The LDS Church continues the effort to distance itself from Mormon Fundamentalists. In a July 10, 2008 article printed in the Salt Lake Tribune, LDS spokesperson Scott Trotter is quoted as saying,
“there is no such thing as a Mormon fundamentalist or a Mormon polygamist. Regrettably, those who suggest otherwise only add to the confusion we are trying to clear up.” (Brooke Adams, “Fundamentally, we’re Mormon, coalition asserts”)
Confusion? How’s this for confusion:
At the General Conference of the LDS Church in April 1990 apostle Russell M. Nelson spoke about the divinely revealed name of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He explained that the revelation naming the LDS Church (Doctrine and Covenants 115:4) did not say, “Thus shall my church be named,” but rather, “Thus shall my church be called.” Mr. Nelson discouraged the use of any nickname for the Church, specifically mentioning a directive from Church leadership issued in 1984 against the too frequent use of the term “Mormon Church.” (Ensign, 5/1990, page 16)
But then in September 2000 the LDS Church issued a press release that stated in part:
“The term Mormon is a nickname applied exclusively to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or to that church (see The Associated Press Stylebook). It is not accurately applied to any other person or organization… Since those who practice polygamy today are not affiliated with ‘the Mormon church,’ and since they are not ‘Mormons,’ a more accurate and less misleading description of them in the media would be polygamist, or polygamous sect,…” (Excite News, 9/13/00)
Following this, on February 20, 2001, the Salt Lake Tribune reported,
“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints wants to jettison its best-known nicknames — the Mormon church and LDS Church — in favor of one that leaders believe more accurately reflects its spiritual identity.” (Peggy Fletcher Stack and Bob Mims, “Church Moves To Adjust Use Of Its Name”)
The new nickname desired by the LDS Church was “The Church of Jesus Christ.” The article quoted LDS apostle Dallin Oaks:
“I don’t mind being called a Mormon, but I don’t want it said that I belong to the Mormon church.”
This 2001 Salt Lake Tribune article stated that since 1982 LDS public relations had pressured Church members and media journalists “to replace ‘Mormon’ with ‘LDS Church’ or ‘Latter-day Saints.'” With the new 2001 twist toward replacing “LDS” with “The Church of Jesus Christ,” the newspaper said Mr. Oaks indicated that “Mormon leaders [were not worried] about possible confusion with more than 20 other American denominations with ‘Church of Jesus Christ’ in their corporate names.”
The Arizona Republic interviewed non-Mormon religion scholar Jan Shipps for its story on this issue. Ms. Shipps believed the LDS move away from “Mormon” was an effort to put distance between the LDS Church and the modern-day polygamous splinter groups that were so frequently cropping up in the news even then. (Kelly Ettenborough, “Church hopes ‘Mormon’ will fade from its identity,” February 18, 2001)
In another article, published by The New York Times, Mr. Oaks was quoted,
“This decision [to change the nickname] is right-oriented, not result-oriented,” Elder Oaks said. “We’re only trying to do what the Lord wants us to do.” (Gustav Niebuhr, “Adapting ‘Mormon’ to Emphasize Christianity,” February 19, 2001)
Moving ahead, on September 5, 2002, the LDS Church filed an application with the United States Patent and Trademark Office to legally mark (service mark) the word “MORMON.” (A service mark is a word intended to be used, in commerce, to identify and distinguish the services of one provider from the services provided by others, and to indicate the source of the services.)
The “goods and services” to which the mark would apply were described as:
“religious services [Class 45], namely, operating places of assembly for worship and gatherings; ministerial services, namely, providing religious worship services and conducting church sponsored programs” (find this application document at uspto.gov)
The application was denied. The examining attorney for the USPTO found the term “MORMON” to be “a generic name for services” and therefore not able to be registered on the Principle Register. After several rounds of arguments between the examining attorney and the law firm representing the LDS Church (Kirton & McConkie in Salt Lake City), on November 1, 2005 the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office sent the applicant this notice:
“FINAL REFUSAL: THE MARK ‘MORMON’ IS GENERIC FOR CLASS 45 SERVICES
“The proposed mark, “MORMON,’ is incapable of serving as a source-identifier for applicant’s religious services…
“Generic terms are by definition incapable of indicating a particular source of the services, and cannot be registered as trademarks; doing so ‘would grant the owner of the mark a monopoly, since a competitor could not describe his goods as what they are.'”
