What’s in a name?

T Shirt Hello My Name is TROUBLE 766236Religion reporters have had some time to reflect on the raid on the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in Texas.

A few stories look at how members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have responded to the news about the FLDS. Peggy Fletcher Stack of the Salt Lake Tribune had a typically thoughtful piece about the matter. She spoke with LDS members, especially those with polygamist ancestors, about how it feels to see a group on the wrong side of popular opinion and the law:

They hear echoes of 19th-century salacious – and false – rumors about their Mormon forefathers seducing women and having sex on temple altars. And they worry about government officials having power to decide what’s best for children.

“As the FLDS are, we once were,” says Guy Murray, a lawyer in Southern California who has been blogging daily in defense of the FLDS community’s civil rights. “Back then, we were the ones in the compound. We’ve all seen the photos of our brethren who went to prison rather than give up their wives.”

The story also made sure to point out that a poll of a small group of Latter-day Saints found that over three-fifths felt the raid was justified.

Nancy Perkins and Amy Joi O’Donoghue of the Deseret News, which is owned by the Latter-day Saints, provided a detailed look at the raid from the perspective of those inside the YFZ ranch. I’ll note that they make sure not to use the word compound:

Texas authorities entered the YFZ ranch last week armed with a search warrant, automatic weapons, SWAT teams, helicopters, dozens of law enforcement vehicles — including an armored personnel carrier — and were met with no resistance from the more than 600 residents of the polygamous community.

“They first got under the gate under false pretenses,” said Isaac, a 33-year-old FLDS man who did not want to be identified because he has several children who are now under state custody. “They had police cars box in the whole property.”

One of the more interesting things I’ve been looking at is how the media describe members of the FLDS. Tim Townsend of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch included in his Saturday column an interesting tidbit about who gets to be called Mormon:

“It is frustrating at times,” said David Sylvester, a 46-year-old from Herculaneum who serves as the president of one of four Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints territories (called stakes) in the St. Louis area. “The nickname given the church — Mormon — seems to be tagged to every one of the splinter groups that’s left the church, so people believe we’re one religion, and such is not the case. I don’t know how many times I’ve addressed this question. It’s an interesting challenge every time it happens.”

Polygamy is another reason non-Mormons sometimes confuse the mainstream church with breakaway groups. The church was founded by 1830 and by 1890 it had officially discontinued polygamy. But more than a century later, members still have trouble shaking that part of their church’s history.

“This is 100 years ago and kids go to school and they get asked, ‘How many moms do you have,’” said Jim Hendricks, a 48-year-old from St. Charles who works for the church’s religious education program. “There’s a little bit of ignorance out there about our doctrine and belief, but then again, I’m not an expert on other people’s religion.”

Terry Slezak, a 44-year-old O’Fallon software consultant and president of the church’s north St. Louis County and St. Charles stake, said the media are partly to blame for the confusion for applying the term Mormon — which only applies to the 13 million members of the mainstream church — to the fundamentalist sect.

I was very surprised to see that last bit. Should the word “Mormon” only be used to describe members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints? Here’s what the LDS says on its Web site:

In the public mind, the word Mormon has come to mean something very specific. It conjures up images of Mormon missionaries on bikes, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Mormon temples. It has become a synonym for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Consequently, when Mormon is used to describe polygamist groups, it causes great confusion about our beliefs among the general public and frustration to our members, which number over 12 million worldwide.

The Associated Press Stylebook has recognized this difficulty and specified that the term Mormon is a nickname that should be applied exclusively to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and that it is not accurately applied to any other person or organization (see entries on “Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, The” and “Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints”).

book of mormon 01
The AP Stylebook — or the 2003 Stylebook I have handy, at least — says that the term Mormon should not be applied to those Latter Day Saints churches that “resulted from the split after Smith’s death.” I think this could be worded much better. “The” split after Smith’s death was the one that separated the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (now known as Community of Christ) from the LDS. Their division was mainly over authority and, specifically, over who should become president. But the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints emerged in the 1930s over the issue of polygamy. Officially the LDS had abandoned polygamy in 1890, but the fundamentalists left when the LDS hierarchy really began cracking down on polygamists, rooting them out and excommunicating them. That didn’t happen until the early 20th century. So that’s also a split, but it’s not “the” split after Smith’s death.

