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Home / US / Why the 'Mormon' church changed its name. (It's about revelation, not rebranding.)

Why the 'Mormon' church changed its name. (It's about revelation, not rebranding.)



"OK dear, it's happening," the president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints tells his wife, Wendy Nelson.

"I just stay quiet and soon he's sitting up at the side of the bed, writing," she said in a recent church video.

Sometimes the spirit prompts the prophet's wife to leave the bed, though she'd rather sleep. One such morning, Wendy Nelson told Mormon leaders, her husband emerged from the bedroom waving a yellow notebook.

"Wendy, you will not believe what's happening for two hours," she recalled Russell Nelson saying. "The Lord has given me detailed instructions on a process I am to follow."

Nelson's nighttime messages have "increased exponentially," his wife said, since the 94-year-old took the helm of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, widely known as the Mormon church.

"One of the things the Spirit has impressed upon my mind since my re-appointment as President of the Church," Nelson said, "is how the Lord is to reveal His mind and will."

Through a spokesman, Nelson declined to interview about his revelations. But more than any Mormon president in recent memory, he speaks openly and often about his divine communications, 1

6.6 million-member church. Last year, Nelson announced that God had told him to drop the moniker "Mormon," a nickname that has been stuck since the 1800s.

"The Lord impressed upon my mind the importance of the name He decreed for His Church," Nelson said, "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints."

Tabernacle Choir based on Nelson's revelation. "Mormon" tabernacle choir based on Nelson's revelation. Church leaders also have Latter-day Saints as "Mormons."

Many church members say they are energized and inspired by Nelson's Prophecies, and reassured that God directs them through a chaotic and confusing time.

But others express discomfort with Nelson's "because God told me so" Mormons struggling with deep questions about the religion.

"President Nelson is more and more likely to be required to serve as his revelatory authority," said Kathleen Flake, an expert on Mormonism at the University of Virginia. "Required because he is making so many changes and because the church has faced so much pushback."

'Moses in a business suit'

Lots of religions talk about revelations. Hebrew Bible, from the burning bush that inspired Moses to the "still, small voice" who whispered to Elijah.

But many modern believers consider both Bible, the last words we'll hear from God before the final trumpet blows. It's not that religion consider prophesy passe. They just think the era of prophecy has passed. Even Pope Francis speaks of "discerning" God's will, but rarely of revelations.

Latter-day Saints, as they say, believe in continuing revelation. Their canon is open, ready to be revised or supplemented by its top cadre of leaders, first among whom is the church's president, who is considered a "prophet, seer and revelator." In some circles, Nelson is called, simply, "the Prophet."

Matthew Bowman, a historian and author of the book, "The Mormon People," said the view of the president as a "prophet" has risen since the 1970s, as the faith has grown up to become a spiritual celebrity sorts.

"It's an attempt to emphasize the authority of the president of the church," Bowman said.

Just a few modern religions seem to blur pragmatism and prophecy quite so seamlessly, the Mormon Church's often mild-mannered and institutionally minded presidents match the biblical image of prophets as wild-haired social critics who feed on locusts and honey.

 Mormonism began after Joseph Smith said he saw God in a vision while praying in a grove of trees.

"There's no mistaking it, this is Moses in a business suit," Flake said of the Mormon presidency, "someone who can lead people, write scripture and talk to God."

The importance of prophecy dates back to the faith's founder, Joseph Smith, who said God restored him to the Christian church. According to some Mormons, Christian churches' paint of openness to new revelations is to blame for their apostasy.

Brigham Young, one of Smith's successors, told Mormons that he had a "first and foremost duty." They should seek divine counsel on even the "most trifling matters."

In Nelson's Yellow Notebook, Young instructed Mormons that they should receive their readings, they should be "as pure and clean as a piece of blank paper."

But Joseph Smith found out when other Mormons claim to have divine sanction for their vision of the church. Smith ended the competition by claiming that God told him only the faith's prophets could speak. Mormons now believe that revelations are parceled out according to one's role in the church and in opposition to society.

Huge decisions have been made based on Mormon presidents' prophecies, including the conclusion of the practice of polygamy and opening of the priesthood to African descent.

Mormon's passage through the chaos of modern life.

"We live in a world that is complex and increasingly contentious," he said. "We have to have any hope of sifting through the myriad of voices and philosophies of men that attack truth, we must learn to receive revelation."

