I Am a Christian Boy

When President Nelson urged us to no longer use the word “Mormon,” I could see where he was coming from and sympathize with the intention. The official name of our Church focuses on our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, information the nickname “Mormon” does not by itself communicate. But I could also see a serious difficulty in bringing such a vision to fruition. Whatever we might try to do in-house, externally no one is going to use a nine-word substitute (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) for a single word (Mormon).

Pretty much any religion you can think of has a single word (or at most a three-word) short-form descriptor, such as Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran, Anglican/Episcopal, Baptist, Presbyterian, Congregationalist, Methodist, Puritan, Quaker, Adventist, Pentecostal, etc. Generally these one-word descriptors work as either a noun or an adjective and convey something distinctive about the tradition. So the Episcopal Church is governed by bishops (from episkopos “bishop”) while the Presbyterian Church is governed by elders (from presbyteros “elder”). Mormon was our entry on that roll call; it was a single word, worked as both noun and adjective, and conveyed something distinctive about the tradition )belief in the Book of Mormon).

The desire to tie any short form of our name somehow to the name of Jesus Christ runs head long into two potential problems: being too generic and embedding an exclusive faith claim. I actually spent some time trying to dream up a suitable replacement for “Mormon” that President Nelson would approve of, and no matter how hard I tried I kept running headlong into one or both of those problems.

One I thought about was “Christian.” It seemed promising at first: it’s a single word, it works as both a noun and adjective, and it conveys the Savior’s principal name-title, “Christ,” from the form christianos, where the –ianos ending conveys the sense of “partisan of Christ,” analogous to Herodian “partisan of Herod” or Kaisarian “partisan of Caesar.” So from those perspectives it seemed very promising.

But it did not require even a moment’s thought to realize that it was too generic and claimed too much, as though we alone were partisans of Christ among the world’s Christians. The very connection to the name “Jesus Christ” that made it appealing also made it unworkable.

My mind was called back to that little thought process I went through yesterday. I’m in the process of reading a (massive) book by Michael Massing, Fatal Discord: Erasmus, Luther, and the Fight for the Western Mind (Harper 2015). The text that caught my attention appears on page 525:

Of his followers, Luther asked only one thing–that they not use his name: “let them call themselves Christians, not Lutherans.” By that point, the word lutherisch, used as both an adjective and the label of a movement, was in wide circulation. Luther’s objections to it reflected more than modesty; he worried that any violent acts carried out in his name would discredit him and his followers. Better to use the pamphlet and the sermon than the flail or the hoe.

I found it very interesting that Martin Luther had an impulse similar to that of President Nelson as well as my own initial flailing about looking for a suitable alternative) But just as “Christian” would not work for us now, so it was never going to work for Luther’s people then. The Romanists against whom he contended considered themselves Christians every whit as much as his own people did. The term was simply too generic and too embodying of a faith claim to be successfully used for such a denominational purpose. The Lutheran name caught on, and there was no changing it. And so, I suspect, it will be for our own short forms of “Mormon” and “Latter-day Saint.” The institution can marginalize that terminology, but unless it can suggest a useful replacement those outside the institution (and many within it) are going to continue to use the well-known names.

 

 

Comments

  1. Great thoughts. Thank you for this. I’ve been thinking a lot about it, as well, and I wonder if “LDS Christian” works. Yes, it’s two words, but it includes everything in the 9-word official name, right?

  2. Heptaparaparshinokh says:

    I’ve always been fond of “Brighamite” myself

  3. I just hope people forget about this and it blows over sooner rather than later.

  4. I hope we can sort this out soon. I am not looking forward to my teaching evaluations at BYU in the meantime. Young zealous students are not the most patient as we work through finding an acceptable adjective that is able to refer to the historical/cultural aspects of the people of Zion.

  5. Eric Facer says:

    The thing that makes Luther’s situation distinguishable from that of President Nelson’s and all the other shorthand names for other religions you cite is that it was HIS (Luther’s) name. Most of us would have felt similarly sheepish about having a church named after us (though our current POTUS probably wouldn’t).

    I generally come down the same way you do: I think President Nelson will enjoy some success with his initiative, but in the absence of a viable substitute, it’s going to be hard to change a cultural practice that is so deeply embedded not only within our church but Western society as a whole.

    (BTW, “Fatal Discord” is an excellent book, though you’re a bit further along than I am.)