I think that reporters should go to great pains to make sure that the LDS church and any other Latter Day Saints groups are carefully delineated, but it is interesting that the AP Stylebook recommends against the use of the word Mormon to describe people who believe the Book of Mormon is sacred scripture. It is particularly interesting in light of LDS efforts to be described as Christian. I think it is incumbent on reporters not to use the phrase “Mormon church” to describe these offshoots, since that could cause confusion, but I think the way reporters have used “offshoot” or “fundamentalist” as modifiers is helpful. It is so tricky to respect the beliefs of both groups and not game stories by using flash words.

The Dallas Morning News‘ Jeffrey Weiss ran a helpful, brief Q&A that deftly handled these issues:

Is the FLDS Mormon?

Members say they represent the only true Mormon church — a claim otherwise rejected by people who consider themselves Mormon. As Mormon historian Martha Sontag Bradley of the University of Utah puts it: “The FLDS is as foreign to contemporary Mormons as they are to outsiders.”

It takes more words to put the various “Mormon” claims in context, but Weiss was still quite efficient about it. He also answers what the shared history and major differences between the FLDS and the mainstream Mormon church are.

It’s important for reporters to explain how the LDS church and various Latter Day Saints offshoots are different. Just saying that they are separate isn’t enough and can give the impression that there are more similarities than there are. Those reporters that have engaged the issue, seem to have done a good job with it.

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  • http://uk.youtube.com/user/HiveRadical HiveRadical

    “it is interesting that the AP Stylebook recommends against the use of the word Mormon to describe people who believe the Book of Mormon is sacred scripture”

    How often do we use the word Torah to describe people who believe in the Torah, but also believe in Chirst?

    The truth is that those splinter groups have rejected the Book of Mormon in one of it’s primary purposes.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    HiveRadical,

    I’m not sure I follow you.

    No group is called “Torahs,” are they? And we do describe both Christians and Jews as people who believe the Torah is sacred scripture.

    As for the Book of Mormon reference, I’m not sure what you mean about “one of its primary purposes.”

    Remember, though, that we’re not here to debate the theology of which Latter Day Saints groups are right and which are not. Rather, we’re looking at how journalists should handle the various divisions.

  • Kirk

    As Mormon historian Martha Sontag Bradley of the University of Utah puts it: “The FLDS is as foreign to contemporary Mormons as they are to outsiders.”

    I don’t know much about Latter-Day theology, but I know hyperbole when I see it.

  • Rathje

    She’s pretty-much right Kirk. The FLDS are pretty foreign to the Mormons I grew up among along the Wasatch Front in Utah.

    One thing that kind of stinks for some LDS about this whole business is that some (I wouldn’t say most) of us feel that the FLDS are being treated unfairly to some degree. The reports that some of the children are being shipped off to Baptist foster homes is particularly ugly to us.

    Yet if we say anything about it, people are just going to mistakenly take it as “those Mormons are just circling the wagons to protect their own.” And then we get slapped with the erroneous polygamy label all over again. Lots of hard work at differentiation goes right down the drain.

    Some have suggested we’d be better off just keeping our yaps shut and letting this be someone else’s problem. But it’s still an ugly business and really does strike a little too close to home for a people who still have one-hundred year old history fresh in our minds.

