The term Mormon is a colloquial name most often used to refer to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church).
The name "Mormon" (also "Mormonite") was first used in the 1830s for those who believed that Joseph Smith, Jr. had been called as a prophet of God, and who accepted "The Book of Mormon" as scripture translated by Smith.
It originated as a derogatory term, but the name soon lost most of its negative connotation, and is generally not considered offensive today. Some members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints prefer to be called "Latter-day Saints" or "LDS" rather than "Mormons", while others generally use the term "LDS" when speaking to fellow church members and "Mormon" when speaking to others.
In fact, because many individuals are most familiar with the title "Mormon," the LDS Church maintains an official website presenting its basic beliefs and tenets at www.mormon.org.
Scope of the term "Mormon" within the Latter Day Saint movement
Some scholars feel the terms "Mormon" and "Mormonism" are useful to collectively describe all denominations within the Latter Day Saint movement, who claim to originate from the religion founded by Joseph Smith, Jr.. However, some feel the terms "Mormon" and "Mormonism" should be used exclusively to refer to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the LDS Church). Members of the Community of Christ, for example, rarely use the term "Mormon" to describe themselves, and instead apply it to members of the LDS Church. The Associated Press Stylebook likewise notes: "The term Mormon is not properly applied to the other ... churches that resulted from the split after [Joseph] Smith's death."
However, this usage is problematic because if it is employed, members of the early Latter Day Saint movement prior to schisms of the Latter Day Saint succession crisis should likewise not be referred to as "Mormons." This usage is also problematic regarding churches that split from the LDS Church in the 20th Century — some of which continue to refer to themselves as "Mormons." These groups often refer to themselves as Mormon fundamentalists and call members of the LDS church mainstream Mormons.
The LDS church has changed its position on the term "Mormon" over time. For many years it was common for members to use quotes around the word "Mormon" — to indicate that this is something non-Mormons called Latter-day Saints. By the 1970s, because the term had become so common, the LDS church began to use the term "Mormon" in advertising, including well-known television commercials which ended: "A message from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: The Mormons." More recently the organization has asked the media to use the church's complete name and follow any second reference with the name "The Church of Jesus Christ," to recognize Jesus Christ's importance to the faith. This style suggestion is rarely followed because of the ambiguity of the abbreviation and most still use the previous abbreviation, "LDS Church."
Although the LDS Church objects to the use of the referrent "Mormon Church," it stops short of rejecting the terms "Mormonism" and "Mormon" and occasionally claims these terms as exclusive references only to itself and its members. In a press release from 2001, the LDS Church stated that the word "Mormon" as an adjective in such expressions as "Mormon pioneers", "Mormons" as a noun in reference to church members, and "Mormonism" as a doctrine, culture, and lifestyle were all acceptable. Indeed, the LDS Church operates a website at mormon.org.
Claims for exclusivity of usage are primarily to avoid confusion between the LDS Church and "Mormon Fundamentalist" groups. The LDS Church argues "Mormon", "Mormon fundamentalist" and "Mormon dissident" in reference to organizations or groups outside of the LDS Church (especially those that practice plural marriage) is a misunderstanding of Mormon theology, in particular the principle of continuous revelation and Priesthood authority. Despite this perspective, the term "Mormon Fundamentalist" is widely used by Latter Day Saints (including members of the LDS church and the fundamentalists themselves) and by people outside the movement.
Sometimes "Restorationist" or "Restoration Movement" is used as umbrella terms, for those derived from the Campbellites or Stone-Campbell churches, for example, the Church of Christ and the Disciples of Christ. Mormonism had a number of similarities to Campbellite teachings, and many of Mormonism's first adherents (including Sidney Rigdon) were previously Campbellites.
Utah Mormons and Missouri Mormons
Some scholars, such as Melton, in his Encyclopedia of American Religion, subdivide the Mormons into "Utah Mormons" and "Missouri Mormons."
In this scheme, Missouri Mormons are those Mormons who did not travel to Utah, and the organizations formed from them — the Community of Christ, Church of Christ (Temple Lot), Remnant Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, etc. (Not all "Missouri Mormon" groups are based in Missouri, however. Notable exceptions include the Pennsylvania-based Church of Jesus Christ (Bickertonite) which considers Sidney Rigdon Joseph Smith's rightful successor and the Wisconsin-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Strangite) which considers James J. Strang Smith's legitimate successor.)
The Utah Mormon group includes all the organizations descending from those Mormons who followed Brigham Young to what is now Utah, both the large LDS church and other smaller organizations, including groups that still practice plural marriage — the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, the Kingston clan, the True & Living Church of Jesus Christ of Saints of the Last Days and others scattered in usually isolated communities mostly in Utah, Idaho, Arizona, Colorado, British Columbia, Alberta, and Mexico. Both the terms "Utah Mormons" and "Missouri Mormons" are also problematic because the majority of members of each of these branches no longer live in either of these states. The majority of the membership of the LDS church today resides outside of the United States.
Addressing some of the limitations of the Utah/Missouri designations, historian Jan Shipps has now coined the terms Rocky Mountain Saints and Prairie Saints to rename the "Utah" and "Missouri" branches of the movement. These new terms have begun to gain a following among historians today.
The term "Utah Mormon" is also popularly used today by American members of the LDS Church, to describe perceived cultural differences and/or geographical positioning between members who live in or originated in Utah, as opposed to members elsewhere.
Distinguishing Mormons from Quakers, Mennonites, and the Amish
Despite some misconceptions over similar nicknames and stereotypes, Mormons are not the same religious group as Quakers (or members of the Religious Society of Friends), Mennonites, or Amish. Mormons originated separately from these groups: Mormons originated in the United States; Quakers and Mennonites came from Western Europe.
One source of confusion comes from the mistranslation of the movie Witness (starring Harrison Ford) into Spanish, French, and Italian. "Amish" was translated incorrectly to "Mormon." Both Quakers and Mennonites (which include the Amish) are traditionally strict pacifists (and are both peace churches) whereas Mormons are not.
This is an abbreviated list of major external links. For a more complete list (including web sites with opposing views), see the main article for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
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Last updated: 09-12-2005 02:39:13