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Nine Moons » Blog Archive : Who decides who’s a Mormon? » Who decides who’s a Mormon?

Who decides who’s a Mormon?

mfranti - August 11, 2011

This topic has come up several times in the last year because I know a lot of people living very different lives. Some of my friends/acquaintances are believers with rock solid testimonies and others stopped attending church years ago. Some drink, some have sex outside of marriage, some watch pron, some had abortions, some cheated on their spouses and others play by the LDS rulebook but don’t believe the LDS Church is God’s church.

All of them, despite the things they do or don’t do, consider themselves Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints even though your gut might be telling you they’re not.

So who decides? Do you think you’re qualified to say?

I know I’m not qualified.


  1. For the sake of discussion, I would assume that by ‘Mormon’ you mean a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Is that a fair definition?

    If so, as a ward clerk I would say that if you have a membership record number then you are a Mormon.

    Comment by Eric Nielson — August 11, 2011 @ 5:59 pm

  2. People have to be able to define themselves how they want. Some people define themselves as “catholic” or “jewish” or “mormon” more because of family and culture than because they are active participants in that particular religion. And i’m fine with that.

    Obviously, it’s “buyer beware” because anyone can say they are “mormon” without actually being a member or having a testimony, and just because they don’t meet your definition or the Church’s definition doesn’t mean they’re going to change their self-identification.

    Comment by MCQ — August 11, 2011 @ 6:27 pm

  3. Eric, that is not a bad response.

    Comment by Stephen M (Ethesis) — August 11, 2011 @ 6:54 pm

  4. MCQ — that is an interesting point. Does a group have any right in defining its identity or should anyone be able to claim membership in the group for any reason?

    Comment by Stephen M (Ethesis) — August 11, 2011 @ 6:55 pm

  5. It’s not a matter of rights or should. I’m just talking about reality. People do it whether they should or not, and there’s nothing you can do about it.

    Comment by MCQ — August 11, 2011 @ 7:14 pm

  6. I think the term really depends upon a context. For instance in a conversation with someone only vaguely understanding what a Mormon is I’d expect an RLDS (Church of Christ) person to say they are Mormon. It’s just easier. However when a polygamist says it I think many of us get upset because it confuses issues by making the public think we practice polygamy.

    No one has any claim on language period. But hopefully if we are interested in communication with language rather than dominating some term we’ll use the words in a way that communicates who and what we are.

    Comment by Clark — August 11, 2011 @ 7:26 pm

  7. But how does that function is everyday life Clark? If you object to someone’s irresponsible use of the term “mormon” to self-identify, how do you police it?

    Comment by MCQ — August 11, 2011 @ 7:37 pm

  8. I decide. For further inquiries, please feel free to contact me via email or phone.

    Comment by John C. — August 11, 2011 @ 8:12 pm

  9. Is a membership number the defining factor? What if someone who was baptised but won’t ask for his/her name to be removed decided he no longer is Mormon because he doesn’t believe anything unique to Mormonism? If someone believes in nothing Mormons do but still has a membership number, is that person still Mormon?

    For that matter, what about someone who comes from two long lines of pioneers but whose parents stopped going before s/he was born? Is s/he still Mormon simply because her/his ancestors were, similar to Jews or Muslims?

    Comment by Kim Siever — August 11, 2011 @ 8:23 pm

  10. How come the responses aren’t this nice in real life?

    Comment by mfranti — August 11, 2011 @ 8:26 pm

  11. What responses Mel? Do people confront each other and ask to see temple recommends before they allow use of the term “mormon.” I’m curious as to how this actually goes down.

    Comment by MCQ — August 11, 2011 @ 9:13 pm

  12. I’m surprised you haven’t noticed it on teh interwebs.

    It kinda goes like this: You’re not really a Mormon because you do/don’t do X.

    Comment by mfranti — August 11, 2011 @ 10:07 pm

  13. Over at the LDS newsroom, there is a reiteration of Gordon B. Hinckley’s 1998 statement:

    We have also seen some confusion over use of the term “Mormon.” The fact is, when people hear the word “Mormon,” they think of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Mormon pioneers, and Mormon missionaries—all associated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. To identify polygamist groups or individuals like Jeffs as “Mormon” confuses people and leaves the impression that there is a connection between these small groups and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We hope this distinction will always be made clear.

