Should I respect the way “the Church” wants to identify?

Public Relations

A while ago, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints put out this style guide, and I have to admit I find that almost every point falls somewhere on the spectrum from questionable to objectionable. I actually try to respect it as much as possible, but should I?

I was thinking about this recently in terms of the modern question of respecting how people choose to identify. Specifically, I think we should respect people’s chosen pronouns and not misgender them or call (or refer to) them by names they don’t want to use. Even if deep in your heart you don’t think this or that person is “really” a woman/man/non-binary, it’s a matter of common courtesy and common decency to respect their identity.

But am I being inconsistent if I find some of the points in “the Church”‘s chosen identity unreasonable? Let’s dig in and find out!

In the first reference, the full name of the Church is preferred: “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”

Too long. On this blog I generally abbreviate it as the CoJCoL-dS since this abbreviation follows the spirit of the request, and everyone reading this knows who I’m talking about.

But when writing for a lay audience, yes, I would write the name out in full in the first reference — especially to distinguish this church from other branches of the same tradition (which I would almost certainly mention, see below).

When a shortened reference is needed, the terms “the Church” or the “Church of Jesus Christ” are encouraged. The “restored Church of Jesus Christ” is also accurate and encouraged.

This is where it starts getting questionable.

First off, I think other churches might rightly object to this one church claiming the title of “the Church”. But I’m willing to give the CoJCoL-dS the benefit of the doubt that if you’ve already referred to “the Church” by its full name, then your readers can be expected to understand that later references mean “the Church [that I am talking about]” and not “the [only real/true/important] Church.”

The “Church of Jesus Christ” is a different story, though. I just don’t see any realistic interpretation of this other than “the Church” wanting you to acknowledge that they’re “the Church of Jesus Christ.” Unlike all those other churches.

And the “restored Church of Jesus Christ”…? WTF? That’s starting to get as long as the full name. Also it almost seems designed to maximally confuse lay people who don’t know which church you’re talking about.

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. Thus, please avoid using the abbreviation “LDS” or the nickname “Mormon” as substitutes for the name of the Church, as in “Mormon Church,” “LDS Church,” or “Church of the Latter-day Saints.”

I actually kind of like this one for the same reason I disliked the previous one. I have long held that “the Church” has no business identifying as “the Mormon Church” or “the LDS Church” because that strongly implies that they’re the only church in the LDS/Mormon/Restoration tradition — which is not true, and erases the other churches in the same tradition who also deserve to have their identities respected.

So if “the Church” wants to stop using those names, then Hallelujah!

When referring to Church members, the terms “members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” “Latter-day Saints,” “members of the Church of Jesus Christ” and “members of the restored Church of Jesus Christ” are preferred. We ask that the term “Mormons” and “LDS” not be used.

This is just unwieldy. If “the Church” wants this point to be taken as a good-faith request to stop referring to its members as “LDS” or “Mormon”, then they should provide an alternative that is clear and of a reasonable length.

“Mormon” is correctly used in proper names such as the Book of Mormon or when used as an adjective in such historical expressions as “Mormon Trail.”

OK, but does that include the use of it as a general use adjective? So we can say “Mormon Trail”, but can we also say “Mormon Studies”? “Mormon Literature”? “Mormon Traditions…?” I’m guessing “Nope” — but until they provide a workable alternative, I will continue using “Mormon” as a descriptor.

The term “Mormonism” is inaccurate and should not be used. When describing the combination of doctrine, culture and lifestyle unique to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the term “the restored gospel of Jesus Christ” is accurate and preferred.

Again, they’ve come up with something that’s too unwieldy — and as a bonus it’s confusing because it doesn’t mean the same thing. The “culture and lifestyle” are not components of “the gospel” as far as any definition I’ve ever heard of the word “gospel”. Again, if this is really a sincere and good-faith request for people to stop using the term “Mormonism”, then provide a workable alternative.

When referring to people or organizations that practice polygamy, it should be stated that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not affiliated with polygamous groups.

On principle, I find it a little weird that “the Church” feels empowered to dictate how other people reference some other church (not them).

However, I actually agree that if it’s an article for a general audience, it’s useful to explain the distinction — to avoid confusion. I would just edit it as follows:

When referring to people or organizations that practice polygamy, it should be stated that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not affiliated with polygamous groups, however they are branches of the same religious tradition.

