"11. We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may."
— The Articles of Faith
"Mormons" are a Restorationist-Christiannote
religious group, with approximately 15 million members as of 2013. Though the group is commonly thought of as a US sect, more members currently live outside of the United States than in it.
Mormons believe in an open canon, presently including the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine & Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price. The Book of Mormon
and other Mormon scriptures might be considered the Christian Expanded Universe
material. See "Standard Works" below for more details.
While The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
, aka "LDS Church" (or "Mormonism") is the largest denomination of Mormonism, there are many Mormon splinter-groups. Consider it a parallel to Christianity Is Catholic
: Mormons Are Latter-day Saints.note Wikipedia
has an extensive list
of other smaller Mormon splinter groups as well. However, around 99% of Latter-day Saints are LDS; it outnumbers the next-largest denomination by over ten million.note
The majority of this article is focused on the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The LDS church itself prefers the term "Latter-day Saints" or just "Saints" (meaning, in this context, "disciples", or "followers"), for while Mormon is the name of both a key holy text and a prophet in that text it isn't and has never been the Church's official name. "Mormon" was originally a derisive term used by the church's critics, but nowadays LDS frequently refer to themselves by the term too. The adjective "LDS" is common among the membership, as in "LDS culture" or "LDS fiction".
The LDS Church is well known for its missionary efforts and they have 65,000 full-time missionaries serving in most countries of the world as of 2013 (with most missionaries serving in the United States or various nations of South America, but they can be found almost everywhere - the Islamic nations in the Middle East are a notable exception). Within the USA most people's image of the LDS Church may be a pair of polite young teenagers in white shirts and ties, knocking on your door and wanting to share some unspecified 'good news' with you and give you a free book. (Though they could just as easily be Jehovah's Witnesses, especially outside the USA). The LDS Church expects and encourages every worthy male member to prepare for and serve a 2-year mission, usually starting at age 19. Young women members are not commanded, but sometimes encouraged, to serve an 18-month mission beginning at age 19.note
The Standard Works
The LDS Church identifies four "Standard Works" of scripture. These are the Bible (the King James version specifically for English speakers), the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price. You can buy all four of these bound in one volume, sometimes referred to as a "Quad".
The LDS Church believes in an "open canon". This means that scripture that is considered as authoritative as the Bible can be received by the leaders of the Church through revelation.
Despite a common misperception, Mormons believe in The Bible
. They spend two out of every four years in their Sunday School meetings studying the Bible (one year for the Old Testament and one for the New). However, due to changes made by "the great and abominable church" (as recorded in the First Book of Nephi, in the Book of Mormon), they believe that many "plain and precious truths" were removed from the Bible before it was assembled. As such, they view the Book of Mormon is a more complete record of the principles of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Thus the 8th Article of Faith states "We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly."
The Book of Mormon
The Book of Mormon
- Joseph Smith, Jr. made a Joseph Smith Translation by rewriting, expanding, and explaining the King James Version, claiming that he was inspired by the Holy Spirit to restore the lost and changed portions of the text. Unfortunately, this "translation" (from English to English by direct power of the Holy Spirit, not a translation from the original languages) was never fully completed and the LDS Church does not use it as their official version, although excerpts from it are included in LDS-published versions of the King James Bible as "Joseph Smith Translation" footnotes. Two excerpts are also included as part of the Pearl of Great Price (see below). The Community of Christ (RLDS) publishes the Joseph Smith Version, the manuscripts of which were in the possession of Emma Smith (Joseph's wife) and his son, Joseph Smith III, the founders of the RLDS Church (since 2001 known as Community of Christ). It is sometimes entitled the "Inspired Version".
- For clarification, that "great and abominable church" is not necessarily a reference to the medieval church or some other organized conspiracy, but is perhaps a symbol for man's pride and avarice in a parable/vision. It is thought that as the bible was copied down by hand, people would read doctrine that might've contradicted or confused their personal beliefs and values, and would've had the text altered slightly to more closely read to what they believed. This could have been done to justify a man's actions, or less malevolently, the copier thought that the slight alteration would make the scripture easier to understand, unknowingly altering the meaning.
is a religious text written in the ancient Americas that Joseph Smith claimed to have translated from Hebrew written in Reformed Egyptian to English. More information is available in its TV Tropes
page. The Church offers it as tangible proof that Joseph Smith, Jr. was given power to be a prophet of God, for if the book is not the work of God, then neither is the Church; equally, if the Book of Mormon is the work of God, then the Church and Joseph Smith, Jr., and presumably all subsequent prophets, are God's chosen servants on Earth. The book itself invites all people to read the Book of Mormon and to ask God to know that the book is His. Practicing members of the Church testify that they have received revelation from God indicating that this is true, which stands as an anchor to their faith in the Church.
