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 Here’s the full text of the section, noting what changed (the old text is an archived version of from October 15, 2018):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.
 Referencing the 1964 church video Man’s Search for Happiness produced for the World’s Fair and the 1993 book Our Search for Happiness by M. Russell Ballard.
 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.
Ahhh,.. the personal pet peeve of the prophet causing such a waste of time and money.
I do applaud spelling out Doctrine and Covenants. I was brainwashed by my mission president to always refer to the book as The Doctrine and Covenants versus D&C, as a D&C is a medical procedure performed on women, and, well, we don’t want to confuse the investigators. Haha. I still cringe whenever someone says “Please turn to D&C…..” Also, I noticed that the Come Unto Christ website uses the term Mormon often (in the common questions section). So I was confused by that.
I hope we can use common sense. I support the Church in wanting itself and others to use the proper name of the Church as an institution. But we have to be realistic — we cannot start saying (and insist that others start believing) that there are no Mormons in Utah.
I’m sure there are a bunch of hoops to jump through (approval at various levels) before a change in official LDS policy or practice is announced. But once announced, that change ought to go right in the online Handbooks (H1 and H2). Arbitrary delays mean that some local leaders, when faced with a question, will consult the current (outdated) online Handbooks thinking they are accurate and end up giving counsel or taking action that is based an outdated Handbook. Hard to tell whether this is the result of conflict in the senior leadership or simply inefficient operation at the COB. You would think that after the last snafu with a Handbook change (the November Policy fiasco) they would fix the process.
I don’t know why it is still called the Doctrine and Covenants, since the “Doctrine” part of the book was removed decades ago.
One thing I have noticed over the last few years is that the exmo and progressive Mormon types study the church handbooks way more than the straight arrow members of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ do.
This is a timely post. I am entertaining an Episcopalian friend for the weekend and we were discussing our religions. He asked me if any of the congregations in our Stake performed community outreach such as soup kitchens, etc. I regretfully told him that we basically ‘take care of our own’ and that lately our focus is correcting folks who call us Mormons. He rolled his eyes and said, ‘Really? Are you serious? ‘ Misdirected priorities. Enough said….
Thanks for explaining this so clearly and thoroughly, Mary Ann! I was really hoping that this was a reversal on President Nelson’s gospel hobby, but sadly, your explanation makes a lot more sense.
Wm Ellery Channing, based on Ballard’s remarks in the radio interview, this is something that has bugged senior leadership for a long time, but the sheer magnitude of the task was a barrier. You had to get someone in a position of power passionate enough to get the others willing to commit to the labor and financial investment. Even then, it seems clear that this has been a much bigger project than ANYONE realized.
Yamabeth, I never connected the handbook change omitting the initials as connected to the confusion with the medical procedure. If that was a factor, then I agree it was smart. I just chalked it up to President Nelson’s distaste for acronyms. (For the life of me, I can’t figure out why I’m allowed to call myself a “Latter-day Saint” but I can’t say I’m “LDS.”) The use of “Mormon” in the FAQ section on ComeuntoChrist.org cracks me up. I suspect it was a way for the tech department to take what little SEO advantage they could while working around the new style guide.
Ji, I agree.
Dave B, I wonder if the snafu with the POX has made it more difficult to get handbook changes approved. Also, there’s the language factor. A news release can just go out in English. Handbooks eventually have to be translated in many languages (it seems they usually try to initially release stuff in English, Spanish, and Portuguese, as that covers a large percentage of membership). International versions of these guidelines are a whole other set of problems.
Zach, you could say the same about church history and a host of other aspects.
@skydadyl-Our Stake does all kinds of things, every week a ward helps out a a local soup kitchen, we do a food drive every summer, help out with a Muslim event every year, have a yearly Catholic Sing Song event, etc.
