Here I am writing on a website I helped brand called “Mormon Hub.”
About two years ago I wrote an epic rant about how proud I was to call myself “Mormon.”
In my field of work, I am well aware of the search engine benefits of using the word “Mormon.”
And I may or may not have implied on more than one occasion that only old people had a problem with the word Mormon.
So you might naturally think I would join the chorus of Mormons that have scoffed at the Church’s refocus on its name “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”
But you would be very wrong.
Follow the Prophet
There is little value in unthinkingly following a prophet’s instructions. As a group, Latter-day Saints should be thinking about this, struggling with this. And we’re seeing these thoughts play out in Tweets and Facebook posts.
Seeing these thoughts in public may be jarring, but we may simply need to accept that Facebook posts are the new living room couch. And people who are telling jokes or questioning motives on social media are no less faithful than those who would have done the same thing with their friends and family at home a generation ago.
What’s important is what happens next.
There’s no point in a prophet that tells us what we’re already thinking. And no one needs to veer towards the heresy of prophetic infallibility to know that the Church is most useful when it unites behind the prophet.
But if as a Church community we decide that we already know better, that we understand branding or copywriting or human nature better than the prophet, then we’ve undermined the effort before it has begun.
And I for one would like to give it an honest try.
But There Are Real Concerns
There are of course genuine questions and concerns. And I don’t want to cut short the individual process of answering those. But for me personally, it didn’t take long to wrap my head around most of them.
Here are some of the main concerns I’ve seen crop up and how I’ve made sense of those questions.
1. Were the “I’m a Mormon” campaigns not inspired?
If the Lord wants us to stop using the word “Mormon,” then why has the Church been using the word “Mormon” so much for the last fifteen years?
The period of focusing on Mormons included four major Latter-day Saint presidential campaigns, a Broadway musical, and enough news coverage to warrant what many called the “Mormon Moment.”
It’s entirely possible that the focus on the word Mormon was essential for helping the Church during that period in its history, but that we are now entering a new phase of the Church’s history where a different focus will help advance the work in a different way.
2. It’s just going to change again in fifteen years
The emphasis might indeed change again. So what? When I decided to use the phrase Mormon more often several years ago, it gave me the opportunity to focus on the culture of Mormonism, the prophet Mormon, and the Book of Mormon. These were useful focuses that helped me embrace the gospel in new and helpful ways.
Now that there’s a new emphasis, I imagine I will begin to consider more about Jesus Christ, my role as a “Saint,” and the nature of a “restored” church.
Changing the word we use can be a spiritual experience every time. Perhaps changing how we refer to ourselves from time to time is simply a good exercise to help us reflect on who we actually are.
Plus in theory, one of the advantages of having a living church is that it will adapt to fit changing times. There is no reason why these changes can’t reverse back and forth to best fit different times.
3. No one else is going to start using it
It’s a very real possibility that outside of the Church most media organizations and academics will ignore the new identification.
One way to make sure this happens is by not getting on board ourselves. Predicting that the change will fail is a self-fulfilling prophecy.
But I have hope that there may be some success. The breadth of this change is much more substantial than previous announcements. In addition to asking us to stop using the phrase “Mormon Church,” other uses of “Mormon” that have historically been preserved seem to be on the chopping block. And other phrases that have replaced “Mormon” such as “LDS” are now being discouraged as well.
Together these wholesale changes could stick. Especially if we begin to see official names change.
I didn’t think anyone would stop calling the home of the Utah Jazz “the Delta Center,” but years of seeing logos and hearing announcers call it the comparatively cumbersome “Energy Solutions Arena” made it easier to simply get on board.
We may see the same happen if we get “Latter-day Saint Family Services” or “Church of Jesus Christ Newsroom” as new official names being repeated consistently.
4. We’ll let other people own our message
My main concern when I wrote the article about using the word “Mormon” more often was that people search for “Mormon” much more online and that people would read content by whoever was using that name.
But we are no longer in the world of keyword-loading search engine optimization. Google is smart, and when I type in “Mormon” it knows perfectly well I mean “Latter-day Saint.” In fact, I used to have two Google News alerts—one for the word “Mormon” and one for “Latter-day Saint.” But eventually, the results became so similar it was useless to have both.
No one is suggesting the Church give away the URL for mormonandgay.org, just that it goes to a page titled “Latter-day Saint and Gay.”
The online environment has changed enough that the defensive tactics to try and “own” the phrase Mormon are simply no longer necessary to connect with our audience.
5. It’s so cumbersome to say
I agree. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a mouthful. But lost in the kerfuffle is the nugget that the Church never suggested we use that phrase any more than we use it now.
Rather it suggested we change the way we shorten it.
So instead of saying the people are “Mormons” we say the people are “Latter-day Saints.”
Instead of “The Mormon Church” or “The Church of the Latter-day Saints” we say “The Church of Jesus Christ.”
These are in most cases admittedly longer, but not really by that much. Latter-day Saint is one more syllable than LDS. If people can say that others are “Congregationalists,” “Presbyterians,” “Jehovah’s Witnesses,” or “Seventh Day Adventists,” it’s not really that much of a stretch to add “Latter-day Saints” to the list.
We’re Missing the Upside
In all the focus on why this won’t work, I think we’ve missed some of the reasons that this change will benefit the Church.
Thinking about these changes has already made me reconsider my identity and my relationship with the Church and Jesus Christ. I’ve thought about how we’re connected to the New Testament church, and how I can present myself as a “Saint” without seeming impossibly self-righteous.
“Mormon” is a very useful name to distinguish our faith from the many others who share our Christian beliefs. But an important part of our doctrine is that we are not merely followers of Christ, but His special representatives to the world.
These changes heap those responsibilities onto our shoulders every time we describe ourselves or our faith. I’ve already thought about my ministering families three times while writing this article thinking about my role as a “Latter-day Saint” and how my culture is “the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.”
And this is not merely a stylistic change, it’s a scriptural one. The Lord instructs us often of the need to take upon us His name. That instruction can mean many things in many circumstances. But surely taking it literally for fifteen years here and there is one very useful way to apply the scriptures.
While it is the Doctrine and Covenants that officially names the Church, The Book of Mormon may make the bigger deal about how important our name is. When Christ is visiting the Nephites he instructs them, “Ye must take upon you the name of Christ . . .for by this name shall ye be called in the last day; . . . therefore ye shall call the church in my name . . . and [the Father] will bless the church for my sake.” (See 3 Nephi 27: 3 – 10.)
One important element of following the prophet is recognizing that the Lord will have different emphases at different times and for different reasons. For some reason, the prophet is impressed that this emphasis will bless the Church.
I’m not sure I know all the reasons why, but I know I’m going to try. And I’d like to see what might happen if we all try together.