'A major victory for Satan'

Raised in a non-religious home, Nelson read the Mormon scriptures at a young age and what convinced. So he did that home and smashed his parents' liquor supply.

Since then, divine omens have been playing an important role in his life, Nelson says. Utah's first open-heart operation, the Mormon president said he was praying for the Holy Ghost's help while wielding a scalpel over a patient's body.

Revelations have seeded Nelson's love life as well. After his first wife died in 2005, Nelson proposed Wendy Watson. "To strengthen my proposal to Wendy, I said to her, 'I know about revelation and how to receive it,'" the Mormon president has said. Wendy Nelson said she, too, had received a revelation about her relationship.

 Brigham Young told Mormons their

During his time as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, one of the church's top echelons of leadership, Nelson said he prayed for revelations daily , In 2016, before he became president, he said, "LGBT couples defend their children from baptism."

When liberal Mormon criticized the policy, Nelson called it "the will of the Lord" as expressed to former president Thomas Monson.

Some Mormons say Nelson was trying to shore up a man-made decision by calling it a revelation, but the criticism does not seem to have slowed down his revelation roll.

Since taking office in 2018, Nelson has instituted a number of changes, including: cutting down on Sunday church meetings, modifying home ministry programs, consolidating levels of church leadership, eliminating historical pageants, announcing a new edition of Mormon hymns, revising guidelines for bishops who provide counseling to their families more often and ending the church's 100-year association with the Boy Scouts.

Not all changes were based on revelations, church leaders said. But, as they come from the top, they are God's as well.

Of Nelson's reforms, none has received as much attention as the revelation about the church's name. Church leaders say "Mormon," which refers to a prophet who plays a pivotal role in the Book of Mormon, who holds a place of honor in the faith, but, as a reference to Latter-day Saints, it is an inaccuracy imposed by outsiders. (For that matter, the words "Shakers" and "Quakers" start as pejorative nicknames as well.)

Nelson has been forceful in his rejection of the "Mormon" nickname, saying it offends God and represents "a major victory for Satan." He made a similar argument in 1990, when he was a church leader, but was rebuffed by superiors.

Asked about the apparent contradiction – why would Mormon prophets reject what is now God's will? – church spokesman Eric Hawkins said: "The most important prophet is the living one.

"God may have different intentions for the church at different times," Hawkins said. "That's gone into the notion that the church can change."

Mormons on the margins

Steve Evans, a 46-year-old attorney who helps run the Mormon website by Common Consent, said many fellow Latter-day Saints are energized by Nelson's Revelations.

"People feel like this is very dynamic time in the church," he said things are going in a positive direction. "

But Evans also said that Nelson's revelations raise certain tensions in the church. When a president calls his decision "God's will," that ends up any argument. Other Mormons' revelations are often, but not always, expected to be polarized within the church, especially among millennials who take a DIY approach to spirituality, Mica McGriggs said, a psychologist and community activist in New York City.

"You see more and more young people saying, 'You can not tell me the answers.'" McGriggs.

What's more, it's hard to be a prophet in the age of the iPhone, when any statement can be fact-checked in real time.

 Dropping the

And while Orthodox Mormons feel blessed, the McGriggs said, Mormons on the margins are more wary.

According to new research, many young Mormons live in a "gray area," in which they may follow some tenets of the faith, but so adopt non-traditional practices like drinking caffeine and watching R-rated movies, as well as experimenting with their sexuality.

"There are living areas where orthodox members are living," McGriggs said. "And it's like the church is drawing in the sand, you're either on the Lord's side or you are not."

In many ways, Mormonism is not so different from other American relgions, which are therefore grappling with crises of authority and struggling to connect secular millennials.

Thus far, Nelson's strategy seems to entail liberal use of his "trump card," as Evans puts it: his authority as the church's chief prophet, seer and revelator.

Nelson told Mormon millennials in 2016 that, in a society littered with "servants of Satan," only God's own prophets can truly be trusted.

"Prophets see ahead, They see the harrowing dangers the adversary has been placed in our path." Prophets, therefore, foresee the grand possibilities and privileges awaiting those who list the intent to obey. "

If there's one thing we know, that's all Nelson is listening to and writing on his yellow notebook.


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