Last month, I (Richard) spent a couple of hours on the phone with a New York Times reporter named Jody Kantor discussing her forthcoming article on how The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has shaped presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
I tried to help her frame her story accurately, and though the topic was Mitt, most of her questions were about the church. Her article didn’t portray quite the impression that I had hoped she would of the church, but I think her effort was sincere and without malice.
The one time she quoted me directly concerned a discussion Linda and I once had with Mitt and Ann Romney on the unfortunate aspects of the church’s nickname. They had just lost their first bid for the presidential nomination and wondered how much the misinformation about the church had affected the race. We had been commiserating on how “Mormon” did not sound particularly Christian to people without much background or knowledge of the church.
Mitt mentioned that we could probably never hope to get everyone to call us by our full, nine-word name but how nice he and Ann thought it would be if we could shorten it to the nickname of “Latter-Day Christians.” While we all knew that was not likely to happen, we found ourselves wishing it could, simply to more accurately underscore who we are and what we believe.
As members of the church, we love the Book of Mormon and the great prophet Mormon, so the nickname has a pleasant association for members.
But to outsiders, it is at best a confusing or ambiguous name, and at worst it is a moniker that arouses suspicion and raises people’s guard. (Or that even suggests to some that we worship someone named Mormon or have our own Bible that we use instead of the Christian Bible.)
As we write this column, we are in Krakow, Poland, and spent yesterday on a stark and devastating tour of the Auschwitz concentration camp, where more than a million Jews were gassed during World War II. Our guide explained that the Nazi guards were taught to view Jews as insects. In trying to explain the unbelievable atrocities, this guide often used the word “extermination.”
It occurred to us that the one other time we had heard that horrible word used with reference to human beings was in the “extermination order” issued against the “Mormons” by the governor of Missouri. Sometimes it is hard for us as modern members of the church to comprehend how persecuted and maligned our pioneer ancestors were.
But the point is that “Mormon” was a nickname given to us by our detractors at the time of our most severe persecution.
Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve indicated in a recent general conference talk that being called a “Mormon” is not particularly offensive to many members, but referring to our church as “the Mormon church” is problematic because it obscures and disguises the meaning and accurate descriptiveness of our true name.
When we think of the God-given real name, “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” some may call it too long and cumbersome. But if we think of it as a description or explanation of who we really are, those nine words are remarkably brief and to the point.
“The” indicates that there is only one.
“Church of Jesus Christ” explains that we believe the Lord set up an organization and a hierarchy to teach and preserve his doctrine.
And “of Latter-day Saints” suggests the Apostasy and the belief that Christ restored his authentic and original church, exactly as it had been before, in this later time.
Any chance we have to use the full name of the church, it opens potential opportunities to explain those nine words and to give another person an accurate impression of our unique beliefs.
It is important for children to understand the significance and the meaning of each of the nine words and to take pride in calling the church by the name that Christ himself gave to it.