The subtitle of the Book of Mormon is "Another Testament of Jesus Christ", and Mormons feel it testifies of Christ just as much as the Bible does.
The Doctrine & Covenants
The D&C is a collection of 138 revelations (termed "Sections" in the text) received mostly through Joseph Smith during the early years of the Church. Much of it originally appeared in the Official History of the Church. It covers church organization and reveals the Plan of Salvation as outlined above. It is also the source of the Word of Wisdom. Two "Official Declarations" are appended to the regular sections, these concern the cessation of polygamy and the opening of the priesthood to all worthy male members of the Church.
The Pearl of Great Price
- The Community of Christ (RLDS) version of the Doctrine & Covenants contains fewer sections from Joseph Smith Jr. and adds additional sections from its successive leaders. It presently has 164 sections. Many of these sections are historical notes of changes in leadership or organization rather than doctrinal. Several of the sections that appear in the LDS D&Cnote were not considered authoritative by the RLDS Church and were removed, first to an historical appendix, and later (in 1990) removed entirely.
- Several of the other splinter Mormon groups only use the original 1844 version of the D&C, or an older version of the RLDS D&C.
The Pearl of Great Price is the fourth book in the LDS canon. It is the shortest of the four, containing portions of the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible (The Book of Moses and Joseph-Smith Matthew), a translation of the Book of Abraham, and extracts of the official History of the Church detailing Joseph Smith's first vision and his obtaining the golden plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated. It also contains the Articles of Faith, which was a short letter by Joseph Smith to a contemporary journalist concerning the basic doctrines of the Church and is the source of the page quote.
The Church is governed by a President and two counselors (also termed Presidents) called the First Presidency. The President of the Church is also often referred to as "The Prophet".
The Quorum of the Twelve Apostels is a governing body considered equal in authority to the First Presidency which acts under their direction. These positions are generally for life - once appointed an apostle serves until his death. The President of the quorum of the twelve apostles is the senior apostle (from the time he was called as an apostle, not in age), and when the President of the church dies the President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles becomes the new President of the church, choosing his counselors from quorum members.note
The Seventy are another group which together is considered equal in authority to the First Presidency and the Twelve but which acts under their direction. They have a presidency of seven presidents and two seperate Quorums of Seventy (which are limited to 70 members but usually not actually 70 in membership). The Seventy are also called "Area Authorities" and are typically assigned geographic areas to oversee.
The Presiding Bishopric is the Presiding Bishop and two counselors. They oversee the expenditure of Church funds, under the direction of the First Presidency and the Twelve.
There are also Presidents of the Relief Society, Sunday School, and Primary which serve to organize those sub-organizations of the Church under the direction of the First Presidency and the Twelve.
All of these are termed "General Authorities". Unlike local authorities, General Authorities are expected to work on their callings full-time, and many receive a living stipend from the Church. All General Authorities receive their callings from the First Presidency and Twelve Apostles.
The Church geographically organizes its membership across the world into "wards" and "stakes". In areas with less members, the resulting smaller groups are called "branches" and "districts", respectively. A ward is what other denominations frequently refer to as a "congregation"; each ward covers a certain area, and members living in that area are assigned to a specific building to meet in on Sundays at a fixed time. A ward is presided over by a bishop ("branch president" in branches), who calls counselors to aid him in his duties as bishop, which include the spiritual and temporal welfare of both members and non-members of the Church. The ward is further divided into more specific groups for children, adults, and adolescents, and between male and female in order to provide more applicable teachings to each stage of life. These smaller organizations report to the bishop for his oversight. None of these leaders in the Church receive compensation for the work they do; they hold regular jobs outside of their "callings". A "stake" is composed of several wards, and a stake has a stake president and his two counselors to preside over it. The bishops within the stake report to the stake president. The stake president supervises the activities and well-being within his stake and reports the status of his stake to the general authorities of the Church.
The Church has a distinctive organization for its singles ministry. Whenever enough singles are in a specific geographic area, one or more "singles wards" (or "branches", as applicable) may be formed. Singles wards usually cover the geographic area of several regular wards, and can even cross stake boundaries. Singles wards are divided into two types—Young Single Adult (YSA) for those between 18 and 30, and Single Adult (SA) for those over 30. If a singles ward in the appropriate age group is available in a person's geographic area, that member may attend either the assigned YSA/SA ward or the regular ward. At one time, YSA wards were further divided between student YSA wards (for college/university students of the targeted age group) or "regular" YSA wards for non-students, but that distinction ended in 2011.
