, a religion started by Joseph Smith
during the American Second Great Awakening
. A vast majority of Mormons are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) while a minority are members of other independent churches. Many Mormons are also either independent or non-practicing. The center of Mormon cultural influence is in Utah
, and North America has more Mormons than any other continent, though the majority of Mormons live outside the United States.
Mormons have developed a strong sense of communality that stems from their doctrine and history. They dedicate large amounts of time and resources to serving in their church, and many young Mormons choose to serve a full time proselyting
mission. Mormons have a health code
that eschews alcoholic beverages, tobacco, coffee, tea, and other addictive substances. They tend to be very family-oriented, and have strong connections across generations and with extended family. Mormons have a strict law of chastity
, requiring abstention from sexual relations outside of marriage and strict fidelity within marriage.
Mormons are sometimes associated with polygamy. The practice of polygamy (or plural marriage) was a distinguishing characteristic of many early Mormons; however it was disavowed by The LDS Church in 1890,
and discontinued over the next 15 years.
Today, polygamy is practiced only by Mormon fundamentalists who have broken with the LDS Church.
Most Mormons self-identify as Christian
, though some of their beliefs differ from mainstream Christianity. Mormons believe in the Bible
, as well as other books of scripture, such as the Book of Mormon
. They have a unique view of cosmology, and believe that all people are spirit-children of God. Mormons believe that returning to God requires following the example of Jesus Christ
, and accepting his atonement through specific ordinances such as baptism. They believe the authority to perform these ordinances was restored through Joseph Smith, and that their church is guided by living prophets and apostles. Central to Mormon faith is the belief that God speaks to his children and answers their prayers.
TerminologyThe term "Mormon" is borrowed from the title of the Book of Mormon
. It was first applied pejoratively to followers of Joseph Smith, but was soon adopted as a nickname and has since lost its pejorative status. "Mormon" is most often used to refer to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The term has also been embraced by other adherents of Mormonism, such as Mormon Fundamentalists, but rejected by other Latter Day Saint denominations, such as the Community of Christ
The use of "Mormon" is not generally considered offensive and is commonly used by the LDS Church members (or "Latter-day Saints") in reference to themselves. Church leaders, however, have encouraged members to use the church's full name to emphasize the church's focus on Jesus Christ.
HistoryMormons' history has shaped them into a people with a strong sense of unity and communality. From the start, Mormons have tried to establish what they call Zion
, a utopian society of the righteous.
Mormon history can be divided into three broad time periods: (1) the early history during the lifetime of Joseph Smith
, (2) a "pioneer era" under the leadership of Brigham Young
and his successors, and (3) a modern era beginning around the turn of the 20th century. In the first period, Smith had tried to literally build a city called Zion, to which converts gathered. During the pioneer era, Zion became a "landscape of villages" in Utah. In modern times, Zion is still an ideal, though Mormons gather together in their individual congregations rather than a central geographic location.
. Roughly a decade earlier, the young Joseph was seeking a remission of his sins. Confused by the doctrines of competing denominations, he went into a grove of trees to pray about which church to join. Joseph said that during his prayer, the Lord appeared to him in a "pillar of light" and instructed him not to join any of the churches. A few years later Smith said that an angel directed him to a nearby hillside where lay buried a book written on golden plates
containing the religious history of an ancient people. Smith claimed to have translated the book, and in March 1830 he published the Book of Mormon
, named after Mormon, the ancient prophet-historian who compiled the book. The Book of Mormon drew many initial converts to the church. Church members were later called Mormons, Latter Day Saints, or just Saints.
Smith intended to establish the city of Zion
(or the New Jerusalem
) in North America. In 1831, the church moved to Kirtland, Ohio
(the eastern boundary of Zion), and began establishing an outpost in Jackson County, Missouri
(Zion's "center place"), where he planned to eventually move the church headquarters. In 1833, Missouri settlers, alarmed by the rapid influx of Mormons, expelled them from Jackson County.
After leading Zion's Camp
, an unsuccessful expedition to recover the land, Smith began building a temple
in Kirtland, where the church flourished.
