In his second major address during the faith’s 188th Semiannual General Conference, President Russell M. Nelson issued a stern, uncompromising lecture on his August edict — for members, media and others — to use the faith’s full name: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
His instruction is not a name change, not rebranding, not cosmetic, not a whim and not inconsequential, Nelson told 21,000 church members in the Conference Center in downtown Salt Lake City as well as millions more watching via satellite across the globe. “It is the command of the Lord.”
A day after hearing news of a major shift in their Sunday worship services — reducing the three-hour meeting block to two hours — Latter-day Saints gathered for a second day, eagerly anticipating any other big changes.
Nelson delivered in the final talk of the conference, announcing a dozen more temples, including a second in Washington County, and plans to renovate and update the iconic six-spired Salt Lake Temple.
Earlier, though, Nelson returned to his push to reinforce the faith’s name and excise “Mormon” as a shorthand substitute.
The church’s name “is not negotiable,” said the 94-year-old who took the reins of the 16 million-member faith in January. “When the savior clearly states what the name of his church should be, and even precedes his declaration with, ‘Thus shall my church be called,' he is serious. And if we allow nicknames to be used and adopt or even sponsor those nicknames ourselves, he is offended.”
Using common nicknames such as “Mormon church,” “LDS Church” or the “Church of the Latter-day Saints,” Nelson said, “... is a major victory for Satan.”
When members “discard the savior’s name,” he said, “we are subtly disregarding all that Jesus Christ did for us — even his Atonement.”
Other speakers Sunday discussed forgiveness, becoming “shepherds,” dealing with sorrow, pain and loss, and relying on Christ’s healing power.
Healing and hope
Apostle Jeffrey R. Holland spoke about the power of forgiveness.
“Surely each of us could cite an endless array of old scars and sorrows and painful memories that this very moment still corrode the peace in someone’s heart or family or neighborhood,” he said. “Whether we have caused that pain or been the recipient of it, those wounds need to be healed so life can be as rewarding as God intended it to be.”
Jesus Christ preached forgiveness as part of his Sermon on the Mount, Holland said. And even forgave those who crucified him.
“It is, however, important for any of you living in real anguish to note what he did not say,” the apostle added. “Jesus did not say, ‘You are not allowed to feel true pain or real sorrow from the shattering experiences you have had at the hand of another.’ Nor did he say, ‘In order to forgive fully you have to re-enter a toxic relationship or return to an abusive, destructive circumstance.’”
Fellow apostle Neil L. Andersen warned members that, “without being alarmed, we need to be ready” for trials and tragedies — and pointed to four missionaries injured when two terrorist bombs detonated in the Brussels, Belgium, airport in March 2016.
Andersen quoted senior missionary Richard Norby: “I tried to run for safety, but I immediately fell down. ... I could see that my left leg was badly injured. I [noticed] black, almost spiderweb-type, soot drooping from both hands. I gently pulled at it but realized it was not soot but my skin that had been burned. My white shirt was turning red from an injury on my back.”
“Why would this happen?” Andersen asked.
Speaking “especially” to “those who are keeping the commandments of God … [and] are confronted with trials and challenges that are unexpected and painful,” he said that “intermingled with joy and happiness, one thing is certain: There will be moments, hours, days, sometimes years when your soul will be wounded.”
Bonnie H. Cordon, Young Women general president, was the first and only woman to give a major address in a general session at this conference. A women’s session, however, featured three female speakers Saturday night.
In her speech, Cordon described what it means to be a “shepherd” for Christ.
“We have been assigned specific individuals and families to tend so we are certain all of the Lord’s flock are accounted for and no one is forgotten,” she said. “...It is about making certain each person feels the love of the savior through someone who serves for him. In that way, all can recognize that they are known by a loving Father in Heaven.”
Cordon urged Latter-day Saint listeners to treat those they serve as friends and confidants.
“Sisters and brothers, the world is more hope-filled and joyful because of the small inspired acts of kindness you perform,” she said. “As you seek the Lord’s direction on how to convey his love and see the needs of those to whom you minister, your eyes will be opened. Your sacred ministering assignment gives you the divine right to inspiration. You can seek that inspiration with confidence.”
M. Russell Ballard, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, speaking just six days after the death of his wife, Barbara, gave a tender sermon about losing loved ones.
