The Problem with Uncoupling “Jesus Christ” and “Latter-day Saints”

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.

~ ~ ~

For thus shall my church be called in the last days, even The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Verily I say unto you all: Arise and shine forth, that thy light may be a standard for the nations  (D&C 115)

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7 thoughts on “The Problem with Uncoupling “Jesus Christ” and “Latter-day Saints”

  1. Eric

    I was just discussing with my therapist today how my experience in the LDS Church was invalidating by design. And for whatever good Elder Nelson did, Pres. Nelson seems content to ramp up the invalidation to a whole new level, starting with making the unprecedented move to demote Pres. Uchtdorf, someone who liberal members took great comfort in, and replace him with Pres. Oaks, arguably the most hardline conservative apostle (who conformed our worst fears with “Truth and the Plan,” a talk seemingly crafted right out of right-wing talking points), and then to reiterate that God wants him in the First Presidency, as if it’s God giving the finger to liberals, not Pres. Nelson.

    And now this move, which is meant to increase obsession over Jesus Christ, presumably in an attempt to further buddy up with the other conservative Christian churches, and thereby further diminish those elements that make this church unique, and by extension, invalidate our unique experiences.

    When I was in the church, it wasn’t the atonement that brought me joy and fulfillment. It was the temple ordinances. It was the endowment and sealing ordinances. No other church had those. All the other churches talked about Jesus Christ and accepting him as your savior, but I could never wrap my head around that – limiting yourself to those things. To me, without the higher ordinances, the atonement was pointless.

    But now the church is invalidating that perspective. And what’s particularly damning is how Pres. Nelson framed it – “This is God’s will, and we must conform to his will.” The church doesn’t want you to have your own unique experience of the gospel. They want you to conform to a mold. That’s why there’s all this obsession with strict obedience lately. It’s all about conforming to the wishes of those with power and authority, just like we see in the two major political parties, just like we see in business and employment, and we see it in all organized religion.

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    1. Eric, thank you so much for your thoughtful–and painful–response. As I was typing my reply, I received word that the Nov. 5th, 2015 Policy of Exclusion (PoX) is rescinded, as of today. I’m processing all that. I’m curious to learn what you make of this, particularly that they sent Pres. Oaks out to make the announcement. No apology, of course, and they withhold moral equivalency from the queer community, but there it is. We are back at the starting gate. What are your thoughts?

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      1. Eric

        Yeah, that was an interesting development. I was certainly surprised – I didn’t think they would reverse a policy so quickly. As I’ve been thinking about it, I can only surmise that orthodox members who are unhappy to see any validation of the LGBTQ community will just console themselves by singing a few refrains of “Follow the Prophet” until they numb themselves to it. (I seem to remember that rank and file members who supported the policy would never defend it on the merits – they would just go, “Oh my gosh, we’re in the last days, because there are members who are criticizing this policy instead of just following the brethren at face value!”)

        I don’t know if we’ll see any more progressive concessions from the brethren. I mean, I know LGBTQ members are celebrating, and I don’t want to take that away from them, but the cynic in me worries that this will be a one time thing, and when the next time liberals will push back, the brethren will just go, “Hey, we gave in on the gay policy, what more do you want!?” and orthodox members will be back to business as usual – condemning members who don’t follow the brethren. But if we do get more progressive concessions, I suspect it will be because liberal members are leaving and they can’t keep up the numbers.

        And one concession we’ll _never_ get is, “Hey, you know all those political statements Elder Benson made? Well, he was wrong.”

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      2. Eric

        On the other hand, as I’ve been thinking about it, a more generous perspective, if the church is going to make a string of more progressive policy changes, is that Oaks’ role is to be the church’s “Nixon visiting China,” if he’s going to keep announcing these changes. I’m understandably suspicious, but if this happens, we’ll see if the conservative LDS culture can keep up.

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  2. Duncan David

    You are making a mountain out of a molehill by complaining about the url for the church website! Dear me! If you watched the recent sessions of General Conference, you will know just how much President Nelson and the other leaders love the people, the members of the church, the ‘saints.’ He has spent the last 6 months travelling all around the world to be with the Saints. You don’t need to complain over every little thing! Geez!

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    1. Thanks for bothering to comment, Duncan David. I can see you’re irritated, and I understand that. Our irritations are probably similar. You have issue with me pointing out that the “of Latter-day Saints” is as much a D&C-appointed part of the Church’s name as “of Jesus Christ,” and I am befuddled by RMN’s insistence that using “Mormon” is service to Satan. This blog post isn’t a complaint but a legitimate discussion point. Why is it okay to NOT use “of Latter-day Saints” if RMN’s purpose is to make sure the Church is referred to properly? We aren’t The Church of Jesus Christ. We *are the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I’d like to hear him explain.

      Why? Because his explanation would go a long way to highlight that his decision is a matter of opinion. And that would go a long way to diminishing leader worship and restoring the membership’s personal accountability and connection with God.

      As to it being clear that the leaders love us because of their schedules and General Conference, President Nelson has long taught the God of conditional love. It’s natural, then, that members might conclude that his love for us is conditioned. When the leadership begins to see the LGBTQ community as something other than a problem, or ceases to see women as valiant only in so much as they fulfill approved roles, I’ll feel more sure of the leadership’s love for *all the people.

      You suggest I “complain over every little thing.” Your dismissive attitude reveals your heart. I’d rather we interacted with respect next time.

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    2. Eric

      It’s not just the URL to the website. It’s the shift that now even “Latter-Day Saint” is an unacceptable term, and what doctrines the church chooses to emphasize over others, and the whole “We must conform to God’s will” bit. There’s a lot at issue here.

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