Would the Holy Spirit be offended if He were trademarked?
The Church is a corporation. This is not meant to be a mean-spirited statement. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is literally a trademark of Intellectual Reserve, Inc. The for-profit ventures of the Church are here.
One might wonder why the Church doesn’t just call itself The Corporation of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but a little research pulls up that this corporation was dissolved by Congress in the late 19th century due to polygamy. In 1923, the Corporation of the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints emerged — which of course, still exists today.
In 1933, the articles of that corporation were amended to include what happens when the President dies; the assets of the corporation are to be controlled by the President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, or whomever the Quorum decides, until a new President is selected by the Quorum.
One might say that the Church is merely putting into the legalistic landscape its functions, something that must be done in America when a great deal of money is involved. But the Church isn’t just about money, it’s about a message, and it would like control over this message. That is what the current Mormon.org campaign is about — breaking down stereotypes of Mormons so that Mormons can speak for Mormons. But there is also importance to the language itself, down to the word “Mormon.”
In 2002, Intellectual Reserve, Inc, attempted to trademark “Mormon,” but the United States Patent and Trademark Office rejected the application, stating that the term “Mormon” was too generic, and is popularly understood as referring to a particular kind of church, similar to “Presbyterian” or “Methodist,” rather than a service mark. Interestingly, this coincides well with the Church not wanting to be called the “Mormon Church” in the public sphere, but instead the “Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” because the Church has more legal recourse since it owns that name. What the desire to trademark “Mormon” says to me is that the Church might actually not mind being called the “Mormon Church,” provided it can own the name, since from a business perspective it slips off the tongue a lot more easily (and might allow the Church to sue the fringes). However, the Church dropped its application in 2007, a few months after it applied for Mormon.org (which it successfully trademarked in 2009).
Andrew’s post at Wheat & Tares, “Fanboys, smartphones, and cultural Mormons,” compares the Mormon brand to Apple/iOS loyality. He asks
Why do people stay in such a condition [adhering to a brand with bad product]? Why dont more people recognize that other products serve their needs better and move on? How does brand loyalty surpass a mere present value cost-benefit analysis?
In Mormonism, what keeps it all holding together is “the Spirit.” It’s what maintains brand cohesion even when the current product ain’t functioning necessarily all that great. Andrew instead asks why it is some people are more loyal to brands than he is to his religious community, but Mormonism is both a brand and a religious community. The Spirit in Mormonism has a particular set of definitional boundaries, and is understood to be present in a Saint through the manifestation of certain behaviors and language use (a well-trained anthropologist can mimic it); I’m wondering how long it will be until the Church attempts to trademark the Spirit.
Again, none of this is meant to be mean-spirited or insulting. I think it is very important to look at the connections between religion and money, no matter how spiritual things may feel.