Yes, Non-LDS Mormons Are Mormons

Last week saw another round of back and forth between the LDS Church’s public relations department and the Principle Voices Coalition, an inter-denominational group advocating the awareness and rights of “fundamentalist Mormons.” It should be noted that Principle Voices is made up of independent fundamentalists and has associations with the Apostolic United Brethren (the Allred organization), the Work of Jesus Christ (the Centennial Park organization), and the Davis County Cooperative Society (the Kingston organization), but has no ties with the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (the Colorado City/Hildale organization).

The LDS PR folks are again arguing that the word “Mormon” can only be properly applied to the LDS Church and its members, while Principle Voices maintains that the term applies to everyone whose faith derives from the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith.

The problem, according to the LDS Church, is confusion among the media and the general non-Mormon public. (An LDS-commissioned poll showed that more than a third of respondents believed that fundamentalists in Eldorado, Texas, were members of the LDS Church.) If we take the LDS PR folks at their word, they want to promote “accuracy and clarity in media reporting” and, at the same time, they do not wish “to diminish the religious prerogative of any of these polygamous groups.”

Knowing the goals allows us to evaluate the success of their PR strategy.

Among the goals, let’s consider the issue of disparaging the faith of others first. By consistently referring to the FLDS Church, the AUB, and other churches as “these polygamous groups” and by insisting these believers cannot call themselves fundamentalist Mormons, the PR folks seem to me to be failing at the goal of not diminishing the fundamentalists’ “religious prerogatives” right out of the gate. What prerogative is more central than one’s identity? The problem with refering to fundamentalist Mormons as “polygamists” are that not all fundamentalists practice polygamy (those who do not are technically not polygamists, even if they believe in the principle). Also, while the doctrine is the most salacious from a media standpoint, fundamentalists differ from the LDS Church on other major points of doctrine and they do not want to be known only for polygamy any more than any Mormons have ever wanted to be known only for polygamy.

What about the goal of accuracy? In their press release last Friday, the LDS PR folks have several arguments behind their assertion that fundamentalists cannot be called Mormons.

(1) Their first point is that LDS Church is bigger than any other faith group that reveres Joseph Smith as a prophet and therefore applying the word Mormon to anyone else stretches the term “out of proportion.” There is no question that the LDS Church is by far the biggest organization that resulted from Joseph’s 1830 Church of Christ. Does that matter? Let’s take the example of bananas. Everyone around the world is familiar with the bananas they buy in their grocery store. They are more or less all the same and, as a result, they are what “bananas” mean to the general public. It turns out that the familiar banana is only one particular variety of banana: specifically, the Cavendish banana. Cavendish bananas account for the overwhelming majority of bananas exported from the tropics because they have properties that allow them to travel well. However, just because 95%+ of all the bananas in the world are Cavendish, does this mean the other bananas are no longer bananas at all? Having one dominant (or even super-dominant) group within a category does not invalidate the identity of the minority groups within that category.

(2) The LDS PR folks point out that AP Stylebook says it’s wrong to refer to non-LDS members as Mormons. This AP guideline was most likely written to explain to writers that members of the Community of Christ do not refer to themselves as Mormons. (When the LDS Church practiced polygamy in the late 19th century, the term Mormon was reviled in America. Reorganized Latter Day Saints had no desire to be confused with LDS Mormons, and so they generally stopped applying the term Mormon to themselves and added the word “Reorganized” to the legal name of their church.) Now that fundamentalists have caught the media’s attention, this guideline will likely be corrected to point out that while members of the Community of Christ do not call themselves Mormons, members of the FLDS Church and others do. Until that time we can point out a number of other outside authorities that already apply the term Mormon to all the groups. For example, the Encyclopedia Britannica defines the term:

Mormon. Member of any of several denominations that trace their origins to a religion founded by Joseph Smith, Jr. (1805–1844), in the United States in 1830. The term Mormon, often used to refer to members of these churches, comes from the Book of Mormon, which was published by Smith in 1830.”

(3) The LDS PR folks next point out that the FLDS Church organization has changed its legal name several times. I find this argument bizarre. Again, it should be noted that the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is not related to Principle Voices, the advocacy group that the LDS PR department is explicitly responding to. Also, the FLDS Church does not have the word “Mormon” in its name any more than the LDS Church does. It could be mentioned that Joseph Smith’s organization changed its legal name twice from “Church of Christ” to “Church of the Latter Day Saints” to “Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.” It’s unclear to me what the legal name of the FLDS Church has to do with usage of the term Mormon.

(4) Finally, the PR folks make the analogies that Christians do not call themselves “reformed Jews” and Lutherans do not call themselves “Catholic fundamentalists.” In light of this, they assert:

It just doesn’t seem right that the FLDS can overturn more than a century and a half of common usage simply by virtue of the fact that it established itself a century and a half after the Mormon faith was born, and adopted many of its early principles. By declaring that any group professing Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon can rightly be called Mormon is akin to declaring that any Christian group that professes the Bible can rightly call itself Catholic.

Leaving aside the fact that the FLDS Church (admittedly under a different name) emerged as a distinct organization not more than 150 years after Mormonism was founded but less than 100 years after, the reality is that there have continuously been non-LDS Mormons since Brigham Young reorganized his First Presidency in 1847. Many of these, including the Strangite Mormons, have never rejected the term Mormon.

The offered analogies hold up no better than the PR folks’ history. Christians chose not to call themselves reformed Jews, but they surely would have been justified in doing so, had they wished to. Lutherans did not call themselves “Catholic fundamentalists,” but they did call themselves “Christians,” even though the term “Christian” in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages generally referred to baptized members of an organization whose nominal head was the Bishop of Rome. Although the terms “Catholic” and “Orthodox” are today applied to distinct successor organizations, they were originally applied as synonyms for the one holy, catholic, orthodox, Christian Church. People started calling Christians in communion with Rome “Catholics” (instead of simply “Christians”) in reaction to the fact that there began to be multiple Christian churches. In other words, this is a bad analogy. To make this analogy properly, one must argue that the only people who can legitimately call themselves “Christians” are the Catholics. (This last argument would also be supported by the size argument above.)

Since accuracy doesn’t seem to result from the PR folks’ current talking points, that leaves one stated goal left. Are the PR folks at least achieving their goal of avoiding confusion?

We have a scenario where fundamentalist Mormons are going to continue to call themselves “fundamentalist Mormons” every time they make the headlines. The LDS response is to reiterate the statement, “there is no such thing as a fundamentalist Mormon.” I can’t see how this is anything other than a recipe for confusion. The public at large will only ever be able to devote so much attention to Mormonism. How can we expect them to be anything other than confused?

If the LDS PR department is actually interested in its stated goals, a change of strategy is clearly in order. I suggest that they adopt the new talking point: “there’s more than one kind of Mormon.” This new talking point would avoid denigrating the faith of non-LDS Mormons. It is also manifestly accurate. Finally, I think it is a model that would be easy for the general publica to grasp and thus would avoid confusion. (The public understands there’s more than one kind of Muslim; why shouldn’t there be more than one kind of Mormon?)

The only reasons I can imagine that the LDS PR folks would not change its strategy are (1) they are incorrigibly incompetent at public relations, or (2) they have goals other than the ones they have stated.