  6. If taught correctly, so much can change from one generation to the next. If we support the prophet in what he is asking change will come. It took a generation to die out before the children of Israel could enter the promised land. Every generation should be better than the last. That is how the Lord works.

  7. Sometimes we overthink things. All this will take is faith and obedience. It sounds oversimplified but I am old enough to know it works.

  8. Kevin Barney says:

    Eric, good point about Lutheran being based on Martin’s own name; thanks.

  9. What about Restorationist? Is that a thing? Since one of the style options is “The Restored Church of Jesus Christ” and all.

  10. The “just have faith” crowd frustrates me no end. They’re my natural company in the spectrum of, uh, whatever we are, but their admonishments to teach and to believe and to honor Pres. Nelson’s request are both frustrating and utterly useless. Neither Roy nor Ali, for instance, address Kevin’s point — they don’t offer any suggestion whatsoever for a term that is short, accurate, and acceptable. There merely nag.

  11. Kevin Barney says:

    I don’t think Restorationist would work, as it would be confused with the Stone-Campbell tradition of restorationist churches.

  12. I self identify in a number of ways, including cis male, grandfather, Northern European American, and member of the Illinois Bar. Relevant to this discussion I identify as Christian (in the take His name upon me baptized sense), as Mormon (in the ethnic, cultural, restorationist sense), as Brighamite (in the ‘from polygamy’ sense—not that I’m all too happy about it), and as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. All are true, correct, legitimate. It’s only the last that causes me a problem. Without an acceptable shorthand, I’m inclined to use that last one less and less. The practical effect is for me to cling to my other identities, and largely forego a religious institution identifier.

  13. sgnm I think you’re onto something with “LDS Christian.” Most people in the mountain west that recognize “Mormon” recognize “LDS” (but outside the mountain west?). It does include the important elements of the full name and is shorter. Not sure if it would be acceptable to the leadership.

  14. I was recently in New England and met up with friends not of our faith. It still seemed natural to use “Mormon” in casual conversation.

  15. To be included as a Christian, we would believe in the Trinity, being saved by grace, and the infinite nature of Jesus as God.

  16. “LDS Christian” does strike me as the best compromise of everything I have heard or thought about. But it is compromised and I’m reluctant to take it up, for two opposite reasons. On the personal side, I don’t accept that “Christian” can or should be qualified. I don’t take my claim to “Christian” as a special LDS or Mormon or TCoJCoLdS version. On the institutional side, I understand The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to be far too exclusive (in its self identity) to ever be accepting of a qualifier. In that version the members of The Church are The Christians, not a special class or type of the larger category.

  17. Just read an article where Elder Holland spoke at the Maxwell Institute and said they were going to have to find an alternative name to Mormon Studies. Eye roll! I, for one, am done with it. My turning point came when another member kept correcting me when I was telling a story a few weeks back. My irritation rose with each instance. I felt belittled. She kept saying “the Church.” Yes, because saying “the Church” in the freaking UK is a sure way to make sure people know which church you’re talking about.
    As for the “it will all work out” crowd- please explain how and when and use specific examples.

  18. Governingmyself says:

    I have had many thoughts on this situation. I spend the bulk of my day as the only member of the church in many situations. People ask me about my faith quite a bit and I am having lots of interesting conversations with them. I am baffled by how to make this new focus on the name work for all the practical reasons that many people have pointed to.

    So, I decided to make this a matter of prayer and I got the most interesting and unexpected answer. I felt the distinct impression that I should work to respect and honor the identities of others especially folks who have experienced marginalization. There have been many communities who have asked to be identified in specific ways over time. Words and labels fall out of favor when they eventually become tools to further marginalize a group of people . Then, sometimes, communities reclaim names. I am following the Prophet by first working to respect the language preferences of other communities, and in the meantime, I typically still say I’m Mormon. It feels more in line with my understanding of the Savior. And, maybe along the way, I’ll learn how to implement the Prophet’s request.

  19. “Saints” and “Christians” seem similar—why not just “Latter-Day Christians”?

  20. “Latter-day Christians” might work, yeah. Same number of syllables as “LDS Christians” without the potentially-confusing acronym. Nice.

  21. What about CJCLDS-ites?

  22. I mean, for a minute, I tossed around “Jesus Christians,” but it sounds so creepy.

  23. Eric Facer says:

    “My turning point came when another member kept correcting me when I was telling a story a few weeks back.”

