Any journalist who has ever worked on a newspaper copy desk knows the following to be true, when it comes to religion news.
It would be absolutely impossible to write headlines about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints -- especially dramatic, one-column headlines in big type -- without using the word "Mormon" or the abbreviation "LDS."
Well, we're about to find out if journalists are willing to develop some new "work around" to address that style issue. Here is last week's big news out of Utah, care of The Salt Lake City Tribune:
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints really, truly, absolutely wants to be known as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Not the LDS Church. Not the Mormon church.
It made that clear Thursday -- even though the last attempt to eradicate those nicknames for the Utah-based faith flopped. The new push came from God to President Russell M. Nelson, the church said in a news release Thursday.
“The Lord has impressed upon my mind the importance of the name he has revealed for his church,” Nelson is quoted as saying, “even The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”
Attention members of the Associated Press Stylebook committee: Here is that new release from on high. You need to see this, before we get to an interesting think piece on the implications of this change, care of a thoughtful journalism professor at Brigham Young University.
The 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. We have work before us to bring ourselves in harmony with His will. In recent weeks, various Church leaders and departments have initiated the necessary steps to do so. Additional information about this important matter will be made available in the coming months.
So no more "Mormon" references, unless there is no way around material in a title or direct quote. No more "LDS" shortcuts.
At the moment, here is what the bible of mainstream journalism, that AP manual, has to say on this issue (at least, this is the quote in the one on my desk):
Mormon Church Acceptable in all references for Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but always include the full name in a story dealing primarily with church activities. See the entry under the formal name.
The stylebook's long entry for the formal name begins with:
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Note the capitalization and punctuation of Latter-day. ... The church is based on revelations that Joseph Smith said were brought to him in the 1820s by heavenly messengers.
So what about The Choir and The Tabernacle?
Journalists, of course, will want to know what is going on here. What led to this change -- other than a message from God, of course -- at this moment in time?
At the very least, this has to be seen as the latest move in a multi-decade game of ecclesiastical chess to escape the negative connotations of the "Mormon" label and move toward an image that is closer to the Christian mainstream. Of course, Trinitarian Christians have been highly skeptical, watching these public-relations moves in the past.
Yes, it's hard not to notice the LDS in the magazine's URL. Change, change, change?
Here is a key passage near the top, after an overture about the love-hate relationship that surrounds the word "Mormon." Then there is the statement from Nelson. Then there is this:
An updated style guide further states: While the term “Mormon Church” has long been publicly applied to the Church as a nickname, it is not an authorized title, and the Church discourages its use. Thus, please avoid using the abbreviation “LDS” or the nickname “Mormon” as substitutes for the name of the Church. ...
In different times and seasons in its history, the Church has alternately embraced and rejected the term “Mormon” and “Mormonism.” In more modern times, it encouraged the use of “LDS’ or “LDS Church” as a shorthand that was seen as more acceptable and respectful than “Mormon.” Most recently, the Church undertook an effort to change the usage of the Church’s name prior to the 2002 Winter Olympics hosted in Salt Lake City.
Campbell notes that, in history, the term "Mormon" has negative roots. This history soaked straight into popular journalism, all the way back to the famous James Gordon Bennett writing features about the "Mormonites."
Also, check out this fragment, cited by Campbell, of an encounter between giants:
In 1859, the term was well entrenched among the Eastern press. In what is recognized as the first newspaper question-and-answer interview, another famous New York editor Horace Greeley quizzed Brigham Young in Salt Lake City about “Mormons,” which Brigham Young said was a term used by “enemies” of the Church.
Here’s an excerpt:
Horace Greeley -- Am I to regard Mormonism (so-called) as a new religion, or as simply a new development of Christianity?
Brigham Young -- We hold that there can be no true Christian Church without a priesthood directly commissioned by and in immediate communication with the Son of God and Savior of mankind. Such a church is that of the Latter-Day Saints, called by their enemies Mormons; we know no other that even pretends to have present and direct revelations of God’s will.
Campbell knows the press, of course. Thus, he knows who has the ultimate authority on these matters -- at the level of digital and analog ink:
In its newest iteration, the Church’s style guide once again asks for journalists and others to refer to the “Church” with a capital “C” on second reference. While that has been the long-term style of Church publications, it’s not likely to be adopted by non-Church media outlets or writers. Such a capitalization would infer that the Church enjoys some primacy among churches. While Latter-day Saints believe in such doctrinal “restored” primacy, journalists, and their publications, which are supposed to treat all churches evenhandedly, aren’t likely to adopt the practice.
And at AP?
Despite a request for changes in 2001, the Associated Press stylebook remains unchanged saying that the official name of the Church should be used when an article deals with official Church activities, but in other references “Mormon church” (lowercase ‘c’) is acceptable. Except for Church publications, most have ignored this call for change. Even the Church-owned Deseret News had used less wordy LDS Church in first reference in its news reporting, headlines and added LDS to the “Church News” section for a time. It has published the Mormon Times for some time.
Journalists, and those who are interested in the journalism craft, are going to want to read all of this.