The Kirtland era ended in 1838, after the failure of a church-sponsored bank
caused widespread defections, and Smith regrouped with the remaining church in Far West, Missouri
. During the fall of 1838, tensions escalated into violent conflicts with the old Missouri settlers. Believing the Saints to be in insurrection, the Missouri governor
ordered the Saints' expulsion from Missouri. In 1839, the Saints converted a swampland on the banks of the Mississippi River into Nauvoo, Illinois
, which became the church's new headquarters.
Shortly after arriving in Nauvoo, the Saints began construction of a new temple
. The city grew rapidly as missionary converts immigrated westward from Europe and elsewhere.
Meanwhile, Smith introduced several doctrinal developments and organizational changes, including temple ceremonies, the doctrines of sealing
, eternal progression
), plural marriage
the organization of the church into stakes
and wards, the organization of the Relief Society
for women, and the Council of Fifty
, an organization representing a future theodemocratic
"Kingdom of God" on the earth.
Smith also published the story of his First Vision
, in which the Father
and the Son
appeared to him while he was about 14 years old.
Long after Smith's death, this vision would come to be regarded by some Mormons as the most important event in human history after the birth, ministry, and resurrection of Jesus Christ
On June 27, 1844, Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum were killed by a mob
in Carthage, Illinois
. Because Hyrum was Joseph's logical successor, their deaths caused a succession crisis, and Brigham Young
assumed leadership over the majority of Saints. Young had been a close associate of Smith's and was senior apostle of the Quorum of the Twelve
. Smaller groups of Latter Day Saints followed other leaders to form other denominations of the Latter Day Saint movement
Pioneer eraFor two years after Smith's death, conflicts escalated between Mormons and other Illinois residents. To prevent war, Brigham Young
led the Mormon pioneers (constituting most of the Latter Day Saints) to a temporary winter quarters in Nebraska and then eventually (beginning in 1847) to what became the Utah Territory
. As groups arrived over a period of years, LDS settlers branched out and colonized a large region now known as the Mormon Corridor
. During the 1840s and 1850s many thousands of Welsh
Mormon converts immigrated to America, and followed Brigham Young in the great Mormon Migration. Today, it is estimated that around 20% of the population of Utah
is of Welsh descent.
Young incorporated The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as a legal entity, and initially governed both the church and the state as a theocratic
leader. He also publicized the previously-secret practice of plural marriage
, a form of polygamy
By 1857, tensions had again escalated between Mormons and other Americans, largely as a result of accusations involving polygamy and the theocratic rule of the Utah territory by Brigham Young. The Utah War
ensued from 1857 to 1858, which resulted in the relatively peaceful invasion of Utah by the United States Army. The most notable instance of violence during this war was the tragic Mountain Meadows massacre
, in which leaders of a local Mormon militia ordered the massacre of a civilian emigrant party who were traveling through Utah during the escalating military tensions. In 1858 Young agreed to step down from his postion as governor and was replaced by a non-Mormon, Alfred Cumming
. Nevertheless, the LDS Church still wielded significant political power in the Utah Territory.
At Young's death in 1877, he was followed by other LDS Presidents, who resisted efforts by the United States Congress
to outlaw Mormon polygamous marriages. In 1878 the Supreme Court ruled in Reynolds v. United States
that religious duty was not a suitable defense for practicing polygamy, and many Mormons went into hiding; later, Congress began seizing church assets. In September 1890, church president Wilford Woodruff
issued a Manifesto
that officially suspended the practice of polygamy. Although this Manifesto did not dissolve existing plural marriages, relations with the United States markedly improved after 1890, such that Utah was admitted as a U.S. state
. After the Manifesto, some Mormons continued to enter into polygamous marriages, but these eventually stopped in 1904 when church president Joseph F. Smith
disavowed polygamy before Congress and issued a "Second Manifesto
" calling for all plural marriages in the church to cease. Eventually, the church adopted a policy of excommunicating
members found practicing polygamy, and today seeks to actively distance itself from "fundamentalist" groups that continue the practice.
Modern timesDuring the early 20th century, Mormons began to reintegrate with the American mainstream. They emphasized patriotism and industry, rising in socioeconomic status from the bottom among American religious denominations to middle-class.