    SisterStacey, you must remember that the favorite indoor, non-contact (for the most part) sport in our church is correcting, finding fault with, and criticizing fellow members, which usually occurs behind the target’s back. I don’t know that we are the best at it, but we’re pretty darn good.

  24. Kevin Barney says:

    Latter-day Christians is an intriguing possibility. The “latter-day” gloss helps ameliorate the generic/faith claim problems with the word Christian unmodified. It also reflects a continuity with the historic “latter-day saints” while replacing the somewhat problematic “saints.” It’s a suggestion worth thinking about.

  25. Tim R Pollock says:

    Like Jan, I’ve never really felt comfortable with the word Christian because so many associate the term with belief in the Trinity. Mormon has always suited me just fine.

  26. Wait, this is a thing? Latter-day Saints reluctant to be called “Christians”? That’s bonkers.

  27. To Luther’s credit, he was actually successful as far as the German language is concerned, where “lutherisch” exists but is less common than “evangelisch.”

    Unfortunately, I don’t think adopting “evangelical” is a viable solution for us, and I don’t have any better suggestions.

  28. I’ll continue to use Mormon as shorthand, particularly in professional settings where the use of the one word can shortcut a longer explanation. Used it 2x today in a discussion about paying for alcohol (put it on my credit card because no one will ever believe that it would be for personal use) and again about fundraising (i.e. I was a Mormon missionary in a country where hardly anyone is interested in Jesus, so it’s just not that hard for me to ask donors for contributions–I have a high threshold for rejection).

    Neither of those scenarios actually had much to do with my relationship with Jesus, but they do communicate a lot about my unique cultural background in a concise way.

  29. Geoff - Aus says:

    My suggestion is Ex Mormon. Spent some time recently in the home of a methodist minister. He was surprised at my understanding and asked if there was a progressive wing to the mormon church like in his church. He thought all mormons were extreme right wing bigots. Which is how the church members are seen here having been recruited by the political extreme right, who are anti woman, anti gay, anti muslim, anti immigration, anti abortion, anti euthanasia and white supremacist.
    Whatever our name we are still in trouble, with the people our beliefs associate us with in first world countries.

  30. I apologize for frustrating Ardis and anyone else. Like many, it is obvious Kevin has taken the words of the prophet to heart and is trying to present a suitable substitute which would please President Nelson.
    Examples were given by the prophet with a promise that “He whose Church this is will pour down His power and blessings upon the heads of the Latter-day Saints, the likes of which we have never seen.” This will take humility, faith, hard work, devotion and inspiration.
    The phrase i seem to use most often is- As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ or Members of the Church of Jesus Christ….
    I am not comfortable with saying, “The restored Church of Jesus Christ” because I have never said it in that manner before, but I am willing to give it a try.
    I believe in Divine power if we will support the prophet; that’s all. And I believe in the promises.

  31. It would help a lot if general authorities would show us that they are aware of the difficulty and that they have some ideas about how to find solutions. In other words, I hope that they will share some transparency about the process. This matters because it seems very likely that the Church will eventually settle on some conventional terminology, and that is the solution that members of the Church will adopt. It would be helpful if we had a sense of how the Church is going to try to get to that point. (Or maybe I’m wrong, and general authorities don’t see that as the end point. It would be really helpful to know that too.)

    In the mean time, we are hobbled. I’m especially struck by christiankimball’s first comment, which implies that when we don’t have a word for something, we tend to avoid talking about that thing. I think that’s right, and I doubt that we want to be in that situation for very long.

  32. “Mormon Christian” gets my vote!

  33. Other Anon says:

    Ali: things sure get complicated fast when you start to impugn the righteousness/good intentions of others, don’t they?

    Problem with what Loursat says is that the history of the 19th century church suggests that President Nelson may have made a solo directive and others in leadership are still trying to figure out what’s going on and how to implement it, since they all have the same problem of an adjective being replaced with … nothing. Last I checked (just now) the Mormon Newsroom is still operating under that name. If the wing of the Church involved with public relations and communicating with members and non-members hasn’t been able to find a workable solution in this many months, why would Roy and Ali expect that the rest of us can make a change any faster or better?

  34. I will just throw this out there to see what the community makes of it. I recently saw this blog post at FairMormon with an editorial comment saying that they are not changing their name — as instructed by someone (presumably with some official authority to do so, but not sure how high up the bureaucratic ladder) at the Church: https://www.fairmormon.org/blog/2018/11/15/a-mormon-by-any-other-name Is it okay to be known as Mormons when we are talking apologetics? Is it about where you fit in the official Church organization? Or is this the first step on the road back to Pres. Hinckley’s “We can’t expunge the word Mormon, so let’s make it mean ‘More Good’?”