In addition, "language wards" may also be formed in areas with large populations of Church members whose native language is different from the local language—such as areas adjacent to US military bases overseas, or in metropolitan areas with large populations of immigrants. "Deaf" wards for the hearing-impaired can be found in some places; the locally predominant sign language is used in these congregations (such as American Sign Language in the US and English-speaking Canada). In all such cases, services are held exclusively in the target language. Colloquialisms to describe these wards, such as "Spanish ward", refer solely to the language used, and not to the ethnicity of people welcome there—for example, there are no "Mexican wards".
The Church sends out missionaries in teams of two (occasionally three) to share the church's message with others. These missionaries are volunteers and receive no compensation from the Church or from the people they teach. They are primarily young male adults, between the ages of 18 to 25 years of age; however, older married couples and female adults over the age of 19 can also serve as missionaries of the Church. Unless they are married, men are always paired with men, and women with women. The world is divided geographically into "missions," such as the California San Fernando mission and the Mexico Tijuana mission, which are each presided over by an individual Mission President. The Mission President receives revelation from God about what needs to be done within the mission he presides for the benefit of the people living therein.
Missionaries share the message that Jesus Christ has restored His ancient Church on the Earth through modern prophets that He has called. They invite those they are teaching (sometimes referred to as "investigators") to learn more, to read the Book of Mormon and to pray to God to know the truth of their message, and to make commitments correlating to the principles of repentance. Because the authority to perform saving ordinances is held only within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, they invite the investigators to be baptized and confirmed once they have come to believe the message is true, and to continue on to other saving ordinances as well as membership in the Church.
Male missionaries serve for at least two years, and are referred to as "Elder". Female missionaries serve for at least eighteen months and are referred to as "Sister". They refrain from any non-spiritual activities (such as hobbies and dating) during their mission so they can fully concentrate on their service. The exception for this is older missionaries, who serve for anything from a few months to several years, and often have very specific jobs, such as helping set up farms in impoverished areas, or being Mission President.
Nature of God
The godhead consists of Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost, however, there are some differences from the Trinity of Nicene Christianity.
- God, or Heavenly Father, is an all-knowing, all-powerful being with a body of flesh and bone, and has been from all of our known existence. He is perfect, righteous, and merciful. However, "What man is, God once was. What God is, man may become." This means that God was once a mortal being that had to go through temptations, but He was able to keep His god's commandments and become a God to rule over his own domain.
- This last idea that God had to go through a mortal life similar to ours to become God is a subject of some debate, even among Mormons, because the concept, although generally accepted by the Church, is not strictly official doctrine. Many point out that in LDS theology Jesus was God both before and during his Incarnation, so the same may be true of God the Father. Which leads to the alternate interpretation that God while God gained a mortal body (which then was transfigured into an immortal body). Indeed this comparison to Jesus was the context in which Joseph Smith placed the doctrine during the King Follet sermon, and thus would be considered the more authoritative interpretation.
- Jesus Christ is the spiritual and physical son of God and a separate being from Heavenly Father and the Holy Ghost. He was sent to earth to pay for our sins and teach a new covenant (replacing the Law of Moses). He is the advocate of humanity, and the mediator between us and the Father (thus all Mormons end their prayers, "In the name of Jesus Christ"). His suffering in the garden of Gethsemane was Him taking upon Himself the sins of everyone, something even he could barely endure. His crucifixion and resurrection was so that all men could have their bodies restored. In order to return to Heavenly Father's presence (called "Eternal Life" by the LDS), you must accept Christ as your Savior. This requires being baptized, repentance and to do the best that you can do. Jesus started as a spirit with the rest of us, and gained a body here on earth. Though unlike us, Jesus was God from the beginning (due to His perfect unity in purpose with the Father). After he was resurrected, he has a perfect body like God. His life is what the members are encouraged to emulate. The baptism of Jesus is evidence that all of us must be baptized in the same way he was (full immersion). Jesus Christ formed His church while He was on earth, and chose twelve Apostles to be the leaders of His Church. He gave them the Priesthood, or the authority of God, in order to baptize and perform other essential ordinances. Occasionally referred to as 'the firstborn son', 'the eldest brother', and 'the inheritor son' in more detailed theological discussions.
- The Holy Ghost, or the Comforter, is the middle man between God and man, and can act as a guiding influence. He has not gained a physical body, mainly because in order to dwell within someone, a physical body would significantly impede His purpose. However, if someone sins or doesn't heed His advice, it drives Him away, leaving that person to act without His influence.