    I’m sorry but I get annoyed with this. I realize we don’t want to be confused with Warren Jeffs. But the polygamous groups and other groups with roots in Joseph Smith’s restoration and the Book of Mormon have the right to be called “Mormons” if they wish. With one side of their mouths, our leaders tell us we shouldn’t use the word (but instead use the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints), and with the other side they act as if we own the word and disallow others from using it!

    Additionally, we ask the Christians not to narrow the term so that it doesn’t include us. Cannot we do the same for those who identify as Mormons?

    Comment by Bored in Vernal — August 11, 2011 @ 10:58 pm

  14. Well now that would be me — I’m the one. I’m also the baby Czar that decides whether folks will have children. From time to time I also decide who wins the lottery.

    Comment by Blake — August 11, 2011 @ 11:00 pm

  15. Oh, I didn’t know we were talking about online. How do you know who does what when you’re talking to someone online? As arJ is fond of saying, On the internet, no one knows you’re a dog.

    Comment by MCQ — August 12, 2011 @ 12:57 am

  16. in real life too.


    Comment by mfranti — August 12, 2011 @ 7:20 am

  17. Part of the problem with this question is that really being Mormon is not a matter of abstract definitions but it is a matter of a kind of felt-betrayal.

    If I start drinking alcohol and continue to define myself as Mormon I would not be surprised if certain people refused to allow me to have that definition. Whereas those same people will be visiting other less-active people and telling them that are still Mormon and that they should come back to Church. The key difference is the transition in personal relationship. The sense of felt-betrayal is enacted by refusing the title of Mormon to the person who has changed because they are no longer the person (Mormon) that they previously were.

    As such, seeking for these definitions is not really helpful because at root this about two (or more) people and their relationship over a period of time.

    Comment by Aaron R. — August 12, 2011 @ 7:27 am

  18. What responses Mel? Do people confront each other and ask to see temple recommends before they allow use of the term “mormon.” I’m curious as to how this actually goes down.

    You don’t visit Millennial Star very often, do you?

    As for the post, I’m qualified to decide, and they’re all Mormon. Just like Mormons can proclaim themselves Christian despite what other’s might think, there should be a large amount of latitude given to those who call themselves Mormon.

    Comment by jjohnsen — August 12, 2011 @ 12:12 pm

  19. You don’t visit Millennial Star very often, do you?

    jj ftw.

    Comment by mfranti — August 12, 2011 @ 12:17 pm

  20. I’m not sure why I would ever visit Millennial Star.

    Comment by MCQ — August 12, 2011 @ 12:21 pm

  21. I’m not sure why I would ever visit Millennial Star.

    Because you want one of the two Mormon police bloggers there to tell you why you don’t quite fit into what they’ve decided is the only true and living Mormon mold?

    Comment by jjohnsen — August 12, 2011 @ 2:11 pm

  22. Who is that jj? Care to refer us to a post where that is happening?

    Comment by MCQ — August 12, 2011 @ 2:51 pm

  23. Various posts by Jettboy and J.Max Wilson. I can email you examples if you’re that interested, but I’d rather not give those posts any promotion here. M* has taken a turn (I would say negatively, they would disagree I’m sure) in the past six months that very much fits in with this post. Almost a “if you’re not with us, you’re anti-Mormon and want to destroy us” feel. There are some very good bloggers, and I love discussing politics with Geoff B. though we only agree 1% of the time. Overall it has a very different feeling than it once did, but it’s hard to describe why.

    They certainly have no reason to try and appeal to me though, so it’s no biggie. And it may just be me, but Melanie might have similar feelings.

    Comment by jjohnsen — August 12, 2011 @ 3:16 pm

  24. Well consider the source. Jettboy and JMW are two people who have been widely regarded as extremists in the bloggernacle for years. I had no idea that JMW was even still blogging at any group site, having noisily withdrawn from the nacle altogether some time ago. I would not consider those two to have any sort of worthwhile opinion on anything.

    Comment by MCQ — August 12, 2011 @ 5:42 pm

  25. MCQ (7), I’m distinguishing between self-identification and communication and noting they are two different functions. The problem is people want it to be both simultaneously and it just can’t be.