Comments

  1. Jonathan Green says:

    And the Catholic church doesn’t mind at all when protestant churches call themselves, for example, Evangelical Catholic. Right? Right?

  2. John Hamer says:

    Jonathan (#1): As I explained above, the common term for the organization you are now calling the Catholic Church, prior to the schisms, was the Church or the Christian Church. “Catholic” became a consistently distinctive way to refer to the original Christian Church only after there were multiple Christian churches.

    The answer is: Yes, the one holy universal Christian Church that has been in continuous operation since the time of the New Testament does not apparently mind when the Eastern churches and Protestant churches call themselves Christians. It does not even mind being called the Catholic Church for the sake of clarity.

    Incidently, there are also Catholic churches that are not part of the Catholic church. For example, the Polish Catholic Church: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polish_Catholic_Church

  3. Steve Evans says:

    I support the LDS PR efforts in this regard, which I view as largely centered around disambiguation and not real hostility. But I see your points, John.

  4. I live in Kansas City. None of this is relevant to how non-members here (and the rest of the Bible belt) feel about us or any offshoot of us. Mention the name Joseph Smith and something will get burned in effigy.

    IMO, this whole to-do is a tempest in a teacup. Until the underlying yet very obvious hatred of who we are and what we believe is dismantled (or even mitigated), it’s all window dressing.

    Reality check: The hatred is not going to go away. Or mitigated.

    And frankly, I’m sick to death of the church trying to suck up to the media and the evangelicals–especially in all the most inefficient ways. We’re different, we’re weird, we believe kooky things. Own it and face them down. If you’re not going to do that, then know your enemy and figure out how to suck up on their terms.

    Or, oh, is this more evidence of the emasculation of the Mormon male?

    Take a clue from the Community of Christ. No one around here knows what their new name is and can’t remember it if they try. It’s RLDS. Always been RLDS. Always gonna be RLDS. The name change was seen as what it was: a suckup to the evangelicals and only provided more ammunition for pointing and mocking.

  5. Why exactly is the church of JESUS CHRIST bothered by others wanting to call themselves after a mere prophet, some guy named Mormon? Who really cares? Our focus, including in terms of names, should be solely on the Savior. Mormon has written a beautiful book, compiled amazing writings of prophets from his time, but, in the end, he is merely a prophet.

    In this question of identity, is there something more at work that would get our church leaders so riled up over such a small quibble?

  6. Mark B. says:

    I think you give the “public,” whoever they are, too much credit for being able to distinguish between different kinds of Mormons or Muslims or Catholics (try getting people to get their minds around Coptics and Maronites, for example). And throwing in “different kinds” allows for a whole host of unanswered questions.

    The fact is that the LDS church had the brand pretty much to itself for 150 years, and has spent piles of energy and money in trying to establish that brand–think of all those Homefront commercials, the BYU performing groups (from sports teams to dancers and musicians), the MoTabChoir, etc.

    So, you want to toss all those efforts, and all that expense, just because some others claim the title “Mormon?”

    Maybe it’ll take another 30 Years War to settle this one. But it seems unlikely that the Church will adopt your suggestion, John.

  7. Matt W. says:

    Wow, John, this stuff is good enough to be John Birche level conspiracy theory!

    Seriously, your last paragraph:

    The only reasons I can imagine that the LDS PR folks would not change its strategy are (1) they are incorrigibly incompetent at public relations, or (2) they have goals other than the ones they have stated.

    need only change lds pr folks to eisenhauer and it could be straight out of “the politician”.

  8. Steve Evans says:

    LOL Matt (#7), I was thinking along similar lines. Funny how the language of conspiracy theory arises.

  9. I don’t see what’s wrong with the term “Mormon” having multiple meanings. Take “Christianity” or “Christian.” These two terms are loaded with meanings that are not even a part of the original meaning, which is “follower of Christ.”

    I wouldn’t be too concerned about people getting confused for a brand such as “Mormon Tabernacle Choir.” People are going to see whatever they want to see on anything, and will add their flavor to an already rich word.

    Now, I would like to see the term “Mormon” be ascribed to better groups than the FLDS and other rather extremist groups, but alas, I don’t have much of a choice in the matter. I’ll just try to be the best “Mormon” I can be and when others look at my life and see that the label “Mormon” is attached to it, they would think better of the term because of how I exemplified my qualities.

  10. Mark IV says:

    But, Mark B., don’t you think it is funny that less than 10 years ago, Elder Oaks told us to STOP calling ourselves Mormons? I agree that we have built up the brand, but we have also been anxiously engaged in simultaneously devaluing it.

  11. Wm Morris says:

    “they are incorrigibly incompetent at public relations”

    I haven’t thought about this particular issue enough to have an informed, thought-out opinion on it, but I believe that the brand of public relations that the LDS PR folks have been practicing over the past two years has been excellent. Seriously top-notch. That doesn’t mean that they have accomplished all the goals that they, LDS Church leadership and/or Bloggernacle denizens thinks they have/should have.

    But I think some of the statements that the LDS Newsroom have posted in the past 18 months are some of the best examples of PR-type writing I have read.

  12. NorthboundZax says:

    Personally, I think that it comes more down to the goals than incompetence. In particular, the stated reason: “they do not wish to diminish the religious prerogative of any of these polygamous groups” seems disingenuous, and that the goal is very much to diminish their religious prerogatives. If I’m not mistaken, the temple recommend question about affiliating with apostates was a direct response to dealing with ‘these polygamous groups’.

    Of course, incompetence on the part of the PR department may be at play as well.

  13. StillConfused says:

    So the Church is all up in arms because Fundamentalist Mormons call themselves that and the Church is aggressively promoting the anti-gay-marriage in California. me thinks that there needs to be a little more Jesus in the Church of Jesus Christ…

  14. Steve Evans says:

    Wm, I couldn’t agree more with your #11. They’re good people, and I think they are good at what they’re asked to do.

  15. StillConfused says:

    #12 “If I’m not mistaken, the temple recommend question about affiliating with apostates was a direct response to dealing with ‘these polygamous groups’.” I thought it was to weed out lawyers…

  16. NorthboundZax says:

    “The fact is that the LDS church had the brand pretty much to itself for 150 years..”

    Mark B., John demonstrates pretty conclusively that this is not the case. Ownership of the term Mormon has not been a wholly owned subsidiary since 1844.

  17. It’s funny how “Mormon” used to be somehow offensive to us and now there’s groups of people fighting over who gets to be called by that name.

  18. I think Mark B’s concerns are very similar to why Christians object to Mormons laying claim to the term–they spend a lot of time and effort building “value” into the term, and then we come and try to co-opt it even though they’re not at all sure we’re “worthy” of the social status (such as it is) that goes with it.

    Also, I can’t help but notice that between this “Who’s a real Mormon?” brouhaha, the Peter Danzig affair, and our renewed entanglement in the California gay marriage debate–LDS PR seems to have become very ham-fisted ever since President Hinckley’s passing.

  19. John Hamer says:

    Re (#7-8): I’m not imagining a conspiracy. Why would there be a “conspiracy”? — we’re talking about a single organization and its talking points. By phrasing things as I did, I was merely trying to avoid judgement about motives behind those talking points.

    In other words, I’m completely open to the idea that the PR department is earnestly interested in fulfilling its stated goals. If so, my point is that I believe they are operating in a way that is counter productive to those goals.

