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The perils of labeling various Mormons

Published May 19, 2011 6:18 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Decades ago, LDS scholar Richard Poll described two kinds of Mormons: the Iron Rodders and the Liahonas.Drawing on Book of Mormon images, Poll described the Iron Rod as literally a pole that believers could grasp on their journey toward a heavenly afterlife. By contrast, the Liahona was a compass that could point to the destination, Poll said, but "did not fully mark the path." Iron Rodders wanted a clear path to exaltation dictated by the church; Liahonas took direction from the church but needed to find their own way.Since Poll's groundbreaking 1967 essay, What the Church Means to People Like Me, many other Mormons have used those metaphors to describe themselves or how they approach LDS teachings.Today's Mormon bloggers apparently find those metaphors too limiting or inadequate and have developed new terms to categorize their differences.TBM, or "true blue [or believing] Mormon," is attached to members with orthodox beliefs and practices; while NOM, or "new order Mormon," suggests a Latter-day Saint who may not accept all the historical teachings or doctrines, but still enjoys worshipping with members.In a recent column at religiondispatches.org, Joanna Brooks called Mitt Romney a TBM, while she described Jon Huntsman Jr. as a NOM.But Blair Hodges, a blogger at faithpromotingrumor.com, worries about the underlying tone of such labels.A TBM is "generally understood to be something of a gullible fool who lacks the interest or ability to think critically," Hodges writes, "and thus does not see the obvious fact that Mormonism is ridiculous at best and downright evil at worst."Labels on the other side carry implications, too, he writes. They are variously called "Open Mormons," "Internet Mormons," "Chapel Mormons," "uncorrelated Mormons," and the "DAMU," or "Disaffected Mormon Underground.""The trouble with labels is that they can more often be used to shut down [a meaningful] conversation," Hodges writes. "They can be a shortcut to a conclusion rather than an effort at understanding or reconciliation."The best way to blow apart such labels, he argues, is by being complex believers who don't fit the categories.Trouble is, some complain that such multifaceted believers are, well, "tough to define."Just ask Huntsman.Peggy Fletcher Stack