Lessons from a dirty name tag

Do you know how many doors I knocked during my mission? I did the math. By my estimate, I knocked between 150,000 and 225,000 doors during my two years. I can only remember a handful of them.

One gentleman answered the door, barking, "Who is it? What do you want?" The man didn't give us a chance to respond. He shoved his head out the door and leaned close to us, quickly reading our shirt pocket name tags, then looked up. "Jesus Christ? Jesus Christ on my doorstep! Well, I'll be damned!" With that, he flew back inside and slammed the door.

Another name tag story. My name tag fell off my jacket sometime during my last night in my first area. I ordered a new tag, went to my next assigned area, and promptly forgot about that little plastic rectangle buried in the snow somewhere in Denver.

Months later, a homeless man found my name tag in the gutter, bathed in mud. He carried that badge with his other items for several months until the day he saw a few missionaries walking on the other side of a busy street. He chased them down, hollering that he had something special for them in his bag. Thankfully, they ignored their first impulse to run away. Those missionaries gave me my dirty, corroded name tag at a zone conference a few months later.

The only name that matters

Neither the man on the porch nor the homeless man on the street knew or cared who "Elder Watkins" was. The only name that mattered on the tag was the name of Jesus Christ. To the first man, the name of the Savior was worth nothing but mocking and derision toward anyone associated with it. For the second man, the name was worth carefully picking a $4 piece of forgotten plastic out of the mud and carrying it on his person for several months until he could find others who claimed to represent that sacred name.

Out of those 150-225 thousand doors I knocked, how people do you think actually knew the name of the Church I represented? Statistically zero. I heard a lot of attempts: the Mormon Church. The Church of the Last Days. The Brigham Young Disciples. Book of Mormon Church. LDS was common.

But the ones who irritated the most were those who called us "the Church of the Latter-day Saints." I say irritated because they were so close to the true name of the Church, but they omitted the only part of the title that actually matters! I adopted the habit of adding extra emphasis when I introduced myself: "I'm a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ (pause) of Latter-day Saints."

The correct name of the Church

After my mission, I stopped correcting people so frequently. It's easy when you're an official representative of the Church who will never see this person after this 2-minute conversation. But I figured it's not a great idea to start a potential member missionary opportunity with, "Well, ackshully…"

But in 2018, Pres. Nelson invited us to renew our efforts to use the correct name of the Church.

I had an opportunity to practice his counsel just a few days later. A coworker asked, "You're a Mormon, right?" Out of habit, I answered, "yes." Later that day, I remembered Pres. Nelson's counsel. I tried to justify myself: It's work, and that's the name she knows. I sent her a link to the Church website following our discussion, so she'll see the real name without me correcting her. No need to sound offended or whiny by picking at something small like that. I'm sure it's no big deal.

That experience with my coworker was fresh on my mind a few days later while I studied my scriptures. These words from the prophet Moroni flashed at me like a neon sign:

O ye pollutions, ye hypocrites, … why are ye ashamed to take upon you the name of Christ?

It was a bitter rebuke. I'm not ashamed… right? But then, why was I unwilling to stick up for the correct name of the Lord's Church?

I opened Pres. Nelson's newly available talk in the Gospel Library app. His words had rolled right past my busy mind when he delivered them a few days earlier, but now they hit home with stinging effect:

If someone should ask, "Are you a Mormon?" you could reply, "If you are asking if I am a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, yes, I am!"

If someone asks, "Are you a Latter-day Saint?" you might respond, "Yes, I am. I believe in Jesus Christ and am a member of His restored Church."

The Correct Name of the Church

Humbled, I asked God for another chance. I didn't have to wait long. A few days later, another coworker asked me questions about my belief. He referred to the Church by the nickname. This time, I (politely) told him the correct name of the Church and explained why we encourage others to use it as well.

Taking upon us the name of Christ

My missionary opportunity wasn't a miracle story. This coworker didn't get baptized or radically alter his opinion of the Gospel. I don't know that my correction made any impact on him at all. But it certainly impacted me. That Sunday, as the priest blessed the bread on behalf of those "willing to take upon them the name of thy Son," I felt those words applied to me a little better than they had the week before.

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