  35. I already said this at Wheat and Tares but I’m among those who find the real world application of this directive confusing, although confusing for different reasons than what Kevin and others have explained. I thought the essence of President Nelson’s comments was that when we use the word Mormon we have excluded Christ. I can’t argue with the logic or the intent of that. Yet the application not only confuses me but makes me question the whole initiative. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir is now The Choir at Temple Square. Mormon was dropped but Christ was not reinstated so how are we any better off than we were before? The Southern California Mormon Choir is now The Southern California Choir. Again, Mormon was dropped but Christ is still nowhere to be found. How are we better off? And not only are we not better off but it’s hard to argue that we aren’t worse off than before with both of these changes. These new names are bland and devoid of any hint about who these choirs represent. Are we going to see more bland, expressionless names that obey the letter of President Nelson’s decision while losing the spirit of our heritage?

  36. Joseph Smith used the term “latter dayism.” I thought of Smith-Christian in a moment of weakness. But JS would have objected I’m sure. Early Mormonism adopted “Mormon” as a kind of badge of honor. I still quite like it.

  37. I like Mo-Christian, both because it retains a bit of “Mormon,” and because it fits well with our tendency to believe that we’re just a little more (or perhaps a lot more) Christian than other Christians.

  38. Here’s one the statisticians among us might enjoy. How about if we call ourselves the chi-squares, where chi is the Greek letter at the beginning of “Christ,” (also showing up in the abbreviation “Xmas”–chi looks like an X), and squares is either an echo of the renaming of MoTab to the Tabernacle Choir of Christian Latter-day Saints at Temple Square or a reference to the fact that, at least to most people, we’re square.

  39. Here are my nominations, all of which are very succinct and usable:

    Non-Strangite-Rigdonite-Campbellite Christian Mormons Who Chose to Leave Illinois Back in the Day

    The Christ-Centered Church Formerly Known as the Mormons

    The Christian Church Whose Kitchens Are Only to Be Used for Warming, Not Actual Cooking

    Christian-Adam-ondi-Ahmanites

    The Two-Hour-Block Christians (formerly known as the Three-Hour-Block Christians)

    The I’m-Not-Going-To-Pay-A-Lot-For-This-Mufflerites

  40. This definitely isn’t something new. We’ve been encouraged in the past to use the full name of the church. I have been having a hard time figuring out why it’s so different this time. I kind of differentiate a little between the name of the church.and the name of the members of the church. We know the full name of the church,and should use it when referring to the church. But the members are Mormons. In Utah, you have The Church, Members, and Non-Members. But outside Utah, not so much. Growing up outside Utah but then living in Utah later in life, it drives me crazy when everything has to revolve around The Church.

    I agree with the problem about not having a word to describe something, and that it can result in talking less about that thing or not understanding what it is. You can google the Brazilian tribe that doesn’t have words for numbers. So they don’t count. Anything. Ever. If you give them a pile of 6 Hershey’s kisses or a pile of 8 Hershey’s kisses, they don’t notice the difference. They can recognize one or two of something, although there is no word that directly describes it. Much past three, and it just doesn’t even process. Small and big are as close as they get.

    Think of the current decade. How would you describe it? We have 80s and 90s (and several decades before that). In the early 2000s, people would just say something about the millennium. But then when we hit 2010, now what? We don’t talk about decades much. No, let me correct that. We still talk about something that happened in the 90s. But if something happened between 2000 and 2010, there’s no word for it. That 70s Show. I love 60s music. Reggie Bush is the best athlete of the millennium, up to but not including 2010. Then what, Ronaldo is the best athlete of the current decade? It will get easy when we get to the 20s, but we will have a two decade gap without names. Do we call it the Hip Hop Hole and just not talk about it?

  41. John Mansfield says:

    When the copyrights of our hymns were turned over to IRI, I worried we were on the path to becoming the Reserve Church, whose members would be known as Reservists.

  42. Uh oh, John, that’s a road we don’t want to go down. There’s the corporation of the presiding bishop and the corporation of the president… so there’s something to be said for the Corporate Church, if you want a PR nightmare.

    I can’t seem to get the Not Gonna Pay a Lot for this Muffler-ites off my mind, though.