The debate over whether Mormons are Christians stems mostly from this non-Trinitarian perspective of the Godhead (which is variously viewed as polytheist, monolatrist [meaning "one worship"], i.e. that there are multiple gods in existence, but you may only worship one of them; in comparison to monotheism, where there is only one god.). For Mormons, the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are separate and distinct Beings working together with a common purpose. A rough analogy would be a modern republic: separate executive, legislative, and judicial branches which collectively form one government. Most of the rest of Christianity considers the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit to be of one single essence and nature: one absolute monarch who functions in all roles (although it's a bit more complicated than that). Mormons do not ascribe to the trinitarian Nicene Creed, which most Christian denominations (Protestants, Catholics, and Orthodox) consider to be a hallmark of orthodoxy (from the Greek for "right belief"). Thus, in the eyes of most of Christianity, Mormons are technically a new religion, just as Christianity is a new religion and not just a "splinter sect of Judaism". Most Mormons would insist that since they profess to follow the teachings of Christ that they are Christians.
Plan of Salvation
The Plan of Salvation is also significantly different from the traditional heaven/hell afterlife of most Christian denominations. It's a bit complicated at first, so taking a look at this diagram◊
might be useful.
- First, you have the pre-mortal existence, which is covered later on this page.
- The "Veil" is what makes us forget what it was like in the pre-mortal existence, in order to test our faith.
- Next, you have mortality, which is most likely where you are right now.
- At death, your body is temporarily separated from your spirit. Your body goes into the grave, and your spirit goes to...
- The Spirit World! Which is divided into two parts:
- Paradise is where generally good people go to await final judgment. It is there that they will learn the complete gospel and accept the ordinances that will prepare them for eternal life.
- Generally bad people go to Spirit Prison to await final judgment. They are taught the gospel by people who reside in Paradise, and are given a chance to accept the plan of salvation and the ordinances that go along with it.
- The church teaches that all people, not just the righteous, will be resurrected, meaning their body and spirit will be re-united in a more perfect immortal form.
- Following the resurrection, everyone gets judged one last time and is assigned to one of three levels of "heaven":
- The Celestial Kingdom is the highest level, where one can regain the presence of God and join Him in furthering His work.
- The Terrestrial Kingdom is next, which Jesus presides over and which is still good but not as good.
- And the Telestial Kingdom is the lowest, which the Holy Ghost presides over, and even though it's the lowest, it's still said to be more glorious than we can comprehend as mortals.
- There's also Outer Darkness, where you go only if you deny the Holy Ghost after first believing in His power. Basically, only those who were once true believers themselves that then devote their lives to bringing down the teachings of God.
And that was just the "afterlife" portion of it.
The Mormons also believe that in order to go to the Celestial Kingdom, one must have undergone several "ordinances", such as baptism and temple marriage. Children under 8 are considered born pure of any sin, and 8 is the "age of accountability" when they become responsible for their actions — this is why the Mormons baptize people at the age of 8 or older, depending on when they are introduced to the church.
In the Mormon view, because God understands that not everyone has a chance to be baptized during their lifetime, there is an ordinance called Baptism For The Dead, where righteous members are baptized as proxies for those who have died. Other necessary ordinances can also be performed for the dead by proxy members. These people (residing in Spirit Prison or Paradise) will decide whether they accept the ordinances or not. Therefore, they still have a chance to enter the Celestial Kingdom even if they never heard about Joseph Smith while alive. (Also, see below section on Temples).
While Jesus Christ was on the earth, He gave His disciples authority to perform miracles and perform saving ordinances, such as baptism, to those who would receive them. Therefore, not all people are authorized to baptize (or else the authority would be superfluous), and without this authority, saving ordinances have no validity. The Church maintains that the authority for these things, called the Priesthood, was lost after the Apostles of Jesus Christ were slain and the saving ordinances such as baptism, as well as many "plain and precious truths," were radically changed in the following centuries (including the formation of the Nicene Creed). Because the Priesthood was removed, it had to be brought back again, which process began with Joseph Smith, Jr. See "Restoration" below.
First off, temples are a holy place, considered the actual House of the Lord, and the things done there are sacred. To avoid such ordinances being abused, what actually goes on there isn't talked about casually by members. However, they do do Baptisms for the Dead, where they baptize a dead person by having a living person stand in their place. That is one purpose of finding your ancestors.