In the 1920s and 1930s Mormons began migrating out of Utah, a trend hurried by the Great Depression
, as Mormons looked for work wherever they could find it. As Mormons spread out, church leaders created programs that would help preserve the tight-knit community feel of Mormon culture. In addition to weekly worship services, Mormons began participating in numerous programs such as Boy Scouting, a Young Women's organization
, church-sponsored dances, ward basketball, camping trips, plays, and religious education programs for youth and college students.
During the latter half of the century, there was a retrenchment movement in Mormonism in which Mormons became more conservative, attempting to regain their status as a "peculiar people."
Though the 1960s
brought positive changes such as Women's Liberation and the Civil Rights Movement, Mormon leaders were alarmed by the erosion of traditional values, the sexual revolution
, the widespread use of recreational drugs, moral relativism
, and other forces they saw as damaging to the family.
Partly to counter this, Mormons put an even greater emphasis on family life, religious education, and missionary work, becoming more conservative in the process. As a result, Mormons today are probably less integrated with mainstream society than they were in the early 60's.
The LDS Church grew rapidly after World War II
and became a world-wide organization as missionaries were sent across the globe. During the Great Depression the church started a welfare program
to meet the needs of poor members, which has since grown to include a humanitarian branch that provides relief to disaster victims.
In 1978, the church made another major step, reversing a policy of excluding black males from the priesthood. The church had previously been criticized for its policy during the Civil Rights Movement, but the change was prompted primarily by problems facing mixed-race converts in Brazil. Mormons greeted the change with joy and relief.
Meanwhile, the church continued to expand, doubling in size every 15–20 years. By 1996, there were more Mormons outside the United States than inside. The church currently claims a worldwide membership of 14.1 million.
Culture and practices
Isolation in Utah
had allowed Mormons to create a culture of their own. As the faith spread around the world, many of its more distinctive practices followed. Mormons converts are urged to undergo lifestyle changes, "repent of their sins," and adopt sometimes foreign standards of conduct. Practices common to Mormons include studying the scriptures, praying daily, fasting on a regular basis, attending Sunday worship services, participating in church programs and activities on weekdays, and refraining from work on Sundays when possible. Mormons also emphasize standards they believe were taught by Jesus Christ, including personal honesty, integrity, obedience to law, chastity outside of marriage and fidelity within marriage.
Mormons have a strong sense of communality that stems from their doctrine and history. LDS Church members have a responsibility to dedicate their time and talents to helping the poor and building the church. The vast majority of church leadership positions are lay
positions, and church members may work 10–15 hours a week in unpaid church service. Engaged Mormons also contribute 10 percent of their income to the church as tithing
, and are often involved in humanitarian efforts
. Many LDS young men choose to serve a two year proselytizing
, during which they dedicate all of their time to the church, without pay.
Mormons adhere to the Word of Wisdom
, a health law or code that prohibits the consumption of tobacco, alcohol, coffee, and tea, and encourages the use of wholesome herbs, grains, fruits, and a moderate consumption of meat. The Word of Wisdom is interpreted to also prohibit other harmful and addictive substances and practices, such as the use of illegal drugs and abuse of prescription drugs. Mormons also oppose addictive behavior such as viewing pornography and gambling.
The concept of a united family that lives and progresses forever is at the core of Latter-day Saint doctrine. Many Mormons hold weekly family home evenings
, in which an evening is set aside for family bonding, study, prayer and other wholesome activities. Latter-day Saint fathers who hold the priesthood
typically name and bless their children
shortly after birth to formally give the child a name. Mormon parents hope and pray that their children will gain testimonies of the "gospel" so they can grow up and marry in temples.
Mormons have a strict law of chastity
, requiring abstention from sexual relations outside of marriage and strict fidelity within marriage. All sexual activity (heterosexual and homosexual) outside of marriage is considered a serious sin. Same-sex marriage
s are not performed or supported by the LDS Church. Church members are encouraged to marry and have children, and Latter-day Saint families tend to be larger than average. Mormons are opposed to abortions, except in some exceptional circumstances, such as when pregnancy is the result of incest or rape, or when the life or health of the mother is in serious jeopardy. Practicing adult Mormons wear religious undergarments
that remind them of sacred covenants and encourage them to dress modestly. Latter-day Saints are counseled not to partake of any form of media that is obscene or pornographic in any way, including media that depicts graphic representations of sex or violence. Tattoo
s and body piercing
s are also discouraged, with the exception of a single pair of earrings for LDS women.