  43. Aussie Mormon says:

    Don, they (or at lease some) use term noughties for 2000-2010 :)

  44. I know that it’s not totally in alignment with President Nelson’s talk, but I think Latter-day Saint is perfectly acceptable. The “saint” portion evokes the early Christians, and as part of the name of the Church, it ultimately leads logically to the name of Jesus Christ. Although it is two or three words (depending on how you treat the hyphen), it is shorter phonetically than congregationalist, Seventh Day Adventist, and Jehovah’s Witness.

  45. “LDS” or “Latter-day Saint” is a solution that works well in English, but as soon as you translate it to another language it becomes more problematic. In Slavic languages, for example, “Latter-day Saints” is rendered in a way that is usually understood (even by active church members) to mean something like “Sacred Last Days” or “holy end of the world.” I’ve heard that in some Asian languages the translation means “sacred beings from the time before the end.” In Italy, some people who hear the church’s full name assume that it refers to a specific Catholic church dedicated to modern Catholic saints. “Mormon Christian” seems like an intriguing solution that is specific, universally translatable, and still Christ-centric.

  46. For what it’s worth, and if it’s helpful, I dropped “I’m a Mormon” quite a few years ago. When my religious affiliation comes up in conversation I just say “I’m a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” and ask them something about themselves.

    Curious, I timed it. The difference between the two sentances is about two and a half seconds.

    Occasionally someone will say, “I’ve never heard of that church”. I say “that’s not surprising, many people haven’t”.

    For me, the whole name is no big deal and the conversations just keep sailing along just fine.

  47. Reading these comments, all that comes to mind is: what an amazing waste of time and energy this man has thrust upon us!

  48. nobody, really says:

    Ted, he more than made up for it by dropping the block to 2 hours. Add the idea that Home Teaching doesn’t need to be a sit-down Spirit-invoking two-prayers lesson, and I’ll give him a pass on the unwieldy name. Add in the idea that Family Home Evening is acceptable even if not held on Monday night, and he’s way ahead.

    Now, if he could eliminate ward council, Tithing settlement, “Fill The Temple” days where members are told “it is expected that you would take vacation days from work to attend”, and driving 80 miles each way for stake training meetings, I’d even gladly start calling myself a Nelsonite.

  49. Had a chance to use “Mormon Christian” and it went really well – this is going to be my go-to from now on. I really do love the “Christian” part and the “Mormon” part.

    Using “Saints” doesn’t work for me after talking to my Catholic friends. They were really put off because Saints are a large part of their identity/belief. And my protestant friends believe in the sainthood of all believers. Plus Mormon Christians don’t believe in “Sainthood” in the traditional sense. We don’t worship people as saints as per the Catholic religion (but we do kind of worship our latter-day prophets).

    Mormon Christian really satisfies everyone (except my Evangelical friends who are still thinking I’m not even a Christian). And it is super easy to use and to explain. I’m a Mormon Christian!

  50. ericstone2016 says:

    My wife and I were talking about this just a few days ago, and also came up with “Latter-day Christians” as a reasonable shortening.

    Today, I looked into the availability of the domains Latterdaychristians.com and latterdaychristians.org. It turns out they were both registered as domain names on November 7, 2018. The registration for the former is private, but the latter (See what I did there?) is registered to Intellectual Reserve, Inc., which (in case you don’t know) is the intellectual property owning corporation belonging to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. (Lds.org is registered to the same organization.) Both domains use the Church’s domain name servers.

    Mormonchristians.com and mormonchristians.org are still available.

    So it’s possible we’ll see Latter-day Christians as an officially approved nickname at some point in the future.

  51. In general I’m extremely skeptical of this whole endeavor. To me it’s proof that the so called prophets have lost their way; sorry but focusing on calling ourselves Christians instead of being Christ like is a true sign of apostasy in my book. That said, mje’s suggestion of Latter-day Christians is by far the the most viable solution to this unfortunate PR nightmare I’ve yet heard.

    Even still, it will be hard going. I have a friend who named their dog Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (because WTF is a funny name for a dog I guess). But how often did the 6 syllable name get used? Never. Whiskey, with two syllables, was just easier. With 5 syllables, Latter-day Christian with likely lose to Mormon every time.

  52. Aussie Mormon says:

    “sorry but focusing on calling ourselves Christians instead of being Christ like is a true sign of apostasy in my book.”

    If members are only capable of doing one thing at a time, then they are going to have problems.

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