Why are we called Mormons?

The nickname “Mormons” stems from our unique book of scripture, The Book of Mormon.  Initially, it was a derogatory term used by the critics (haters, killers, mobs) to refer to the members of the Church.  Eventually, members of the church seemed to own the name, even took pride in being a peculiar Mormon.

A well-known anecdote from the life of Joseph F. Smith (nephew of the founder, Joseph Smith) provides a look at both sides of this label.

After serving a four-year mission in the Hawaiian Islands, from 1854 to 1857, young Joseph F. Smith began his long journey home to Utah. He boated across the Pacific Ocean to San Francisco, then slowly began his journey by foot with a small company of Latter-day Saints.

One day when the company had stopped to camp and rest, a group of troublemakers came storming through. Most of the men ran and hid, but Joseph decided he had nothing to be afraid of, so he continued the task of piling firewood in the camp. As he did so, one of the men approached him with a pistol, declaring that it was his duty to exterminate every Mormon he came in contact with. As he pointed his pistol at Joseph, he demanded, “Are you a Mormon?”

Without fear or hesitation, Joseph answered, “Yes siree; dyed in the wool; true blue, through and through.”

The man was so startled by the courage of young Joseph F. Smith that he dropped his pistol and said, “Well, you are the [expletive deleted] pleasantest man I ever met! Shake, young fellow, I am glad to see a man that stands up for his convictions.” The man rode off, with the others following behind (Joseph Fielding Smith, Life of Joseph F. Smith, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1938, 189).

Since the “Mormons” settled in the Salt Lake Valley in 1847, we have used, and even embraced, the name “Mormons”.   We have also embraced the acronym LDS (Latter-day Saints) as a shortened version of the official name of the church.  Both of these are technically inaccurate.

The actual name of the church is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  That was the name that Jesus Christ revealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith in 1830, which he set about to organize the church. It’s long, and maybe a little bit of a mouthful, but when you break it down, it is very instructive–

  • The Church of Jesus Christ.  This is His church.  He restored it, He leads it.  It’s the same church with the same authority and doctrines and ordinances that He first founded in 30 AD.
  • Of Latter-Day this iteration is in the latter-days.  Not the former-days. Not the ancient days.  It’s the same church, just in a different time period.  The Bible is full of references to the “last days”.  This is the Church that Isaiah prophesied would be on the tops of the mountains in the last days.
  • Saints The members of the church are referred to as Saints.  Not because we are flawless, infallible or perfect.  The early apostles wrote letters in the New Testament and often addressed them to the “Saints”.  It’s the title for people who believe and belong to Christ’s church.  All other definitions of the word have been imposed on it since the time of the apostles, but they inflate the credentials of what it means to be a Saint.  A Saint is a follower of Christ, a member of His church.

So take it all together again: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  We refer to ourselves as Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  

In fact, (and I can’t believe I didn’t see more news about this) in October 2018, just two years ago, our current Prophet Russell M. Nelson announced that we will no longer refer to ourselves as “Mormons” or “LDS” because both of those nicknames leave out the most essential part of our church’s identity–Jesus Christ.  We are members of the Church of Jesus Christ.  The church has diligently renamed websites, organizations, even colleges that use either of the two nicknames.  Instead of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, for example, we now have the Tabernacle Choir on Temple Square.  LDS Business College has just been changed to Ensign College.  LDS.org is now ChurchofJesusChrist.org. (This website stays the same because if you only know of us as Mormons, you’ll Google that–and we are here for curious readers).

We wouldn’t want anyone to be confused about who we are or what we believe if we self-identify as anything but followers of Jesus Christ.  So even though “Mormons” is shorter, please be patient as we introduce ourselves as Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Belonging in Heaven

Q. What happens if I feel like I don’t belong in the Celestial Kingdom?

johnny depp

A. If my friend*, Johnny Depp, invited me to a red carpet event, I would feel out of place.  Even if everyone knew I was there with him, and that I could be there–I would still be completely uncomfortable.  Even if I tried to blend in with a designer dress and shellacked hair, I would feel like everyone knew that I was an imposter.  I’m a housewife, for goodness sake!  In a similar way, in order to feel like we belong in heaven, we have to be worthy and we have to have confidence in our presence there.

The first obstacle is that we aren’t worthy.  We are mortal, God is immortal.  We are flawed, He is perfect.  We are dull, His glory would blind us.  We are soiled with sin and hatred.  He is clean and full of love.  We truly don’t belong there.  And if it was just up to us, we would never get there.

For this very reason, God sent His Son to bridge the chasm separating us from our Creator.  Jesus Christ can take us to immortality, perfection and sinless glory.  He can make us heavenly.  It is up to us to accept His help.  That’s it.  To be humble in acknowledging our utter dependence on Him in taking us from our current state to feeling comfortable in His presence.

There is no sin so bad that He can’t atone for it.  He can take the blackest soul and wash it clean–if we will let Him.  He forgave Zeezrom after Zeezrom’s arguments resulted in a group of women and children being killed by fire. (Alma 14).  Surely, you have done less than that.  zeezrom

He forgave Paul after Paul assisted some others in stoning Stephen to death.  Stephen was Christ’s own apostle.  Surely, you have done less than that.   He wants to help us and forgive us.  That’s what He is all about.  stephen

And while Christ’s cleansing sacrifice does fit us for heaven, we can still feel a complete lack of confidence in our presence there.  Johnny might walk around so graciously, introducing me to everyone, but I would still be shrinking and sweating.   There is a scripture that talks exactly about this issue, D&C 121:45-46

45. Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men, and to the household of faith, and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God; and the doctrine of the priesthood shall distil upon thy soul as the dews from heaven.