  • Paul B

    You wait and see. This whole issue of nomenclature and polygamy in reference to ALL groups LDS (Mormon) will end up benefiting the mainstream (official) LDS church. Why? Because it brings to the forefront what the mainstream LDS church does and does not endorse, and one of those things it doesn’t is polygamy. Little by little, newsy items like this, will begin to educate the general public that not all LDS (Mormons) practice polygamy, and that it is just as repugnant to mainstream LDS people as it is to most other ‘mainstream’ western members of society. Little by little, relatively informed, intelligent, educated westerns will begin to realize that LDS or Mormon in regards to the ‘official’ mega-church does not equate to polygamy anymore than when you hear that the word Canadian so that means they must live in an igloos or log cabins amongst men in bloomers and red coats. I’m a Canadian living in the southern United States, and that’s what more than should Americans actually think, more or less. But I thing that’s changing, just as little by little this ‘newsy’ issue will end up being a good thing (educating the public) for the official non-polygamist ‘Mormon’ church. Don’t-cha think?

  • http://ldstreasure.com Terrie Lynn Bittner

    Just one small correction: The term Mormon Church is also inaccurate in describing us (the original LDS church.) We’re not Mormon’s Church. We’re the Savior’s Church. Mormon is a person in the Book of Mormon, important of course…but it’s not his church. The church asks that the church’s full name be used the first time in an article, and then a shorter version. The correct shorter version options are available here:

    http://newsroom.lds.org/ldsnewsroom/eng/style-guide

    Mormon is fine as a way to describe the people, not preferred, but acceptable.

    Thanks for a thoughtful article.

  • http://ChurchofJesusChristofLatterDaySaints.org Joseph Smith

    The church in Utah on its website says it has exclusive rights to the word Mormon, to the exclusion of all minor Mormon groups, but then its site says not to call them Mormons. However, one of the lesser Mormon churches calls itself Mormon, owns the name “Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints” http://www.ChurchofJesusChristofLatterDaySaints.org whereas the larger Mormon church only has an acronym http://www.LDS.org. When they tell minorities “you are not Mormon” they deserve it when larger churches tell them “you are not Christian.” You’d think Mormons would know something about cultural tolerance, but they are as arrogant as the churches who persecuted them in the 1830s and 1840s.

  • Julia

    Paul B said :

    this ‘newsy’ issue will end up being a good thing (educating the public) for the official non-polygamist ‘Mormon’ church. Don’t-cha think?

    This reminds me of the nuns who claim to be “Catholic” priests and the religious groups that don’t even have a Mass who call themselves “Catholic”. Good luck on the press and the public in dealing with “Momon” nomenclature.

    Worse yet – there is a defrocked priest in rural Southern Illinois along the Ohio River running a retreat center and travel agency who gets away with using the name “Catholic” for both of them. Real Catholics from all over the mid-West are being fooled into using both entities – even taking trips to Rome and Catholic shrines with this outfit.

  • Perkunas

    The church in Utah on its website says it has exclusive rights to the word Mormon, to the exclusion of all minor Mormon groups, but then its site says not to call them Mormons.

    The LDS church realizes that it’s easily the most recognizable example of “Mormonism” and therefore wants to make sure that the term “Mormon” isn’t associated with splinter groups (FLDS being the best example). Whether that’s feasible or not is questionable, but it’s certainly understandable that the LDS church doesn’t want to blur the lines between groups. It’s a little boundary maintenance. As to not calling them “Mormons” — considering the origin of that nickname, it’s again understandable, and the correct term should be Latter-day Saints. But try as it might, I don’t think Salt Lake will ever win on that front.

    However, one of the lesser Mormon churches calls itself Mormon, owns the name “Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints” http://www.ChurchofJesusChristofLatterDaySaints.org whereas the larger Mormon church only has an acronym http://www.LDS.org.

    Ah, because deleting a hyphen and capitalizing one letter makes all the difference in the world, eh my Strangite friend? :)

    When they tell minorities “you are not Mormon” they deserve it when larger churches tell them “you are not Christian.”

    I’d rather avoid making this yet another “Are Mormons Christians?” discussion, but I think a slightly more apt comparison would be the Catholic Church telling the Anglican Church (a splinter group) that “You are not Catholic”.

    You’d think Mormons would know something about cultural tolerance, but they are as arrogant as the churches who persecuted them in the 1830s and 1840s.

