Mormon scripture states the faith’s name — The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — was provided to church founder Joseph Smith in a revelation from God.
“This is the name by which the Lord will call us at the last day,” Elder M. Russell Ballard of the faith’s Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said during the faith’s semiannual general conference.
The “Mormon” moniker is often used to describe the Utah-based church because its central text is “The Book of Mormon.”
Using the church’s formal name also distances it from splinter groups and polygamists who also use the word “Mormon” in describing their faith, Ballard said.
Polygamy in Utah and across much of the West is considered a legacy of early Mormon church teachings. The faith brought the practice to the region in the 1840s, but abandoned polygamy in 1890 as part of Utah’s push for statehood.
“Let me state clearly that no polygamist group, includes those calling themselves Fundamentalist Mormons or other derivatives of our name, have any affiliation whatsoever with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” Ballard said emphatically.
An estimated 40,000 self-described Mormon fundamentalists continue the practice of polygamy, believing it brings glorification in heaven. Most fundamentalists use the Book of Mormon and other Mormon-based texts as scripture. Many also believe that they, not the mainstream Mormon church, are practicing its original tenets.
Best known among these groups is the southern Utah-based Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, whose leader Warren Jeffs was convicted of felony charges in Texas for sexual assaults on underage sect girls in August. He’s serving a life prison term.
In 2008, the mainstream church launched a Texas-based public relations campaign to distinguish itself from the FLDS. The effort followed a raid by authorities on and FLDS ranch that was triggered by allegations of child abuse.
Polling conducted by the Mormon church found that 36 percent of 1,000 respondents though the FLDS ranch was part of the Salt Lake City-based church. Another 6 percent said the FLDS and Latter-day Saints were partly related and other 29 percent said they didn’t know.
On Sunday, Ballard said recent polling has shown a majority of the public continues to believe that Mormons are not Christians. Ballard suggested the perception might be corrected if members use the church’s full and formal name.
It’s a decades-old lament for the church. Millions associate the faith with its Mormon nickname. The issue is confounded by the church’s own use of the word — as with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, for example. An advertising campaign in the 1970s labeled the faith “The Mormons.” Last year’s “I’m a Mormon” campaign relies on the word and uses the Web address Mormon.org.
Nicknames can be properly used, but don’t have the same status or significance as actual names, Ballard said.
“We do not need to stop using the name Mormon, when appropriate, but we should continue to give emphasis to the full and correct name of the church itself,” he said.
Latter-day Saints gather in Salt Lake City twice each year to receive inspiration and guidance from their leaders. More than 100,000 attend the proceedings, while millions more watch the two-day event on television, satellite and Internet broadcasts that are translated into more than 90 languages.
The church claims 14.1 million members worldwide in more than 170 countries.