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.

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19 Responses

  1. Andrew S. says:

    This post reminded me of the comment Mike S had left on my comment (but why not, since, hehe, you reference the post), about Bonneville International’s trademarked “HeartSell”.

    If the Spirit is what keeps everything together, but the church’s for-profit business has a trademark for stimulating what suspiciously sounds like the Spirit in secular marketing terms, then what?

    The idea of Mormonism as both a brand and a religious community makes sense to me (it’s one of those things that I don’t WANT to think about, but thinking about it makes me realize that it was most sensible all along), and it reminds me of another thing (that I don’t know TOO much about because I haven’t read up about, but have heard bits and pieces about). Wasn’t there a time when the church/corporation of the Pres of the Church put up the *membership* (or more specifically, the right to membership tithes) as collateral to some business venture?

  2. Alan says:

    “HeartSell” — strategic emotional advertising that stimulates response. That’s scary, and yes, is basically “the Spirit.” The Holy Ghost is officially offended.

    As to your question about the membership as collateral, I’m not sure.

  3. SLK in SF says:

    Wasn’t there a time when the church/corporation of the Pres of the Church put up the *membership* (or more specifically, the right to membership tithes) as collateral to some business venture?

    In the 1890s the church took out secured loans, but if I recall correctly the collateral in that instance was real property. However, according to Rock Waterman the event you suggest did occur in the early 1960s:

    Eldon Tanner was the right man to pick to put the Church’s finances back on track. Like Moyle, Tanner admitted to having a scanty knowledge of the scriptures, but he did know how to make money. Having created a personal fortune in oil and banking, Tanner used his influence to arrange loans with the big New York banks, promising the member’s future tithes as collateral.

  4. Alan says:

    Wow…I love this passage from Waterman’s post:

    Pity the poor LDS man or woman who has been working all week in an office. When Sunday morning rolls around, they have to dig in the closet for the same style dress, or suit and tie, that they’ve been wearing all week and slog through one more set of dry, unproductive meetings. Where is that promised day of rest they’ve been hearing so much about?

    I guess that was Saturday.

  5. SLK in SF says:

    Alan, yeah, I’m a big fan of his blog. Every post is full of great nuggets like the one you’ve quoted.

  6. MoHoHawaii says:

    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);

    This is an interesting point, and something I’ve been mulling over recently. LDS speech (and some other behaviors) is very ritualized. You can tell an insider from an outsider very quickly. “Applying the Atonement in our lives” is a legitimate thing to say; being grateful that “Jesus died for our sins” is an absolutely unforgivable gaffe. This is very weird, but it’s an essential part of Mormon boundary maintenance.

    Unfortunately, I think President Paternoster understands the gist of it.

  7. Alan says:

    Unfortunately, I think President Paternoster understands the gist of it.

    Some person named “Silly Girl” there said that the post (debating Mormonism as a “cult”) and comments are confusing for her, but she’s thankful for them, and will be putting in her resignation letter. She didn’t know it was satire. Some Mormon cried: “Don’t resign! This is satire!” Then the fact that ex-Mormons are the worst sinners of all, due to rejecting the Holy Spirit, got satirized, by commenters.

    This is really a sign that the Church should trademark the Holy Spirit. We can’t have these kinds of things happening to Mormons who can’t tell the difference between the Holy Spirit and a satirized Holy Spirit.

  8. satirized Holy Spirit? I’ve never heard such blasphemy.

  9. Alan says:

    There’s the impostor! Get him!

  10. Imposter? Have you all completely lost the spirit of discernment?

  11. chanson says:

    Wow, Bonneville International trademantked HeartSell strategic emotional advertising that stimulates response…?

    I agree that’s scary. How cynical must the guys in the COB be? They openly recognize that “feeling the spirit” is a marketing technique…

  12. Alan says:

    How cynical must the guys in the COB be?

    Cynical? They’d probably say that because it’s true, because the Holy Spirit is there, why not capitalize on Him, and grow the Church some more, because that’s what He, God and Jesus want ultimately.

    This is to say that the actual advertizing probably aims to bring people closer to the Church in some fashion. Plenty of Mormons at the top mix economics and religion in their head. If they were actually taking what happens with Mormon cohesion and saying, “This is how to apply this to a profane product, so that people will never want to leave the product,” leaving Mormonism behind, then yes, that would be pretty cynical.

  13. chanson says:

    Alan @12 — Good point — I hadn’t thought of that. The spirit testifies of the truthfulness of Bonneville International because the company is good, and making money for the church is a righteous work.

    I still feel like some people who work there and get the memo about “HeartSell” must have their faith a bit tested by the crass money-making strategy aspect. OTOH, I’ve read that this is part of the reason that MLMs are so popular in Utah — people believe in the product that they’re [pyramid] selling because it works kind of like the church.

  14. Chino Blanco says:

    I mentioned this Deseret Book ad in another thread, but I’m dropping the link here so that it’s eternally attached to this terrific post:

    Use the glove, feel the Spirit

    Apparently, the wife of Apostle Dallin H. Oaks has no qualms helping Deseret Book promote its goofy for-profit, faith-promoting gimmicks.

  15. Juan says:

    I don’t think Tanner was the first one who got loans based off of collateralized members (and tithing receipts), though he may have done it too. The first loan that I know of that took to collaterizing members (and tithing receipts) was back in the early 1920s with Heber J. Grant, and could have happened earlier. Woodruff met with some fairly influential bankers in his day, but information is scant on exactly what was signed and where.

    HJG saw the church take out a 50-year mortgage on the temple block (SLC temple, Tabernacle, JS Memorial building, etc) and offered up, as collateral, future tithing receipts. It gets a little murky from there, but this was the same time as when temple recommends started being signed by members. Whether that signature was an attestation by the member in regards to their tithing receipts and other commitments is another issue entirely, and likely only speculative.

    So it’s been done in the past, and I wouldn’t at all be surprised to find out it’s been done by others (Tanner included).

  16. Alan says:

    LOL, Chino. How do you find these things? The comments afterward crack me up, too.

  17. Chino Blanco says:

    Dammit, Deseret Book just took the video down. I hope somebody remembered to grab the source before it disappeared.

    Update: Turns out, an alert exmo did save it. Here’s the new link:


    “So easy, even Africans can use it!” TM

  18. Juan says:

    Let’s hope they take the product off the market too. Nothing like a little criticism to set Deseret Book into action.

  19. Alan says:

    Here’s an article about their use and history.

    The glove represents the Holy Ghost.

    “They are so clear and so simple, and you always have your hand,” Sister Oaks said.

    All those people in those pictures around the world with testimony gloves.

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