If people within and without The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints think the Utah-based faith is going to abandon anytime soon the latest push to jettison popular references to the nicknames “Mormon” and “LDS” when describing the religion — as has happened before — they best think again.
Top church leaders appear to be braced for the long haul.
This past weekend, church President Russell M. Nelson reaffirmed his commitment to the cause during a visit to Canada.
“We know that it's going to be a challenge to undo tradition of more than a hundred years,” he told a congregation of Latter-day Saints in Montreal. “The Lord has told us what his church shall be called. So, we're not changing names, we're correcting a name.”
He brought up the topic again during a sermon in Hamilton, Ontario, according to a news release.
“We just want to correct an error. That’s all. The Lord said the name of the church shall be The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Period. And that’s not negotiable,” Nelson said in a video the church released Tuesday. “So these errors that have crept in are only to be corrected. It’s not Mormon’s church. It’s not Moses’ church. It’s the Church of Jesus Christ.”
Mormon was an ancient prophet in the faith’s signature scripture, the Book of Mormon, which retains its proper historic title.
The latest buzz started Thursday, when the Salt Lake City-headquartered church released a one-paragraph statement from Nelson noting that God “has impressed upon my mind the importance of the name he has revealed for his church,” adding that leaders and members “have work before us to bring ourselves in harmony with his will.”
Updated style guidelines accompanied that statement, urging that the faith’s full name — in place since 1838 — be used on first reference. It also encouraged media, members and others to use “the church,” the “Church of Jesus Christ” or the “restored Church of Jesus Christ” as shortened terms, rather than the more common “Mormon church” or “LDS Church.”
The guide asked that members be referred to as “members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” or "Latter-day Saints,” not “Mormons.”
“My goodness, it’s caused a big furor,” Nelson said of the announcement during his Canadian tour.
“The suffix of Latter-day Saints simply distinguishes us from those earlier forms of the Lord’s true church,” he said. “We revere Mormon. We honor Mormon. What a great man. What a great prophet, a record keeper, one of the four principal writers of the Book of Mormon. We don’t disavow him in any way. We honor him. And we’ve got to protect his name, too.”
Latter-day Saint authorities attempted a similar name campaign just before Salt Lake City hosted the 2002 Winter Olympics. That drive ended about a decade later. In fact, the church then embraced the term “Mormon,” launching its “I’m a Mormon” ad campaign and releasing a “Meet the Mormons” movie.
This time will be different, according to apostle Neil L. Andersen, who accompanied Nelson on the Canadian trip.
“There is such unity in the [governing] First Presidency and the Twelve [apostles] on this subject. The president has spoken; the Lord has spoken to the president,” Andersen said in a news release. “And this is going to be an extended, multiyear effort, but this will not be something that will be attempted and then pulled back on.”
To be clear, Nelson emphasized, the church isn’t undergoing a name change. It’s just fixing a mistake in the cultural lexicon.
“I guess with this precision of a surgeon,” he said, “we just want to correct an error.”
And the patient — in this case, the church — seems determined to be patient to see if the operation works.