    Yes, because the LDS church is bringing the horrors of Missouri and Illinois to the RDLS, FLDS, Strangites, etc, etc. Please.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Please keep comments on the journalism questions not the theological or sociological questions.

    I’ll delete those that stray from our guidelines.

  • http://jettboy.blogspot.com Jettboy

    I think the “Mormon” name problem is a huge problem. Frankly, Mormons themselves often have the problem when trying to describe themselves. The name of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is long and used by others. How this has been shortened can sometimes be offensive and actually end up a theological argument. Other times it confuses the issue because of lack of familiarity on the part of outsiders. Another problem is that there really is a very recent shared history compared to Catholics and Protestants.

    If I was to suggest any names, I would say “mainstream Mormons” and “polygamous Mormons” are all you need. Its simple and to the point, without all the hassle of explanations beyond a short paragraph if needed. This takes into consideration the mainstream Mormon’s dislike of the “Fundimentalist” term for the groups, although Fundimentalist is I think perfectly fine if you are using it to describe the actual name of the FLDS.

    Also, I think, “The FLDS are pretty foreign to the Mormons I grew up among along the Wasatch Front in Utah,” needs repeating. Anyone who thinks otherwise only shows an ignorance toward mainstream Mormonism. Polygamist Mormons are as Amish to mainstream Mormons as they are to your typical Protestant. For instance, I have no idea what they believe or how they use the Book of Mormon or even what kind of organizational structure they use. This gets more complicated because there is more than one group, but apparently hundreds. Its like saying you know what Lutherans or Methodists believe because you are a Catholic. True for some things, but not all just from your background.

  • http://blog.muchmorethanwords.com gfe

    For the record, here is the current (as of four minutes ago) AP word on the term Mormon as applied to other groups:

    SPLINTER GROUPS: The term Mormon is not properly applied to the other Latter Day Saints churches that resulted from the split after Smith’s death.Among them is the Community of Christ, headquartered in Independence, Mo. From 1860 to 2001, it was called the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (note the lack of a hyphen and the capitalized Day).

    I have noticed, however, that the AP isn’t consistently following its own style (which is no surprise, since part of my job as a copy editor is to make AP copy conform to AP style).

    As I said in another thread, I see no problem with use of the term Mormon — provided the term is qualified or explained — when applied to any of the groups (there are literally dozens) that recognize Joseph Smith as a prophet and use the Book of Mormon as scripture. They certainly share a common heritage with the CoJCoLDS.

    All that said, what bothers me about the media treatment to this point isn’t the news coverage — print reporters generally have done a good job of not confusing the CoJCoLDS with the FLDS (some of the coverage from the two Salt Lake City newspapers has been quite good), and the TV coverage has been less sensationalistic than I expected it would be. But I have been surprised by the lack of editorial questioning about the legality/constitutionality of the state’s heavyhanded response to a complaint of a person who apparently hasn’t been found.

    At this point, I don’t know if the state has overstepped its constitutional bounds. But the media should be raising the question more than they have.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    gfe,

    I think that since the Community of Christ doesn’t really self-identify as Mormon, that it’s wise for the AP Stylebook to recommend against the use of the term.

    But I do think more clarity is in order for other groups that do call themselves Mormon.

    Very tricky, though.

  • Paul B

    Just a little tidbit in regards to this article:
    The official name of the mainstream ‘Mormon’ church is (taken directly from the mainstream LDS church’s web site data base of inquiry):

    “Mormon Church
    A commonly used term to describe Christ’s restored church. However, the official name is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”

    Everyone: Please note that the first word ‘The’ is capitalized. The word ‘The’ is part of the full official name of ‘the’ church. I have noticed quite a few instances of this error of omission in this blog article itself and the comments.

