Friday, August 17, 2018


Yesterday (August 16, 2018), the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced a new policy: the media and all members are to stop using the word “Mormon” when referring to the church and its members. In response, some in the media whose memories stretch far enough back, sighed, “Oh, here we go again!”

In 2000, leading up to the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued the exact same directive: stop calling us “the Mormon Church” and stop calling our members, “Mormons.” Of course, no one listened.

Around that same time, the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints changed its name to Community of Christ. The denomination wanted the end, once and for all, any connection in the public’s mind to the church in Utah, Mormons or Mormonism.

Of course, the nickname “Mormon” was coined within the first year or so of the religious movement’s birth in upstate New York in 1830. This was several years before the term “Latter Day Saint” was coined, or the name of the original “Church of Christ” was changed to “Church of the Latter-Day Saints.” The name “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints” was adopted later in the 1830s, while the body that called itself “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” (note the hyphenated words in the name) was not legally organized until several years after the death of Joseph Smith. So, before there were “Latter Day-saints” or even “Latter Day Saints,” there were “Mormons.”

Doesn’t anyone want to be called a “Mormon” anymore?

I certainly can understand why many do not. Since around 1850, the word “Mormon” has been conflated with the Utah-based institution that called itself “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” As far as public relations are concerned, that organization got off on the wrong foot when, in 1852, it announced to the world that it not only practiced polygamy, but considered it divinely-mandated and superior to monogamy. (Even today, that institution is burdened by its continual recognition of “eternal” polygamous marriages as well as the inclusion in its scripture of a section commanding the practice.) The murder of over 100 innocent men, women and children by the institution's top local leaders in southern Utah on September 11, 1857 (the Mountain Meadows Massacre) was—and remains--a public relations nightmare. (One historian has correctly observed that following the massacre, and for the remainder of the nineteenth century, to be called a Mormon was akin to being called a Muslim terrorist today.)

In modern times, the corporation that now owns the trademark “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” has made one public relations blunder after another. These include: its embrace of a 120-year-old racist theology and policy targeted against all people of African ancestry (neither of which were rescinded until 1978); its “successes” in defeating the Equal Rights Amendment in the late 1970s and overturning same-sex marriage in California in 2008, and—most recently—its policy against blessing or baptizing the children of same-sex couples. (Jesus Christ said, “Suffer the little children to come unto me.” The Utah-based corporation claiming to be his sole representative on earth says, “Not so fast, Kids.”)

Seeing how the corporation that owns the trademark “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” has—by its actions, policies and theology—caused the word “Mormon” to become synonymous with homophobia, racism, sexism, pharisaical religious attitudes and Right-wing politics, it is perfectly understandable that it now wishes to distance itself from the name.

Please, please, please do!

You—the corporation that owns the trademark “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints"—and all of you who are associated with that corporation do not deserve the name “Mormon.” Give it up—I beg of you! Dear members, if ever you have heeded the council of your so-called “Lord’s Anointed,” I beseech you, do so now, and immediately cease and desist from calling yourselves Mormons once and for all!

I, for one, will continue to identify as Mormon—though, in 2007, I dissolved my relationship with the Utah-based corporation that owns the trademark “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”

In the 1830s and early 1840s, the label “Mormon” had very different connotations that it had after the murder of Joseph Smith. Were Mormons seen a weird, odd, unorthodox, troublesome to established Protestant norms? Yes—without a doubt. But in a newborn Republic that encoded freedom of and from religion in its constitution, those Protestant norms needed to be challenged and, if people so chose, completely rejected. This was a period when the majority of Americans saw the Mormons as victims of violence, not perpetrators of violence (as they would in the 1850s, when the Utah institution hijacked the label and began preaching Blood Atonement.) Before that time, Mormons were laughed at for having emerged from the folk religion of the American frontier—with all of its weirdness, superstition, quaintness and…well…fun. (Re-read “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” if you want to better understand the American frontier folk religion that actually birthed Mormonism.)

My dear Latter-day Saints— (we can all agree that is what you are to be called now, right?)—please begin immediately to correct people when they mistakenly refer to you as “Mormon.” If you must, feign being insulted when they in ignorance apply the name to you. If I could have but one gift this coming Christmas Season, it would be that by December 25,no one would associate the word “Mormon” with the corporation that owns the trademark “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”

In short, my dear Latter-day Saints, I am sick and tired of having my family, friends and associates assume that I am one of you, or that I have any association with the Utah-based corporation that owns the aforementioned trademark.

Let me share some reasons why I am proud to be a Mormon, but have no desire to be mistaken for a Latter-day Saint:

Early Mormons eagerly explored all the newest trends and fades in religious thought, spirituality, science and pseudo-science, mysticism, etc.—and when they found an idea that resonated with their convictions, they incorporated it into their evolving theology. On the other hand, Latter-day Saints view any new idea with suspicion, withholding all opinions until the leaders of the corporation that owns the trademark “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” have issued their opinion, at which time those Saints form an echo chamber. I find echoes irksome, and so, I am a Mormon—not a Latter-day Saint.

The early Mormons distrusted American Christianity. Joseph Smith confessed he couldn’t muster up the enthusiasm to hoot and holler at revivals and camp meetings—even when he wanted to. Eliza R. Snow declared that when she attended Christian services, she couldn’t humiliate herself by declaring that she was a naturally-corrupt sinner worthy of nothing but damnation by a just and righteous God. In contrast, Latter-day Saints worry constantly that others don’t see them as Christians, while fear of God’s judgement seem to be constantly on their minds. So, I am a Mormon—not a Latter-day Saint.

