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Commentary —  21 November 2006

Use of the Word Mormon in News Reports

Request to News Media:

The Associated Press Stylebook has recognized this difficulty and specified that the term Mormon is a nickname that should be applied exclusively to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and that it is not accurately applied to any other person or organization (see entries on “Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, The” and “Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints”).

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints recognizes that the prosecution of polygamist Warren Jeffs is generating substantial media coverage and that Jeffs’ group refers to its members as fundamentalist Mormons. That is causing problems for reporters trying to help their readers, viewers and listeners distinguish between Jeffs’ followers and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

In the public mind, the word Mormon has come to mean something very specific. It conjures up images of Mormon missionaries on bikes, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Mormon temples. It has become a synonym for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Consequently, when Mormon is used to describe polygamist groups, it causes great confusion about our beliefs among the general public and frustration to our members, which number over 12 million worldwide.

Polygamists and polygamist organizations that occasionally make the news are not dissident wings of the Church or fundamentalists. They have no affiliation whatsoever with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Most of their members have never had any association with the Church either.

It follows that because Warren Jeffs is not affiliated with the Mormon church, and since he is not Mormon, reporters should look for more accurate and less misleading descriptions of him in the media. For example, Court TV’s Web page never once used the word Mormon to describe Warren Jeffs in its story entitled “Prosecutors to present evidence against polygamist leader Warren Jeffs in teen-bride case.”

We sometimes hear the argument that because Jeffs and his followers use the Book of Mormon they should be considered Mormons. However, Catholics, Methodists, Lutherans, evangelicals and a host of other faiths believe in Jesus and claim the Bible as their own, yet all consider themselves separate and distinct faiths.

The same is true for all religious groups who believe in Joseph Smith’s prophetic calling and use the Book of Mormon. For example, the Community of Christ church claims Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon but changed its name from the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints to be recognized as a different faith.

Perhaps the following points will be helpful in your media coverage:

• Warren Jeffs has never been a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, whose members are often referred to as “Mormons.”

• Polygamy was officially discontinued in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1890. Any Church member adopting the practice today is excommunicated. Those groups which continue the practice in Utah and elsewhere have no association whatever with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and most of their practitioners have never been among our members.

• The Church has long been concerned about the continued illegal practice of polygamy, and in particular about reports of child and wife abuse emanating from polygamous communities today.

• Even in countries where civil or religious law allows polygamy, the Church teaches that marriage must be monogamous and does not accept into its membership those practicing plural marriage.

Thank you for your time and attention in what we consider a very serious matter for our faith. We hope that both reporters and headline writers will be sensitive to this information.

-Church Public Affairs

Style Guide Note: When reporting about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, please use the complete name of the Church in the first reference. For more information on the use of the name of the Church, go to our online style guide.

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