President Nelson stirring things up again! I love it. But I realize not everyone enjoys change as much as I do. We talked about the announcement in my seminary classes and I was surprised by the amount of annoyance, skepticism, and denial demonstrated by some. One class started counting syllables, comparing how "hard" it was to use past titles versus the new recommendations. I had to smile. I found further skepticism among many blogs and articles online. (And to be fair, a lot of funny tweets. Fair play.)
I’m not denying how impossible it seems to get the world to stop calling us Mormons, but I’m not sure that’s really the point. A few thoughts:
The official statement is as “prophetic” sounding as anything I can remember a Church President saying in my lifetime. For those wondering where the revelations are from our so-called Prophets, President Nelson appears happy to oblige. Whether we accept them as such is another story, but President Nelson isn’t shying away from his role!
There is a lot of extrapolation going on in the wake of the announcement. Really, it’s quite vague. I was guilty early on of jumping to a bunch of conclusions, but as I’ve pondered, I’m not sure those are all valid. All the official statement really says is that the actual name of the Church is important, the Church isn’t fully in line with the will of God in regards to that name, and that in coming days the Church will take steps to get in line with the Lord’s will regarding that name.
A bit more may be extracted from the updated style guide, but even then I would be careful. I don't have a perfect memory of the prior style guide, but as memory serves many of the items are not new. The Church has reaffirmed its actual name multiple times over the years (1979, 1990, 2011) and made various attempts to invite the media and the rest of the world to use that name. Despite the overwhelming odds that many outside the church won't care (a quick survey of headlines on Friday showed that a good half of media outlets ironically ignored the Church’s request in the very headline announcing the request), I won’t fault Church leaders for reaffirming that the Church has a name and we would appreciate it if people used it. I mean, would we begrudge someone whose always being referred to by a nickname saying from time to time, “Hey, that’s not actually my name”?
The only really significant shift in this new style guide is the rejection of the abbreviation “LDS” for the Church or its members and the name “Mormon” for the members of the Church. With President Hinckley, the approach was to concede the title "Mormon" for Church members. (President Hinckley said in 1990: “I suppose that regardless of our efforts, we may never convert the world to general use of the full and correct name of the Church. Because of the shortness of the word Mormon and the ease with which it is spoken and written, they will continue to call us the Mormons…We may not be able to change the nickname, but we can make it shine with added luster.”) If you can’t beat them, join them, hence the “Meet the Mormons” movie and the “I’m a Mormon” advertising campaign (the value of which is not undone, by the way).
The other notable changes are some new authorized short names, “The Church,” “The Church of Jesus Christ,” and “The Restored Church of Jesus Christ.” I appreciate the moxie behind these names. I can imagine many rejecting them because they make implicit truth claims, but we’re not afraid of making truth claims are we? Some have balked at these alternatives as offensive or prideful. I think they could be if taken out of context. They are meant to be secondary references to the Church in media or scholarly works that have already referenced the full name of the Church. We’re not asking the world to start calling us “The Church.”
Many have assumed that this shift regarding the term “Mormon” means the Church will jettison all occurrences of the word; Mormon.org, Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Mormon Helping Hands, the list goes on and on and in many instances getting rid of "Mormon" presents some real challenges. Many have also assumed that we have been told not to use the term anymore ourselves. As one of my students jokingly said, "So now I'm sinning if I tell someone I'm a Mormon?" Of course not. I don't know if the style guide is specific to media outlets or also serves as a guide all Church members. Stepping back, unless I’m mistaken, the announcement and the style guide don’t actually make any specific demands of Church members.
That said, it seems safe to assume that the Lord is inviting us take a little more care regarding what we call ourselves as members. Whatever others might call us, we can refer to ourselves and the Church properly.
Does it really matter? I think so, given all that is going on the in the world the Lord is speaking to the Prophet about the name of the Church. It would be easy to dismiss this as trivial, but I believe that is a mistake. When you look at all he nicknames for the Church, they all have one thing in common: they eliminate Jesus Christ from the name of the Church. Is that not significant? If Satan wanted to have a negative impact via the way the Church is referenced, would he take any other approach? Why wouldn’t we, as members, emphasize the Savior when we talk about the Church? As noted by President Nelson, the name of the Church was revealed by the Lord himself (see section 115 in the Doctrine and Covenants). In his visit to the Nephites recorded in the Book of Mormon (3 Nephi 27) the Savior emphasized the importance of the name of the Church. Verse 8 is especially applicable:
5 Have they not read the scriptures, which say ye must take upon you the name of Christ, which is my name? For by this name shall ye be called at the last day;
6 And whoso taketh upon him my name, and endureth to the end, the same shall be saved at the last day.
7 Therefore, whatsoever ye shall do, ye shall do it in my name; therefore ye shall call the church in my name; and ye shall call upon the Father in my name that he will bless the church for my sake.
8 And how be it my church save it be called in my name? For if a church be called in Moses’ name then it be Moses’ church; or if it be called in the name of a man then it be the church of a man; but if it be called in my name then it is my church, if it so be that they are built upon my gospel.
This is no small adjustment, and will clearly take a concerted effort. It is no secret that the full name of the Church is a bit cumbersome. But honestly, of all the things the prophets have and will ask of us, how high does this rank on the difficulty scale? Can we support the Savior and his Prophet by sparing a few more syllables? I'm reminded of Naaman, the powerful but leprous Syrian commander who scoffed at the Prophet's invitation to be healed by bathing seven times in the Jordan. He almost forfeited the miracle, thinking the Prophet's approach and recommendation offensive and beneath him, until a faithful servant stepped in and asked, " if the prophet had bid thee do some great thing, wouldest thou not have done it?" Naaman reconsidered, washed, and was healed. (see 2 Kings 5)
I know from past experience that following the Prophet, no matter how trivial it may seem, yields blessings both personally and the Church as a whole. What blessings, even miracles, lay beyond this latest call to action?