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


"OK, darling, that's what's happening," said The President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to his wife, Wendy Nelson.

"I remain silent and soon he is sitting on the edge of the bed and writing," she said in a recent video of the church.

Sometimes the spirit pushes the prophet's wife to leave the bed although she prefers to sleep. One of these mornings, Wendy Nelson told Mormon leaders that her husband was coming out of the room waving a yellow notebook.

"Wendy, you will not believe what happened before two o'clock," she told Russell Nelson. "The Lord has given me detailed instructions on a process that I must follow."

Nelson's nocturnal messages have "grown exponentially," said his wife, since last year, when the 94-year-old took the helm of the Church of Jesus Christ of Saints of the Last Days, known as the Mormon Church.

"One of the things that the Spirit has repeatedly impressed in my mind since my new calling as President of the Church," said Nelson, "is the Lord's willingness to reveal his spirit and his will ".

Through the intermediary of a spokesperson, Nelson refused an interview about his revelations. But more than any Mormon president of recent memory, he speaks openly and often about his divine communications, some of which have significant consequences for the church of 16.6 million members. Last year, Nelson announced that God had told him that the church should give up the nickname "Mormon", a nickname that lasts since the 1800s.

"The Lord made me understand the importance of the name he gave to his church," said Nelson, "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints."

The church has changed its websites, social media accounts, e-mail addresses, and even the name of its famous "Mormon" tabernacle choir based on Nelson's revelation. Church leaders have also lobbied the media to stop calling Latter-day Saints "Mormons."

Many church members say that they are stimulated and inspired by Nelson's prophecies and reassured that God is leading their church through a chaotic and confusing time.

But others are uncomfortable with Nelson "because God has told me," recourse to authority, and fear that this leaves little flexibility for young Mormons who are grappling with profound questions about religion.

"President Nelson is more willing and probably more committed to asserting his revelatory authority," said Kathleen Flake, an expert in Mormonism at the University of Virginia. "Required because it brings so much change and because the church has been facing so many difficulties."

"Moses in business suit"

Many religions speak of revelations. They fill much of the last book of the New Testament and many parts of the ancient Hebrew Bible, the burning bush that inspired Moses to the "sweet little voice" that murmured to Elijah.

But many modern believers view the two Bibles as closed guns, the last words God will hear before the last trumpet sounds. It is not that these religions regard prophecy as a pass. They think that the era of prophecy is over. Even Pope Francis speaks of "discerning" the will of God, but rarely revelations.

Latter-day Saints, as they prefer to be called, believe in continuous revelation. Their canon is open, ready to be revised or supplemented by his group of leaders, the first of whom is the president of the church, who is considered a "prophet, seer and revelator". In some circles, Nelson is simply called "the prophet".

Matthew Bowman, historian and author of the book "The Mormon People," said the president's vision as a "prophet" had evolved since the 1970s, as faith grew and so did church leaders. become spiritual celebrities.

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

But so few modern religions seem to mix pragmatism and prophecy in such a harmonious way, the presidents at once moderate and in the institutional spirit of the Mormon Church rarely correspond to the biblical image of the prophets as crazy-haired social critics who feed on grasshoppers and honey.

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

"There is no mistaking it, that is Moses wearing a suit," says Flake about the Mormon presidency, "someone who can lead people, write the scriptures and talk to God. "

The importance of the prophecy goes back to the founder of the faith, Joseph Smith, who said that God had told him to restore the Christian church. According to some Mormons, the lack of openness of Christian churches to new revelations is partly responsible for their apostasies.

Brigham Young, one of Smith's successors, told Mormons that opening a channel of communication with God should be their "first and foremost duty". They should seek divine guidance even on "the most insignificant matters".

In one of the first echoes of Nelson's yellow notebook, Young asked Mormons that, to receive revelations, their souls had to be "as clean and pure as a blank piece of paper on the desk."

But prophecy can be a confusing affair, as Joseph Smith discovered when other Mormons claimed to have divine sanction for their vision of the church. Smith ended the competition by claiming that God had told him that only the greatest prophets of faith could speak on behalf of the entire church, a restriction that still exists today. Mormons now believe that revelations are divided according to their role in the church and in society in general.

Huge decisions have been made based on the prophecies of the Mormon presidents, according to church leaders, including the end of the practice of polygamy and the opening of priesthood to men of African descent .

In his first speech as president, Nelson said revelations could guide Mormons through the chaos of modern life.

"We live in a complex and increasingly controversial world," he said. "The constant availability of social media and a 24-hour news cycle are bombarding us with incessant messages – if we want to have any hope of sifting through the myriad of voices and philosophies of men who are attacking the truth, we must learn to receive revelation. "

"A major victory for Satan"

Brought up in a non-religious home, Nelson read the Mormon Scriptures very young and was convinced. So convinced that he went home and broke his parents' alcohol reserves.