Also performed in temples is Celestial Marriage
, where someone can be married for time and all eternity to their spouse. This lasts beyond death and into eternity. In order for someone to be married for time and all eternity, they must be temple worthy. This ordinance can also be done by proxy for the dead.
Another temple-related item is the wearing of the temple garment
or "Mormon underwear" as it is commonly known (it's basically a white t-shirt and white boxers that extend to the knee). Much like a priest's collar or cardinal's vestments, the garment is an article of sacred clothing (almost exclusively simple white cotton/poly) note
worn under regular clothing to remind practicing members of the covenants they have made. It is sometimes believed to provide spiritual and/or physical protection, much in the same way that other Christians might view a cross/crucifix or pocket bible. Another purpose is to maintain modesty; the general rule is that an outfit is too skimpy if it would expose the garment.
Members of the Church believe in active revelation from God to man of what the person has stewardship over, with the prophet over the whole world. A living prophet, who has been given the Priesthood, the authority of God given to mankind, continually guides the members of the Church in both practical and spiritual matters. Members of the Church believe that the prophet receives revelation from God for the benefit of the whole human family, and that a living prophet's words are as valuable as scripture. The current living prophet is named Thomas S. Monson
. However, all human beings can receive guidance from God if they pray for it with faith. Further detail about the current Presidency of the church can be found here.
The family is one of the major focal points of the Church. Sunday meetings at the church provide adapted teaching for each member of the family based on age and gender, ranging from the nursery and the primary school for children, young men's and young women's groups, and adult men's and women's groups. Specific wards are created for the young single adults in the church (between ages 18 and 30) in order to meet others of their own age group and find prospective partners for marriage. Separate wards are also created for single adults over 30, for much the same reasons. In 1995, the leaders of the Church released the "The Family: A Proclamation to the World", an official declaration of the church regarding several of the church's doctrines and beliefs regarding the family; some included are that the family unit was created by God for the benefit of His children on earth; that marriage is sacred and is to be shared between only a man and a woman; sex outside of marriage is sin; and that abusers of spouses or of children will one day account to God for their acts. A copy of the full document can be found here.
Members of the Church are instructed to build up their lives, and then to help others to do the same. Self-reliance, or the principle of becoming self-sufficient in the world and able to help others, is a recurring principle within the Church. Rarely will bishops give free hand-outs to individual church members or individual non-members; they instead help those without work to find the job they need in order to support themselves. LDS Employment Services, an official branch of the Church, helps people to prepare for the interview process, form a resume, and find the job that best suits their capabilities. Members of the Church are instructed to "get all the education [they] can" in order to provide for themselves and their families. LDS Cannery services are available for people to bottle and can up food they can buy for a reduced price, in order to store up food for future calamities.
Following the injunction of Jesus Christ to love and serve others, the Church actively provides volunteer work in disaster-stricken areas of the world. Members of the Church are invited to offer what they can for humanitarian projects, such as clothing and canned food for the less fortunate. Members of the Church are asked to participate in service projects, ranging from ones so individual as helping someone move into a new house, to larger-scale rebuilding projects after natural disasters.
The Word of Wisdom
Latter-day Saints follow a set of instructions on health and eating, found in section 89 of the Doctrine and Covenants. It is commonly referred to as "The Word of Wisdom". According to this doctrine, it is bad to consume alcohol, tobacco, coffee, or tea; and it is good to eat a balanced diet, which includes fruits and vegetables, grains, fish and poultry, and meat (but not too much meat). Physical fitness is also very important. All of these things are important to maintain our bodies and keep them pure and healthy, as our bodies are "temples" and gifts from God.
Often mistakenly called the preexistence, pre-mortal life was when we lived with God as His spiritual sons and daughters. Here, God introduced the Plan of Salvation and ordained His spirit children to important roles in mortal life. Lucifer proposed a second plan which would have ensured that all the children of God would return to Him, but at the cost of all free will by making Lucifer omnipotent. Free will, or agency, is more or less the entire point of existence. When God rejected Lucifer's plan, there was a "war in heaven," during which one-third of God's children chose to follow Lucifer. They were cast out of heaven as a result. The remaining two-thirds accepted God's plan, and Jesus Christ was chosen as the Savior who would make repentance possible. The Earth was then created to serve as mankind's home during mortal life. Please note that the LDS Church does not believe that Earth is the only planet bearing life — God has created "worlds without number," and many of these are also inhabited by His children. God himself is said to dwell near a planet or star named Kolob. Brigham Young, who succeeded Joseph Smith as President of the Church, stated that the moon and sun were also inhabited, though it has not been made doctrine.