  20. I think John’s correct. It seems obvious that one underlying goal (possibly the main goal) is neither accuracy nor clarification, but boundary maintenance and brand protection. This is not primarily intended to serve outside readers; its primary function is to serve the church itself.

    It’s not a bad thing to engage in brand protection. Lawyers do it all the time. It is disingenuous, though, to suggest that they’re only doing clarification-as-a-public-service. This is just plain vanilla brand protection, and it’s silly to pretend otherwise.

  21. Mark B. says:

    Zax

    My point wasn’t that there are other groups–JJStrang and Co.–who used the word “Mormon” to describe themselves. Rather, it’s just that almost nobody outside their neighborhoods had ever heard of them.

    Seriously, outside of this forum, where do you run into Strangite Mormons?

  22. Mark B. says:

    Too many negatives in that last post, and I left one out.

    Should read: My point wasn’t that there weren’t other groups . . .

  23. John Hamer says:

    Mark B. (#5) — It’s marvelous for a company when trademarked brand-names like “Kleenex” and “Band-Aid” enter the language (marvelous, that is, if they can keep hold of the trademark, which isn’t easy). Competitors are then stuck marketing kleenex under the category of “facial tissue” and band-aids under the category of “adhesive bandages.” But “Mormon,” like “soda-pop” rather than “Coca-Cola,” is an unregistered and unregisterable term. The corporation’s legal brand is “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”

    Meanwhile, Fundamentalist Mormons aren’t going away. Their numbers are growing. They aren’t going to be out of the news, because the US public has shown that it never gets bored of the topic of Mormon polygamy.

    Spent costs are spent. You’re arguing that the LDS Church is already spent a dime, so it might as well pony up a dollar more. But the operative aphorism here is: you should never throw good money after bad.

    So, the question is what to do going forward? I don’t expect the general public to understand that the nuances of the existence of Copts, Syriacs, and Chaldeans. Of course, that’s too much detail. But they can understand that there’s one kind of Mormon like Mitt Romney and those guys in suits on bikes and another kind of Mormon like those people in pioneer clothes in Texas or on “Big Love.”

  24. Minor point, but I hate to let it stand unchallenged. MoJo (4) is very, very wrong about non-awareness of the Community of Christ name. While including “RLDS” in the standard mantra “formerly-RLDS-now-Community-of-Christ,” an enormous share of the bloggernacle is careful to use the new name when CURRENT as opposed to historic matters are under discussion. If my ward is any indication, the real world membership of the church is also fairly well advised, on those few occasions when the CoC happens to come up. It has been a loooong time since I last heard the word “Reorganite” except when someone is being funny and using “Brighamite” for self reference, too.

    Can’t say the rest of the world is equally aware of the difference between LDS and fundamentalists of any stripe.

  25. I totally agree with John Hamer. It’s high time that we LDS folks recognize that our cousins in the Latter Day Saint movement exist, have some legitimate claim to parts of the same heritage that we also legitimately claim, and can call themselves Mormons if they want to. (Some of them don’t use the term, which is also their right.) Why should we bully them? In particular, why should we bully them about their attempt to use our brand name while simultaneously screaming and shouting at Protestant groups who don’t want to let us share the “Christian” brand name? Either we ought to agree not to call ourselves Christians or we ought to agree to let other folks call themselves Mormons; the mixed stance is inconsistent…

  26. Mark B. says:

    Actually, John, the comment I made wasn’t “my” argument–just one possibility for what the Church PR folks (and those who direct them) are thinking. I’m still trying to figure out what I think would be the best way to approach this issue.

    And, as to whether “Mormon” could be trademarked: the horse is way too far out of the barn now to ever get it back, but my brief encounters with trademark law suggest that the term could have been trademarked if Joseph had thought of back in 1835 or so. And, the fact that the legal name of the church is something else wouldn’t have stopped them from protecting the mark “Mormon”. If at that time it had referred to one specific church and wasn’t a generic term applied to all believers in the Book of Mormon.

    So how to protect the brand? add footnotes to all those references to Mormons?

    The Mormon /1 Tabernacle Choir

    /1 Not those FLDS folks

    T Shirts with “Mormon Helping Hands”. Add a line: “Not the Big Love folks. No way. No How!”

  27. StillConfused says:

    Mormon IS a registered trademark of Intellectual Property Reserve (the Church’s IP holding). You can see it at uspto dot gov trademark search. If it shows up, I have attached the information here. Of interest are the Goods and Services classes protected and how long it took from date of filing until it was published for opposition.

    Word Mark MORMON
    Goods and Services IC 041. US 100 101 107. G & S: Educational services, namely, providing classes, conferences, and institutes in the fields of history and religion. FIRST USE: 19200000. FIRST USE IN COMMERCE: 19200000

    IC 042. US 100 101. G & S: genealogy services. FIRST USE: 18330601. FIRST USE IN COMMERCE: 18330601
    Mark Drawing Code (1) TYPED DRAWING
    Serial Number 78977858
    Filing Date September 5, 2002
    Current Filing Basis 1A
    Original Filing Basis 1A
    Published for Opposition February 20, 2007
    Registration Number 3239919
    Registration Date May 8, 2007
    Owner (REGISTRANT) Intellectual Reserve, Inc. not-for-profit corporation UTAH 50 East North Temple Salt Lake City UTAH 84150
    Attorney of Record Michael F. Krieger
    Type of Mark SERVICE MARK
    Register PRINCIPAL-2(F)
    Live/Dead Indicator LIVE

  28. StillConfused, good pull. So, aside from educational domains, “Mormon” is up for grabs, right?

  29. Great post, John.

    I’m of the opinion that the Church’s PR people just can’t seem to get things straight these days. Just as Elder Ballard noted in “Sharing the Gospel Using the Internet” in this month’s Ensign, news gets reported instantaneously on the Internet these days. I’m guessing here because I work neither for the Church, nor in public relations, but I think that a lot of PR groups working for large multinational corporations and organizations are struggling to adapt to the rapid acceleration of news dissemination on the web, and the increasing number of outlets for common people to express their opinions on any given topic in online forums, blogs, etc. Just from personal observation, the Church and its PR people seem to be reacting more than being proactive, resulting in somewhat hasty pronouncements of position or policy without taking time to fully research the ramifications of those opinions or policies. Of course, the Church will vehemently deny this.

    John has pointed out some remarkably bad arguments the Church used to stake its exclusive claim on the title “Mormon”; it makes me wonder whether they stock their legal team and PR staff with yes-men and -women who don’t have the courage to call policy-makers out for weak arguments and positions.

  30. StillConfused says:

    #28 — Interesting. The PTO mantra is whether the use will cause confusion in the marketplace. Define marketplace and define confusion. These are very legalistic arguments and it is interesting that the Church is choosing to take that approach. Too many lawyers up at the Church Office Building if you ask me. (p.s. I have a free pass to make lawyer jokes as I am one)

  31. an enormous share of the bloggernacle is careful to use the new name when CURRENT as opposed to historic matters are under discussion.

    Ardis, with all due respect, I wasn’t considering the bloggernacle in any of my remarks. I am considering the general non-member population of the Jackson/Clay/Platte County, Missouri area, where I live and interact and mingle with other people of mostly (rabid) evangelical leanings with a few Catholics thrown in for good measure.

