I am not a Mormon. I belong to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Nearly 200 years ago, when the church was organized, detractors called members “Mormons” as an epithet. The reference was to our belief in the Book of Mormon, a book of scripture which testifies of Christ, in addition to our belief in the Bible.
Over the years members tolerated, and then gradually accepted the nickname, rather than correct it. With the advent of the Broadway production “The Book of Mormon,” the name gained more widespread usage.
This fall, Russell M. Nelson, president of the church said, in effect, “Enough.” In a statement to the media, and in an address at the Semi-Annual Conference of the Church, President Nelson spoke of the importance of the proper name of the church and asked that it be used. He began by explaining what this change is not:
It is not a name change.
It is not a rebranding.
It is not cosmetic.
It is not a whim.
And it is not inconsequential.
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It is a correction.
The name of the church was revealed to Joseph Smith by the Lord in 1834. He said, “For thus shall my church be called in the last days, even The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” Doctrine & Covenants 115:4
The Book of Mormon contains an account of similar instruction given to church members in the Americas nearly 2,000 years ago when Christ visited them and established his church. “Ye shall call the church in my name. . . . And how be it my church save it be called in my name? For if a church be called in Moses’ name then it be Moses’ church; . . .” 3 Nephi 27:7-8
“Thus, the name of the church,” stated President Nelson, “is not negotiable.”
“Using or allowing nicknames is an affront to the Lord,” he told church members.
What’s wrong with referring to the Mormon church or the LDS church? The absence of the Lord’s name. It is The Church of Jesus Christ. President Nelson warned that, “When we omit his name from his church, we are inadvertently removing him as the central focus of our lives.”
The words of an early Book of Mormon prophet, Nephi, describe the importance of Christ in the Church thus: “And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that out children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins.” Nephi 25;26
Why does the church have such a long name? “The Church of Jesus Christ” speaks for itself.
The word “saint” is a reference to the early church. (It doesn’t mean members think they have reached perfection.) At the time of Christ and the Apostles, the term “saint” was considered a proper name for anyone who was a member of the church, and it was a customary form of address. Both Paul and John referred to members of the church as saints.
Members of the church regard a saint “as a believer in Christ, one who knows of his perfect love and who strives to live in accord with his commandments. The term connotes a high level of commitment to following the savior,” President Nelson taught.
Finally, the term “Latter-day” refers to the period leading to the last days. The term is a reaffirmation of the tie to the original Christian church, but also serves to distinguish the church from the original church chronicled in the New Testament.
Although Gertrude Stein may have been correct in her assessment of the unimportance of a name to a rose, the name of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is important to an understanding of the beliefs and nature of the church — and whose church it is.
So when you ask someone if they are a Mormon, you may hear, “I am a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, though some people call us Mormons.” If so, now you know the whole story.
The Idaho Statesman’s weekly faith column features a rotation of writers from many different faiths and perspectives.