter-day Saints Church,” or “the LDS Church” is discouraged.
When referring to Church members, it is preferable to use the phrase “members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” As a shortened reference, “Latter-day Saints” is preferred and “Mormons” is acceptable.
The word Mormon will continue to be used in proper names like the Book of Mormon
and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. It will also continue to be used as an adjective in phrases such as “Mormon pioneers.” In addition, it may be necessary to use the word Mormon to identify the Church as it is commonly known in some countries.
The only changes, of course, are expanding the name of the D&C and deleting the reference to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
The name policies currently still in Handbook 2 are based on a February 23, 2001 First Presidency Letter. Church leaders reiterated these policies in a subsequent news release on March 5, 2001. The re-emphasis on the correct name of the Church was in anticipation of media coverage related to the upcoming 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. The text of the First Presidency letter stated:
As the Church grows across boundaries, cultures and languages, the use of the revealed name, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (D&C; 115:4), is increasingly important in our responsibility to proclaim the name of the Savior throughout all the world. Accordingly, we ask that when we refer to the Church we use its full name wherever possible. While this official name is not being shortened, the contractions “The Church” or “The Church of Jesus Christ” are acceptable.
We discourage referring to the Church as “The Mormon Church,” “The Latter-day Saints Church” or “The LDS Church.”
When referring to Church members, we suggest “members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” As a shortened reference, “Latter-day Saints” is preferred, but “Mormons” is acceptable.
We of course will continue to use the word Mormon in proper names like The Book of Mormon or Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and as an adjective in such references as “Mormon pioneers.”
A copy of this letter should be posted in Church buildings. Further detail on references to the Church and its members will be forthcoming in Church publications.
Gordon B. Hinckley
Thomas S. Monson
James E. Faust
The First PresidencyFirst Presidency Letter, 23 February 2001
In reference to this push to re-emphasize the name of the Church ahead of the 2002 Olympics, President M. Russell Ballard recently quipped “it worked really well for about one month.” To their credit, it lasted longer than that, though only slightly. In October 2001, the Church announced the launch of Mormon.org.
In a 2017 PhD dissertation, Gavin Stuart Feller reported that the name of that website, oriented towards those unfamiliar with the Church, was originally planned to be “searchingforhappiness.com”. However, “survey research commissioned by the Church showed that people were most likely to search Mormon.com and Mormon.org to find information about the religion online.” Feller interviewed a church employee, Michael Hemingway, about the reaction to the leaders’ decision to use the Mormon nickname so soon after emphasizing the correct name of the Church.
In a meeting on making a decision about the website name, Elders Holland and Oaks both expressed that “it wasn’t my first choice…However, you could call it a revelatory experience, that’s the name of the website.”165 Jaws dropped in Public Affairs department when the name was announced. “But,” says Hemingway, “I think that’s a very clear case of the Lord directing this Church, and quite frankly that’s what people would look for. So, the name came about from revelation, and we were pleased.”166“Media as compromise: a cultural history of Mormonism and new communication technology in twentieth-century America,” p. 195.
And thus continued another two decades of a love-hate relationship with the “Mormon” moniker among church members and leaders.
Given President Nelson’s long-term concern about what he saw as disrespect for the official name of the Church, it’s not surprising that soon after taking office he instructed the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles to “develop a comprehensive plan to correct the use of the name of the Church.” In June 2018, the First Presidency even asked leaders of the world-reknowned Mormon Tabernacle Choir “to explore replacing the ‘Mormon’ in the choir’s name.” And, of course, in August 2018, the Church released an official statement from President Russell M. Nelson himself regarding the name of the Church, a message he repeated to the worldwide membership at the October 2018 general conference.
Where we are today
The effort to comply with President Nelson’s mandate has been massive. Elder Gong reported that (1) “30,000 email addresses have been updated,” (2) “300 web-based applications have been added to the new domain name,” (3) “95 percent of the outward-facing references have been updated,” and (4) “800 domain names have been acquired in the United States and other international settings.”