  • JT

    If you study the beliefs and origins of some of the split-off churches, and look at it in a certain way, then it doesn’t sound that inappropriate to call some of the groups “Mormon.” However, I think that is the point right there – you have to study it a little bit and think about it a certain way in order to come to that conclusion. The vast majority of readers will do neither, and will equate their Mormon neighbor or the dapper young men knocking at their door as cultists trying to recruit polygamous wives (if you think this is far-fetched, go ask any Mormon missionary how often this happens EVERY day, especially those serving outside the United States, where the press is much less discriminate about this). Shouldn’t usage in journalism be geared toward the usage of the average interlocutor? For example, in many ways, modern internet phones are like computers, and share many of the same internal functions. Yet most people don’t call phones computers, nor do they call computers phones; rather, they understand them to be distinct things. However, if a newspaper reports “telephone” and “computer” interchangeably, there is bound to be confusion, with the risk of completely misunderstanding the story.

    For the most part, I think the press has done a pretty good job in the United States at differentiating the mainstream church from the splinter groups. The press abroad, however, has not done such a good job, with some of the reporting being simply horrendous. Many of the news outlets make no distinction whatsoever and often having pictures of the LDS temple in Salt Lake City next to the story, associating it with mainstream church.

    In relation to this, I noticed something interesting the other day in several domestic and international news stories on the polygamous community – the usage of the term “Mormon sect.” The term “Mormon sect” seems well-intentioned enough, but its usage, especially in Europe, has a much different connotation. Most people in Europe would understand such a description not to mean “a sect or group that broke from the main branch of Mormonism” but “the sect (which, in Europe, has the same connatation as “cult” does in the United States) known as Mormon.” Thus, when the headline for an article from the Times Online in the UK reads “400 children saved from Mormon sect amid allegations of abuse,” we basically have the LDS church tried and convicted in one line.

    I think Perkunas (9) brought up a good point about comparing the Mormon nomenclature issue to the one the LDS church is facing regarding the use of the term “Christian.” His example of the Catholic church not wanting the Anglican church to call themselves Catholic (or “Progressive Catholic”) would be a much more apt analogy.

    In short, I think a lot of this issue gets back to journalstic usage theory – what is its purpose? If one of the central purposes is to use terms in such a way as to create the least misunderstanding, or at least to use terms in the way most readers would use them, then there may be an issue with using the word “Mormon” to refer to polygamous groups that perhaps share some theological tenets, but otherwise have nothing whatsoever to do with the church commonly known as the “Mormon church.”

  • JT

    Paul B, please forgive me, as I am a little slow, but you’re being facetious, right?

  • Paul B

    JT: If you’re “a little slow,” then I’ll bring you “up to speed.”
    I said, “a little tidbit.” In other words, it was just dotting an ‘i’ and crossing a ‘t.’ Nothing more, nothing less than that.

    Having said that, I know that I am more that just “a little slow” a lot of the time, so please bring me “up to speed.” Why would you think that I was being facetious? What did you find objectionable about my little “tidbit?” Maybe I came across as making some ‘big deal’ about this.

  • JT

    Paul – I guess I thought it seemed like a small item compared to the subject of the post, but perhaps I was mistaken. I actually thought you were being facetious, but thought I would ask in case others hadn’t caught on. However, I misjudged your intent, and for that I apologize.

  • http://blog.muchmorethanwords.com gfe

    Mollie — I agree with you on the Community of Christ. I wouldn’t apply the Mormon label, even with qualifications, to the CoC or any other group that doesn’t use that label.

  • Michael

    This issue does drive many individual Latter-day Saints and the LDS Church batty. In my opinion, it will continue to do so despite the church’s effort to standardize the language through the AP style and other means. As difficult as it has been to see consistent use of AP style among reporters, expecting the broader readership of the news to note the “proper” use of terms seems naive. This is partly why I wrote an op-ed on the subject, published recently at the Salt Lake Tribune http://www.sltrib.com/opinion/ci_8923931 in which I suggest, among other things, that the LDS Church do more to embrace diverse forms of Mormonism, and then to distinguish itself from among them. It certainly couldn’t result in more confusion than the present policy has, in my opinion.

    Thanks for the interesting discussion.