    I already know what the bloggernacle thinks and what the bloggernacle thinks is irrelevant. The marketing is aimed at non-members and certainly not to the closed society of the bloggernacle.

  32. John Hamer says:

    StillConfused (#27): Good point. Now that I’m looking at the law on this, I used the wrong terminology in my response (#23). Rather than an “unregistered brand,” the word Mormon seems to be a “genericized” or “diluted” trademark (like “asperin” in the US).

  33. As long as we are speculating here, how about a sincere belief that confusion over the term “Mormon” and the incorrect assumption that current polygamists are “Mormons” in the classic sense (LDS members) will keep many people from listening to the message we teach – thus lessening the likelihood that they will accept the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ – thus weakening the Church’s ability to provide a way to exaltation to millions . . .?

    If that is reality, the effort is worth it; if not, it’s not.

  34. Mark B. says:

    Kudos to StillConfused for taking the time to go to the PTO site and find that.

    Actually, I don’t find the time between filing and publication nearly as surprising as the allegation of first use in commerce: June 1, 1833. Was the Church really using the term back then?

    And, frankly, I’m surprised that some of the other BoM believing groups didn’t fight the registration–or, if they did fight it, that they lost.

    The five year gap between filing and publication suggests that the PTO had some problems with the proposed registration. Why they resolved them in favor of the applicant is a mystery.

  35. Aaron Brown says:

    Several years back I was assigned to hometeach a new convert I’ll call Brian. A couple months after his baptism, he stopped coming to church regularly, and it was difficult to find a time when he was available to be hometaught. My companion and I finally were able to set up a visit with him at his home. We had a long chat, I could tell something about his church experience was bothering him that he wanted to share, and yet he was very hesitant to do so. Finally, he let it out: He had been watching news coverage of the “mormons” and their weird polygamist practices, and the alleged underage sexual activity that was going on in the “mormon” community, and it really freaked him out. He seriously wondered what kind of nutty organization he had gotten baptized into! I didn’t see the broadcast, obviously, so I don’t know if the newscaster said “Mormon” or “Fundamentalist Mormon”, and he may well have misunderstood what he heard anyway. But the fact remains that this gentleman was seriously on his way out of the church altogether because of what he wrongly thought he’d learned about his new church from the news media.

    I am sympathetic to the argument that other post-Restoration movements should be able to call themselves whatever they want, and I often see these sorts of definitional squabbles as semantic and unimportant. But at the same time, I do see value in the Church’s drive to differentiate itself from other “Mormon” churches. Whatever the similarities in belief, and granted the common origins, there are also significant differences in belief and practice that matter hugely to investigators and new converts (duh). I doubt my hometeachee’s experience is unique, and it’s this very sort of problem that may be motivating the LDS Church in its concerns.

    AB

  36. Aaron Brown says:

    I guess there was no point in calling him “Brian,” since I never used his name again. Oh well.

    AB

  37. A proposed ad campaign:

    “There is more than one kind of Mormon…



    And we’re the Mormons that ROCK!”

    Then insert the “Soldier of Love” video

  38. John Hamer says:

    Aaron (#35-36) and Ray (#33): I think the LDS Church has every right to emphasize the distinctions between itself and other organizations. In fact, I fully support the stated goals I identified from the press release, i.e.: (1) avoiding confusion, (2) being accurate, and (3) avoiding denegrating the faiths of others. Like Steve (#3), I imagine that the first of those goals is the most important to the institution because of the underlying fourth goal you both mention: bringing souls to Christ through the medium of the LDS Church.

    My point in this post is that I think the current PR strategy does not and will not achieve the three stated goals. If confusion undermines the fourth, then that goal will continue to be undermined until a more effective PR strategy is implemented.

  39. Last Lemming says:

    If our goal is to ensure that the press never refer to polygamist groups as any kind of “Mormon,” the battle is already lost. And it just makes us look silly when we are insisting on the right to be called “Christian.” Here’s a battle we could win.

    According to chompchomp.com

    A proper noun has two distinctive features: 1) it will name a specific [usually a one-of-a-kind] item, and 2) it will begin with a capital letter no matter where it occurs in a sentence.

    In the phrase “fundamentalist Mormon,” the term “Mormon” does not refer to a specific one-of-a-kind item, and is therefore not a proper noun and should not be capitalized.

    So instead of insisting that term “Mormon” be reserved for the LDS church, the PR folks should insist that the capitalized word should should be reserved for the LDS church and the uncapitalized version should be used whenever a different group is being referred to. This is a subtle distinction, but it is a winnable fight. (I would be happy with being called a lower-case christian, too if it would not be interpreted as blasphemous.)

  40. Steve Evans says:

    LL, you are citing chompchomp?! Next we’ll start citing icanhascheezburger.

  41. Mark B. says:

    Aaron’s (abbreviated) Life of Brian® brings up another concern:

    I was shocked! SHOCKED!! several years back to discover that there are other churches, outside the Joseph Smith–Book of Mormon–restoration traditions which refer to themselves as “Restorationist”. The churches of Christ, the Disciples of Christ and the Christian Church (all of which sprung, more or less, from the Alexander Campbell/Barton Stone school of “restoring” Christianity to its ancient form) claim to be part of the Restoration tradition. Having heard arguments years ago about the difference between “reformation” and “restoration” and why a restoration was necessary and why we LDS were the only folks who could claim a restoration, and never having heard others claim to be part of a restoration, I was surprised.

    Anyway, when are the SLC PR folks going to wake up to this threat?

  42. Aaron, I sympathize with your concerns about “Brian.” That said, there just have to be ways of dealing with such problems without throwing our more marginalized fellow Latter Day Saints to the proverbial wolves.

  43. Kevin Barney says:

    I support the goals of avoiding confusion between the mainstream and the fundamentalists. But trying to nix the very useful expression fundamentalist Mormons is the wrong way to do it. I agree with John, and I always have. I never agreed with GBH’s attempts to say that there is no such thing as a fundamentalist Mormon. To the contrary, using the modifier is actually the way to make the distinction, and since fundamentalists aren’t bothered by the modifier, to me the way to go.

  44. cahkaylahlee says:

    First time posting here :)

    I frequently hang out at my friend’s lab at my university. I know most of his lab mates pretty well and the group of us often have great discussions about news, politics, religion, etc. I’m the only Church member in the group and everyone else knows I’m “mormon.” Once when we were out to lunch, my friend mentioned that he was discussing the whole FLDS thing with another girl that works in the lab. She asked if he knew what type of mormon I was. His answer: “Plain vanilla, I think.”

    I really liked how his answer showed that 1) he had a sense that there was a mainstream type of mormonism and 2) there are groups that have related beliefs that non-members naturally group with the word “mormon”. To me, the term “mormon” can be either generic or specific. The word “mormon” is generic when it is referring to people of any faith in the Latter Day Saint movement and specific when it contextually refers to people who are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. The key point here is that the meaning depends on the context of the discussion. This makes disambiguation very important when communicating with a large audience.

    I think most people are familiar with the idea that there are splinter groups of (all?) major religious movements. I would like to believe that more people are aware that these groups can have very different views than the mainstream followers of the faith (e.g. most Muslims are not “extreme”), but I can’t really say that right now.

