I vividly remember apostle Russell M. Nelson’s April 1990 General Conference address in which he reminded members to use the proper, full name of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I remember because I agreed, having never been fond of the nickname “Mormon” for either Church or member. Today, as president of the Church, Nelson is reiterating his sentiments by asking both members and non-members to drop “Mormon” entirely. In its stead, he’s sanctioned the use of “The Church of Jesus Christ” and the official Church website will soon become churchofJesusChrist.org, a move that a Salt Lake Tribune article indicates seems innocuous to some outside the Church and offensive to others. What the article doesn’t note is the feelings of Latter-day Saints about the removal of their identity from the URL.
Granted, most faithful LDS will blow their trumpet and rejoice at almost any decision that comes out of Salt Lake, and surely President Nelson’s desire to focus attention on the Savior is a welcome one. However, in his most recent effort to focus attention on the Jesus Christ, he is inadvertently diminishing the divinely appointed focus on the members, the Latter-day Saints.
There is no other Church that I can think of that is both “of Jesus Christ” and “of” its people. In a radical and unprecedented way, the official/revealed name of the Church recognizes the Savior’s close companionship with his people and emphasizes that the work of the Lord continues through the efforts of the saints of God. It’s uncomfortable that, in the effort to elevate the name of the Lord, the formal Church is diminishing the portion of its name that celebrates the worth and purpose of its members.
In this era of the Me, Too Movement, more and more Latter-day Saints are venturing out from the borderland to decry the way the institution has seemed to devalue individuals, particularly those with abuse stories involving the Church, by choosing the well-being of Church coffers over the well-being of victims. Other marginalized people feel similarly devalued.
The latest nickname (and make no mistake, “The Church of Jesus Christ” is a nickname) removes half of the divinely appointed focus—that which rightly falls on the members. The extra words (“of Latter-day Saints”) are cumbersome, no doubt, but the phrase is also glorious for the way it shouts the goodness of the Latter-day Saints to the world. To lose that, even through an abbreviation in a URL, is a loss I feel deeply.
In that General Conference address of nearly thirty years past, Elder Nelson recounted several attributes of a saint. His first defining characteristic reads, “A saint is tolerant and is attentive to the pleadings of other human beings, not only to spoken messages but to unspoken messages as well.”
An unspoken message buried in the exclusion of the phrase “Latter-day Saints” is a [perhaps subconscious] de-centering, or separation, of the formal Church from the individual members, the people who may not head the Church, but who do, in practice, run the Church. Add to that an increasing tendency of Church leaders to color all of their decisions as the firm will and word of God and we end up with a Church that, by elevating “Jesus Christ” in its name and reducing “Latter-day Saints,” could be viewed as asserting dominance over its members. What seems far-fetched to the comfortable is frighteningly uncomfortable for the marginalized, the injured lambs of the flock. It’s an unpleasant conundrum.
Members who feel trampled by the ecclesiastical, patriarchal, or legal mechanisms of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints already feel undervalued and ignored. This little shift away from “LDS” may not mean much to most of the faithful, but for others—for the marginalized—it likely confirms their fear that the people aren’t of much consequence to an organization that has transformed into a behemoth in their eyes. Remember what Jesus said about how we treat the least among us.
I appreciate what Russell M. Nelson said those many years ago when he defined the word “saint,” saying a saint:
- refrains from idleness and seeks learning by study, and also by faith.
- is honest and kind, paying financial obligations promptly and fully, treating others as she or he would want to be treated.
- is an honorable citizen
- resolves any differences with others honorably and peacefully and is constant in courtesy
- shuns that which is unclean or degrading and avoids excess even of that which is good
- is reverent
- loves the Lord and gives highest priority to keeping His commandments
- is one who receives the gifts of the Spirit that God has promised to all His faithful sons and daughters
With this list (all of which is scripture-referenced in the original), we see how highly the Lord values his saints, how much he needs us to love and serve both God and our neighbor. By removing the “LDS” from the official Church website, and by recommending “The Church of Jesus Christ” be substituted for “LDS Church” throughout the wider world, the goodness of the saints—our value—seems placed in the shadows rather than set as a light on a hill.
I genuinely don’t fault President Nelson for his choice. Not only is it within his prerogative as president of the Church and leader of the Latter-day Saints to make decisions like this, his desire to honor the Savior is without guile. I love and respect this about him. Yet, going forward, I hope the men who lead the Church will make strident effort to reflect in their words and deeds the unparalleled honor bestowed by the Lord on the saints when he coupled his name with ours.
In reality, the Church has survived and thrived through these early stages of the Internet Age with a URL that overlooked Jesus Christ in favor of the LDS (Latter-day Saints). I know most LDS won’t bat an eye at the exclusion of “Latter-day Saint.” That doesn’t remove my wish that a way can be discovered to better represent the symbiotic relationship between Savior and saint, particularly for the world-wide portal to information about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
But more than that—much more than that—I hope this change doesn’t prove to represent a time when the Church becomes more focused on itself than on the people it exists to serve.
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4 For thus shall my church be called in the last days, even The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
5 Verily I say unto you all: Arise and shine forth, that thy light may be a standard for the nations (D&C 115)