  • http://uk.youtube.com/user/HiveRadical HiveRadical

    Mollie,

    While “No group is called “Torahs,”” if you were to ask people who the people of the Torah are how often would “Christian” be the first response, how often would it be included in a response. The truth is that we don’t generally categorize groups that are emergent from traditions tied to books or elements as being adherents of that, even if they still abide the earlier elements and books.

    “And we do describe both Christians and Jews as people who believe the Torah is sacred scripture.”

    But the people and faith tied to the Torah ARE the Jews, Christianity has a distanced tie to the Torah, it’s not as though Christian missionaries go around handing out just the Torah, generally when they give a portion of the Bible it’s a portion from the New Testament.

    “As for the Book of Mormon reference, I’m not sure what you mean about “one of its primary purposes.””

    The Book of Mormon’s theme is that of the role of continuing revelation. Every sect that’s broken away from the mainstream has denied the continuing revelation aspect on one point or another because they wanted to claim allegiance to the dead prophets rather than the living ones. This is the anti-thesis of what Joseph Smith taught and, thusly, is the anti-thesis of what “Mormon” should be affiliated with. There’s no novelty in the break away sects, FLDS RLDS/Community of Christ there’s no innovation and there’s no allegiance to innovation. They do precisely to Joseph Smith’s message what many of the so called Buddhists do the message of Buddah, they distort it so that they turn it against the very principles and concepts which were espoused.

    “Remember, though, that we’re not here to debate the theology of which Latter Day Saints groups are right and which are not. Rather, we’re looking at how journalists should handle the various divisions.”

    And my points touch on this quite accurately. Journalists should imagine that there are reasons beyond mere allegiance to a certain book that make a group deserving of a certain title. And that such other reasons may exist, even if they are not apparent in their brief views of the faith in question.

    To the analogy of the Torah. What image would be drawn if a group was referenced merely as a group that held the Torah in very high esteem as scripture. Certainly such a designation could be given to Christians, but are Christians the first group, or THE group that would come to the forefront of people’s minds if all you new was that the group in question held that book in high regard/as scripture?

    It reminds me of a woman asking if we thought she could be considered Christian because, although she didn’t buy the whole divinely chosen Son of God thing, she did ‘like’ the teachings and philosophy. I tried to kindly point out to the woman that, while it was her prerogative to claim any title she wanted, that it lacked a bit of efficacy in the eyes of those who knew what the word Christ/Messiah meant.

    Certainly anyone can call those who claim to believe in the Book of Mormon as being ‘Mormon’ but it’s about as valid to call such ‘Mormon’ as it is to call those who think the Bible is just a bunch of nice stories that have no fact behind them ‘Christian’ or ‘Jewish.’

    Again the FLDS, and all the break away sects, have denied the message and pattern of Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon. They may still read the book and gain something from it, but an atheist can read the Bible and gain something from it without converting to any religious faith at all. We may be able to, on a technicality, or in some perspective, call a very conversant (on things of God) atheist a ‘theologian’ but that really isn’t a title I see too many reporters giving to atheists whom are well versed in all sorts of theologies.

  • http://uk.youtube.com/user/HiveRadical HiveRadical

    gfe,

    I totally agree with you. It seems as though there’s almost a blackout on questions as to the constitutionality of these raids. If this had been in some ghetto where there was a complex, or some projects, where either there was found ties to a gang had significant influence, if they got a call from one anonymous girl in that part of town controlled to some extent by a single gang, would they, at a single call, cordon off a whole massive city block and take all the kids into custody? Would they raid every structure, what rates of child abuse and other justifications could they find for, as is seemingly the claim in this case, to classify the whole culture of the community as perilous to all the children? How many children there wouldn’t know who their father was? How many weapons would be found stashed? How many cases of abuse would they find.

    They are drawing the line in a place that seems far more reminiscent of Nazi Germany than that of the US. Surely Hitler must have, at some point, used the well being of the children of Germany to justify his taking, literal taking, of liberties. Would you suffer authoritarianism to ‘save’ the children? And if you stop abuse initially, what’s to stop it latter? when theres no longer an authority to check the authoritarian apparatus? How many abuses will we permit in the name of stopping abuse that’s merely alleged?

