The faith is primarily known around the world as the Mormon Church but a new directive issued last week by Russell M Nelson, president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, now dictates that the term “Mormon” may no longer be used to describe the church or its followers.
“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, which is probably why both followers of the church and the general public have tended to refer to the religion as Mormonism, after the group’s most holy text, the Book of Mormon.
Russell M Nelson, president of the church and the world’s most senior member, says this cannot go on. In a statement released on Friday, he demanded that only the church’s full name be used from now on.
Nelson gave little reasoning for the decision but says God communicated it to him directly. “Lord has impressed upon my mind the importance of the name He has revealed for His Church, even The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” he wrote. “We have work before us to bring ourselves in harmony with His will.”
Followers believe that Nelson, who will turn 94 next month, is a prophet who communicates directly with God.
The changes are bound to take some time to set in. Nelson’s own statement, for example, was made on the church’s official press site, mormonnewsroom.org. The religion’s main website remains mormon.org.
Nelson also linked to a new church style guide which dissuades people from even using the abbreviation “LDS” to discuss the church.
The church might want to reinforce its ties to Christianity, or distance themselves from a tiny percentage of followers who do not consider themselves Latter-day Saints. Those members are mostly part of fundamentalism groups like Apostolic United Brethren which still endorse polygamy, a practice the Latter-day Saints church has moved away from.
In popular culture, the church is best known as the setting for Book of Mormon, the comedy musical written by South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone. The name change could be a way to distance the church from the show, which has sell-out runs around the world and satirizes the religion’s beliefs. But this seems unlikely as the church has previously praised the show, even advertising in some playbills with slogans like “You’ve seen the play, now read the book”. Some have credited it with an increase in new converts to the faith.
Following the musical’s first New York run, the church sought to capitalise on increased awareness with a major advertising campaign that had the strapline “I’m a Mormon” and a documentary series called Meet the Mormons which had a successful theatrical run. Both efforts now seem somewhat in vain.