He recounted the many tragedies endured by former LDS Church President Joseph F. Smith — and the “vision of the redemption of the dead” he reported receiving on Oct. 3, 1918,
The vision “comforted his heart and provided answers to many of his questions,” Ballard said. “We too can be comforted and learn more about our own future when we die and go to the spirit world by studying this revelation and pondering its significance in the way we live our lives each day.
“ ... How grateful I am today ... to know where my precious Barbara is,” Ballard said. “And that we will be together again, with our family, for all eternity.”
Latter-day Saints believe husbands and wives, with their children, can be together as families in the afterlife.
Members should accept the blessings that are offered to them, apostle Dale G. Renlund said.
“Our Heavenly Father wants to help and bless us, but we do not always let him,” Renlund said. “Sometimes, we even act as if we already know everything.”
That way of thinking comes from Lucifer. “He seeks to drag us down. He wants us to experience endless woe,” Renlund said. “He is the one who tells us we are not adequate, the one who tells us we are not good enough, the one who tells us there is no recovery from a mistake. He is the ultimate bully, the one who kicks us when we are down.”
Jack N. Gerard, a general authority Seventy and a point person for the church in Utah’s debate about medical marijuana, recounted how he had been misdiagnosed and actually had a serious pulmonary embolism, or blood clot, in his lung that needed immediate attention.
He invited listeners “to consider an important lesson learned from this experience — to step back from the world and assess your life. Or in the words of the doctor, if there is anything in your life you need to consider, now is the time.”
Furthermore, members should seek truth. “In the world today, the debate over truth has reached a fevered pitch with all sides claiming truth as if it were a relative concept open to individual interpretation.... As we step back from the world and assess our lives, now is the time to consider what changes we need to make.”
Henry B. Eyring, second counselor in the governing First Presidency, warned Latter-day Saints that “Satan’s war against truth and against our personal happiness is becoming more intense. The world and your life can seem to you to be in increasing commotion.”
But, he said, it's part of a plan. “Our mortal life is designed by a loving God to be a test and source of growth for each of us,” Eyring said, reassuring listeners that “the loving God who allowed these tests for you also designed a sure way to pass through them.”
And that way is through faith and being “willing to take upon us the name of Jesus Christ.... The savior is the rock upon which we can stand safely and without fear in every storm we face.”
What’s in a name? Plenty
But it was Nelson’s words about not using “Mormon” as a moniker for the church or its members that generated the most buzz on social media.
Some members who first thought it was not possible, or important, now said they were embracing the change.
After the president’s Sunday sermon, a representative of the website By Common Consent tweeted: “President Nelson reiterates the reasons and importance of the name of the church. I appreciate his explanations. I was wrong to criticize his initiative as I did. Emphasizing the name of Jesus is a profound good.”
Some critics have said losing “Mormon” will undermine benefits of internet “search engine optimization.”
If this move were a rebranding effort of “a man-made organization, those arguments might prevail,” Nelson said. But this is God’s church and the “Lord’s ways are not, and never will be, man’s ways.”
If members do their best “to restore the correct name of the Lord’s church,” he promised that God would “pour down his power and blessings upon the heads of the Latter-day Saints, the likes of which we have never seen.”
He urged Latter-day Saints “to be courteous and patient” in correcting those who continue to use the word “Mormon.” “Responsible media," Nelson added, "will be sympathetic in responding to our request.”
Jennifer Napier-Pearce, editor of The Salt Lake Tribune, has said she doesn’t foresee any changes to this paper’s practices at this time.
“The Tribune’s style has always been to refer to an organization’s full name in its reporting,” she said, “but to shorten to commonly used phrases or nicknames throughout a story for clarity and flow.”
Paula Froke, lead editor for The Associated Press Stylebook, which The Tribune and many newspapers use, said AP is aware of the church’s desires.
She told an AP reporter this past week that the news organization is monitoring how the names evolve in the church itself — including among members — and with the public. For now, the AP Stylebook entry about the faith remains unchanged.
“Clearly, the term ‘Mormon’ is deeply ingrained," Froke said, “both in the church and in the minds of the general public.”
Nelson lamented that the church itself has, at times, fostered that nickname. It released a “Meet the Mormons” movie, sponsored the “I’m a Mormon” ad campaign and produced the mormonandgay.org website.
The leader conceded in August that the church has “work before us to bring ourselves in harmony with [God’s] will.” On Friday, it announced a new name for the world famous Mormon Tabernacle Choir. It now is The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square. And the church-owned Deseret News has indicated it plans to change the name of its weekly Mormon Times section.