Having hit a wall on the effort to service mark “MORMON” as a Class 45 mark, on September 6, 2006 the LDS Church revised and divided its application, eventually receiving the service mark rights for “MORMON” in Class 41 (educational services) and Class 42 (genealogical services) on May 8, 2007.
In his last-ditch effort to win the Class 45 service mark, however, the attorney for the Church argued,
“In the case at hand, the term MORMON is utilized only in association with services provided by the Applicant [i.e., the LDS Church]. The term MORMON is never utilized to describe or utilize religious services provided by another source…
“Protestants, Catholics, Buddhists and/or any other religious service provider do not use the mark MORMON as an identification of the goods or services rendered by those organizations. The only source utilizing the mark, or for which the mark is utilized, is the Applicant.”
The examining attorney was not persuaded.
This brings us up to the present. To recap the history:
- April 1990 – An apostle in General Conference calls for no nicknames for the Church, specifically calling out the term “Mormon.”
- September 2000 – The LDS Church issues a press release stating they are the only ones rightly called “Mormon.”
- February 2001 – The Church directs media to stop using the nickname “Mormon” and instead adopt the new nickname, “The Church of Jesus Christ.”
- September 2002 – The LDS Church applies for exclusive rights to the mark “MORMON” in a religious services class.
- September 2006 – Notwithstanding the constant efforts of the LDS Church to publicly distinguish itself from the media-grabbing self-named Fundamentalist Mormons, the attorney for the LDS Church argues that “the only source” using “MORMON” to describe or utilize religious services is the LDS Church.
Does this clear up the confusion?
On June 26, 2008 the LDS Church sent a letter to media outlets asking them to stop referring to the polygamous members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints as Fundamentalist Mormons. The letter stated in part,
“Over the years, in a careful effort to distinguish itself, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has gone to significant lengths to protect its rights in the name of the church and related matters. Specifically, we have obtained registrations for the name ‘The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,’ ‘Mormon,’ ‘Book of Mormon’ and related trade and service marks from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and corresponding agencies in a significant number of foreign countries.
“We are confident that you are committed to avoiding misleading statements that cause unwarranted confusion and that may disparage or infringe the intellectual property rights discussed above.”
The letter closed with a request that it be shown to each organization’s editorial staff and legal counsel.
“Legal counsel”? In the letter the LDS Church asserted its ownership of the service mark “MORMON’ and suggested journalists would not want to “infringe the intellectual property rights discussed above.” Is this meant to be a threat of some sort? It’s interesting that, in reality, the LDS Church only controls the term “Mormon” in regards to educational and genealogical services; there is no trademark infringement when someone uses the word in relation to the FLDS Church or its members. In fact, what the LDS Church is attempting to do is specifically what the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office was guarding against when it refused the LDS request to service mark “MORMON” in Class 45; “Doing so would ‘grant the owner of the mark a monopoly, since a competitor could not describe his goods as what they are.'”
The LDS Church published an article on their LDS Newsroom web site on July 10, 2008, again trying to establish their position and reasons for it in regards to “Mormon” and “Fundamentalist Mormon.” Acknowledging that the LDS Church and other Mormon groups may share some history and theology, the article argued,
“Furthermore, all Christian denominations have some historical and theological connection to Catholicism. Nevertheless, this does not authorize them to use the word ‘Catholic’ in their official name. Lutherans and Methodists do not call themselves ‘Catholic fundamentalists.’ Nor did the early Christians call themselves ‘reformed Jews.’
“Likewise, 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.” (“Proportion and Perspective on Polygamy Reporting”)
To say that religious movements didn’t call themselves after the name of another is not to say that they couldn’t have if they had so chosen. As a matter of fact, many denominations share a foundational, basic element of their official names with others. For instance, there is the Lutheran Church in America, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, and the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod. Members of all four of these organizations are called Lutherans. There is the Baptist General Conference, the Southern Baptist Convention, the American Baptist Church, etc. Members of all are called Baptists. If further distinction is required or helpful, members will state they are WELS, Southern Baptist, or whatever.
In the same vein, LDS Mormons and FLDS Mormons are distinguishable by being precise – by employing terms that are perhaps similar, but definitely different. We find Latter-day Saints, Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints, and, formerly, Reorganized Latter Day Saints (to name but a few). All are, at some level, Latter-day Saints or Mormons. After all, as Ken Driggs told the Salt Lake Tribune, they really are just “different evolutions of the Joseph Smith tradition.”