46. The Holy Ghost shall be thy constant companion, and thy scepter an unchanging scepter of righteousness and truth; and thy dominion shall be an everlasting dominion, and without compulsory means it shall flow unto thee forever and ever.

This tells us how to acquire the confidence necessary for us to stand in the presence of the Lord (without shrinking or sweating).

1) Be charitable towards everyone.  Be kind, watch for ways to help those around you.  Pretend you are an angel, always on an errand of the Lord.  Not only towards strangers, but members of your congregation at church (the household of faith).

2) Let virtue garnish your thoughts unceasingly.  Think good, clean thoughts.  Be happy and optimistic.  Be grateful for things you have. Virtuous thoughts are in line with the commandments.  Follow the teachings of the prophets, and look for ways to be obedient to the counsel that God has given us.

If you live this kind of loving, happy life, it makes you a loving person–a person like Christ.  You start to feel more comfortable around the valiant.  In my church meeting on Sunday, the speaker talked about people who don’t want to be thought of as too “churchy”.  They like to stay up on the latest trends, and give their devotion half-heartedly on Sundays so that they aren’t seen as the archetypal Molly Mormon.  They are cooler than that.  But what usually happens when a person tries to keep one foot in the world and the other in the Kingdom of God, is that they get pulled toward the world and away from the church.  He observed that even if “churchy” people seem overzealous, heaven is full of “churchy” people.  And the more you get to know them and become like them, the more familiar heaven will be.

Even if you don’t feel like you would fit in there now, you are made of heavenly stuff.  It is your eternal heritage and your eternal inheritance.  The whole plan is designed to ensure that we return to our Father in Heaven–better, stronger, and smarter than we were when we left.  Have confidence in that plan, too.


*I feel like Johnny Depp and I could be friends, given the chance.

Spirit, Body and Tony Stark

Last week in Primary, I was trying to teach the children in our ward about how our spirits and bodies interact, and I discovered that Marvel had described it pretty well.

Iron Man II Tony Stark

Our spirits are the eternal parts of us–they hold our personalities, our flaws, our potential, our divine nature.  Our bodies are simply outer shells that amplify our spirits.  Think of Iron Man.  His suit allows him to do amazing things–fly, shoot lasers, swim down deep in the ocean.  Things that his body, alone, could not do.  But his body is controlling the show.  Tony Stark is a moderately good person, and he mostly uses his suit to do good things.  But think if Captain America got in that suit?!  He would use it solely to do good.  Not to be a show off, not to profit for himself.  Now think of if that crazy red-faced villain got the suit.  He would use it completely for evil.  We don’t want him to get the suit.

Our spirits enter our bodies and get to do things that they haven’t ever been able to do before: eat (oh, I’m sure that when I get a body, I’ll just eat healthy and moderately),  sleep (I bet on earth I’ll sleep exactly 8 hours a day), have a family (I’ll wait till marriage!  Of course!), exercise (every. day.).  And the list goes on.  Our spirits didn’t have the same physical experiences without a body, and they were anxious to get one.  And now we cruise around earth in these suits that amplify our spirits– if our spirit has a lot of pride, we use our body for vanity, we seek wealth, we put other people down.  If our spirit has a problem with anger we have the equivalent of laser guns with our muscles, arms and legs.  We are capable of so much destruction in these suits, but also so much good.  If our spirits are full of faith, we can show it by physically attending church, giving compassionate service to people in need, hugging our children.  If our spirits are thirsty for knowledge, we can incorporate information and wisdom much more quickly in the physical world–touching, experimenting, reading, trying things out.   And that is the real wisdom in having these bodies–we can smooth out our flaws, overcome our evil tendencies by mastering our bodies–the cool features that they have that we should use appropriately in the proper time and place.

On a related note, sometimes Tony’s suit malfunctions.  Pieces fall off deep in space, aliens shoot him down.  Our bodies, too, can be imperfect–physically and mentally.  But that doesn’t mean that the spirit driving the operation is faulted.  And in the resurrection, everything will be made whole.

Are Mormons Monotheists?

Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints worship one entity–the Godhead.  We worship the Father, the Son (Jesus Christ) and the Holy Spirit.  We believe they are one in purpose, in direction, vision, power, love and mercy.  But we believe that they are three separate beings.

This question-box-submitter may have wondered about regular old members of the church having aspirations to become gods themselves.  In our scriptures, God means the Godhead (as described above) and god is a title given to worthy followers of God who inherit the blessings that He has prepared for them.  Sort of on par with Catholic Saints, or Buddhist Bodhisattvas.  We don’t worship them, we don’t believe that they have all power or that they are involved in our lives in the way that the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit are.

Thus, Mormons worship one God (Godhead) only, while acknowledging that there may be “lords many and gods many” in the universe.  Perfectly clear, no?  If you are still curious about this interplay, find a Mormon friend and ask them!  Everyone needs a Mormon friend.  There are batches of cookies involved, guaranteed.