Adam and Eve were put in the garden of Eden after the creation of the Earth as described in Genesis. Adam and Eve were commanded to not eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. They were simultaneously given a commandment to multiply and replenish the Earth through having children — this was impossible while they remained innocent. When Adam and Eve sinned by eating the fruit, they became imperfect and could no longer be in the presence of God, but they were able to learn and progress and to have children who could learn and progress as well, in the hope that they (we) would become perfect enough that God could bring them (us) the rest of the way to become like Him.
The history of the world then proceeds as indicated in the Bible. As mentioned above, the Bible contains many inaccuracies about many events due to mistranslations and deliberate omissions, but the Bible is still accepted as the word of God. However, around 600 BC, just before the Babylonian Captivity, a Jewish man named Lehi was warned by God to flee into the wilderness with his family in order to escape captivity. They were eventually led to the American continent where Lehi's sons founded two main peoples, the Nephites and Lamanites. The Book of Mormon is the history of these peoples' dealings with each other and with God from a period of about 600 BC to 400 AD, as well as a history of another people (the Jaredites) who descended from a group brought to the Americas by God just after the fall of the Tower of Babel. The most significant event related in the Book of Mormon is a visit by Jesus Christ to the peoples of the Americas just after His resurrection. Though the people live in righteousness for a few hundred years after Christ's appearance, some of them eventually turn to evil and destroy the rest of the people, resulting in the true gospel being lost from the earth.
There have been multiple apostasies throughout Earth's history, but the one after Jesus' apostles was slain was the longest.
The LDS Church teaches that after the deaths of the apostles of Christ (both in the Old World and the New), priesthood authority was eventually lost because of deviations from the true word of Christ. Thus the world entered into an age of apostasy that would last from about the second century AD to the early 19th century, when a boy named Joseph Smith, Jr. prayed to know which church to join and was visited by God and Christ, who told him that none of the churches were true and that he must re-establish the true church.
In 1820, Joseph Smith, Jr. was a 14-year-old boy who, like many in the United States at the time, was caught up in the Second Great Awakening, a time of great religious fervor and evangelism. His family was greatly interested in religion, and different members ended up joining different sects. After reading the Bible (and James 1:5 in particular) he decided to pray for direction in which sect to join. He went into a grove of trees, knelt, and prayed. He then saw a vision of God the Father and Jesus Christ, who instructed him not to join any church, but that the "fullness of the gospel" would be made known to him. This is known as the First Vision, and its end result would be the establishment of a new religious movement, now called Mormonism.
Three years later, Smith was visited by an angel named Moroni, who told him of golden plates hidden in a hill near the Smith family's farm. Moroni directed Smith to the plates' location, but warned him not to take them just yet. Moroni told Smith to return to the spot once a year for the next four years to receive instruction. In the fourth year (1827) Smith was allowed to take the plates, and was ordered to translate the writing therein into English. This was the source material for the Book of Mormon, which was published in 1829.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was officially formed on April 6, 1830, in New York state.
When the church first started and even well into the 20th century, the members were not well liked, to put it lightly. It was common for mobs to force church members from their communities, threatening to kill them if they did not leave. Some even harassed the church members specifically to kill them. One of the most tragic massacres took place at Haun's Mill
. The governor of Missouri (within which many Mormons lived, believing Jackson County had been the site of the Garden of Eden, and that Jesus Christ would return there), ordered them expelled from the state on pain of death. In 1844, a mob killed Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum in Carthage, Illinois, where they had been jailed for ordering the destruction of a newspaper which claimed Smith practiced polygamy, among other things. This sort of persecution is what drove the Mormons to settle in Utah, which was outside the boundaries of the United States at the time and where no one would bother them.
For starters, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints no longer practices polygamy. In fact, being married to more than one living wife is grounds for excommunication (being kicked out, with all saving ordinances rendered null and void). The only "Mormons" who do practice it are splinter groups such as the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.note
Polygamy was introduced in 1842 by the prophet Joseph Smith, Jr. but not practiced openly until the migration to Utah in 1847note
. Members of the church accepted it as a revelation and commandment of God. The practice was officially terminated in 1890 by a declaration (often called "the Manifesto" by Church members) by Wilford Woodruff, the then President of the Church, that he had recevied a revelation that if the Church did not stop the practice it would be destroyed. This was a very real possiblity at the time. The LDS Church had attempted to overturn anti-polygamy laws by claiming freedom of religion, but had lost their final appeal before the US Supreme Court, and the court was about to legally disincorporate the Church. The Manifesto effectively removed this threat.
