Last week’s much-ballyhooed announcement that “Mormons” and “Mormonism” were going out the window in favor of more accurate, if excessively complicated and lengthy, terminology to encapsulate all things The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has caused many to assume that Mormons are no longer Mormons, nor should we call ourselves Mormons.
Indeed, many social media outlets quickly and furtively removed their LDS or Mormon branding, instead opting for something following the guidelines established by the Latter-day Saint Newsroom. Bloggers wrote heartfelt pieces about falling in line with the prophet as quickly as possible. There’s nothing wrong with this. Obedience is good.
However, these recent, knee-jerk efforts are misguided for one simple reason: a style guide is for the press. You are not the press. You are an individual.
From time immemorial, the Church has pushed journalists to use preferred terminology when discussing Latter-day Saints. The biggest change to come out of last week is that “Mormons” and “Mormonism” are—requested of the press, mind you—no longer to be used to describe members of the Church or the doctrines, lifestyle, and culture contained therein.
What the Newsroom posting did not say was that everyday members of the Church needed to fall into line with this guidance.
In fact, if we were to base our standards off of the most recent guidance from a General Authority in a forum that counts as binding counsel to the Church at large, we’d need to refer to Elder M. Russell Ballard’s 2011 General Conference address, wherein he praised the media for trying to respect the Church’s wishes not to have its members referred to as Mormons at the expense of references to Christ, but also went to bat for those who argue using “Mormon” is appropriate within our own ranks:
While Mormon is not the full and correct name of the Church, and even though it was originally given by our detractors during our early years of persecution, it has become an acceptable nickname when applied to members rather than the institution. We do not need to stop using the name Mormon when appropriate, but we should continue to give emphasis to the full and correct name of the Church itself. In other words, we should avoid and discourage the term “Mormon Church.”
There’s a colossal difference between discussing the actual name of the Church in an appropriate way, while being tacitly OK with a shorthand for its members. Again, from Elder Ballard:
Some may ask, what about the Internet sites such as Mormon.org as well as various Church-initiated media campaigns? As I said, referring collectively to members as Mormons is sometimes appropriate. As a practical matter, those outside of our faith come looking for us searching for that term. But once you open up Mormon.org, the proper name of the Church is explained on the home page, and it appears on each additional page on the site. It is impractical to expect people to type the full name of the Church when seeking to find us or when logging on to our website.
Not to parse words, but a quick comparison to President Russell M. Nelson’s remarks discusses the Church name only:
The Lord has impressed upon my mind the importance of the name He has revealed for His Church, even The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We have work before us to bring ourselves in harmony with His will. In recent weeks, various Church leaders and departments have initiated the necessary steps to do so. Additional information about this important matter will be made available in the coming months.
Based upon this, what we have is current guidance from the Church’s mortal leader that we need to put more emphasis on the actual name of the Church, and guidance will be forthcoming to address that. Then we have style guide requests for news outlets from the Newsroom. That’s it.
Remind me where any of this said that we could not refer to ourselves as Mormons anymore?
Now, everything I say may well be rendered moot in the coming months, as President Nelson better explains things. And that’s fine! And if and when he does, we’ll adapt accordingly. But it would behoove us to slow down a bit and wait for further guidance, rather than rush to see who can be the most pious in the shortest amount of time.
Go head. Get your Mormon on. Mormon it up for at least the time being.