Mormon church no longer "Mormon"
BY PEGGY FLETCHER STACK
and BOB MIMS
THE SALT LAKE TRIBUNE
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints wants to jettison
best-known nicknames -- the Mormon church and LDS Church -- in
favor of one that leaders believe more accurately reflects its
So they want the longer name used first, then simply The Church of
Jesus Christ on second reference.
"We haven't adopted a new name of the church," Elder Dallin H.
of the church's Quorum of Twelve Apostles was quoted as saying in
Monday's New York Times. "We have adopted a shorthand reference to
the church that we think is more accurate."
Oaks was out of town and unavailable for comment on Monday, but
LDS spokesman Michael Otterson in Salt Lake City said the Times
account "is an accurate reflection of the interview."
The church will not discourage the use of the
term "Mormon" to define church members, Oaks
told The Times, nor seek to change venerable
names such as The Book of Mormon, the
Mormon Tabernacle Choir and the Mormon Trail.
The church does want to emphasize the faith's
Christian underpinnings, particularly with the
thousands of journalists who will cover Utah's
2002 Winter Olympics, and to give its members
and missionaries a better label to use with
non-Mormons and potential converts, the
The term Mormon comes from the faith's Book of Mormon and once
was considered a rather pejorative description of the followers of
founder Joseph Smith.
"I don't mind being called a Mormon," Oaks said, "but I don't
said that I belong to the Mormon church."
Indeed, many people contacted by The Salt Lake Tribune said the
change will bring consistency -- and a useful shorthand -- to future
references to the Utah-based faith and its global congregation.
In and out of Utah, people may have friends who call themselves
Mormons, but the word "Mormon" is never mentioned on the signs
identifying the church's temples or chapels. All carry the church's
Thus, using The Church of Jesus Christ "brings missionary badges,
buildings and scriptural references all in alignment," said Gordon
a Mormon advertising executive who has designed campaigns for
American Express, AT&T and Coca Cola.
The change also makes sense in terms of the church's "brand-name
marketing," said Kenneth Foster, associate vice president of
relations for communication at the University of Utah.
A name, he said, should do three things: tell who you are, be
remember and conjure up some kind of emotion or image.
"When you say 'LDS,' a lot of people don't know what that is, and
term 'Mormon' has a lot of myths surrounding it," said Foster, a
The church has taken great pains to dispel the notion that Mormons
are not Christian and to emphasize that the church discontinued the
practice of polygamy in 1890.
But the name change is "not simply an attempt to thwart the
critics. It is
getting back to the core of the church," said Jan Shipps, an Indiana
historian and expert on the history of Mormonism.
The original name of the church, which Joseph Smith founded in New
York in 1830, was the Church of Christ. Over the next eight years,
however, the name evolved.
The term "saints" came in response to the terms "Mormonite" or
"Mormons" used by Smith's opponents. In 1834, the name changed to
The Church of the Latter-day Saints, and by 1838 it had become The
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Leaders in the 11-million member church long have worried about
nicknames "Mormon" and "LDS" because they do not suggest the
centrality of Jesus Christ in the church's theology. The Southern
Convention, for example, sees Mormonism as "counterfeit Christianity."
The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the United Methodist Church are
more nuanced in their approach, but both have spelled out in careful
detail the differences between what they call "historic Christianity"
The LDS Church does have unique teachings about the nature of God
and the role of Jesus Christ, distinctive practices such as baptism
dead and abstaining from alcohol, tobacco, tea and coffee and
nonbiblical scriptures including the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and
Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price.
To counter the critics, the LDS Church has taken many steps in the
past two decades to underscore its belief in Jesus Christ. In 1982, it
added the subtitle "Another Testament of Jesus Christ" to the Book of
Mormon, and in 1995 redesigned its logos to magnify the words "Jesus
At the same time, its public relations personnel have pressured
members and journalists to replace "Mormon" with "LDS Church" or
But not everyone likes "LDS" any better than "Mormon."
For one thing, the acronym only works in English; the letters are
different in other languages. Secondly, "LDS Church" is not widely
known or understood beyond the Intermountain West.
Still, the term "Mormon" has been useful -- and enduring -- in
identifying the church's unique brand of Christianity and one of its
principal scriptures, said Armand Mauss, an LDS sociologist in Irvine,
"There's no way to get rid of it and no good reason to get rid of
Mauss understands the reasons for the new emphasis, but believes
may ultimately be a "vain effort."
"Informed citizens of Christian countries have known us by names
Mormon and Latter-day Saints long enough that they won't be fooled by
this," he said. "They'll know it is still the same old Mormon church."
Beyond that, other Christians may be offended by any attempt to
commandeer the words "Jesus Christ."
Oaks said Mormon leaders do not worry about possible confusion
with more than 20 other American denominations with "Church of Jesus
Christ" in their corporate names. Those include everything from Church
of Jesus Christ, a 100,000-member denomination based in Cleveland,
Tenn., to the Church of Jesus Christ Christian, also known as the
Nations, a northern Idaho-based white supremacist group.
W. Grant McMurray, president of the 250,000-member Reorganized
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said he was not
the larger LDS Church's move to rid itself of Mormon and LDS as
The Independence, Mo.-based RLDS Church, which shares a
common origin with its theological cousin in Salt Lake City, will
change its own name to the Community of Christ on April 6.
"We were seeking to identify a name more consistent with our
contemporary mission in the world," McMurray said.
While not openly praising the LDS decision, McMurray did say he
understood it. "I assume that they are attempting to address the
allegations of some religious movements that the Mormon church is not
truly Christian, or that it is a cult," he said. "I consider those to