Here’s the part I have a serious problem with: it would be perfectly fine to say we are in the process of updating Sections X, Y and Z and those revised sections will be made available in the electronic versions of the Handbooks in due course. No problem with that at all. What we can’t do is announce that Sections X, Y and Z have been updated but then not actually update Y and Z electronically. Look at the massive confusion this has caused. We’re all clear there is now a hard line on concealed carry. But look how many Saints think the Church pulled a bait and switch on the November policy announcement, and also look how many people are rejoicing at an apparent partial reprieve on the Mormon policy that isn’t real and will eventually be undone. If the new HB language isn’t ready yet, either delay the announcement or convey the new comment in the announcement generally but make it clear the conforming text in the HBs will be updated in due course.
If the communication specialists in a corporation the size of the Church in the business world did this they would be fired.
Whizzbang…..are you sure that is the church the rest of us belong/used to belong to???
Your stake may be in apostasy and needs to get back to obedience, following the brethren and reading the handbook.
Your stake presidency may be disfellowshipped (since now they are minimizing the excommunications) if they keep up this Christian behavior.
Get back to the basics….only read, pray, and OBEY!
Kevin Barney—yes! Exactly this.
Kevin Barney, “But look how many Saints think the Church pulled a bait and switch on the November policy announcement, and also look how many people are rejoicing at an apparent partial reprieve on the Mormon policy that isn’t real and will eventually be undone. If the new HB language isn’t ready yet, either delay the announcement or convey the new comment in the announcement generally but make it clear the conforming text in the HBs will be updated in due course.” YES.
(Also, apologies for the delay – had to fish your comment out of the spam filter.)
Kevin, “look how many Saints think the Church pulled a bait and switch on the November policy announcement”. Is this a reference to the November 2015 POX? If so, I’m not sure I grasp what was the bait or the switch. I hope Kevin or Mary Ann or both will explain.
Wondering, the November 2015 policy was officially rescinded in April 2019 according to official news releases from the Church (see the link in footnote 6 above). In that announcement, President Oaks said the handbooks would be updated.
So the bait in this case is, “Look, we’re being nicer to LGBT people by rescinding the POX, see?” They even removed the POX stipulations on the baptism of children from Preach My Gospel.
But, because it hasn’t been removed from Handbook 1 (in the apostasy section or in a separate section talking about blessings and baptisms for children of gay parents), a lot of people are taking that to mean that the Church HASN’T rescinded the POX. I saw one commenter compare it to the 1890 Manifesto (publicly we said we’d stop practicing polygamy, but we still practiced polygamy). The thinking is that since local church leaders often consult handbooks, having the POX still in the handbook means it will be enforced locally, no matter what higher ups publicly say.
For me, it makes more sense to believe Church employees just haven’t updated that section yet. But like Kevin Barney said, the Church *really* needs to come out and say “We’re still working on that section” in order to allay fears.
Thanks, Mary Ann. Your description of events as to undoing the POX matches my research. I hadn’t realized the failure to update those policies had been noted in the Bloggernacle or led to a bait-and-switch analysis.
But I don’t believe merely saying “we’re still working on that section” would solve the problem. That statement would itself suggest that either the April 4 announcement was disingenuous or the organization dealing with Handbook 1 is fundamentally incompetent or unwilling to follow directions of the first presidency. All that is needed to implement the April 4 announcement is deletion of a single line of one section of Handbook 1 (and renumbering of the next subsection) and deletion of the section on children with a gay parent that was an added section in November 2015. I’m leaning toward a combination of incompetence and unwillingness since a change was made recently to the section on children. As of March 2019 that section still included no reference to the first presidency’s November 2015 “clarification” letter that made a fundamental change in the policy. As of August 2019 a link to that “clarification” letter has been added. Clearly that section was updated and was presumably intentionally (by someone) not updated to accord with the first presidency’s announcement.
The result is, of course, the necessary conclusion that the electronic Handbook 1 (supposedly more easily and economically updated than the former printed versions) is simply not a reliable guide to church policy.
Kevin: “If the communication specialists in a corporation the size of the Church in the business world did this they would be fired.” Not only such communication specialists, but also such insubordinate or incompetent handbook drafters or IT folks.
