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.
The new text is based on the Newsroom Style Guide updated in August 2018.
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?
“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.”
Some have long had difficulty distinguishing between the gospel of Christ and the Church. It seems the Church now makes it “official” that culture and lifestyle are part of the “gospel” in Mormon-speak as opposed to English. Another invitation for miscommunication with those Christians who think “gospel” means the good news preached in the New Testament: 1 Corinthians 15 (KJV) 15 Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; 2 By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain.
I rather doubt that current LDS culture and lifestyles are what Paul had in mind or were a part of the “gospel” taught by any by Jesus. So now “restored” also means something in Mormon-speak that is not the same as its meaning in English. I wonder if they’ll ever consider running such language by English speakers who don’t live in the COB bubble.
One of the biggest problems with this change in nomenclature is within the updated text of the handbook:
“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.”
There are many unique aspects of Mormon culture that have nothing directly to do with the gospel of Jesus Christ or the institutional Church. For years I have often used the adjective “Mormon” as a way of differentiating such things. Stuff like funeral potatoes, Jell-o casseroles, MLM pyramid schemes, quirky terminology, Church sports, polygamy, “jack mormons” (inactive members who still have cultural ties to the Church) and a slew of other odd things that aren’t exactly doctrinal or Church-dictated but are still common to a shared culture of Church members. Now that we can’t use the ‘M’ word anymore, how are we supposed to distinguish the cultural stuff from the spiritual/religious stuff?
Seriously, I want to know. My ability to stay an active member of this Church depends on keeping silly cultural practices separate from the core religious tenets.
I’m amazed that there are no Mormons in Utah.
What I’ve seen and lean toward myself is a new footnote or paragraph (in writing) or early comment (in conversation) acknowledging the Church’s preferences and position, then defining terms for purposes of the present article or conversation.
For myself, I find that I am happy to define my own terms. I am reasonably OK with “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” (at least once) and “the Church” (as I did in the preceding paragraph), and various “members of” formulations. But not willing to use “Church of Jesus Christ” or “restored Church of Jesus Christ” or “the restored gospel of Jesus Christ” without some kind of qualification such as “as used by” or “as requested.” These latter formulations strike me as attempts at a truth statement rather than a label or name. If truth statements are the order of the day then I need to be clear who is making the statements.
As Jack Hughes notes (above) the idea of combining doctrine, culture, and lifestyle as anything other than “Mormon” is new to me. I doubt I will ever be comfortable calling that “the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.” Until something better comes along, for formal writing I think I’m stuck with an indirect formulation, such as “what the Church calls ‘the restored gospel of Jesus Christ’.”
Or as we CofC (formerly RLDS) folk sometimes refer: “our Utah cousins.” Back in the day there were Mountain Saints and Prairie Saints, as well. But nobody outside the movement had any idea what we were talking about.
Two quick points–1. Active members I know have been going out of their way to emphasis the full name making the rest of us feel slightly embarrased to be associated with them.. In a couple of conversations, instead of discussing the topic, they felt the need to correct someone on the title of the church. 2. This is one more example of the Church losing sight of what is important. No updated info on how members should serve the poor more effectively, interact with dishonest politicians, thoughts on how the corporation could spend the 100 billion to actually make a positive difference in the world. No, the focus is on a name.
Almost 75 years ago, I was born Mormon, Unless I’m excommunicated, I will probably die Mormon. I’m an inactive member of the LDS Church. I’m too lazy to write out the leadership’s current preferred names for the Church. It’s too much work and takes up too much space. I’m a very practical person and at my age I need to efficient with my time.
I agree with Miguel. The Church leadership and members have much more important things to do than obsess over the name of the Church. Enough with the trivial changes, let’s get on with real improvements. If any GAs are reading this comment, my NGO could use some money. We do great work.
The thing is, the only time I’d use the phrase ‘Mormonism’ is with people who are not Mormons (cough, cough). Trying to replace the phrase with ‘the restored gospel of Jesus Christ’ in any type of normal discussion is weird and clunky. But even more it feels hugely pretentious. I’m a plain person and like Rogerhansen will live and die as a plain, old Mormon. (and err… I still type in lds to pull up the church website. Typing in ‘churchofjesuschrist’ gets me too many options.) Beyond that, I just don’t care. If other people want to obsess over getting it right in their conversations (or use it as a way to virtue-signal), that’s their choice.