Since then, divine omens have played an important role in his life, says Nelson. A former cardiac surgeon who led Utah's first open-heart operation, the Mormon president said he had prayed for help from the Holy Spirit while he was wielding a scalpel on the body of a patient.

The revelations also sowed Nelson's love life. After the death of his first wife in 2005, Nelson proposed to the old Wendy Watson. "To reinforce my proposal to Wendy, I told her:" I know the revelation and how to receive it, "said the Mormon president. Wendy Nelson said she too had received a revelation regarding their relationship.

Brigham Young told Mormons

As a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, one of the highest echelons of church leadership, Nelson said he prayed every day for revelations. In 2016, before becoming president, he defended the new church policy of calling LGBT couples "apostates" and effectively banning their children from being baptized.

When liberal Mormons criticized this policy, Nelson described it as "the Lord's will," as former President Thomas Monson expressed it.

Some Mormons say that Nelson was trying to support a decision made by the man calling it a revelation, but critics do not seem to have slowed his revelation process.

Since taking office in 2018, Nelson has put in place a number of changes, including: cut an hour from Sunday church meetings, change the programs of the Ministry of the Interior, consolidate levels of church leadership, eliminate historical re-enactments, announce a new edition of the Mormon hymns, revise guidelines for bishops who advise young adults, allowing missionaries to contact their families more often and ending the relationship of 100 years of the church with the scouts.

All changes are not based on revelations, church leaders said. But, since they come from above, they are all supposed to have the approval of the prophet and therefore of God as well.

Among Nelson's reforms, none has received as much attention as the revelation about the church's name. Church leaders say that "Mormon", which refers to a prophet who plays a central role in the Book of Mormon, still holds a place of honor in the faith, but, in reference to the saints in recent days, it is an imprecision imposed by foreigners. (In fact, the words "Shakers" and "Quakers" have also started as derogatory nicknames.)

Nelson vigorously rejected the nickname "Mormon", claiming that he offended God and represented "a major victory for Satan". He had made a similar argument in 1990, while he was church chief, but he was apparently rejected by his superiors.

Asked about the apparent contradiction – why would the previous Mormon prophets have rejected what is apparently the will of God? – The church spokesman, Eric Hawkins, said that the church said: The most important prophet is the living.

"God may have different intentions for the church at different times," Hawkins said. "It's part of the notion that the church can change."

Mormons on the margins

Steve Evans, a 46-year-old lawyer involved in managing the Mormon website, By Common Consent, said many other Latter-day Saints were inspired by Nelson's revelations.

"People have the impression that it is a very dynamic period in the church," he said. "When you have a president who speaks openly about being led by God, it is very exciting, you feel that you have a purpose and that things are going in a positive direction."

But Evans also said Nelson's revelations raised tensions in the church. When a president calls his decision "will of God", he puts an end to any argument. The revelations of other Mormons are often, if not always, intended to align with their priorities.

Mica McGriggs, a psychologist and community activist in New York City, said that this style from top to bottom could lead to polarization within the church, especially among millennials who take a more DIY approach to spirituality.

"You see more and more young people saying," You can not just tell me the answers. I have to discover them myself, "said McGriggs.

Moreover, it is difficult to be a prophet in the era of the iPhone, where any statement can be verified in real time.

Drop the

And while Orthodox Mormons feel blessed to have a strong figure at the head of the church, McGriggs said, marginalized Mormons are more wary.

According to new research, many young Mormons live in a "gray zone", in which they can follow certain principles of faith, but also adopt non-traditional practices such as drinking caffeine and watching movies of superior quality, as well as to experience their sexuality.

"There is a common ground where less orthodox members live," McGriggs said. "And it's as if the church was drawing a line in the sand, you're either on the Lord's side, or you're not there."

In many ways, Mormonism is not so different from other American regions, which are also struggling with crises of authority and have trouble connecting with millennia more and more secular.

Up to now, Nelson's strategy seems to imply the liberal use of his "trump card", as Evans says: his authority as the main prophet, seer and revelator of the church.

In what you might call a prophetic discourse, Nelson told the Mormons of Generation Y in 2016 that in a society littered with "servants of Satan" only God's own prophets can truly trust.

"The prophets see before us, they see the heartbreaking dangers that the adversary has placed or will still place in our path, and they foresee the great possibilities and privileges that await those who listen with the objective of obeying. "

If there is one thing we know, it is that Nelson listens and writes all this in his yellow notebook.


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