Columns Jana Riess: Flunking Sainthood Opinion

Why journalists will keep using the word “Mormon”

This week, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced that it has renamed its core websites and social media accounts to reflect the full name of the institution.

Among the changes:

  • The church’s official website, which has been lds.org, has been changed to ChurchofJesusChrist.org.
  • The Mormon.org website, which is geared for visitors rather than members, will be changing as well, though it’s a bit unclear how; the Newsroom announcement says that Mormon.org will eventually be merged “with the Church member-focused ChurchofJesusChrist.org,” while the First Presidency letter to church leaders says it will be “changed to ComeUntoChrist.org.”
  • The church’s various social media accounts will be altered to reflect the institution’s full name and “emphasize the name of the Savior’s church.”

These adjustments follow a strongly worded admonition from President Russell M. Nelson in the church’s October General Conference, in which he anathematized the church’s own longstanding use of the word “Mormon” to describe its members.

Although several years ago the church itself was heavily promoting the use of the word “Mormon” through its “I’m a Mormon” branding campaign and the church-produced film Meet the Mormons, Nelson stated in October that “to remove the Lord’s name from the Lord’s Church is a major victory for Satan.”


To read: The name “Mormon”: Why all the fuss, and why now? (Oct. 2018)


As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I’m happy to avoid using the word “Mormon” at church, at home, and in my family. I can easily try to substitute “I’m a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” for “I’m a Mormon” in my personal conversations and church lessons.

As a columnist for Religion News Service, however, I will continue using “Mormon” in headlines, articles, and columns. I will also continue using “LDS” as shorthand after using the church’s full name upon first reference to it as an institution. This is the style guide established by the Associated Press, which RNS and most other media outlets follow.

It’s not just because the AP sets the rules that RNS will continue using “Mormon.” It’s also because the AP style guide makes more sense than what the church is asking reporters to do. Here’s why.

  1. Brevity is the soul of wit. “Mormon” is single word that can function beautifully as either an adjective (Mormon meetings, Mormon foodways, Mormon theology) or a noun (“I’m a Mormon”). Asking reporters who get eight to ten words for a headline to take up more than that allotment with the full institutional name of “the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” is not reasonable.
  2. The church wants to emphasize the name of Jesus Christ. As the Newsroom announcement put it, “the invitation to use the full name of the Church is an opportunity for Latter-day Saints to refocus their lives on the living Christ.” That’s wonderful, but Mormons’ spiritual development as disciples of Christ has nothing to do with how journalists do their jobs. Members of the media do not have a mandate to emphasize the name of Jesus Christ in the course of doing their 9 to 5 jobs just because one denomination has told its members to do so.
  3. It is not journalists’ job to adjudicate faith claims. Built into the request to use the full name of the church is a claim to theological superiority: this is “The” church of Jesus Christ. (The church’s style guide in fact requests that the first letter of the definite article be capitalized.) But if a church’s full official name includes a theological claim, it’s not journalists’ responsibility to affirm or deny it. For example, the world’s largest denomination is officially called the Holy Roman Catholic Church, but journalists call it the Roman Catholic Church. Whether it’s headquartered in Rome is a fact journalists can verify. Whether it is holy is way beyond our pay grade.
  4. The name “the Church of Jesus Christ” is too vague to be helpful. Journalists are after clarity and specificity, and there are already untold numbers of denominations that consider themselves to be followers of Jesus Christ. This makes “the Church of Jesus Christ” far more ambiguous than “LDS Church.”
  5. “Mormon” is what our readers know. If I write a column about the historically important religious community established in Sabbathday Lake, Maine, I don’t primarily call those individuals members of “the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Coming,” even though that is their religion’s name. I call them the Shakers. I can certainly mention the official name in passing, but since that is not what our readers know, it does not help them—and our job is to serve them, not the Shakers.
  6. “Mormon” is what our readers Google. As I noted in this column in October, for every time “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” is searched on Google, “Mormon” is searched between 75 and 100 times. Journalists’ job is to give our readers accurate information when and how they need it. If the word “Mormon” is what they are using, it is what we will also use.

