Columns Jana Riess: Flunking Sainthood Opinion

I’m a Mormon! But I’m not supposed to call myself that anymore.

 

Yesterday, the church that invested millions in its Meet the Mormons movie and exports its Mormon Tabernacle Choir as its ambassador to the world asked us all to stop using the word “Mormon.”

Ahem. It seems I’m no longer a Mormon columnist. I’m a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints columnist, and isn’t that just so fun to say?

What’s more, this is being presented not as a simple branding change but in the language of divine revelation: “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,” said Russell M. Nelson, president of the Church Formerly Known As the LDS Church.

According to the religion’s updated style guide, we’re all supposed to use the institution’s full name on first reference, and then after that, refer to it simply as “the Church.”

As if it’s the only church that exists. In the entire world. Which won’t be confusing in the least.

There’s a precedent for this, as LDS leaders tried at the dawn of this century to get people to stop calling the institution the “Mormon church.” The effort to have everyone focus on  using “the Church of Jesus Christ” went over like a lead balloon (see here).

But yesterday’s announcement went even further. “Mormonism” is also out as a noun. The Church now states that

The term “Mormonism” is inaccurate and should not be used. When describing the combination of doctrine, culture and lifestyle unique to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the term “the restored gospel of Jesus Christ” is accurate and preferred.

Whoops. I didn’t realize when I was co-authoring Mormonism for Dummies years ago that the correct title should be The Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ for Dummies, Which Is Not Actually Mormonism, Because Mormonism Is Now Considered An Inaccurate Term to Describe Our Religious History and Beliefs, Despite Every Google Search You’ve Ever Conducted About Us.

I have to wonder: did the Church consult with any working journalists in creating this new style guide that journalists are supposed to use? Or with anyone who, you know, actually uses Google?

Or was it just the case that the good Lord swept down with a revelation that the nickname “Mormon,” which has been effective for so many years, is now inaccurate and Not to Be Countenanced?

If so, it appears the Lord doesn’t give a hoot about search engine optimization, or about the first three rules of branding: 1) find a name that is unique and memorable; 2) make sure it can be pronounced correctly at first glance; and 3) don’t mess with it ever after. (New Coke = Bad Idea. Do we learn nothing from history?)

It would be surprising if journalists who don’t work for the LDS Church adopted this suggested terminology. Any time you require a journalist to employ multiple clumsy words when just one was working fine and ask them to embrace obfuscation rather than clarity, you have a problem.

It’s perfectly legitimate to ask writers to use the full name of the Church on first reference, as has been the case for a long time (and which is the case when we discuss any religious organization). It is not legitimate to suddenly insist that the word “Mormon” not be used even to refer to the people who follow that religion.

Given that the LDS Church has not suggested any substitute that is actually workable when referring to its members, the name “Mormon” is here to stay. Rather than fighting it, why doesn’t the Church just embrace it? Its own powerful and often delightful “I’m a Mormon” campaign is not going to have nearly the same descriptive power when it becomes the “I’m Affiliated with the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ” campaign, or somesuch silliness.

If the good Lord is having a slow week and thinks our top priority right now is renaming things in Mormonism, a church that is approximately two-tenths of one percent of the world’s population, could we get rid of the name “Beehives” instead to refer to twelve- and thirteen-year-old girls?

Signed, Your Mormon Columnist

 

 

 

 

 

 

This story is available for republication.

About the author

Jana Riess

Senior columnist Jana Riess is the author of many books, including "The Prayer Wheel" (2018) and "The Next Mormons: How Millennials Are Changing the LDS Church," which will be published by Oxford University Press in March 2019. She has a PhD in American religious history from Columbia University.

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