Anyway, six months ago, President Russell M. Nelson once again asked (commanded?) that we stop using the term "Mormon" and instead use the church's correct name as we emphasize that this is the church of Jesus Christ, not the church of Mormon or Joseph Smith, or whoever. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir has been rebranded as The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square. Church websites will be undergoing name changes. This is happening.
For me, it's been a challenge.
This morning, I read a blog post that did an excellent job of articulating why. As I read, I felt validated for my struggle and again kind of questioned the importance of all this (I mean, don't we have bigger issues to worry about?).
Until, that is, I read this:
"I’m aware that I am likely being a giant baby and maybe even ethnocentric for mourning the loss of my specific Mormon culture. I sincerely don’t want to further our tendency to view Mormonism through a strictly American lens."
This kicked me right in the gut. I am about to finish the last of 12 years as an expat in Korea. Eight of those years saw me attending Korean wards in my Korean hometown of Gwangju. During this time, I have become acutely aware of how few American Latter-day Saints have really internalized what it means to be a global faith. I have cringed repeatedly when people such as American missionaries, visitors from the States--including families picking up their missionaries and visiting church leaders--and speakers in General Conference have phrased comments that made it clear that to them, Mormon culture was rooted in American culture. It has never been anything intentionally exclusive. It's more like someone talking about their childhood in a small town in Utah or Idaho (with the unspoken assumption that everyone would understand the cultural connotation of growing up in Pocatello, Idaho). It's discussions about church members outside of North America that subtly (sometimes not so subtly) frame them as "other" and make use of a paternalistic tone. I don't have specific examples off-hand, but I've seen it and heard it many times. I'm sure I've been guilty as well.
I've heard a lot of criticisms of President Nelson over the last year. He has his flaws (we all do), but one thing I immediately respected was that he clearly had internalized, more than any previous president of the Church, the global nature of the Church and its membership. I don't hear that "us vs. them" tone when he speaks. I think he really, really gets it.
Which brings me back to the blog post and the name of the Church. My lightbulb moment this morning was the realization that what I've always considered "Mormon culture" is really "North American Mormon culture." It's the idea that because this is how we do it in the West, it's how it's done (white shirts? Women wearing skirts? Oh, the list could go on...). I mean, it's not the first time I've been made aware of the predominance of American or Western culture in Church culture. But, it was the first time I linked all of that to the name we use for the Church. This culture I've been clinging to is exclusionary. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is inclusionary. It is not an American gospel, because "America" is a man-made construct. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints may have originated in the United States, but it is not (or should not be) an American church.
I don't know if this was part of the decision to rebrand (not rename) the Church. Maybe not. It's certainly not the stated purpose. Given the shift in tone I've sensed over the last year, though, I wouldn't be surprised if it was at least part of the conversation at Church headquarters.
Regardless, it's finally won me over. I was trying before, but really only out of a weak sense of obligation to be obedient to the prophet's council. My heart wasn't in it. It is now. I'm sure it'll still be difficult because the term is so deeply engrained in my psyche (and, as Rebbie Brassfield pointed out, sometimes there isn't yet an acceptable alternative. What do we call the -ism?). But, I now have a much stronger motive to be obedient.