On August 16, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced—again—that it wants everyone to stop using the word Mormon. A style guide—posted on its website mormonnewsroom.org—explains that the full name of the church (capital T on The, hyphen between Latter and day, which has a lower-case d) should be used on first reference.
Since it’s impractical to use all those words every single time you might want to refer to the church headquartered at 50 North Temple in Salt Lake City, Utah, what’s approved for subsequent references? The abbreviation LDS is out, so “LDS church” is now verboten. Instead, “‘The Church’ or the ‘Church of Jesus Christ’ are encouraged. The ‘restored Church of Jesus Christ’ is also accurate and encouraged.”
Mormon, however, is “a nickname… not an authorized title” and is unacceptable for anything but proper names, like the Book of Mormon (and, presumably, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir) or “such historical expressions as the Mormon Trail.’”
The newsroom announcement quotes President Russell M. Nelson: “The Lord has impressed upon my mind the importance of the name He has revealed for His Church, even The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”
Taking that statement at face value and leaving aside the question of why the Lord didn’t come up with a name that wouldn’t cause the leaders of his church such headaches, there’s the undeniable fact that all past efforts to get people, both in and out of The Church, to stop using the term Mormon for the church and its members have failed.
For instance, a 1982 instruction manual lamented, “We feel that some may be misled by the too frequent use of the term ‘Mormon Church.’”
I was in college at the time and extremely active at the LDS Institute of Religion; I remember that Latter-day Saints were indeed asked not to refer to ourselves as Mormons. But it was just so habitual, convenient, and catchy! There was even a skit performed at a church activity, riffing on a Dr Pepper ad of the day:
I’m a Mormon
He’s a Mormon
She’s a Mormon
We’re all Mormons
Wouldn’t you like to be a Mormon too?
Be a Mormon, read the Book of Mormon!
I doubt that Latter-day Saints are any more likely in 2018 to renounce a practice ingrained over lifetimes than they were in 1982. I also doubt that reputable news sources will start referring to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as the “restored gospel of Jesus Christ,” or that the scholarly field of Mormon Studies (Claremont College, for instance, has an endowed chair and a program in Mormon Studies) will get a name change anytime soon.
But this attempt to control how people refer to the COJCOLDS is more remarkable given that just a few years ago the COJCOLDS embraced the term Mormon—recall its I’m a Mormon campaign still available at mormon.org—and went so far as to claim it was a brand, suing people who used the word in businesses. Will it still find grounds for suing people who try to use the term now?
The most recent statement concludes, “In the coming months, Church websites and materials will be updated to reflect this direction from President Nelson.” However, those updates might be hampered by the church’s failure to plan ahead and secure domain names that don’t involve the word Mormon.
While ldsnewsroom.org redirects to mormonnewsroom.org, latterdaysaintnewsroom.org and several other relevant domain names—latterdaysaintnewsroom.com, thechurchofjesuschristoflatterdaysaintsnewsroom.com, and thechurchofjesuschristoflatterdaysaintsnewsroom.org—have been nabbed by the church’s critics (who can’t properly be called anti-Mormon since the church itself is now officially anti-Mormon).
Restoredchurchofjesuschrist.org says that it’s “under construction, but Ldsnewsroom.com was still available as of this writing.