  45. Here’s to many more comments by cahkaylahlee!

  46. I think #26 and #35 are both right, plus the statement in the intro saying the Church has goals other than those posted (ulterior motives). Using their own logic, it’s hypocrisy to deny others our label while wanting to have a label others would deny us (#26). Very good argument.

    But as suggested in the example of a disaffected new member, the Church clearly has in-house reasons for what they do. This is all part of Correlation.

  47. Steve Evans says:

    Hear, hear. Welcome cahkaylahlee.

  48. I will share what I told my wife last night while discussing this topic: the Church’s problem is not that non-Mormons confuse the LDS church with the FDLS-style splinter groups, it’s that too many people confuse the “Mormons” with the Amish, or the Jehovah’s Witnesses. It’s supremely ironic that a Church famous for sending legions of young men all over the world to proselytize also has a reputation for being insular & secretive. IMHO, the LDS church should spend less time & money arguing over who is a Mormon, and more effort in combating the idea that Mormons live in “Footloose”-style towns where dancing is forbidden and enjoy Templar-style rituals in their secret Temples!

    I guess my point is that those misunderstandings don’t come only from confusion with the polygamist groups, they’re indicative of a larger problem with the Church’s image.

  49. StillConfused says:

    I have been Mormon my whole life but was raised in a Southern Baptist community. When I first learned I was moving to Utah, I was afraid that everyone here would be dressed like the Amish. And this from an “insider.”

  50. Would you all accept the term, “fundamentalist evangelical”?

    But then it really gets fun when fundamentalist evangelicals, and fundamentalist Mormons, and fundamentalist Muslims all get lumped together by the media.

    I love media. They are very sincere at all times, aren’t they?

    Good thing for independent blogs.

  51. hawkgrrrl says:

    The real problem is the lack of fact-checking and accuracy in the media. It seems to me that the word “Mormon” isn’t misapplied as much as the word “journalist.”

  52. Anybody else think that this whole PR campaign got started as the reality hit the church in the unfolding and then collapse of the Romney campaign that there is still a lot of misinformation out there? Add to that the FLDS being splashed all over the internet and evening news, and suddenly the church may have decided that they still have a lot of work to do.

    A corollary is what is happening in the battle for Latino voters in the current presidential campaign. Latinos, according to NPR the last couple of days, are way more likely to believe that Obama is a Muslim, even in spite of all his efforts and the whole Reverend Wright debacle.

    Just when we think we’re finally getting known for who we really are, reality steps us and slaps us in the face with a dead fish called Mormon Fundamentalist. Even if the church loses the exclusive rights to the name Mormon, they may be able to bring us into a sharper definition for the masses. While I understand what Principle Voices is getting at, I still am supportive of the church’s efforts in this regard. I liked the concept of Mormon (us, with a capital letter) and mormon (for all those less fortunate wannabes). *** tongue firmly in cheek***

  53. One more point:

    When the FLDS story was being reported around the world, most of the headlines I saw trumpeted them as “Mormons” – not “fundamentalist Mormons” or “polygamist Mormons” or any other qualifier-led Mormons. It was just Mormons. Many of the stories included a disclaimer right near the end, but everyone got the “Mormons” headline even if they didn’t read the full articles.

    Lazy journalism, yes; damaging to the Church’s efforts to be known positively world-wide, you bet. Worth addressing, probably; worth spending lots of time and energy addressing, perhaps not.

    Frankly, I am sympathetic to both sides on this one, but I agree with Banky that our bigger issue is the confusion of us with “non-mainstream” groups. (It’s so hard to use a proper qualifier that I prefer no qualifiers at all, but that just ain’t our world.) I wish we focused almost entirely on what we are rather than what we are not, but almost any time you define who you are it requires a juxtaposition against what you are not.

  54. JNS #42

    “our more marginalized fellow Latter Day Saints”

    You make it sound like there is no difference between us except for a preference for home made clothes. I don’t consider Ervil LeBaron, Warren Jeffs or most residents of Colorado City as fellow Mormons from another ward.

    Fellow children of God? Certainly. Fellow citizens of the US with all of the rights that I have? No question. My fellow LDS? Count me out.

  55. Eric Russell says:

    If the KKK decided that they were somehow cool with parts of the Book of Mormon, would we be so eager to include them under the ‘Mormon’ label? I don’t think I need to take a poll on that.

  56. Steve Evans says:

    Eric, I think you do!

  57. Why don’t we just give up and start trying to rehabilitate the image of polygamy.

    Less work that way.

  58. Every Evangelical Christian You've Ever Met says:

    You make it sound like there is no difference between us except for a preference for food storage. I don’t consider Joseph Smith, Brigham Young or most believers in extrabiblical scripture as fellow Christians from another denomination.

    Fellow children of God? Certainly. Fellow citizens of the US with all of the rights that I have? No question. My fellow Christians? Count me out.

  59. The concerns over gentile confusion are well placed. Earlier this year my students asked me if the people in Texas were “my people.” They weren’t picking a fight, just genuinely confused. That said, it’s pretty disingenuous to wring our hands over not being called Christians whilst simultaneously doing everything in our power to cut off non-LDS mormons from the appelation “Mormon.”

  60. John Hamer says:

    Eric Russell (#55): Wow, that’s a terrible analogy!

    Seth R (#57): I think that’s a fantastic idea.

  61. All this talk about branding and identity reminds me of an old Emo Philips routine:

    I was walking across a bridge one day, and I saw a man standing on the edge, about to jump off. So I ran over and said “Stop! don’t do it!” “Why shouldn’t I?” he said. I said, “Well, there’s so much to live for!” He said, “Like what?” I said, “Well…are you religious or atheist?” He said, “Religious.” I said, “Me too! Are you christian or buddhist?” He said, “Christian.” I said, “Me too! Are you catholic or protestant?” He said, “Protestant.” I said, “Me too! Are you episcopalian or baptist?” He said, “Baptist!” I said, “Wow! Me too! Are you baptist church of god or baptist church of the lord?” He said, “Baptist church of god!” I said, “Me too! Are you original baptist church of god, or are you reformed baptist church of god?” He said,”Reformed Baptist church of god!” I said, “Me too! Are you reformed baptist church of god, reformation of 1879, or reformed baptist church of god, reformation of 1915?” He said, “Reformed baptist church of god, reformation of 1915!” I said, “Die, heretic scum”, and pushed him off.

    I think that clearly the Church is only concerned about its brand/identity as a means to ensure heretics can be easily identified. Which is why Christians fight so hard to keep the LDS from using the term. They view us as heretics.

  62. And another Emo joke just for fun:

    A Mormon told me that they don’t drink coffee. I said, “A cup of coffee every day gives you wonderful benefits.”

    He said, “Like what?”

    I said, “Well, it keeps you from being Mormon …”

  63. Eric Russell says:

    It’s not at all disingenuous, Brad, as much as everyone likes to say it is. It’s a different situation on a couple of fronts.

    First, the church is just trying to preserve the status quo definitions. In the cases of both ‘Christian’ and ‘Mormon’ the church is trying to prevent relatively small groups of people from hijacking the language away from what the words currently mean. If the church were actually trying to change the current definition of ‘Christian’ we would have an analogous situation.

    Moreover, the two descriptors are different categories of words. If ‘Christian’ referred to a specific denomination we would have an analogous situation. Or if there were multiple established religions that all were known to consider themselves ‘Mormon’ and the fundamentalists were just one of many, we may again have an analogous situation. But we don’t.

