I’m a Mormon. My family is Mormon. I grew up with Mormon kids. My neighbors, teachers, coaches, the grocery store clerk – mostly Mormon.
Each week we go to church. We bless our babies and take the sacrament together. We value family, community and traditions. We believe in gold plates and angels and miracles.
Our ancestors were Mormons, too – pioneers who wandered across the country fleeing persecution. Eventually they made the trek west to the Salt Lake Valley. More than 150 years have passed and still we remain a peculiar people – in, but not of the world. We dress modestly, refuse to take the Lord’s name in vain, abstain from coffee, tea and alcohol. We eat green jello with Sunday dinner.
No wonder the Harvard Encyclopedia of American Ethnic Groups lists “Mormons” as an ethnic group. Turns out we’re a people. My non-Mormon friends put it this way, “You guys are like cultural Jews.” And so, we too have a name. We’re the Mormons. At least we were.
Recently The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints revealed that we are no longer Mormons. According to its president, God decided to clarify the name of his church. The church also issued an updated style guide to ensure “members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” are not “Mormons.”
This is not new. Joseph Smith received a similar revelation naming the church in 1838. In 1990, Russel M. Nelson, then an apostle, devoted 16 minutes to the topic with a stern admonition to “revere” the name. Two more apostles took a stab at the problem in 2011. They called it a matter of obedience.
Still, we go on calling ourselves Mormons.
For generations Mormons have been proud of their heritage and history, their family values and tight-knit communities, the way they talk, dress and eat. Most modern-day Mormons feel the same way – this is our tribe.
If Mormons like the name, why are church leaders so concerned with correcting it? Is it an effort to affirm our Christianity, or further distinguish ourselves?
Perhaps it’s an effort to deal with disaffected members who leave the church. Rather than address their disaffection, leaders seek to define through a name who their members are, and thereby dictate who they will be.
Maybe church leaders are afraid Mormons could go on being Mormon … without the church.
After all, without the church, Mormons are under no obligation to abstain from coffee or wine. They can support medical marijuana. The worthiness of their child does not require sexually explicit interviews behind a closed door. And imagine this: Without the church, Mormons can attend their child’s wedding without paying 10 percent of their income.
Meanwhile, Latter-day Saints are left to believe that God cursed Native Americans with dark skin, that women cannot have the priesthood and that their LGBTQ children should remain unmarried and celibate in order to reach the Celestial Kingdom.
I suppose it really won’t matter what church leaders think. Remember, Mormons are a people. We’re a thing. If it isn’t “Mormonism,” what “ism” is it? I’m reminded of The Artist Formerly Known as Prince. His name change didn’t last and I’m betting this name change – excuse me, correction – won’t last either. So, call me Mormon. It’s who I’d rather be. Correction: it’s who I am.
Justin Brown, Salt Lake City, is married with four children, a home builder and developer with degrees in English and political science from the University of Utah.