Related posts:

About the author

Jana Riess

Senior columnist Jana Riess is the author of many books, including "The Prayer Wheel" (2018) and "The Next Mormons: How Millennials Are Changing the LDS Church," which will be published by Oxford University Press in March 2019. She has a PhD in American religious history from Columbia University.

61 Comments

Click here to post a comment

  • Okay. I typed that in jest. But once it posted, I clicked the link to see what would happen. It redirected to mormon.org with an Access Denied error.

    😂🤣😂🤣

  • The result is quite easy to explain.

    The Domain Name: VICTORYFORSATAN.ORG was registered in October, 2018, through Google Inc..

    In December the owners set it up to transfer to mormon.org so that if you typed in its domain, you wound up on mormon.org.

    Its current Domain Status is “clientTransferProhibited”, which means this stunt no longer works and instead of winding up on the Latter Day Saints website you get the message you received.

  • I didn’t take the time to look into it. But that would have been my guess. Someone has a sense of humor. 😆

  • Journalists will continue to use “mormon” because of brevity as you mentioned. 2. They are not indoctrinated members who live off every word of an elderly man.3. They figure it will go back to mormon in a few years anyway so why change.

  • The rebranding is just a con to make a massive cult sound mainstream. I would hope no journalists ever buy into that. Everybody in the USA knows what Mormon and LDS are. They are still what they always were.

  • No, they are no longer even the same religion as they once were before they began making one compromise after another in their efforts to make their religion more appealing to the gentiles. First the abandoned Plural Celestial Marriage, then the Adam-God doctrine. They altered the Temple ceremonies and garments, and mixed with the seed of Cain, They ignore many of the teachings of the early Prophets. The Heavenly Mothers have been stripped of their identities, and transformed into one singular Goddess that is nameless and faceless. They no longer teach of Christ’s wives and posterity…. and that’s just the tip of the ice burg.

  • Okay, so a religion with strange doctrines dropped some of the strangest of the original doctrines. The whole thing is still standing and still claiming that God is revealing truth to and through the church leaders. I see the latest thing kinda like Philip Morris once decided that “Altria” would be a nicer-sounding new name for an old company with an image problem.

  • No, they essentially abandoned their entire religion. Now they are Methodist with a Mormon twist. For flavor.

  • This seems to be Nelson’s personal obsession, and he’s been pushing it for years. Too bad for him that nobody cares.

  • Heck, they even recognized black people as human! It’s a shame when a church loses touch with the proud traditions that made it great….

  • I understand and am not opposed to many of the reasons listed here. However, I think that journalists will have opportunities to respect certain of these requests more often than one might think. Journalists have long used the full name of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which of course contains a theological claim. So does Churches of Christ, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Church of God, etc. On second reference, “the Church” is unambiguous in many circumstances, and though technically against the Church’s style guide, “LDS Church” is a better alternative to “Mormon Church”, which I have anecdotally observed less of recently. As for references to members, Mormon is shorter, but Latter-day Saint is no longer than Seventh-day Adventist, Jehovah’s Witness, Episcopalian, Southern Baptist, Russian Orthodox, or any number of other names consistently used in the media.

    Personally, I see this drive as a way to get away from Mormon as an ethnicity or culture. To me, green jello with carrots, funeral potatoes, Saturday’s Warrior, and Return With Honor are all “Mormon things”, while the ministering program, primary, missionary service, and the temple are all “Latter-day Saint” things. This whole initiative helps to separate the two.

  • Also, Jana said, “The Mormon.org website … will be changing as well, though it’s a bit unclear how.”

    From the Newsroom article: “Work is underway to unify and restructure all these websites into a new, more cohesive and personalized experience under the ChurchofJesusChrist.org domain. Until that time, Mormon.org will change to ComeuntoChrist.org.”