  64. Steve Evans says:

    I tend to agree with Eric on this one; I don’t think the comparisons are entirely bulletproof. I do think they are comparable in terms of approaches to branding on a general level, but I don’t think it’s necessarily inconsistent or disingenuous for the LDS Church to want to be called Christian while at the same time staking a claim for all legitimate use of the word ‘Mormon.’

  65. Steve Evans says:

    …just in case Eric was feeling insecure and wanted backup.

  66. Eric, you’re simply wrong that the church is maintaining a status quo. When the church says this is the case, the PR department is engaging in a pure and unmitigated power play, and a manipulation of facts on the ground. Fundamentalist Mormons have been called Mormons for a really long time now. They aren’t trying to prevent us from calling ourselves Mormons — just trying to point out the obvious fact that polygamy and Mormonism aren’t mutually contradictory!

    There are multiple denominations that are Mormon, many of which are as old as the Brighamite version of the church itself. It’s just a pure power game to claim the title for the biggest and richest of the lot. Just like it’s a pure power game for other Christian churches to claim that Mormons can’t be Christian. I really don’t think there’s a distinction here that comes down to anything other than “it’s so because I want it to be so.”

  67. Steve Evans says:

    Nevermind. You’re on your own, Russell!

  68. I used to work in the Washington D.C. area on Capitol Hill.

    One thing I was stunned to learn (having grown up in the Rocky Mountains) was how little was known of the LDS church by most government officials and, even, regular people.

    The vast majority of folks knew that the word Mormon referred to a church. But, an enormous number thought of us as a small, odd sect like the Amish.

    I had a White House official ask me what kind of dress we wore at home. I was confused. She thought our women wore long pioneer dresses. And, she thought we still actively practiced polygamy. This was one of the top 30-40 people in the Clinton Administration.

    I once had a conversation with a husband and wife we got to know quite well. He was the CFO for a major U.S. airline. His wife was highly suspicious of what happened in the D.C. temple. I finally extracted that she thought it was where the polygamist wives were kept.

    Sad to say that most Americans really don’t have a very well defined image of us or the Church. Instead, they have a few distorted pieces that are often a bit bizarre.

    I suspect it is even worse on the international level.

    The LDS Church faces a huge burden in trying to establish an international image that is consistent with the reality of who we are.

    Unfortunately, incidents like the FLDS bit, the infamous Mormon missionary calendar, etc. do great damage. We are, to reverse President Hinckley’s statement, considered “weird”.

    My own, somewhat cynical belief is that the only way of really confronting these impressions are by individual contacts with people who get to know you and your family.

  69. I found it interesting when visiting the Kirtland Temple a couple of years ago (I did grow up nearby, so I’ve been there 20-30 times over the years) that the tour guides now consistently refer to us as “The Brigham Young Faction”. We’ve not even “Mormon”, because they consider us all Mormons. The more technically-minded of the RLDS/CoC refer to us as all “restorative religions”, with Mormons as a shorthand for all of us.

    Can’t we all just get along?

  70. It just doesn’t seem right that the LDS Church can overturn more than a millennium and a half of common usage simply by virtue of the fact that it established itself a millenium and a half after the Christian faith was born, and adopted many of its early principles. By declaring that any group professing Jesus Christ and the Bible can rightly be called Christian is akin to declaring that any music group that professes the Bono can rightly call itself U2.

  71. whoops. sorry about the bold.

  72. Jonathan Green says:

    Here’s the link I had in mind: “Church Targets ‘Fake’ Catholics: String Of Atlanta Churches Falsely Claim Roman Catholic Ties” It’s not exactly what I was thinking of, but close enough.

    Think of the Dixiecrats, who split with the Democratic party and nominated their own presidential candidate in 1948 because the Democrats were abandoning segregation. The Dixiecrats were within their rights to do so, but it would be foolish to call Strom Thurmond the 1948 Democratic nominee. People who leave the party don’t get to decide how the media use the familiar name.

    Saying that it’s all a power play is, of course, vacuous. Every definition is a power play. The press release is a power play. John Hamer’s post is a power play. My comment is a power play. So what? It’s in the church’s own interest not to let its most common name become associated with rejecting all contact with the world and abusive polygamy that were false caricatures of the church even in the 19th century. Why shouldn’t the church pursue its own best interests?

  73. Jonathan Green says:
  74. Jonathan Green says:

    Is it only comments with links in them that aren’t making it through your filter at the moment?

  75. Jonathan Green says:

    Answer: Yes. If you rescue the first of my filtered comments from your spam filter, you can remove these two that made it through if you want.

  76. John H,

    Not sure what difference this might make, but here in Europe awareness of Mormonism is so dim and so connected to polygamy (where it exists at all), that I wonder whether Pierre Public is capable of making the kind of LDS-Mormon/Fundamentalist-Mormon differentiation you feel is suited to the USA. Perhaps the church has an eye on public perception outside of the USA?

  77. Ronan, interesting point! Do you think that people in Europe will pay attention to press-release debates over proper definitions, or is there some other strategy that might be better suited to those purposes?

  78. Steve Evans says:

    J.G., our spam filter automatically picks up comments with too many links. I’ll find em.

  79. JNS,
    The church needs to consistently lobby the European media to report accurately whilst at the same time lay proud claim to “Mormon.” [Insert Wilfried’s lament about the uselessness of “LDS” etc. in public church efforts.]

  80. John Hamer says:

    Ronan (#76): The poll the LDS Church commissioned only had 1,000 respondents. I presume this was a US only poll, commissioned in reaction to the concern that the Eldorado, Texas, raids were dominating the US 24-hour cable news networks. Did the raids make headlines in Europe?

    Are these press releases being translated into Portuguese or German? If so, that would indicate that the PR department is considering the public outside the US. If they are just issued in English (or just English and Spanish), that would imply to me that they are primarily concerned with the public inside the US.

  81. John H., the Spanish-language church websites don’t even have a newsroom — although some country-specific sites have a link to the English-language newsroom. If this is oriented at Latin America, at least, it’s singularly inept.

  82. JH,
    True enough.

  83. I really like John’s “banana” metaphor. Extending the metaphor a bit…

    The SLC-based LDS Church is clearly the “big banana,” or “first banana.”

    But which denomination holds claim to the coveted “second banana” slot?

  84. If the goal of the PR Dept. is to build a bigger wall around the Church, then this idea of “Brand name” is a good one.
    Me..I was born a ‘Bob’, it has never bothered me that some others also go by that name, or somehow I am weakened by others using it.

  85. Equality says:

    I highly recommend the book “The Scattering of the Saints,” which describes many of the various sects of Mormondom that have existed since the time of Joseph Smith. I think it would be hard to argue with John Hamer’s point that the word “Mormon” is properly used as a descriptor for many groups other than the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints headquartered in Salt Lake City. It’s a great book, really. And the editor pretty much rocks, too.

