What’s Up with the Mormon Environmental Stewardship Alliance Name?
Or, why do we use “Mormon”?
Our movement and organization launched over a decade ago, many years before the more recent direction given by President Russell M. Nelson in 2018 to use the correct name of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Since then, we have reflected, sought inspiration and discussed at length whether and how this direction applies to the organization’s name, and ultimately have concluded that it does not, for the most obvious reason that the Mormon Environmental Stewardship Alliance is not Christ’s church.
This is not something we take lightly. We are unequivocal as an organization in how we refer to Christ’s church, and try to carefully follow the prophet’s guidance as we do. We are not alone in our struggle with how to apply the prophet’s direction when to referring to the Church, and to organizations that are not Christ’s church and not directly affiliated with the Church. You can read about some of the struggles and humor adapting to the direction regarding the name of the Church here.
Elder Neil L. Andersen highlighted the miracle of acquiring the new Church domain ChurchofJesusChrist.org in his October 2021 General Conference talk, and noted how official Church organizations and programs have adjusted and changed to remove Mormon and LDS from their names—for example, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir is now the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square; the Mormon.org web site is now ComeUntoChrist.org; and LDS Business College has become Ensign College. These changes have been expected because these are official Church organizations. We think they are wonderful and appropriate adjustments.
Unlike official Church organizations and programs, we have not seen many established, independent, faith aligned nonprofit organizations changing names as a result of this direction, such as Mormon History Association, Mormon Mental Health Association, and Mormon Women for Ethical Government. You can read commentaries here and here (note, after this commentary, FAIRMormon eventually changed its name to FAIR – “Faithful Answers, Informed Response” on March 20, 2021, and you can find them online at FAIRLatterDaySaints.org).
President Nelson was very specific with his direction encompassing how we refer to the Church and its members. Mormon Environmental Stewardship Alliance is an independent, faith based 501(c)3 education and advocacy organization. And while we are united by a faith community, informed by its values and beliefs, and are encouraged and inspired to amplify messages from Church leaders and holy scripture to care for the earth, be wise stewards of it, preserve it for future generations, improve and beautify our communities, love and care for each other, and regard the sanctity of all life, we are not Christ’s church, or even a church at all. We share resources and perspectives, but are not speaking for or acting as the Church. In some some ways, using Mormon in our name distinguishes us from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and helps to avoid confusion with the actual Church.
We don’t view the name Mormon negatively when not referring to the Church. After all, the Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ is a sacred and revered use of the name Mormon. We regard “Mormon” in the manner described by President Gordon B. Hinckley in his October 1990 General Conference address, and we try to model his association of the term Mormon with doing “More Good.” We believe that there is much good that can come from an organization focused on the principles, beliefs and values of environmental stewardship and conservation, and hope our association and use of Mormon in our name will reflect positively on the Restored Church of Jesus Christ for those in and outside of the Church with whom we interact.
The name, for us, also has deeper meaning as we consider the specific references to the name “Mormon” in the Book of Mormon.
Mormon first appears as the place name of “Mormon” and the “Waters of Mormon,” (see Mosiah 18) to which we attribute a sanctifying experience. A small band of Christ’s followers, political refugees, fled to this place of seclusion and were baptized. Pristine and natural places like the Waters of Mormon nourish our spiritual, emotional and physical health. Ironically, the sanctifying and cleansing ordinance of baptism could not be contemplated in the waters of many urban areas today. For example, the Jordan River in Utah, which flows near the Church Headquarters in Salt Lake City and is named for the Jordan River in the Holy Land where Jesus was baptized, is a highly impaired river, polluted to the point that being immersed in the lower Jordan River near the bottom of the watershed in Salt Lake and Davis County is a hazardous health risk.
The next reference is to the name of the Nephite leader, Mormon, for whom the Book of Mormon is named. This reference carries profound symbolism and a warning for our time. Mormon, who abridged and compiled the Book of Mormon, was well acquainted with and described many of the self-destructive tendencies of many people who inhabited his land over thousands of years. He further witnessed first-hand the eventual destruction of his entire society. We see parallels today as we witness catastrophic disasters across the globe and in our own communities—self-destructive activity resulting from the tremendous pollution and environmental degradation of land, air, water and climate, which are harming our human family and destroying all forms of life.
Using the name Mormon in Mormon Environmental Stewardship Alliance honors the goodness of this name in reference to both the person, the place, and the book, and symbolizes to us what our movement might aspire to become.
As you review and study the direction the Prophet gave, and find some broader and encompassing application to organizations outside of the Church, we welcome your additional insights. We are open to inspiration that might at some point take us in another direction. We have not, as yet, found another name that better describes who we are and what we are about.