Most of the LDS leadership were in polygamous marriages up until the cessation of the practice, and much of the core church membership in the Western US today have polygamist ancestors. Records of plural marriages are available in the Church's genealogical records, which are freely available to non-members, and despite the cessation of the practice they are still considered "valid" marriages to Church members. Even at its height in the late 1800s it seems that only a minority of Church membership ever actually practiced plural marriage. Members considered exceptionally faithful were invited by Church leadership to select plural wives when they were considered able to support additional wives. The consent of the first wife on a specific potential second wife was required before a second wife could be chosen, consent of the first and second wives was required for a third, etc.
Exodus to The West
The Church under Joseph Smith had a practice of gathering members to one area to strengthen and enjoy each other's company. Resentment by other residents or former members would grow towards this rather close-knit group, persecution would build, and eventually the Church would move on to another gathering place. This occurred in upstate New York, Kirtland Ohio, and Jackson County Missouri.
In 1839, Governor Lilburn W. Boggs issued an extermination order for all members of the Church in Missouri, forcing the saints to move again
or face the state militia.
The main body of the Church resettled in Illinois, in and around a small town named Commerce. Eventually, the town grew to become one of the largest cities in Illinois at the time and was renamed "Nauvoo" (nah-VOO - said to mean "beautiful"). Joseph Smith would become mayor and a militia leader sanctioned by the state government, but bloc-voting and rumors of polygamy caused violence to flare up once more. Smith was arrested for destroying the press of an anti-Mormon newspaper on the basis that it was inflaming local prejudice. He was taken to nearby Carthage Jail. Soon, it was assaulted by a mob, and Smith was shot and killed, along with his brother Hyrum.
This precipitated a succession crisis. The largest group chose to follow Brigham Young, the President of the Quorum of the Twelve. He was soon made President of the Church, and he decided, after a failed appeal for protection from the federal government, that the best course of action was to leave the United States entirely and head west, deep into Mexican territory. By 1846, the bulk of the LDS had left Nauvoo, leaving behind a newly completed temple that had taken five years to build. It would be burned down by arsonists in November of that year.
After a hard winter in Nebraska, the first wagon train, led by Young himself struck out across the Plains. Speaking with many trappers familiar with the region, Young decided to make for the Great Basin on the assumption that it would be too arid for anyone else to want. In July of 1847, the wagon train reached the Salt Lake Valley. Young proclaimed the site to be "the right place." The valley would become the destination of some 70,000 people for the next twelve years.
The most well-known emigrant groups from this period are the Willy and Martin handcart (a tiny wagon pulled by hand) companies. Due to insufficient handcarts being prepared, they had to either leave late in the season or stay for winter in a strange place (most were British immigrants) with little money. Despite appointed church guide Levi Savage's warning that "The bones of the elderly and the infirm will litter the trail," the immigrants insisted on attempting to make it to Salt Lake before winter. The first obstacle was that they packed too much flour and thus left a lot of it on the trail. Then they hit an early October snow storm, stopping them in their tracks in a blizzard with insufficient food and shelter. They took refuge at Martin's Cove, where they waited for rescue. Brigham Young heard about the plight right as he was about to hold the traditional twice-yearly General Conference of the Church. He told the Saints that the two handcart companies needed help immediately, and effectively canceled the conference, deeming it more important for them to live the principles of their religion than to talk about them. A rescue was hastily organized and set out later that day, saving the lives of many of the handcart companies' members.
Under Young's direction, various settlements were built over a wide area extending from present-day Alberta to Sonora. The Church followed a policy of "building Zion," sending missionaries worldwide and then encouraging converts to emigrate to Deseret, as the region was called (a term taken from the Book of Mormon meaning "honeybee"). Within a year of arriving, Deseret found itself a part of the United States as a result of Mexico's defeat in the Mexican-American War. Young immediately petitioned to have Deseret added to the Union as a state, but Congress, wary of Deseret's enormous size (which included the majority of the Mormon settlements stretching to the Pacific Coast and including the then-insignificant town of Los Angeles) chose to create the Territory of Utah instead. Young became the first Territorial Governor.
