If I were to write a post about how inappropriate it would be for members of Christ’s church to affix labels to fellow saints, it would be one of the shortest posts ever written. It would consist of a perfect quote from President Uchtdorf: “Stop it!.” (Link here.)
Instead, I would like to look a little more closely at another kind of label – the labels that we pick out and stick to ourselves. Even more specifically, the labels that we stick on ourselves as members of the Church.
Here are a few examples: (Feel free to substitute LDS for Mormon if you so desire.)
Tea-Party Mormon • Liberal Mormon • Conservative Mormon • Progressive Mormon • Orthodox Mormon • Feminist Mormon • Hipster Mormon • Traditional Mormon • Modern Mormon • Libertarian Mormon • Democrat Mormon • Republican Mormon • Independent Mormon • Pro-Gay Marriage Mormon • Anti-Gay Marriage Mormon • Molly Mormon • Vegan Mormon, Carnivorous Mormon, etc.
You get the idea. There are many, many different adjectives that we tack onto our faith to help better define who we are. It is common practice, and even more so on the internet. We use these “brands” to attract like-minded people. and to stake out our territory.
I’ve done it, too. Sometimes I will slide my “brand” of Mormonism into a conversation to quickly show where I stand on an issue, or to find an ally. (For the record, I chose “middle-aged” because it describes where I am in life, but tells nothing about my personal ideology. I guess I could have gone with Ice-Cream Eating Mormon Man, too.)
Here is my main point, bolded, and italicized for your convenience:
Subdividing our religion with different labels is the antithesis of the concept of Zion.
Zion is meant to be a place of unity. “And the Lord called His people Zion, because they were of one heart, and one mind; and dwelt in righteousness…” (Moses 7:18)
So I don’t understand how carving out our own piece of philosophical turf, and mingling it with our religion is promoting the cause of Zion. Separation defies unity. Those very modifiers sometimes become part of our identities, and how we portray ourselves to each other and the world. To many, the label has gone from merely an identifier, to a key part of our self-concept.
Don’t freak out: I am not saying that people should not have ideologies, or opinions, or causes. If you want to be a Gun-toting Pharmacist, or a Liberal Insurance Salesman, knock yourself out! There are surely plenty of Independent Engineers, or Libertarian Nurses out there, and that is just fine. We need to discuss these issues, we don’t all need to be the same in dealing with worldly matters. But why attach a temporal, and temporary, ideology, or political affiliation to something as important as our faith? Doesn’t our faith deserve better than that? “Mormon” or “Latter-day Saint” should be adequate, and all-encompassing, by itself.
The people who have the best claim on modifying the term “Mormon” are those that define themselves as Ex-Mormon, Anti-Mormon, Former Mormon, Fundamentalist Mormon, etc. Because what we see as Zion is not their ultimate goal.
Joseph Smith said, “We ought to have the building up of Zion as our greatest object.” (Teachings: Joseph Smith, 186) How do we accomplish this when the first word - the very adjective that we use to describe ourselves and our relationship to our faith highlights our differences, rather than our commonalities.
The second concept that deals with the self-labeling affliction is the idea that we only label ourselves when we feel that we are right, or at least more right than the people who don’t wear our label of choice.
If I say I am a “Label” Mormon, I am claiming my ideological turf, and letting you know that I am different than many of you, and thusly, better informed, more enlightened, more charitable, or more educated. etc.
People simply don’t hyphenate to highlight their inferiority.
I have yet to see someone start a serious blog called Misogynist Mormon, or Politically Clueless Mormon. The point of the labels we attach to our religion is to stand out from what we perceive as the masses, so that the masses can know that they’ve got some changin’ to do if they want to catch up.
Which is, in itself, an accusation – a form of judgment. “The great body of the church is not as enlightened as I am, therefore I must let it be known that I am different and offer a better “brand” of Mormonism.”
Isn’t that a perfect example of the type of pride that impedes our progress to become a Zion-like people?
The problem is that whenever we carve out our own brand of Mormonism, we are actually carving it off- because there is only one brand of Mormonism: The brand defined by Christ himself, unmodified by human adjectives and ideologies. There are countless variants of the gospel out there, but they are not actually THE gospel.
As Paul said, there is “One Lord, one faith, and one baptism.” (Eph.4:5)
Is it possible for all of us to just be “Mormon?” Is it possible to lead with a focus on our common faith, rather than leading with our personal ideologies? It is. It has happened before, and I believe it could happen again.
There was a period of time after the Savior left the “other sheep,” where the people reached a level of righteousness and unity that they put away both the labels that were imposed on them, and the self-affixed labels as well.
“…and surely there could not be a happier people among all the people who had been created by the hand of God.
There were no robbers, nor murderers, neither were there Lamanites, nor any manner of -ites; but they were in one, the children of Christ, and heirs to the kingdom of God.” (4 Nephi 1: 16-17)
They did it – they managed to unify to the point that they peeled off the labels they had worn for over seven hundred years. Those same labels that had led generations to hate and to war with each other. They just gave them up, and focused instead on becoming children of Christ. The result? Happiness.
Elder Russell M. Nelson applied this Book of Mormon narrative to our lives. He said, “That lesson from history suggests that we also delete from our personal vocabularies names that segregate and hyphens that separate.” (Link)
(…A brief pause while we process that statement….. alright, moving on…)
If our cause is the building of Zion, maybe we could stop shooting ourselves in the foot by defining ourselves, and our religion, in divisive terms.
Accordingly, I am going to stop referring to my liberal Mormon friends as Liberal Mormons, and my conservative Mormon friends as conservative Mormons – even if that is how they define themselves. Instead, I am just going to call all of you my friends, and fellow Mormons. I am also going to focus on remembering that the elements of our faith that we hold in common are greater, and more numerous, than those few things that divide us.
Wish me luck.
PS: If any of you adopt the term “Label Mormon” and start using it, then you missed the whole point of this post. Please read it again.
Great talk: Elder Russell M. Nelson, “Children of the Covenant.“