Q&A: Why the Mormon church is renaming its well-known choir

FILE - In this March 31, 2018, file photo, The Mormon Tabernacle Choir perform during the twice-annual conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, in Salt Lake City. The well-known Mormon Tabernacle Choir was renamed Friday, Oct. 5, 2018, to strip out the word Mormon in a move showing the faith's new president is serious about ending shorthand names for the religion that have been used for generations by church members and previously promoted by the church. The gospel singing group will now be called "The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square," The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said in a statement. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

LAS VEGAS (AP) — The world-famous Mormon Tabernacle Choir was renamed Friday to drop the word Mormon in a move that follows guidelines issued earlier this year by the church’s president calling on people to stop using substitutes for the full name of the religion: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The singing group is now the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square.

Here’s a look at what prompted the name change:

WHY WAS THE CHOIR RENAMED?

Church President Russell M. Nelson in August said he wants people to stop using the word “Mormon” or the acronym “LDS” instead of religion’s full name.

Nelson in a statement at the time said that the “Lord has impressed upon my mind the importance of the name he has revealed for his church.”

The faith’s presidents are considered prophets who lead the church through revelations from God.

The church’s full name was given by revelation from God to founder Joseph Smith in 1838, according to the faith’s beliefs.

HOW SIGNIFICANT IS THE CHANGE?

Very. Nelson is not the first leader to call on people to use the full name, so many wondered after his announcement whether the church would follow through with significant steps to show its commitment to the change.

Changing the choir’s name “puts teeth into the announcement,” said Patrick Mason, professor of religion and chair of Mormon studies at Claremont Graduate University in California. “It appears that this will be the first in a series of changes that the church makes to comply with President Nelson’s wishes.”

WHAT’S BEHIND THE GOSPEL SINGING GROUP’S NEW NAME?

It’s a nod to the home of the choir for the last 150 years, the 19th century domed roof Tabernacle building on church grounds known as Temple Square in downtown Salt Lake City. It has room for 3,000 people and is used for choir performances as well as community and religious gatherings. It hosted the church’s twice-yearly conference until 2000.

HOW DO CHURCH MEMBERS FEEL ABOUT NELSON’S ANNOUNCEMENT?

Reaction has been mixed.

Mason said that while church members cherish and understand the importance of the full name, they are very comfortable with the universally used terms of Mormon and LDS.

“It’s impractical to use the full name of the church all the time,” he said.

Using the full name all the time will be difficult for church members and others “partly because it is difficult to get people to change the way they talk,” Mason said.

Nelson acknowledged the challenge the church is facing in undoing “tradition of more than 100 years” during a trip to Canada following his August announcement. However, he said, the name of the faith is “not negotiable.” He said church members need to use the proper name if they want outsiders to use it.

DOESN’T THE CHURCH COMMONLY USE THE WORD”MORMON”?

Yes. The Utah-based faith, which counts 16 million members worldwide, recently made a documentary about its followers titled “Meet the Mormons” and uses Mormon and LDS on official websites and materials that church officials. They are expected to be changed in coming months.

The church also ran a series of “I’m a Mormon” ads on TV and billboards starting in 2010, aiming to dispel stereotypes about Mormons by telling the stories of individual members.

The term Mormon comes from the church’s signature scripture, the Book of Mormon, which followers believe is based on the record keeping of an ancient prophet named Mormon.

WHAT’S NEXT?

Mason said he expects the church to announce more name changes this weekend, when Mormons will gather to hear spiritual guidance and church news during a twice-yearly conference in Salt Lake City.

“Stay tuned,” Mason said. “… The fact that this is coming the day before (the conference begins) suggests that we may hear a lot more during the weekend.”

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