    Ideally we communicate beyond a simple slogan. However many people don’t like to do that. (Often because they want to mislead through sophistry) So people who don’t like Mormons don’t simply want to communicate that they disagree with some of our theology. They want to portray us as non-Christians so as to devalue us. It is a power play. Likewise Mormons don’t want polygamist fundamentalists to use the term because it devalues us in the eyes of others. I don’t think most Mormons would mind if a FLDS person said, “I consider myself a Mormon but I’m not associated with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They consider us apostate and we consider them apostate. We practice polygamy but they excommunicate anyone who teaches it.”

    The problem is that the fight really isn’t over self-identification or labels. It’s over misleading communication. The people who wish to miscommunicate though don’t want to change.

    But honestly, I don’t care who self-identifies how. If some 10th generation northern Swedish person self-identifies as a black African because of where his ancestors came from millennia earlier I really don’t care.

    Comment by Clark — August 12, 2011 @ 8:45 pm

  26. But would you feel the same way if you were African?

    The test is when your group is the one being misidentified because of the labeling issues caused by those who self-identify as a member of your group.

    That’s why mainstream Christians don’t like Mormons to identify themselves as Christians, and it’s why the Church doesn’t like polygamist sects to identify themselves as Mormon. It makes it harder to police the boundaries of who you are in the minds of others.

    But really, that’s just part of life in my opinion. And it’s totally understandable that different people are going to have different definitions of words like Christian and Mormon. No one owns those words.

    Comment by MCQ — August 12, 2011 @ 11:45 pm

  27. His Majesty decides. You’re either in the Lamb’s Book of Life or you’re not, regardless of how active you are. On a more practical level, LDS are a lot like Jews. Jews may or may not eat Kosher, go to Temple, etc and they are still Jews.

    Comment by Brad — August 13, 2011 @ 10:56 am

  28. The same people that decide who is a Christian.


    Comment by Glenn Thigpen — August 17, 2011 @ 3:27 pm

  29. If we would all just heed the inspired lyrics of this Janine Brady song, all would be well in the world.

    Comment by Bret — August 19, 2011 @ 5:32 pm

  30. Brad — interesting point, since in Israel there are two definitions, one that has to do with whether or not the worship is really Jewish and the other about ethnic identity.

    Causes similar irritation.

    Though it does remind me of the old conflict between the difference between “catholic” and “Roman Catholic.”

    Comment by Stephen M (Ethesis) — August 22, 2011 @ 4:16 am

  31. If I had an acquaintance who was baptized Mormon, but watched porn (how would anybody know, don’t they do it secretly?) and cheated on their spouse and someone said, “are they Mormon?” I would reply “yes. They don’t follow the teachings, but they’re Mormons.”

    I’m not kicking anybody out just because I don’t approve of their choices. If I could do that, I’d be kicking out a lot of jerks who don’t watch porn (that I know of), don’t cheat, but are just creeps in general.

    Comment by annegb — August 22, 2011 @ 7:18 am

  32. I agree with that, annegb, and I think the creeps are doing stuff that we just don’t know about yet. But that’s their problem, not mine.

    But I guess the question is: is there anyone that claims to be Mormon that you would say should not be allowed that privilege?

    If someone asked me if fundamentalist polygamists were Mormon, I would simply explain the difference between the mainstream church and the polygamous churches. I would do the same if asked about the Community of Christ or other groups that accept the BoM and may claim to be Mormon. I’m not sure if any of those groups use the term “Mormon” without modifiers, but if they did, I wouldn’t deny them that right, I would just explain the difference to those who asked me about it.

    Comment by MCQ — August 22, 2011 @ 4:50 pm

  33. There are several “unbaptized members” on my ward directory. I spoke with one of them who was surprised (and a bit dismayed) to learn that he’s a Mormon.

    He was blessed as a child at the behest of his grandparents (we think); his parents were never active. Thus activateth the membership record.

    He’d only been contacted by the Church once before me by his then-bishop. He’s 19 now. Still, I think I’d consider him a Mormon.

    Comment by Thaddeus — August 26, 2011 @ 11:42 am

  34. [...] has shifted dramatically. I’m Mormon now in a very different way than I was then. With the various discussions attempting to define what it means to be Mormon, I thought I’d share what it means to me [...]

    Pingback by The Manner In Which I’m Mormon: My Articles of Faith | Times & Seasons — November 2, 2011 @ 2:01 pm

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