Without this simple clarification (which I guess “the Church” didn’t say not to include), we’re wandering into the land of misleading half-truths.

Half-truths ultimately just lead to more questions about what the connection actually is — which in turn just annoy the “members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” because they typically want people to stop asking them about polygamy. So let’s just nip those questions in the bud by stating the connection clearly and concisely up front.

So what do you think? Am I not being respectful enough? Too respectful? Is it unreasonable of me to expect Mormons to use peoples’ chosen pronouns if I won’t even stop calling Mormons “Mormons”?

8 thoughts on “Should I respect the way “the Church” wants to identify?

  1. The new LDS–scratch that–the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ style guide is way more complicated than the varying gender-specific pronouns. He/she/they–that about covers it. Whereas “the Church” expects people to spew out a name rivaling the length of a Faulkner sentence in lieu of the (newly) dreaded term, “Mormon.” This is problematic on many levels but especially given the recent “And I’m a Mormon” campaigns that capitulated in a feature-length film, “Meet the Mormons.” Of course, those were the work of a different First Presidency. Since this new distinction came under the direction of the newly ordained Nelson, I’m led to suspect it’s one of those gutless “I’m in charge now” stunts. Kinda like when the new Relief Society president rearranges all the classroom chairs on the first Sunday she presides. The fact that they’re keeping the name, “Mormon Trail” tends to support my theory. If the Brethren were really serious about this, they’d change the signs on I-80.

  2. [this] style guide is way more complicated than the varying gender-specific pronouns. He/she/they–that about covers it.

    Yes, exactly. Some of these suggestions are so unworkable that I sincerely question whether they really expect people to follow them, or whether they’re just looking for an opportunity to feel persecuted (when people don’t)…

    This is problematic on many levels but especially given the recent “And I’m a Mormon” campaigns that capitulated in a feature-length film, “Meet the Mormons.” Of course, those were the work of a different First Presidency.

    Yeah, on the one hand, it’s kind of hilarious, but OTOH I feel bad for the people who just want to believe that the prophet is always right.

    It was also pretty funny when they had to swap out all of their mormon and lds domain names for “churchofjesuschrist.org”. As an IT person, if I were on that team, I’d be sure to set it up to be ready to switch it back as soon as leadership changes again…

  3. I think the name change went deeper than a ‘new prophet in charge’ stunt. There is so much embarrassing material that can be pulled up with ‘Mormon’ that the Church wants to disavow sexist, racist, homophobic, and otherwise errant doctrine associated with the word Mormon.
    (In “Race and the Priesthood” the Church ‘disavows’ any theories that dark skin is related to divine disfavor, which I think is about as close as a prophet can get to saying ‘sorry’)
    And perhaps by supplying only unwieldy or promotional phrases, the Church wants to quiet discussion altogether.

    (Link for “Race and the Priesthood” https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/manual/gospel-topics-essays/race-and-the-priesthood?lang=eng)

  4. @Monya, you may be right, especially given the Brethren changed the domain name. But if they want to disavow sexist, racist, homophobic, and otherwise errant doctrine, they’re going to have to do more than change the name. (eye-roll)

  5. The “unwieldy” part is perhaps the most aggravating, and I’m mixed about respecting the name the person or entity chooses to be called. I mean, if my next-door neighbor insists everyone call him Napoleon and starts dressing like the former emperor, I don’t have to go along with it. The guy could just be “crazy.” Of course, sometimes it’s best to humor folks. At other times, it’s best to be honest. I suppose it depends on both the circumstances and the repercussions.

  6. @monya I agree — I think that it’s motivated (at least in part) as an attempt to distance “the Church” from all of the bad stuff associated with the name “Mormon”. It just seems like such a clumsy and ham-handed way to go about it. Only people who don’t care at all about the church will be fooled by the whole “if I don’t tell you my old name, maybe you won’t know who I am” gambit.

    @johnny I think if some random person wanted to cosplay as Napoleon all the time (for whatever reason), I’d probably just go along with it. If, OTOH, they wanted me to call them “Dr. -” when they only had some fake degree (like Bill Cosby), I don’t think I’d do it.

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