  86. I am proud to announce the new BCC styleguide for referring to several religious denominations:

    1) Fundamentalist Mormons -> Fakey McCult
    2) Community of Christ -> Apostate Endowment Haters
    3) Strangite Mormons -> Rajah Manchouites
    4) Recovery from Mormonism -> Grumpy McExCult
    5) Evangelical Antimormons -> Grouchy McAntiCult
    6) LDS Church -> Corporation of the President of the Church of a Different Jesus of Latter-day So-Called Saints
    7) Protestants -> Lapsed Catholics
    8 ) Catholics -> Lapsed Jews

  87. Holden Caulfield says:

    In a February, 2001 interview with NY Times, Dallin Oaks said “I don’t mind being called a Mormon, but I don’t want it said that I belong to the Mormon church.”

    This latest “no we’re the Mormon church” has got me confused…..

  88. hawkgrrrl says:

    JNS for President! You rock!!

  89. #86 – Brilliant. Simply brilliant.

  90. Mark IV says:

    9)Jews -> Fellow Tribesmen

  91. I wonder what Brigham Young and John Taylor would say about all our efforts to keep LDS Mormons from being identified with polygamists.

  92. #91 – I’m 100% sure they would approve.

  93. Eric Russell says:

    JNS, it appears as if my comment was also moded for the links, but I pointed to various online dictionaries that defined ‘Mormon’ as ‘member of the LDS church.’ Whether or not various groups have called themselves ‘Mormon’ is irrelevant. The church isn’t the one trying to change the current definition of the word. It is an extraordinarily uncharitable interpretation to suggest that the church uses some kind of ‘power play’ to get things their way.

  94. Eric, come on. Really? Online dictionaries are going to solve the usage question? We can find tens of thousands of usages of “Fundamentalist Mormon” over the last few decades. You’re just off target on this one, I’m afraid. While I appreciate your desire to see the best in the church on this point, it just doesn’t correspond with reality; the church PR effort is trampling on socially marginal actors for its own ends in this case. It’s not something I’m proud of.

  95. Steve Evans says:

    JNS, I disagree with the characterization. “Trampling”?? Come on, man.

  96. Steve, what would you call it? We’re talking about people who are literally among the “least of these our brethren.”

  97. …I mean, in the sense of mortal perception. Obviously, all souls are equally valuable in the sight of God, etc.

  98. Eric Russell says:

    JNS, we seem to be talking past each other. I realize that the term has indeed been used by some people in the past.

    Kids on the street will use the word x to express y, while the general population understands x to mean z. But you can’t print x in a newspaper and think that the general population is going to understand y. Rather, they’re going to think z. If they don’t know what x means, they’re going to look it up in a dictionary, where it says, ‘z’.

    Changing x to be understood as “y in some cases and z in some cases” requires an active movement to change the generally understood meaning of the word.

    The church is simply trying to prevent that change from occurring. You can disagree with the church for trying to do so, but the position isn’t internally inconsistent, disingenuous or hypocritical.

  99. Aaron Brown says:

    JNS, your style guide is deficient in some pretty obvious ways. At a minimum, you ought to give the various cliques within LDS Mormonism their own referents. A Neo-Orthodox Mormon (McConkieite variety) wouldn’t want to be confused with a Neo-Orthodox Mormon (Nibleyesque sub-group) anymore than a traditional Iron Rodder would want to be associated with a Liahona/Signaturi. Please respect the identities of all post-Restoration factions.

    AB

  100. #98: Check with someone who studies language: spoken trumps written.

  101. I still think the “are-Mormons-Christians” example fits this situation best. Christians place the New Testament among their most sacred texts, and revere Christ as the central figure of their faith. Mormons likewise place the NT among their most sacred texts, and revere Christ as the central figure of their faith. The fact that they *also* make use of sacred texts that fall outside mainstream Christianity and believe in a series of post-NT prophets does not mean mainstream Christians can or should deny them the use of the identifier “Christian.”

    Meanwhile, the LDS church places the BoM among their most sacred texts, and bases their worship on the teachings of Joseph Smith. The FDLS church likewise places the BoM among their most sacred texts, and bases their worship on the teachings of Joseph Smith. The fact that they *also* make use of teachings that fall outside mainstream Mormonism and believe in an alternate series of post-Restoration prophets does not mean mainstream Mormons can or should deny them the use of the identifier “Mormon.”

    (I am resisting the temptation to revise my post to use J. Nelson-Seawright’s marvelous new terminology. Which, I believe, defines me as a Lapsed Lapsed Catholic (a Lapsed2 Catholic?).

  102. Also, I think Eric is being somewhat disingenuous with the statement “I realize that the term has indeed been used by some people in the past.” Outside the LDS church, I don’t believe *any* other term has been commonly used to describe the Fundamentalist communities besides “Mormon.” If the LDS hierarchy is concerned with the potential for confusion, they can a) be vigilant in encouraging news media to always note the splintered nature of the FLDS-style groups, and/or b) work harder to change the public perception of mainstream Mormons as possible secret polygamists. I strongly reject the idea that they should c) engage in a crusade to erase from the language any hint that the Fundamentalists share a common origin with the LDS church, when in fact the FDLS asserts a primacy with regards to their doctrines.

  103. #86–you are clearly aligning all anti- or quasi-or wannabe Mormons with John McCain (i.e: Mc-whatever). Meaning you want Mitt Romney to become the VP nominee in order to restore some balance. Clever subliminal work. But we BYU folks see through it.

  104. What Banky said.

  105. hawkgrrrl says:

    The Fundies are going to become a bigger force to reckon with in the fight for the name. They are better baby-makers than we are.

  106. It would help if mainstream LDS folks would stop marrying extra people, confusing the neighbors, and embarrassing the church they’re ditching. It happens just often enough to mess with the entire PR strategy royally.

  107. Aaron Brown says:

    I once read in some anti-Mormon literature that the word “Mormon” is uncannily similar to “Mormad”, who was apparently some sort of ancient Satanic deity. Coincidence? The author thought not. So it’s clear to me we should just disassociate ourselves from the word entirely. Besides, “The Tabernacle Choir of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” flows off the tongue better anyway.

    AB

  108. Mark IV says:

    Since we are the only true church, I think we deserve a copyright on the word church.

    I pretty much agree with John H. While I understand the church feels an urgent need to make some differences clear in the public mind, I’m not convinced this is a good way to do it.

    There are all kinds of Jews in the world. Orthodox Jews, observant jews, Conservative Jews, Reform Jews, Sephardic Jews, Ashkenazi Jews, Zionist Jews, and so on. Despite their differences, they somehow manage to get along.

  109. Left Field says:

    I think this whole problem stems from the church’s frustration regarding the seeming inability of the public (including lots of people who should know better) to grasp a few simple and straightforward concepts:

    Namely, that the mainstream Mormon Church (that is, the church with the gray temple in Salt Lake and the white one by the beltway, the famous choir, the big university in Provo, the suited cyclists, the dude who ran for president, a guy who hit 573 major league home runs, the Osmonds, and almost certainly every Mormon you ever met)– yes that Mormon Church–

    1. no longer permits its members to have more than one living spouse. That’s been the case for a hundred or so years, so it shouldn’t exactly be news.

    2. aside from the obvious historical connection, has no formal or informal connection with any polygamist group. We don’t get together for an occasional friendly softball game. We have no influence over each others’ beliefs or practices. We don’t (as we do with say, the Community of Christ) occasionally discuss matters of mutual interest. Like the two Chinas, we barely recognize each others’ existence, we don’t recognize each others’ legitimacy, and we get a little testy when people get us confused. When there are human rights problems on the mainland, complaints are sent to Beijing, not Taipei.