  • Are you suggesting you liked it all better before they started making any of the changes you described?

  • Between Gordon B. Hinckley and M. Russell Nelson is the difference of Harvard versus Trump University. “Rusty Nail’s Son” is coocoo for Cocoa Puffs and is the nuttiest of the “Mormon Prophets” by a long shot. Hinckley liked the term “Mormon” and understood its cultural roots and value; Nelson does not. Case closed.

  • Oh, I had my suspicions but was hoping for better. I view Mormonism like I view Islam. We should try to be nice to the people—-because they are people—–and never buy into the doctrines.

  • For anyone born Mormon, it becomes part of your personal identity, even if you come to your senses about all the church stuff and walk away. I am forever amused by the holy hypocrites who want to diss the Mormon “cult” so as to avoid criticism of their own gospels of hate and intolerance. Yawn. The only “good” criticism of Mormonism comes from those of us who grew up in it.

  • I pretty-much do too when those religions insist on gathering together in groups. I try not to be critical of individuals who “ask, seek and knock” alone as their expression of faith though. After all, conscience is sometimes developed that way for a positive end. But the key word is alone, not in crowds.

  • Uh, yes. Would you like reasons? Nah, probably not. But I’ll give you some anyway.
    All women deserve one other person’s full life devotion—-or none if they choose to be single. But no “split devotion” as a convention cooked up by men with God painted on the charade. Sister wives are not sisters.

    Then there is the guy angle. Any man who wants to father large enough numbers of children that he needs multiple wives is an egomaniac who should be throttled by us other men.

  • So you think that women are too big of idiots to make their own decisions about how they want to build their own families?

  • If raised by religious claims for plural marriage (whether Mormon or Islamic), YES, absolutely. Making women into submissive idiots is what those religions do as a goal. Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Arizona—-as well as whole regions in the Islamic World—-are full of the evidence.

  • Online work opportunities are becoming a emerging trend in all over world these days. A newly released research reveals higher than 78% of the people are working in internet job opportunities from a home office without any complications. Everybody would like to spend some time daily with his/her relatives by going any attractive place in the country or any other country. So internet earning enables you to accomplish the work at any time you want and enjoy your life. But picking the best track and establishing a right destination is our end goal in direction of financial success. Already most of the people are getting such a decent paycheck of $36000 every single week through recommended as well as efficient ways to making money online. You will start to earn from the 1st day as soon as you see our web site. >>>>> ogo.gl/AhPKDd

  • Hey, how did you get the emojis into here? Cut and paste from somewhere else? Sometimes my tech savvy is lacking.

  • The reason I insist on using the word “Mormon” is probably two-fold.

    One, the whole situation of this guy coming in as THE authority figure, spewing some claptrap that is essentially just his longterm hobby horse and the congregation knuckling their foreheads and whispering “inspiration!”, “modern prophet!”, “we are so blessed!”, etc. harrows up bad memories from my mormon missionary days. The mission prez, the general authority, would do the same thing to us missionaries along with a heaping portion of blaming, guilting, and shaming. Never again.

    Two, it’s totally passive-aggressive and gives me a cheap thrill.

  • I told you the truth. But I shouldn’t have messed with your craziness. My mistake. Now corrected. You’re blocked and I won’t be seeing anything from you again. Bye.

  • The emphasis on the proper name of the Church makes sense, given modern scripture: “For thus shall my church be called in the last days, even The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” (Doctrine and Covenants 115:4).

    “And how be it my church save it be called in my name? For if a church be called in Moses’ name then it be Moses’ church; or if it be called in the name of a man then it be the church of a man; but if it be called in my name then it is my church, if it so be that they are built upon my gospel” (3 Nephi 27:8)

    That’s why I’ve never liked nor used “Mormon Church.” But as Jana says, the full name is a bit clunky and for journalists there’s the issue of clarity. For me, JCLDS will work fine as a diminutive, adding “Jesus Christ” while distinguishing from all the other churches with the Savior’s name in their title, and “latter-day saint” works for a personal identifier. If widely adopted it would take some time for them to replace “Mormon,” but would happen eventually.