With something as monumental as the POX, with its many deep and personal ramifications for members’ well being you think that any credible organization would make sure they got it right.
1 – Make the changes – then announce it
2 – Announce it and make the changes immediately
We are talking about a handful of paragraphs and digital versions. I’m sure any one of us could do the typing in less than a half hour. Damn – just get it done. You can’t blame people for becoming suspicious of intent and veracity six months later.
Going for a huge PR win and then not following through is just another example of why people who leave the church say they “don’t trust the leaders” . Bishops and Stake Presidents run their units by the book – not by press releases. WE are constantly admonished to DO what we PROFESS. Right back at you.
Just have to add that my stake is just like whizzbang’s. Our ward has a monthly homeless shelter assignment. We work for the food bank, participate in hometown parades (as staff), host monthly blood drives, support the women’s shelter and homeless center with regular drives, have a ward specialist to serve on a town multi-faith ‘aid’ committee.
I kind of assumed this was normal… I don’t live in the jello-belt though so maybe that is the difference.
‘But like Kevin Barney said, the Church *really* needs to come out and say “We’re still working on that section” in order to allay fears.’
Yes, but also to prevent local leaders from using the wrong policy.
Wondering, “As of March 2019 that section still included no reference to the first presidency’s November 2015 “clarification” letter that made a fundamental change in the policy. As of August 2019 a link to that “clarification” letter has been added. Clearly that section was updated and was presumably intentionally (by someone) not updated to accord with the first presidency’s announcement.” I’m not sure where you got your information. That reference to the First Presidency letter was in the November 2017 version of Handbook 1 that was accidentally made public online. In fact, the current wording of the apostasy section and the section on children of “same-gender parents” is identical to that 2017 version. It is NOT a recent update.
Thanks, Mary Ann, the link to the “clarification” letter did not show up in the copy of the Handbook 1 sections provided to me and dated March 2019. I’m glad to learn it did show up in the November 2017 version.
Thanks Mary Ann.
This whole fiasco about the name of the church is crazy. It’s reflective of the corporate church and it’s focus on branding and recognition.
I wish the energy devoted to that was directed to a more worthy cause.
I do, however, have an issue with the church not taking / modifying the Nov 2015 policy update. That insane, bigoted few paragraphs needs to be put where it belongs – ie not in the handbook.
@whizzbang – You must either live in Utah or belong to a different Mormon Church than I do. Our stake does absolutely no community outreach, never has. I served in a ward bishopric not so long ago and any attempt to organize interfaith activities was unsuccessful. Not sure why….maybe a local thing.
Mary Ann mentions, in re. the name of the church, this is something that has bugged senior leadership for a long time, but the sheer magnitude of the task was a barrier. You had to get someone in a position of power passionate enough to get the others willing to commit to the labor and financial investment. Even then, it seems clear that this has been a much bigger project than ANYONE realized.
Which just further illustrates what a colossal waste of time and effort it is. Seriously, isn’t there anyone who can say to the Q15, “Guys, you have many more pressing and important things to be concerned about than what people call us!” Will youth stop leaving, will the LGBTQ+ members stop killing themselves, will leaders stop covering for sexual predators, will there be financial transparency, will the church open up about history, will all of these things blowing the Good Ship Mormon (sorry, the Good Ship Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) onto the rocks cease, if we indulge Pres. Nelson in his hobby horse?
Verily, I say unto you, nay.
Imagine a church so true it must be governed out of a secret handbook.
Just catching up the the name fiascos as some missionaries came to our community and introduced themselves as from The Church of Jesus Christ. That in itself is a misnomer because the Latter Day Saint Jesus is not the Jesus Christ of the Bible, who had no mother and has been God from time immemorial. Confusion indeed! No restoration is needed just truthful understanding of the Bible in culture and context.
I have no problem and respect the desire of the Church to be called by its official name. What I do find problematic is what the church wants us as members to be referred to as simply “members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints”
This no only strips us of any kind of cultural identity but it relegates us to simply being members of an organization rather as a people or community and shows that church leaders view us only as “members” and not as a distinct people.