Mormons without the Mormon Church
In his recent conference address, Elder Ballard emphasized that we must avoid the name “Mormon Church” and instead use as much as possible the official, full name of the Church. His message stems from two concerns:
(1) the missing association with the name “Jesus Christ”, hence no immediate recognition of the Church as Christian.
(2) the potential confusion with other groups, in particular polygamist groups, that are referred to as “Mormon.”
Elder Ballard identified the official name as “wonderfully brief, candid, and straightforward.” He analyzed each of the nine words as it forms a “descriptive overview” of what the Church is and stands for.
Indeed, all true, but doctrinal logic does not always coincide with other realms in the reality of our international world. Some considerations:
- To refer to the Church in daily communication, nine words is still much too long. All churches are referred to with a simple adjective: Catholic, Anglican, Presbyterian, Episcopal, Baptist, Greek Orthodox… , even if their official names are different and much longer. Pragmatically, a short moniker to identify a church is unavoidable. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has not yet offered a simple solution to this quandary, while rejecting the one easy name – Mormon Church – that has been used since the 19th century, also by Church leaders. The present official Style Guide is well-meant, but it is contrary to writing habits because the simple adjective is missing. Requesting to use the shortened “The Church of Jesus Christ” is perhaps attainable with the Associated Press in the American context, but hardly elsewhere.
- What makes a church recognized as “Christian”? The name of “Christ” in it? None of the churches just mentioned has it and all are known to be Christian. How then to reinforce the connection between Mormon Church and Christianity? Yes, among others, by stressing the official name of the Church. But then there is the contradiction between, on the one hand, the desire to be viewed as Christians, to see the Church accepted as “a Christian church”, and, on the other hand, the uncompromising assertion that it is “THE Church of Jesus Christ,” the only one that can claim His name, as often stated. The latter viewpoint can be perfectly acceptable from our internal perspective and in missionary work, but other churches may not find it so agreeable in the interreligious context. One may even wonder if the strategy to impose the official name does not make us less credible as Christian partner. Since “Mormon Church” will not disappear, no matter how hard we try, what other things could be done to reinforce its connection with the Christian family?
- Elder Ballard calls the official name of the Church “wonderfully brief”. The nine English words, expressed in eleven syllables, could be viewed as such. But in other languages… Gereja Yesus Kristus dari Orang-orang Suci Zaman Akhir…
- In connection with those languages, by rejecting “Mormon” as moniker for the Church we give up the key element of our international brand name, recognizable in all languages. The official name fragments the Church identity in as many languages. As for a first encounter, Latter-day Saints does not translate well in many languages — read: I am a Holy Being of the Almost Final Period.
- Is “LDS Church” better? Also to be avoided, says the Style Guide. And, indeed, LDS is worse than Mormon: a letter-acronym has a corporate ring; letters do not convey any content; they are confused with LSD; they lead to an even stranger multi-lingual fragmentation: JUNS, OSZA, HLD, SPD, HLT, SDJ, KMNAKN, FMMMHN…
- What about other “Mormon” groups that trigger confusion? A few claim to be “Mormon” (though the worst confusion does not seem to come from “Mormon”, but from the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ … – FLDS). But, to counter this confusion, would the Church not better strengthen its grip on the “Mormon” moniker by stressing “The Mormon Church” as an official alternative to the full name? It would mean to claim “Mormon” as our own trade mark. Now it seems we decline the name and then complain about others using it.
- By explicitly rejecting the term “The Mormon Church” as a denominator, to what extent do we allow others with some Mormon connection to legally claim it? Can anyone claim the internet domain “Mormon church”? In fact www.mormonchurch.com does not belong to the Church, but is, fortunately, in the hands of faithful “Mormon Church members”. From my experience in Europe, it took time before the Church realized how important it was to claim national domain names with the name “Mormon” in it. In Germany, an ex-Mormon had started the subversive website www.mormonen.de. In 2002 the Church sued to reclaim it. The defendant argued the Church itself had explicitly stated that “Mormon” was not its official name, hence it was for grabs for anyone. The trial was not easy to win, but the court finally agreed that the nickname belonged lawfully to the Church — as the Church had pleaded.
- It may well be that by further disconnecting “Mormon” from the name of the Church, confusion will worsen. For outsiders, especially in foreign lands, two different entities may emerge semantically: the well-known Mormon Church and a church with a long weird-sounding name. “Do you belong to the Mormon Church? – No, I belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” is not exactly clarifying.
- The Church has launched a PR campaign that emphasizes the word “Mormon,” in particular “I am a Mormon,” as it pertains to members. But there is no “Mormon Church” to whom they belong… Would “the Mormon Church” not be the natural semantic bridge to bring people from the individual to the organization, where they will quickly learn the full name of the Church?
These considerations do not question the fundamental truth that the revealed name of the Church is what it is. Also, that very name “indicates the unique position of the restored church among the religions of the world,” as Elder Ballard stated. He explained well how that name contains the essential components of our faith.
At the same time, we live in a complex, international, often inimical world in which we must find ways to optimally make our identity known according to different and changing circumstances.