The recent arrest of Warren Jeffs, prophet of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, has The [non-fundamentalist] Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints concerned again about public perception of the Mormon Church and polygamy.
The LDS Church issued a statement on Tuesday reiterating its claim that the term “Mormon” is “universally understood to refer to the 12-million member Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” Therefore, the Church wants the media to stop using the word “Mormon” in connection with any LDS group that adds an extra letter to the acronym of their name (e.g., FLDS – Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints; or TLDS – True Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints; or RLDS – Restoration Latter Day Saints).
In addition, this request to restrict the use of the term “Mormon” to Latter-day Saints (note the hyphen) should be understood to also exclude any other group that traces the source of its doctrine to LDS founder Joseph Smith (e.g., the True and Living Church of Jesus Christ of Saints of the Last Days; or the [Original] Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints [i.e., Strangites, who prefer to be called Latter Day Saints but will also allow the term “Great Lakes Mormons”).
The LDS news release attempts to clarify this complicated issue for the media:
Quite simply, calling Warren Jeffs a Mormon is misleading and confusing to the vast majority of audiences who rightfully associate the term “Mormon” with members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.The following information may be helpful in further drawing the distinction:
Warren Jeffs Is Not a Mormon
Warren Jeffs is not a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and never has been.
Mormons Do Not Practice Polygamy
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints discontinued the practice of polygamy in 1890.
There Is No Such Thing as a “Mormon Fundamentalist” or “Mormon Sect”
The term “Mormon” is a nickname commonly applied to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. There is no such thing as a “Mormon fundamentalist,” nor are there “Mormon sects.” A correct term to describe these polygamist groups is “polygamist sects.” The inclusion of the word “Mormon” is misleading and inaccurate.
The Associated Press Stylebook states, “The term Mormon is not properly applied to the other Latter Day Saints churches that resulted from the split after [Joseph] Smith’s death.”
The LDS news release suggests journalists consult the LDS style guide when reporting on the LDS Church. The style guide says:
The official name of the Church is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This full name was given by revelation from God to Joseph Smith in 1838.While the term “Mormon Church” has long been publicly applied to the Church as a nickname, it is not an authorized title, and the Church discourages its use.
Is everyone getting this?
Boiled down, I guess what the LDS Church is saying is We are not ‘Mormons’; but if you insist on using the word, it may only be used when talking about us. No wonder the media is confused.
Furthermore, consider this. The Church says the word ‘Mormon’ is not “authorized,” but it is “rightfully” associated with Latter[hyphen]day Saints. My question is: Why does the LDS Church assume the authority to “authorize” the proper use of that word? What about the Latter Day Saints [sans hyphen] who are pleased to describe themselves as Mormons? This LDS assumption of authority reminds me of an experience I had in 1999.
I was participating in a Christian outreach outside the LDS St. Paul Temple. For several days our small group had offered literature to cars as they left the parking lot at the side of the building. One evening we had several extra people; so two of us moved to the sidewalk outside the front of the temple. After a few minutes an agitated LDS security person arrived and informed us that we could not stand there because it was not the “authorized” spot. We asked, “Authorized by who?” The LDS man had no answer; nobody had the authority to “authorize” where we could stand on public property to exercise our First Amendment rights.
Nor does the LDS Church have the authority to “authorize” who may or may not use the term ‘Mormon,’ or how it is to be used.
I agree that words ought to have specific meanings and ought to be used properly according to their precise definitions in order to promote effective communication. Yet this situation seems wryly ironic. Against the protests of those who define the word “Christian” according to historic doctrinal criteria, the LDS Church insists it has the right to call itself a Christian church while defining the term “Christian” however it so chooses. Given that, it seems that the Mormon Church should accept the prerogative of Latter Day Saints (or anyone else, for that matter) to define and call themselves ‘Mormon’ if they are so inclined. After all, turnabout is fair play.