President Ballard spoke of the scale and importance of this effort:
[7:46] We’ve made tremendous progress. When you think about in one year, the things that we’ve been able to accomplish is, you’d have to say we’re well on our way. Are we there yet? No. Is there a lot more work to do? Yes. We’re taking those steps and I think as time rolls out and people see the other steps that we’re working on they’re gonna be very, very pleased. Certainly the membership of the Church will be. And I think the whole world will start to see us as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. If we can get that done, regardless of how much longer it takes us to get that all the way around the world, it’ll be one of those tremendous and important things that we will have accomplished in our ministries.”President M. Russell Ballard, KSL NewsRadio interview 16 August 2019
So what’s up with Handbook 2? Quite simply, that section just hasn’t been updated yet. Once it is, it’ll closely follow the Newsroom Style Guide published with President Nelson’s August 2018 announcement.
In the first reference, the full name of the Church is preferred: “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”
When a shortened 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.
While the term “Mormon Church” has long been publicly applied to the Church as a nickname, it is not an authorized title, and the Church discourages its use. Thus, please avoid using the abbreviation “LDS” or the nickname “Mormon” as substitutes for the name of the Church, as in “Mormon Church,” “LDS Church,” or “Church of the Latter-day Saints.”
When referring to Church members, the terms “members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” “Latter-day Saints,” “members of the Church of Jesus Christ” and “members of the restored Church of Jesus Christ” are preferred. We ask that the term “Mormons” and “LDS” not be used.
“Mormon” is correctly used in proper names such as the Book of Mormon or when used as an adjective in such historical expressions as “Mormon Trail.”
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.
When referring to people or organizations that practice polygamy, it should be stated that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not affiliated with polygamous groups.Style Guide — The Name of the Church, Newsroom
So the next logical question is, why hasn’t it been updated? I mean, it’s been a full year.
Well, based on what I’ve observed, updates to the various handbooks seem pretty arbitrary.
One Handbook 2 update highlighted in the summary of recent changes is concerning food allergies. Last year’s version of the handbook (and even last year’s disability section of the Church’s website) didn’t mention food allergies. The disability section received an overhaul in the early 2019, though, and there is now a section governing food allergies. So, clearly, the recent food allergy updates to Handbook 2 are from policy decisions made by Church leadership in the last few months.
But take a look at a different Handbook 2 update highlighted in the same summary of recent changes, on how to obtain a copy of your priesthood blessing. As recently as last year, the handbook still advised members who wanted a copy to ask their patriarch to see if he still had a physical copy or contact church headquarters (via a mailing address or telephone number). In the new update, members are advised to request copies via their online membership accounts on ChurchofJesusChrist.org. Thing is, the Church has advertised using online accounts to request copies of patriarchal blessings for years, since early 2016. The Church History Library has this 2017 article describing the process in detail.
In short, updating the handbooks seem to be an afterthought in a lot of cases.
- What do you think is causing the delay in updating various sections of the handbooks? The sheer number of recent changes? Getting through bureaucratic red-tape? Overwhelmed employees trying to get everything else done related to the name-correction effort?
- Do you think the handbooks are becoming less of a priority with the prevalence of other communication avenues? Church headquarters is now communicating directly with Church members via email and social media platforms in addition to its manuals, magazines, and conference addresses.
 Notices on handbook updates were sent to local leaders via the Official Communications Library in October 2018, April 2019, and August 2019. The October 2018 notice stated, “Leaders should refer to the digital versions of the handbooks for these updates, because the printed copies will not be updated.” Early in 2019, a page was added to the publicly available Handbook 2, summarizing new updates. The April notice highlighted the “March 2019” updates. The August notice highlighted the “May 2019” updates.
 President M. Russell Ballard on the KSL newsradio show Inside Sources, 16 August 2019.
 Feller, Gavin Stuart. “Media as compromise: a cultural history of Mormonism and new communication technology in twentieth-century America.” PhD (Doctor of Philosophy) thesis, University of Iowa, 2017.
 Elder Gerrit W. Gong on the KSL newsradio show Inside Sources, 16 August 2019. Also reported in the Deseret News/Church News article, “Praising His name: Two Apostles share why the name of the Church matters.”
 Yes, you may have heard that the November 2015 exclusion policy is still in the updated Handbook 1 even though President Oaks announced last April that it would be removed. Though I can’t verify that detail (since I don’t have access to Handbook 1), I suspect it’s probably for the same reason as the Mormon nickname thing, it just hasn’t been updated yet.