I’m not saying it’s like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.
But I am saying it’s a bit like concerning yourself with what you want people to call those deck chairs, when maybe you ought to focus on — oh, I don’t know — steering the ship or something.
On Thursday, The Church of Jesus Christ of a Religion With an Awkwardly Long Name issued an “official statement” about the shorthand ways it has been referred to since early times. In it, church president Russell M. Nelson stated:
“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. We have work before us to bring ourselves in harmony with His will. In recent weeks, various Church leaders and departments have initiated the necessary steps to do so. Additional information about this important matter will be made available in the coming months.”
Basically, what the official statement boils down to is the church asking everyone to stop using the commonly abbreviated terms associated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Do I Seriously Have to Keep Using This Unwieldy Name — like “Mormons,” “Mormonism,” “Mormon Church,” “LDS,” “LDS Church” and “Utah Legislature.”
Say, does this mean I get to refer to myself as a “former Mormon” now? Ooh, or even the forbidden “ex-Mormon”? And does this also mean the domain name “Mormon.org” is going to be up for grabs soon? ’Cause if it is, I call dibs on that one.
Church leaders insist they prefer we all use the sect’s full title. Which, let’s face it, is nothing short of a mouthful.
Of course, they’re OK with shortening the name slightly by dropping off the “of Latter-day Saints” and either adding or not adding the phrase “the restored” on the front end. But that’s still kinda wordy.
Or, apparently, The Church is happy with simply being referred to as “The Church.” Which may work in Utah and certain parts of Idaho, but nowhere else.
Look, I realize every time I address an issue involving The Religion Formerly Known as Mormonism I get accused of trying to “counsel the brethren.” So, just for the record, I’m fine with whatever church leaders decide on this subject.
I get what President Nelson is driving at in attempting to quash these deeply ingrained nicknames. And I’m totally down with him asking me and my fellow members of the church to make some simple terminology adjustments to help remind us who should be at the center of our religious lives.
But frankly, when it extends to the church trying to counsel media outlets and the rest of the non-believing world on how they should refer to us going forward? That’s a tall order.
And you’ve got to admit, the organization itself has been sending mixed messages on the topic for decades.
Take the popular social media campaign “I’m a Mormon.” Countless members of the church submitted videos and short bios that declared who and what they are, ending with the phrase “... and I’m a Mormon.” So, for example, if I had bothered to create one of these Mormon.org bios, mine would read something like: “I’m a journalist, I’m a father and grandfather, I’m about to face church disciplinary action for this irreverent column, and I’M A MORMON.”
Another example of the church’s love-hate relationship with its historic nickname is “Meet the Mormons,” a 2014 film examining the diverse lives of six members of the church. Which, undoubtedly, will now be re-released as “Meet the People You Suspected Were Mormons but Are Actually Members of Something Called The Church of Jesus Christ of Frankly This New Movie Title Will Never Completely Fit On a Standard-size Theater Screen.”
I’m a little puzzled as to why this name stuff has become so all-fired important all of a sudden. If I’m reading my church history correctly, Joseph Smith organized the church in 1830. But it wasn’t until 1838 that the official name, “The Church of Jesus Christ of, Well, You Know the Rest,” was revealed by God.
So, what? For the first eight years the Lord simply referred to them as “Hey, you!” whenever he had a revelation for his fledgling flock? (“Fledgling flock.” Way to mix metaphors, Mr. Professional Columnist.)
That eight-year gap tells me names and labels seem to be pretty low on our deity’s list of priorities.
Like I said: I get what’s going on here. This is a church leader trying to remind his fellow servants that Jesus Christ should be at the center of their thoughts and actions. And I applaud the attempt.
But I’m just not convinced the answer lies in trying to change what people call us. Rather, I suspect the true answer is in trying to change what people think when they hear whatever we’re calling ourselves these days — whether it’s “Mormons” or “The Church of Jesus Christ of Et Cetera.”
And that’s going to take a lot more than just a name change.