NOT ONLY HAVE Mormons been making news lately, but the name "Mormon" itself has been in the headlines.

Who are Mormons?

What are Mormons?

Where are the Mormons?

Joseph Smith said the word Mormon meant "More Good," which means you're currently reading the More Good Times. On Sunday you'll probably listen to the More Good Choir and the Book of More Good. (The idea of More Good Crickets I'm not sure about.)

But the confusion over the word is not so much about definitions. It's about perceptions.

Joseph Smith said his name would be spoken of for good or ill. So, too, with the church he founded. Like the word "cleave," the word "Mormon" has two completely opposite connotations.

For most, the word "Mormon" calls to mind strong families, high standards and patriotism. But for the more than 30 percent of Americans who say they'd never vote for a Mormon candidate, the word calls to mind all kinds of quirks.

In Utah, things get even more complicated. "Mormon," for some, has come to mean a group of people who move in spiritual lock-step. And that has led a whole raft of folks — those who don't want to be seen as unblinking followers — to look for a "third way." If you think automakers have some interesting hybrids to choose from, check out Mormonism.

There are "Cultural Mormons" — people who feel at home with other Mormons, though their thinking may be at odds.

"Historical Mormons" come from sturdy Mormon stock but have opted for a new trail.

Other labels pop up: "Liahona Mormons" (those who get their general direction from the church) and "Iron Rod Mormons" (those who put their stock in obedience).

Some feel if all the "Adjectival Mormons" out there would drop the adjectives and simply call themselves Mormons, everyone would be happier.

I'm not sure.

In fact, it was probably all those "Adjectival Mormons" that prompted President Boyd K. Packer to say there really are only two kinds of Mormons: those who say "I am a Mormon, therefore ... " and those who say "I am a Mormon, however ... "

Finally, as Elder Neal A. Maxwell has pointed out, there are those who have left the church but can't leave it alone. They seem to see The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as a parent who has somehow betrayed them, and they are out for payback.

To paraphrase Saul Bellow's comments about life in general, one wishes they would "get in or get out. But don't whine and poison everything."

Meanwhile, those who hope the confusion will eventually be cleared up are probably wishing on stars. My sense is things will get a lot muddier before they are sorted out.

People are complicated creatures.

Religion, for all its simplicity, is a complicated thing.

And that is bound to lead to more complications.

The only thing that's crystal-clear, in fact, is that Mormons — and the word "Mormon" — will continue to show up in the news.


Jerry Johnston is a Deseret News staff writer. "New Harmony" appears weekly in the Mormon Times section.


E-mail: jerjohn@desnews.com