  • Dave

    HiveRadical asks:

    How many abuses will we permit in the name of stopping abuse that’s merely alleged?

    Perhaps quite a bit. Pagans from Texas tell me that the Texas child-welfare authorities are notorious for taking Pagan kids out of custody of their parents on the flimsiest of grounds.

  • John Pack Lambert

    If the definition of Mormon was in people’s minds connected with belief in The Book of Mormon than the assertion that those who follow the book are all allowed to be called Mormons would be acceptable.
    I would say that the FLDS Church members do not follow the Book of Mormon. The Book of Jacob clearly makes it clear that polygamy is only acceptable when God allows it through his prophets. They do not have a convincing argument that John Taylor was a prophet and Wilford Woodruff was not, so they basically have to reject this clause of the Book of Mormon.
    However, realistically Mormons are not really directy defined in light of the Book of Mormon. Many non-Mormons have no clue what the Book of Mormon is. They are defined as a church. Mormon is used in general speech for members of a specific church just like Catholic. This is as confusing with Catholic where you have splinter groups like the Polish National Catholic Church in America. Would it be appropriate to call such the Catholic Church. One would not be calling it the Roman Catholic Church, but it would be still misleading. I also think it would be misleading to refer to members of such a body as Catholics. People assume that the term refers to members of the Roman Catholic Chruch.

  • http://coltakashi.livejournal.com Raymond Takashi Swenson

    The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is properly the church associated with the name “Mormon” because (a) it publishes the Book of Mormon and distributes it in millions of copies worldwide in dozens of languages, (b) it has 13 million members worldwide, the people that most people in the world are going to associate with the word “Mormon”, including famous ones like Mitt Romney, Steve Young, the Osmonds, Gladys Knight, etc., (c) it has an international reputation invested in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, its concerts, CDs, and weekly TV performances, (d) it has sent a million missionaries into the world, whose iconic emblem (besides bicycles and name tags) is the Book of Mormon they carry and loan or give to contacts and investigators, which they ask people to read and ask God about, (e) the emblems of the unique Salt Lake Temple and the Mormon pioneer trek are associated strongly with the Church, as are temples in other locations, (f) the family history libraries and the Church family history web site are unique resources associated with the Church and known to many people. The LDS Church has invested millions of man-hours and millions of dollars in associating the name “Mormon” in the public mind with an image of people who are honest, hard-working, patriotic, and law-abiding. It can hardly avoid the name, so it has made a significant effort to improve the meaning of the name so that it will be seen as positive rather than negative. That positive reputation is vital to the Church, especially in nations where it is new, small and vulnerable to governments denying the Church and its members basic rights to worship and operate on grounds of slander by competing churches, as happened in Ghana for a year. During the 19th Century and the early decades of the 20th, “Mormon” was viewed as negatively as many people view “Muslim” today. It was associated with claims that Mormons were an alien race, not real Americans. The ability of Mormons to be elected to government office in states where Mormons are a tiny minority–such as Massachusetts–is based partly on the success the Church has had in persuading people that “Mormon” is a term associated with people who are good citizens.

    When groups like the FLDS call themselves “Mormon”, it works against the great effort that the LDS Church has made for a century to transform “Mormon” into a label that denotes good people who believe in families (recall all of the public service announcements), NOT people who live in polygamy and practice illegal “marriage” with teenage girls too young to legally marry, apparently against their will in at least some cases.

    The AP story I read yesterday called the FLDS “a renegade Mormon sect” and that it broke away from the LDS Church after the Church renounced polygamy in 1890. While it used “Mormon” in association with the FLDS, contrary to the stylebook, it did make clear at the outset that these were people who rebelled against the Mormon religion people are familiar with, which does not practice polygamy.

  • Nate Nielson

    This video of Quentin L. Cook, apostle of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, might help illuminate this conversation regarding the proper usage of the Church’s name and its distinction from the various polygamous groups.


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