Last August I reported on handbook updates for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints causing commotion. After a year of dropping the term “Mormon” (and “LDS”) from a whole host of media channels, domain names, email addresses, and anywhere else the forbidden moniker appeared, here was an official “updated” church publication stating that the nickname “Mormons” was acceptable again.
As I argued last August, the text in the Handbook 2 was likely still in the revision process. It appears that the section has now finally been brought up to date. The edits were part of a slew of changes released in the October 2019 update to align the handbook better with the new round of “adjustments” announced at the October general conference.
Here’s what Section 21.1.34 Referring to the Church and Its Members stated when I wrote my post last August:
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 Doctrine 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. 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.
As I pointed out in that post, the text is based on a February 2001 First Presidency Letter.
Here is what now appears in Section 21.1.34 Referring to the Church and Its Members:
Referring to the Church and Its Members
The name of the Church was given by revelation to the Prophet Joseph Smith in 1838: “For thus shall my Church be called in the last days, even The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” (Doctrine and Covenants 115:4).
Accordingly, references to the Church should include its full name whenever possible. Following an initial reference to the full name, if 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.
When referring to Church members, the terms “members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” “Latter-day Saints,” and “members of the Church of Jesus Christ” are accurate and preferred. The title “Latter-day Saint” is a name given by the Lord to His covenant people in the latter days. Referring to members of the Church in these ways identifies a connection between Jesus Christ and members of His Church. Referring to Church members by other titles, such as “Mormons” or “LDS,” is discouraged.
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 is discouraged. When describing the combination of doctrine, culture, and lifestyle unique to the Church, the phrase “the restored gospel of Jesus Christ” is accurate and preferred.
Interestingly, there’ve been some hiccups in media uses of the term “Mormon” in the last few months. In her recent article “Seven top Mormon news stories of 2019,” Jana Reiss highlighted a conundrum from November.
In a tragic shooting in November, three mothers and six children were gunned down in Mexico. News coverage of the shooting revealed the complex world of Mormon polygamy — with widespread debate about whether “Mormon” is an appropriate term to use.
Interestingly, while members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have recently eschewed the term “Mormon” to describe themselves, preferring the more formal term “Latter-day Saint,” many also objected to journalists using “Mormon” to describe these historically polygamous groups in Mexico, even though practicing polygamy is grounds for excommunication from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
These Latter-day Saints don’t want “Mormon” to refer to members of the church, but they also don’t want the word to refer to people who are not members of the church, lest outsiders become, er, confused about who is in and who is out.
The Associated Press Style Guide was updated in March to discourage the term “Mormon” being used in reference to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but adoption of those guidelines seem to be haphazard. For example, compare use of “Mormon” in coverage of the Church’s recent $100 billion investment story. Local papers abided by the AP style guide, only using the term “Mormon” in quotes (see Deseret News and The Salt Lake Tribune). National coverage varied a bit more in their use of “Mormon” (Forbes was modest in the use of the nickname while The Washington Post used it often).
It’s possible, though, that the Church’s delay in updating Handbook 2 exacerbated the problem. An exchange on a September 4th “Mormon Land” podcast episode illustrates the confusion. KUER (NPR Utah) religion reporter Lee Hale was interviewed by Salt Lake Tribune managing editor David Noyce and religion reporter Peggy Fletcher Stack about his new podcast “Preach.” Towards the end, Noyce asked Hale, “So where are you on the whole using the word ‘Mormon’ at KUER?” After talking a bit, this happened:
[23:47] HALE: ... Although I saw recently that the Church revised their handbook where they said that "Mormon" is not preferred but is--was that, did that turn out not to be true? STACK: It turned out to be, uh, uh.... NOYCE: "We haven't gotten around to it yet." [Laughter] STACK: Yeah, they're... they are changing it. HALE: Okay, all right-- STACK: They just haven't yet.
- What are your observations when it comes to the use of “Mormon” among media outlets? Has it stayed the same or decreased?
- With the institutional church discouraging the label “Mormon,” have you observed individuals around you using it more or less often?
- Do you feel there have been mixed messages regarding the propriety of the term in the last year?