The new territory had a bumpy relationship with the Federal government, owing to disputes over the amount of influence Brigham Young wielded over the population as both political and spiritual leader and the LDS practice of polygamy. Poor communication and disgruntled federal officials who found it difficult to work with unresponsive LDS citizens caused the brief but highly-publicized Utah War in 1857-58, when an entire Army division was sent to remove Young as governor because President James Buchanan had been led to believe that Utah was in open rebellion. Sensationalist media reports, pumped by allegations of heathen polygamy, predicted a bloodbath when the division reached Salt Lake City. In the end there were no actual battles fought. It was in this climate, however, that a band of LDS militiamen waylaid a pioneer wagon train from Arkansas as it was passing through southern Utah. In an event known as the Mountain Meadows Massacre, they killed most of the travelers, sparing their children under 8 years old (the age of accountability in Mormon doctrine, mentioned above) and sending them to be raised by local families. John D. Lee, the militia leader, was executed by the territorial government twenty years later after being excommunicated by the Church. He was the only participant to be convicted. Allegations have been made that high officials in the Church (including Brigham Young himself) sanctioned the massacre, but they remain unproven.
Eventually, a non-LDS governor was installed in Young's place, as Young continued to lead the Church. During this time, the building of settlements went on, including the construction of more temples (including the iconic Salt Lake Temple
). They also continued the practice of polygamy until after the deaths of Young and his successor, John Taylor, despite the passage of several Acts of Congress that explicitly outlawed it and even took steps to curtail LDS power in the territory. Wilford Woodruff became prophet in 1887. Faced with the arrests of dozens of practitioners of polygamy and the probable seizure of all Church property by the federal government, he issued the 1890 Manifesto, which declared that no marriages against the law of the land would be recognized by the Church. In response, several fundamentalist groups broke away from the LDS Church and fled to isolated areas in the US, Canada, and Mexico in order to continue practicing polygamy (some of which continue doing so today).
The LDS Church has had something of a mixed record on social issues. Current issues aside (which we will not discuss here
), the Church has been at times surprisingly progressive and alarmingly backwards. On the one hand, women's rights were strongly advocated in the Territory of Utah. Utah would become the second territory (after Wyoming) to grant full suffrage to women in 1870. However, in 1887, the Edmunds-Tucker Act, which aimed to disenfranchise the Church and curtail its power in the territory, stripped this right from women. They would not regain voting rights until the admission of Utah as a state in 1896 (which enshrined the right of women to vote in the state constitution, about which the federal government could not do a thing).
The LDS Church also ran an extensive social-support network and effectively controlled much of the economy in Utah from essentially the beginning of settlement until the 1950s or so. This tradition is derived from a system used in early Mormon communities, called the United Order, which an objective analysis could not fail to call a form of Christian socialism. Indeed, in the early 20th century, leftists and Mormons often found common ground on several issues, particularly on matters concerning the working poor. However, a desire not to be associated with the Left during the Red Scare
led the Church to change its tune, hence the current association of Mormonism with the political Right in general and the Republican Party in particular. The Church does continue to provide social support, but it is no longer so dominant in the economy of Utah.
At one time the LDS Church forbade people of African descent from holding the priesthood or participating in temple ordinances. The exact reasons for this position are a point of some debate, and some of the statements made by Church leaders justifying it would certainly be viewed as racist today. The policy was officially changed in 1978, with "every worthy male" now being eligible to be ordained to the priesthood and participate in temple ordinances. Since this is a particularly controversial matter—even within the Church—we will leave it at that
Being that the church is well established in the United States and all over the world as well as being in a very visual position with the missionary Elders, there have been plenty of references to the church and its members in all forms of media. A common joke will be to ask a Mormon how many wives he has, in reference to polygamy.
The church has put out many different movies in an effort to help broaden understanding of church doctrine, history, and scriptures themselves. Many are meant to be used specifically for the Church Education System, but there are a handful of feature-length and one-hour movies designed for non-members and shown in various visitor centers located at specific temples. Also for non-members, there is a large series of videos that can be obtained for free by calling a phone number or going online to www.mormon.org
. These videos cover both LDS-specific beliefs, such as Eternal Families, as well as other videos focused on universal Christian beliefs such as the Atonement of Christ.
There has been a slowly growing industry of Mormon filmmakers who are producing movies that are unabashedly made for the LDS culture. They are not directly connected to the church, and individual quality varies from film to film as well as the ability to connect to viewers not familiar with that culture. For more information on that, see Mormon Cinema
One popular television series with Mormon influences was Battlestar Galactica
, created by Glen A. Larson, a member of the LDS Church. This is seen with the Quorum of Twelve, the ruling council of the Twelve Colonies of Kobol, which references the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in the LDS Church, and Kobol clearly being inspired from Kolob, the star near which God is said to dwell. Commander Adama is a Moses figure, but also somewhat reminiscent of Brigham Young. Sufficiently Advanced Aliens
in the original series
were also depicted which somewhat resembled Mormon angels, and the phrase used by those aliens: "what you are now we once were. What we are now you may one day become" is straight out of Mormon theology.