Though Mormons at first thought of Jesus as being God incarnate (the orthodox Christian view), they quickly dropped the doctrine of the Trinity, questioned and offered wild speculations about a literal Virgin birth, stopped focusing on the Atonement, began putting more emphasis on how Christ was similar to the rest of humanity and envisioning how humanity could become equally divine not only with Christ but with God. Latter-day Saints have retreated from all of these ideas, and embrace a neo-orthodox theology that in many of its fundamentals differs little from mainline Protestantism. So, I am a Mormon—not a Latter-day Saints.

Early Mormons accepted “The Book of Mormon” as scripture while knowing little to nothing about its origins. When, at a Mormon conference in the early 1830s, Hyrum Smith asked Joseph Smith to share the details of the book’s origin with those assembled, Joseph refused, saying the details were unimportant. Latter-day Saints, however, think the details are very important, and belief in later gold plate narratives is a central tenant of their religion. So, I am a Mormon—not a Latter-day Saint.

Early Mormons knew nothing about any “First Vision” in 1820—because that story hadn’t yet been written, and wouldn’t be widely known until the early twentieth century. If you were to talk about Joseph Smith’s “Vision” to an early Mormon, they’d assume you were referring to “The Vision” of the three degrees of glory in D&C 76. Latter-day Saints believe their faith began in 1820 when Joseph had a vision of the Father and the Son; the historicity of this event is a central tenant of their faith. So, I am a Mormon—not a Latter-day Saint.

Early Mormons rejected salvation by grace because in the new theological paradigm they constructed, the focus was on Eternal Progression by one’s efforts. Latter-day Saints think of “salvation” in much the same way as do Catholics and Protestants. So, I am a Mormon—not a Latter-day Saint.

Mormons rejected the idea of Hell and embraced universal salvation—within everyone inheriting some degree of glory. Latter-day Saints believe in three degrees of glory, but most still believe in the existence of Hell as traditionally imagined by Catholics and Protestants. So, I am a Mormon—not a Latter-day Saint.

Early Mormons believed that humans and Gods shared a common nature. Latter-day Saints concentrate on how humans are different from God —and any talk of Gods (plural) rattles them.(They insist, after all, that they are Christians—and Christians are monotheists.) So, I am a Mormon—not a Latter-day Saint.

Early Mormons believed that one’s spirit was eternal, uncreated and “co-equal with God.” Latter-day Saints, since their adoption of polygamy in 1852, have taught that one’s spirit is sexually begotten by Heavenly Parents—thus making heterosexual marriage central to their now-convoluted neo-orthodox theology. So, call me a Mormon—not a Latter-day Saint.

Early Mormons held that marriages were to always be performed openly as public ceremonies in accordance with local law. Since 1852, Latter-day Saints have performed their marriages hidden from the view of not only the general public, but also from the eyes of those church and family members who their leaders label “unworthy.” So, I am a Mormon—not a Latter-day Saint.

Early Mormons had but three offices in their initial church organization: elder, priest and teacher. Latter-day Saints have—well, just look at a flow chart of their organization and try to make sense of it. So, I am a Mormon—not a Latter-day Saint.

Early Mormons governed their churches by Common Consent, with decisions being made democratically from the bottom up. The Twelve Apostles had no church-wide authority but merely oversaw the Mormon missionary program. Church authority was local, with the local Stake High Council being the highest authority. The Latter-day Saints, since the time of Brigham Young, have embraced a pyramid structure—with all authority flowing down from a Church President, through the Twelve Apostles, then General Authorities, and so on to the local level. When Latter-day Saints talk of Common Consent, they mean the right to affirm whatever the leaders at the top have already decided. So, I am a Mormon—not a Latter-day Saint.

Early Mormons didn’t excommunicate people for a difference of opinion. Joseph Smith thought doing so was too similar to the practices the Methodist societies of his youth: one accepted Methodists beliefs, or one was booted from membership. Latter-day Saints are so famous for booting out members for differences of opinions, that they could market a line of footwear for the occasion. So, I am a Mormon—not a Latter-day Saint.

Early Mormons sympathized with the poor and the outcast; Latter-day Saints admire the wealthy and affluent. So, I am a Mormon—not a Latter-day Saint.

Early Mormons embraced life here and now as good. They sought to build Zion and the Kingdom of God here on earth. They believed that this earth would eventually be clothed in Celestial Glory. Latter-day Saints focus on leaving this world, which they tend to view with much the same negativity as do Evangelical Christians; they aspire ti “enter the Celestial Kingdom” or “return to the presence of our Heavenly Father” after they die. So, because I really like life here on earth and thoroughly enjoy the daily routine of waking up, eating and drinking, working, engaging with friends and family, having sex, reading, writing, learning—not to mention my fondness for more mundane things such as breathing and aging—and because I believe God likes these things, too—I am a Mormon—not a Latter-day Saint.

Early Mormons took the Word of Wisdom as advise, not as a commandment: most continued to drink coffee, tea, beer and alcohol. (Joseph Smith even installed a bar in his Nauvoo home and hired Porter Rockwell to be his bar tender—until tea-totaling Emma told him that either the bar went or she would leave with the children.) Latter-day Saints consider the Word of Wisdom to be a commandment (despite the fact that their own scripture declares explicitly that it is not), and obedience to it is required for full participation in their church. So, I am a Mormon (a coffee drinker with a fondness for margaritas)—not a Latter-day Saint.

The list of why I am a Mormon--not a Latter-day Saint—could go on, but I think I have made my point. If you don’t think I have, then I’m sorry to have wasted your time. I’ll sign off with but one small request: please, please, please call me a Mormon--not a Latter-day Saint!