The use of “Mormon”

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Joel Campbell, a columnist for MormonTimes, recently wrote about the issue he has with people using the term Mormon to refer to a church other than the Salt Lake-based The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

As both a journalist and a Mormon, I am continually dismayed that the Vancouver Sun and associated CanWest wire service choose to describe the British Columbia polygamist group with the terms “Mormon sect” and the “fundamentalist Mormon.”

I disagree with Mr. Campbell.

In my opinion, Mormon is an acceptable term to use to refer to any of the sects that originate from the church Joseph Smith founded. I see a parallel between the use of Mormon and the use of Protestant. I view Mormonism as an umbrella term that refers to all those who believe in the First Vision and the Book of Mormon, even if other minutiae differs.

That being said, I agree with Mr. Campbell that a clear distinction should be made between my church and other Mormon churches. I think responsible journalists and editors should ensure the use of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints when referring to my church, and the proper names of other churches when referring to them.

24 thoughts on “The use of “Mormon”

  1. Did Joel Campbell mention this:

    “There is no such thing as a  ‘ Mormon Fundamentalist.’  It is a contradiction to use the two words together.” (Gordon B. Hinckley, General Conference, October 1998; see also here.)

  2. Pres. Hinckley was simply wrong when he said that. What kind of fundamentalists are they if not Mormon? He was trying to accomplish something in the way of brand distinction, but I agree with Kim that the term applies widely and variously.

    I would broaden the “umbrella” to include those who identify themselves as Mormon in membership, family background and culture, but who may not necessarily believe in the first vision and the Book of Mormon as literal and/or miraculous.

  3. News has to sell itself. Whether I like it or not, news agencies will probably continue to use terms like “Mormon fundamentalist” because each of those two words used separately will undeniably catch peoples’ attention, whether members or not. Using the proper name of our church or one of its offshoots will not illicit the same interest, and therefore will get fewer viewers.

  4. When President Hinckley said there is no such thing as a Mormon fundamentalist he was simply correct from an LDS theological viewpoint. Are you surprised he would propose the orthodox view?

    Latter day saints believe Joseph Smith restored the original Church of Christ again. It doesn’t get more fundamental than that. Other Mormon groups would be outside this restoration as apostate groups and represent a departure from the restoration message and not a return to ancient Christianity.

  5. And those apostate groups are living “more” of that restoration than the mainstream church. They are adhering to a fundamental that the main body of the church has moved beyond. They have also (depending on the specific group) maintained the racist positions held earlier in the church and subsequently (somewhat) abandoned by the main body. Calling them fundamentalist is a very accurate way of describing where they are coming from in relation to that main body. They’re like relatives we don’t want anyone to know we have. They remind us of things we’re embarrassed to have ever been a part of, so it’s easy for us to get sensitive about those reminders.

  6. Interesting points all… but Gordon B. Hinckey is speaking as a prophet and expressing a specific theological viewpoint that reflects LDS doctrine.

    He is not expressing a sociological view as members in this forum seem to be expressing. Others have different perspectives, no surprises there, but let’s not dismiss what President Hinckley is saying without trying to understand it.

    He is the spokesman for the church and not a sociologist.

  7. Gordon B. Hinckey is speaking as a prophet and expressing a specific theological viewpoint that reflects LDS doctrine.

    What does President Hinckley’s comment have to do with theology?

    let’s not dismiss what President Hinckley is saying without trying to understand it.

    I completely understand what he is saying. He is saying that polygamy is in our past, and we are doing the best we can to bury it rather than embracing it as part of our heritage and culture and one of the early practices that made the Church what it is today.

  8. “Gordon B. Hinckey is speaking as a prophet and expressing a specific theological viewpoint that reflects LDS doctrine.”

    This has nothing to do with whether he is right or wrong. Why can’t his statement be evaluated simply by its own merit (or lack thereof). Appealing to his authority is a cop out. His statement was calculated for PR and political effect, and it was likely somewhat successful among those who didn’t pay attention to what he was actually saying.

    “let’s not dismiss what President Hinckley is saying without trying to understand it.”

    And let’s not simply accept it without evaluating it.

  9. I see President Hickley’s statement as a theological statement. He is expressing his view that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is the authentic restored Church of Christ. Other group are not living the restoration as God intends and have not returned to some authentic state of Mormonism. The restoration path continues with Apostles and Prophets and President Hinckley lead the only true and living church.

    Feel free to disagree with my interpretation but that is what he is saying to me. He is speaking in defense of the church and I think you are foolish to think he would do otherwise.

    I have love and respect Gordon B. Hinckley too much to split hairs over a rather trivial matter. I will give him the benefit of any doubt.

  10. And that is what leads to many problems. Any group that wants to assert the idea that they are the “real” whatever it is they are is prone to all kinds intolerance.

    The whole “chosen people” thing in general gets whatever group that claims it into trouble. First by clouding their own perspectives and then by ticking everyone else off.

    And you can think that someone is wrong without diminishing the love and respect you feel towards them. To excuse and apologize for them shows a lack of respect.

  11. anonymous, “theology” is the study of God, and I still don’t see what President Hinckely’s comment has to do with the study of God.

