Recently, President Nelson emphasized that we need to use the correct name of the Church. In his talk he says that if we use nicknames like Mormon, it is a major victory for Satan. When I served a mission, the Church was at the height of its “I’m a Mormon” campaign. I passed out a million pamphlets with the phrase “Mormon” on it. We directed investigators to mormon.org. How can the Church sponsor a program that is giving victories to the adversary? Is all policy inspired or correct?
I think your concern can be alleviated by careful consideration of what leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have taught and what they have not. In 2018, President Nelson encouraged the saints to use the proper name of the Church, and the Newsroom reaffirmed a list of approved abbreviations to use when writing about the Church. I took a look at the Internet Archive to compare it against previous versions, and found that as early as 2012 such names as “the Mormon Church” were discouraged, use of the full name was requested, and the only difference between approved alternatives is that “restored Church of Jesus Christ” is now called out as acceptable. How was the Church’s public relations department able to foresee this change 6 years in advance?
In 2011, launching the “I’m a Mormon” campaign you so faithfully participated in, Elder Ballard spoke of some of the nomenclature we would use in our outreach. “Our members have been called Mormons because we believe in the Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ.” He then explained why the Church was embracing the term for the campaign. “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.” Elder Ballard, and the Church leadership, supported the use of the term “Mormon” when describing the saints or historical groups and sites, such as the Mormon Battalion. But he drew a line. “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.'” This was not new instruction he was giving the Church. He references the First Presidency’s instruction in 1982, and cites the 2001 letter:
The use of the revealed name, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints …, is increasingly important in our responsibility to proclaim the name of the Savior throughout all the world. Accordingly, we ask that when we refer to the Church we use its full name wherever possible.
In the same talk that kicked off the “I’m a Mormon” campaign, Elder Ballard instructed that we would use the term “Mormon” to refer to Latter-day Saints, but we should use the full name of the restored Church of Jesus Christ. Even then, why would President Nelson speak out so strongly against using the term “Mormon”, converting the campaign into a victory for Satan (or at least half a victory since we’ve clarified that it was used for people, but not the institution of the Church)?
Here we look at what President Nelson said:
When it comes to nicknames of the Church, such as the “LDS Church,” the “Mormon Church,” or the “Church of the Latter-day Saints,” the most important thing in those names is the absence of the Savior’s name. To remove the Lord’s name from the Lord’s Church is a major victory for Satan. When we discard the Savior’s name, we are subtly disregarding all that Jesus Christ did for us—even His Atonement.
Satan’s victory is in removing the name of the Savior – specifically from the name of the Church. Reviewing what Elder Ballard taught, little wonder that President Nelson used such strong language. We were taught this in 2011! We were taught this in 2001! We were taught this in 1982! It’s been in our scriptures since the printing of the Doctrine and Covenants! If we’re still stuck in old habits it’s high time to repent.
What is new is what we call members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In the examples President Nelson uses, he offers a gentle correction for the term “Mormon” and embraces Latter-day Saint while clarifying what it means.
If someone should ask, “Are you a Mormon?” you could reply, “If you are asking if I am a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, yes, I am!”
If someone asks, “Are you a Latter-day Saint?” you might respond, “Yes, I am. I believe in Jesus Christ and am a member of His restored Church.”
In other words, we are discarding the name given to us by outsiders and embracing the name the Lord Himself accepted in revelation. The Newsroom’s style guide clarifies:
When referring to Church members, the terms “members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” “Latter-day Saints,” “members of the Church of Jesus Christ” and “members of the restored Church of Jesus Christ” are preferred. We ask that the term “Mormons” and “LDS” not be used.
This shift away from referring to Latter-day Saints as “Mormons” should be less jarring when we realize that former uses of the term was not “a victory for Satan”. Our living prophet did not condemn the Church’s previous marketing campaign. This looks to be one of those things the Lord winks at when we don’t know any better, but now that we do we move forward. And as our prophet has recently reminded us, “nothing is more liberating, more ennobling” than the change repentance brings.