  • On the Mac there’s a menu that has “Show Emoji and Symbols.” I just choose that and click on any emoji or symbol to ‘type’ it.

    I have no idea how to do it on Windows or Linux.

  • Awesome. When I was a member, people would often ask me how many wives I had (acting proudly as if they had come up with something new and original). My response was the same: “You’re married and you ask me that question?” I would smile, they would smile, and that was the end of it.

    I can’t imagine having to keep multiple ladies happy and fulfilled. I’d be like Bill on Big Love and overdo the blue pills. And any guy who’s been married for a while will tell you the sex does NOT make up for all the other hassles of being in a relationship. Something my 16-year old head would never have understood. And BTW, I’m very happy to be married for almost 36 years. Great lady. And highly desireable.

  • Even though I stopped attending and contributing to the Mormon Church, anti-mormons are still more annoying than the Mormons are, and that’s saying a lot. At least the funeral potatoes were good, what is ever good about anti-mormons? Do they have fruitcake?

  • Please take up your concerns with Baizuo below. I blocked him so that is a clue you will enjoy his takes on things.

  • I don’t have concerns. I respect the trauma that other ex-mormons and Jack Mormons have from past activity in the Church. I don’t respect the made up stories of people who never went through what we did. “Borrowed” trauma is pure BS.

  • Affiliate marketing world work opportunities are becoming a emerging trend all over the over world nowadays. A newly released survey tells us over 75% of people are working in online job opportunities at home with no issues. Everyone really want to spend more time with his/her best friends by going to any specific beautiful place in the country or any other country. So web-based earning enables you to carry out the work at any time you want and enjoy your life. Still choosing the best strategy and setting up a proper target is our milestone towards financial success. Already lots of people are gaining such a solid income of $22000 each week through highly recommended and successful ways to making money online. You can start to get paid from the 1st day when you look at our web-site. >>>>> http://www.helios-store.com/Bmk

  • the world’s largest denomination is officially called the Holy Roman Catholic Church

    Actually, it’s official name is simply “The Catholic Church”.

  • I’m not speaking to trauma. I speak from the standpoint that those of us who were never in it are SUPPOSED to be able to look at the history, the source material claims, the doctrinal claims, and the exclusionary nature—-reaching conclusions that the whole denomination is cultish in that it amounts to people following the cooked-up-from-nowhere ideas of a few men. As far as I’m concerned, this is a similar situation to that of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh-Day Adventist, and, for that matter, Islam.

    Certainly all of these have some nice people who deserve to be treated well because they are nice people. But, what are the movements themselves? IMHO, they are always and forever questionable, not something to embrace as “maybe” somehow kinda sorta true just because maybe we liked Donnie and Marie Osmond or Derek and Julianne Hough.

  • The Restored Church of Jesus Christ believes in the Christianity of the New Testament era. Catholics and Protestants believe in Fourth Century Creedal Christianity. Here are the beliefs of Christians of the New Testament era:
    1. Baptism by immersion by the father (who has the authority) of the family
    2. Lay clergy
    3. Baptism by proxy for deceased ancestors 1 Corinthians 15:29
    4. God and Jesus organized the world, rather than creatio ex nihilo.
    5. Belief in a tripartite anthropomorphic Godhead, as witnessed by the Apostle Stephen. Acts 7: 55-56
    6. Belief in theosis (that faithful Christians can acquire god-like attributes). All early Christian leaders believed in theosis.
    7. Belief in God’s Plan of Salvation, given by Jesus Christ to the Apostles during the 40 days after His Resurrection. (Sophia Jesu Christi)
    8. Belief in sacred esoteric ordinances which allow faithful Christians to ascend to the highest heaven. Cyril, Bishop of Jerusalem, administered these ordinances until 350 AD. (Catechetical Lectures 20 and 23).
    9. Belief in Eternal Marriage, as recorded in the Book of the Apostle Philip. 70:20
    Temples teach of 3), 4), 5), 6), 7), 8), and 9)