President Monson’s inspiring words in a 2011 conference: “Dare to be Mormon.”
I have found that the insistence on such a mouthful has discouraged me from even mentioning the church at all in conversations where I otherwise might have because I don’t want to do the verbal gymnastics for some awkward/clunky formulation. So I just avoid saying anything at all. That seems like the opposite of what we should we be encouraging (making it easy to talk about our church in casual conversations).
And agree with others that it seems to be forcing a truth statement rather than a name and is otherwise an embarrassing thing for us to be focusing on. A close family member of mine works in IT for the church and reports that they are spending millions and millions on changing websites and updating everything.
Remember when the church had the “Meet the Mormons” campaign just a few years ago? Nothing shows the influence of personal opinion of the president of the church, internal politics, on supposed revelation than this.
At this pt if it comes up I just tell people I’m Lutheran. Close enough.
Agree Brian G and I loved that campaign. This new turn makes us look like fringe religious freaks thumbing our noses at the rest of Christianity.
As always, I feel that this is a particular bugbear of President Nelson’s, and that some time after he passes away, we’ll go back to embracing “Mormon”, with nothing to show for it but a bunch of wasted time and money. While no one has gone as far as Nelson, there’s been multiple attempts to discourage “Mormon”, and every single one has failed. Even Joseph Smith had to resort to “Mormon means more good”.
It’s an utterly pointless grievance and I wish that the Brethren would focus on other things rather than spend their efforts on discouraging the word “Mormon”.
I don’t understand why they also discourage “LDS” as a short-hand for “latter-day saint.” When speaking to someone who doesn’t know about The Church, what will they make of us calling ourselves this? At least with the acronym, you have more of a reason to explain what it stands for and maybe get the full name of The Church into the conversation. But if you say “I’m a latter-day saint,” doesn’t that just confuse people, who are used to “saint” connoting a historical religious figure from Catholicism? Maybe the point is to initially confuse people, so they won’t dismiss you when you say you’re Mormon and then you will have to explain about what church you belong to for charity’s sake haha.
The church was recently referred to by the BBC as the ‘Church of Latter-Day Saints’, surely far worse than the affectionate term ‘Mormons’.
Felt like the worst of all possible worlds and an epic fail of PR.
I understand the idea of wanting others to understand that we are Christian. But then for years I went to church and heard about temples, the family, tithing, the family, how sinful Democrats were, the family, and I began to honestly wonder if we Mormons were Christian. Rather than hammering away at the official name of the church, it strikes me as much more effective to talk the talk and walk the walk. But we talk so much about specifically Mormon stuff, and so little about the actual gospel, that most Mormons don’t even know that the gospel is the good new that Christ suffered for us and was resurrected so that we can also be resurrected. The gospel is taught more by churches that we claim don’t even have the gospel than it is by us because most Mormons seem to think the gospel is about being sealed in the temple or something. No, I think if we want others to understand that we are Christian, just a different version of Christian than they are, that we should spend more time talking about Christ. We should engage in more Christian behavior by spending more than a tiny fraction of what is taken in on actual charity. I just think if we want others to accept that we are Christian, then maybe we should really BE Christian in more than just our name.
“Now that we can’t use the ‘M’ word anymore,…”
To me, it feels it is becoming a thing to people who want to show how obedient they are at trying to do what leaders ask. No harm in that, and I do not mock them for their efforts.
But we all know what we are talking about with church members and cultural stuff, call it what you wish. And I like the reminder to focus on Christ. That’s fine.
I care about it as little as I care about tea. It’s really not important in the big scheme of things, only for obedience sake.
Tempest an a[n herbal] teapot.
I don’t really have a lot of time or energy for arguing with people either for or against Russell Nelson’s “gospel hobby horse.” The hubbub says more about our idolatrous worship of prophets than about doctrine or revealed truth.