  12. Here’s the thing.
    The quote from #1 comes form General Conference.
    The question President Hinckley is addressing in conference is What is the Churches position on polygamy?

    He responds with his answer pasted below for your convenience. If president Hinckley does not represent the churches position on polygamy where do you suggest I look?

    You can disagree with his position but I don’t think that there can be any dispute that President Hinckley represents the churches position.

    What Are People Asking about Us? October 1998 Sunday morning session.

    Question 4: What is the Church’s position on polygamy?

    We are faced these days with many newspaper articles on this subject. This has arisen out of a case of alleged child abuse on the part of some of those practicing plural marriage.

    I wish to state categorically that this Church has nothing whatever to do with those practicing polygamy. They are not members of this Church. Most of them have never been members. They are in violation of the civil law. They know they are in violation of the law. They are subject to its penalties. The Church, of course, has no jurisdiction whatever in this matter.

    If any of our members are found to be practicing plural marriage, they are excommunicated, the most serious penalty the Church can impose. Not only are those so involved in direct violation of the civil law, they are in violation of the law of this Church. An article of our faith is binding upon us. It states, “We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law” (A of F 1:12). One cannot obey the law and disobey the law at the same time.

    There is no such thing as a “Mormon Fundamentalist.” It is a contradiction to use the two words together.

    More than a century ago God clearly revealed unto His prophet Wilford Woodruff that the practice of plural marriage should be discontinued, which means that it is now against the law of God. Even in countries where civil or religious law allows polygamy, the Church teaches that marriage must be monogamous and does not accept into its membership those practicing plural marriage.

  13. jjackson in reply to post #1 R Gary quote by President Hinckley that “Pres. Hinckley was simply wrong when he said that”.

    I looked up the quote in General Conference Archives and I simply do not understand what he was wrong about the quote.

    President Hinckley states the churches position on polygamy. Unless you don’t believe President Hinckley is answering that question correctly how is President Hinckley wrong?

  14. President Hinckley can accurately reflect the church’s position and still be wrong. And he was wrong when he said that. He was “right” that the institutional church’s aim is to have a monopoly on the term “mormon” and that said church wants no connecting lines drawn between the two groups, particularly in media discourse. He made a philosophical point about the dividing line he was drawing. He was just wrong about the fact that there are no “mormon” fundamentalists. Because, quite simply, there ARE.

  15. Suppose there is a big schism in my family over….eating meat. The main group continues to eat meat and the break-off group goes vegan. Now suppose that I am the recognized leader of the meat eating group. Wishing to delineate the distinction between MY group of “Jacksons” and the OTHER group of “Jacksons”, I say, “There is no such thing as a vegan Jackson. To use the two words together is a contradiction.”

    I would not be wrong in terms of putting forward my group’s philosophical position regarding the level of disconnect between the groups. But for me to say that there is no connection between the groups, and that the break-off group has no claim to the name by which the world knows us all would be incorrect. Because of course, there would be vegan Jacksons. They’d be right there to see, just like we have lots of fundamentalist mormons to observe as a way of proving their existence.

  16. I don’t think President Hinckley would ever suggest the FLDS do not exist. Such a view would be putting ones head in the sand.

    I think he would disagree with you about the meaning of fundamentalist. That is a very philosophically charged word and depending how you interpret that definition you may come to different conclusions.

    I think President Hinckley might agree with you on a broad use of the term Mormon but I think the term fundamentalist is term at issue.

  17. Maybe he just didn’t really understand what the term “fundamentalist” meant, then? Because it’s an accurate description. Or maybe he just didn’t think very deeply about it because in a general conference setting he was awfully used to not ever having to face a challenge to anything that came out of his mouth. Or, more likely, he was fully aware of the definition of fundamentalist and was acting politically rather than academically in his statement. Like I’ve said above, there was a reason he said what he said, and he did it on purpose, for a purpose. This doesn’t in any way mean the statement is correct, just that it was intended.

    I think Pres. Hinckley would agree with the way I see both terms, but putting that forward publicly would not have suited his purposes, so instead he said something that did.

  18. jjackson, I am sorry you view President Hinckley so cynically. I doubt I will change your mind but I believe he acted out of more than just political expediency. No other president of the church has been so open and accessible to the media. He has spoken out about issues such as intolerance, abuse, racism honestly and openly. I have greatly enjoyed as he has shared very candidly his personal thoughts and feelings with the church. I am sad to see him go.

    It was nice to chat with jjackson. Made my day go by tolerably faster. The discussion was more challenging than my day job.

  19. Nobody has even mentioned the Newsroom article that was linked in the “see also” part of my earlier comment:

    The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Disputes Media Use of “Fundamentalist Mormon”

    SALT LAKE CITY Recent news reports regarding various issues related to the practice of polygamy, especially focusing on groups in Texas, Arizona and Southern Utah, have used terms such as “Mormon,” “fundamentalist Mormons,” “Mormon sect” and “polygamous Mormons” to refer to those who practice polygamy. There is no such thing as a “polygamous” Mormon. Mormon is a common name for a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Church discontinued polygamy more than a century ago.

  20. Kim Siever, that’s cool. I didn’t expect you to go back on your post. I just wanted explain why some of us don’t agree. Thanks for allowing the quotes.

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