    3. due to the common historical background, shares some beliefs and practices with polygamist groups, but is also distinct from them in many important and obvious ways. Ok, we might be weird, but we’re not that weird.

    The United States gave up prohibition more recently that the LDS Church gave up polygamy. Yes, the prohibition ammandment is still in the constitution, and the constitution still validly protects local dry laws. Yes, we still have polygamy in the Doctrine and Covenants, and we still seal widowers when they remarry. There are still some some dry localities in the US. There are still some people that practice polygamy. But prohibition is not something foreigners associate with the United States. Why is polygamy still so closely associated with Mormonism? It isn’t a hard concept to understand that you can now get alcoholic beverages almost anywhere in the U.S. Even in Utah. Why is a good portion of the public seemingly unable to grasp the three concepts listed above?

    Over the years, the church has tried various tactics to try to address the problem. We’ve tried explaining. We’ve tried clamming up about polygamy altogether. Nothing works. What the church has done in the past hasn’t worked. What the church is doing now isn’t working. Is it hopeless? Perhaps we should just go about our business and not care. But points 1, 2, and 3 aren’t that difficult. Really. Can we be blamed for getting a little cranky and frustrated about the problem?

  110. My sentiments exactly, LF.

  111. John Hamer says:

    LF (#109): The point of my post is not whether LDS members have a legitimate cause to be cranky. My question is what to do about the situation.

    When I talk about non-LDS Mormons, I’m not just including fundamentalist Mormons, I’m also talking about Midwestern Mormons — the Prairie Saints of the Community of Christ and the other Latter Day Saint tradition churches. They are a kind of Mormon too, even if some of them reject the term so as not to be misconstrued with the LDS Church and other Brighamite Mormons. (As Holden Caulfield briefly mentioned in #87, LDS Mormons haven’t always embraced the application of the term “Mormon” to themselves either.)

    If you think you’re frustrated, think of what it’s like to be a member of the Church of Jesus Christ (Monongahela, Pennsylvania) that traces its line back to 1830 through Sidney Rigdon’s leadership. For them, their church is the Church. It’s the one and only true church. It’s their mission to spread the restored gospel to all the earth and to share their testimonies of the Book of Mormon. And yet the first question out of the mouths of every potential investigator is: “If you believe in the Book of Mormon, why aren’t you a member of the Mormon Church?”

    They are justifiably frustrated, and so are you and so are the fundamentalist Mormons. My question is not whether it’s frustrating. My questions are: (1) what are the goals? and (2) what is the most effective way to achieve those goals?

    If the goal is simply to wallow in frustration, that’s fine. (If so, however, that goal does undercut the justification for the frustration from the perspective of outsiders.)

  112. #109: “Can we be blamed for getting a little cranky and frustrated about the problem?”
    Yes. These kinds of mistakes happen 100s of times a day. 1/3 of the country still think Iraq blombed New York.(?) Plus terms like FLDS are used mostly by the Church itself!
    I would think the FLDS would get a little “cranky” about being called “Fundie” by the other Mormons.

  113. #112 Blombed…Blog…Freud..sorry.

  114. Left Field says:

    John, I agree completely with every word in #111. In fact, it’s almost exactly what I was trying to say in #109, though perhaps the focus of my comments got a little derailed by my choice of a closing sentence.

    I don’t really know what can be done about the problem, aside from my suggestion that we don’t care. The church took a lot of flack for trying to sweep polygamy under the rug. Now the church is taking a lot of flack for addressing polygamy directly. Neither approach seems to be effective. In a hypothetical world where my points 1-3 were widely understood by the public, I think the church would be more relaxed about the whole subject. It does seem that everything that the church has tried has been directed to either trying to dispel the common misperceptions, or alternatively to avoid contributing to them.

    I think perhaps the problem is that the public just doesn’t think about Mormons often enough for them to bother with having an informed opinion about distinctions that are vital to us. Most of us probably don’t think enough about Islam to fully grok the difference between Sunni and Shia. We probably overestimate the extent to which the public thinks about us at all.

  115. Holden Caulfield says:

    Re: Left Field

    You mean SLC isn’t the center of the know universe?

    13 million (only 7 million active) out of 6.7 billion. Is SLC the center of anything?

    LF is right. We take ourselves much more seriously than does the rest of the world.

  116. Steve Evans says:

    “We take ourselves much more seriously than does the rest of the world.”

    This, coming from Holden Caulfield?

  117. MikeInWeHo says:

    re: 108 “Despite their differences, they somehow manage to get along….”

    Living near a huge Jewish population, I must respectfully disagree. The question “Who’s really a Jew?” is alive and well in Israel and other Jewish communities. (So this thread can continue for a few more millennia.)

    The question ‘Who’s really a (Mormon, Jew, Muslim, etc)’ exists in every major faith tradition. Or at least I can’t think of any exceptions.

  118. Mark IV says:

    Well, you’re obviously closer to the situation that I am, Mike, so you’re probably right.

  119. This all seems to be not much more than a futile exercise in semantics, but it is nonetheless interesting, so I’ll bite.

    1. As the biggest and most commonly referred to of the restoration churchs claiming belief in Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints has the most at stake in this whole who is/isn’t a Mormon debate.

    2. In my opinion, when people refer to the “Mormon church”, they are referring to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints without distinction or, very often awareness, of the existence of splinter branches. In my experience “Mormon church” is used interchangably in the popular vernacular as “LDS church”, whether that is technically correct or not.

    3. As long as media outlets lazily and commonly refer to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints as the more common yet open for ambiguous interpretation “Mormon church” without delineating it’s core values against fundamentalist splinter branches, then the battle for hearts and minds must be fought, and whether or not it’s effective, the PR representatives can continue to fight misunderstanding however they see fit with my blessing.

    4. This whole argument is an exercise in verbal gymnastics, and as long as it’s a contest, I have no problem in fighting for the term Mormon. I do, however, think it is a silly fight.

    5. From this point forward, can we further this battle for intellectual ownership by referring to Mormon as the “M” word? This could lead to some great heated debates.

    Community of Christ member: “Whassup my Mormon?”
    LDS Church Member: “Don’t you DARE use that word! That’s OUR word!”

    It’s fun over here at the bloggernacle!

  120. Dave Nelson says:

    How about The Church of the Two Prepositional Phrases? Mormons wouldn’t have a problem with the name of their church if they had come up with something simple in the beginning.

  121. “Take a clue from the Community of Christ. No one around here knows what their new name is and can’t remember it if they try. It’s RLDS. Always been RLDS. Always gonna be RLDS. The name change was seen as what it was: a suckup to the evangelicals and only provided more ammunition for pointing and mocking.

    I really beg to differ. Community of Christ had a couple of reasons for the name change but the most important one is that the new name better describes their goal and mission.

    In 1998, I sent the president of the church a book I had recently read entitled “Positioning” which says the name says it all whether it’s a product of an organization.

    The author of this book illustrated his point by giving numerous examples of perfectly good products and organizations who had such a bad/confusing names that they failed to make an impact on the market. he also mentioned several dozen names that were a success because of their catchy or descriptive names.

    I received an e-mail from that president thanking me for the book. He said he read it on board a plane on a trip to California.

    It may have been influential in the re-naming of the church. Certainly a long cumbersome name does not lend itself to success.

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