  • Do you pay similar attention to the holy horse manure behind the Evangelical movement? Circus tent revivals, fake miracles and cocaine laced patent medicine are the foundation of that snake pit of religious hypocrisy. That’s why very few ex-mormons ever join a holy hypocrite church; they have already had their lifetime maximum exposure to horse manure. However much contempt that I have for the 15 Living Fossils running the Mormon Church, I can’t think of one hallelujah preacher that I respect.

  • The “Adam God Theory” is anti-mormon horse manure. Brigham Young taught that Adam had his “calling and election made sure” before he got a human body. He never taught that Adam should be prayed to as God. As a kid, I had full access to the Journal of Discourses and read the old bigot’s preaching for myself. There’s plenty enough to disagree with in his preaching without the false BS. That’s why anti-mormons get no respect. They can’t resist spreading lies in place of solid evidence.

  • Okay!!!! We’re in agreement!!!! Of course—-OF COURSE—-I do not appreciate the overreach of nonsense coming out of most of today’s Evangelicalism!

    Maybe you can help me with this. I am always looking for ways to be nice to good people from all of the denominations, even Islam, AND simultaneously express firm disbelief and disapproval of doctrines of Scriptural Literalism. I am always looking for ways to pluck those who can be pried away from the craziness and merge them back into a religious experience which amounts to “Be Truthful, Be Fair, Be Kind”. How, oh HOW, is that done?

  • Amen. Getting preached at regularly by Elder Bruce R. McConkie during my mission in the 1970s pretty much ruined my respect for him and his take on “Mormon Doctrine.” Back in the day, some bright boy thought that it would be extra special for us poor young missionaries to get lots of talk time with the GAs. Some of them didn’t hold up well in the presence of wide awake young adult men.

  • Whoopie. The long name fad will fade as soon as Nelson loses at the endless game of “Musical Tombstones” with the other Apostles of the Church. He’s a Mormon history footnote, even now, and not a particularly good one.

  • Holy Cow. We had Derek Cuthbert who was relatively kindly, but his wife, former Anglican, chastised us for referring to Jesus as Elder Brother. I remember even then muttering how she maybe hadn’t quite got rid of her Anglican ways. McConkie would have been a total tool, I imagine.

    Slightly amusing story. McConkie had a sister who was BYU faculty. I remember one day my MTC Branch Pres walking down the hallway muttering. I asked him what was up, and he went off on a harangue about the sister. I still remember almost verbatim him saying “Her problem is she’s angry she doesn’t have the priesthood” or some such.

  • My Book of Mormon for Returned Missionaries at the Y was Joseph McConkie, who reminded us each and every day that his dad was Bruce R and that his granddad had been Joseph Fielding Smith, going so far as to assure us that he had “the blood of prophets” in his veins. Lions and Tigers and Bears, oh my. Pay no attention to the little man behind the curtain.

  • Agni,
    No Walton died in 1980 and his “church” had only 12 members, and he beieved in a two-part godhead.

  • Guess which Christian church is the successor to the First and Second Century Christians?

    TinyURL.com/EarlyChristianityVideo

  • Affiliate work opportunities are increasingly becoming a emerging trend in all over world these days. The latest study tells us more than 75% of the people are being part of web-based jobs at their home without any complications. Every person wishes to spend some time daily with his/her family by going to any specific attractive place in the world. So internet income allows you to do the work at any time you want and enjoy your life. Though determing the best method furthermore establishing the right destination is our strategy towards achieving success. Already most of the people are getting such a good income of $40000 each week by using highly recommended as well as powerful methods of generating income online. You will start to get paid from the 1st day as soon as you browse through our web-site. >>>>> http://l2u.su/qbVI

ADVERTISEMENTs