Groups within MormonismLatter-day Saints
- Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints constitute over 99% of Mormons. The beliefs and practices of LDS Mormons are generally guided by the teachings of LDS Church leadersFirst Presidency (LDS Church)The First Presidency is the presiding or governing body of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints . It is composed of the President of the Church and his counselors. The First Presidency currently consists of President Thomas S. Monson and his two counselors, Henry B...
. There are, however, several smaller groups that differ from "mainstream" Mormonism in various ways.
Active Mormons / Less-active Mormon
- LDS Church members who do – or do not – actively participate in worship services or church callings are called "active" or "less-active" (akin to the qualifying expressions orthodox, pious, or practicing, used in relation to members of other religious groups). The LDS Church does not release statistics on church activity, but it is likely that about 40% of Mormons in the United States and 30% worldwide regularly attend worship services.
Reasons for inactivity can include lifestyle issues and problems with social integration. Activity rates tend to vary with age, and disengagement occurs most frequently between age 16 and 25. A majority of less active members return to church activity later in life.
- Approximately 57% of Mormons live outside of the United States. Most Mormons are distributed in North and South America, the South Pacific, and Western Europe. The global distribution of Mormons resembles a contact diffusion model, radiating out from the organization’s headquarters in Utah.
The church enforces general doctrinal uniformity, and congregations on all continents teach the same doctrines. International Mormons tend to absorb a good deal of Mormon culture, possibly because of the church's top-down hierarchy and a missionary presence. However, international Mormons often bring pieces of their own heritage into the church, adapting church practices to local cultures.
- 13–14% of Mormons live in Utah: the center of cultural influence for Mormonism. Utah Mormons (as well as Mormons living in the Intermountain WestIntermountain WestThe Intermountain West is a region of North America lying between the Rocky Mountains to the east and the Cascades and Sierra Nevada to the west. It is also called the Intermountain Region.- Topography :...
) are on average more culturally and/or politically conservative than those living in certain cosmopolitan centers elsewhere in the U.S. Utahns self-identifying as Mormon also attend church somewhat more on average than Mormons living in other states. (Nonetheless, whether they live in Utah or elsewhere in the U.S., Mormons tend to be more culturally and/or politically conservative than members of other U.S. religious groups.) Utah Mormons often place a greater emphasis on pioneer heritage than international Mormons who generally are not descendants of the Mormon pioneers.
- Although black people have been members of Mormon congregations since Joseph Smith's time, before 1978, black membership was small. (From 1852 to 1978, the LDS Church had a policy against ordaining blackBlack peopleThe term black people is used in systems of racial classification for humans of a dark skinned phenotype, relative to other racial groups.Different societies apply different criteria regarding who is classified as "black", and often social variables such as class, socio-economic status also plays a...
men of African descent to the priesthoodPriesthood (LDS Church)In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints , the priesthood is the power and authority to act in the name of God for the salvation of humankind...
.) Membership has since grown, and in 1997 there were approximately 500,000 black members of the church (about 5% of the total membership), mostly in Africa, Brazil and the Caribbean.
Since then, Black membership has continued to grow substantially, especially in West AfricaWest AfricaWest Africa or Western Africa is the westernmost region of the African continent. Geopolitically, the UN definition of Western Africa includes the following 16 countries and an area of approximately 5 million square km:-Flags of West Africa:...
, where two templesTemple (LDS Church)In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints , a temple is a building dedicated to be a House of the Lord, and they are considered by Church members to be the most sacred structures on earth. Upon completion, temples are usually open to the public for a short period of time...
have been built. Many black Mormons are members of the Genesis GroupGenesis GroupThe Genesis Group is a social organization of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for African American members and their families. It was first organized in Salt Lake City, Utah in 1971 to provide members an organization where they could affiliate with fellow African American members. ...
, an organization of black members that predates the priesthood ban, and is endorsed by the church.
- LGBT Mormons are members of the church who self-identify as gay, lesbian, or bisexual. These individuals remain in good standing in the church if they abstain from homosexual relations and obey the Law of Chastity. While there are no official numbers, LDS Family Services estimates that there are on average four or five members per LDS ward who experience same-sex attraction.
Gary Watts, former president of Family FellowshipFamily FellowshipFamily Fellowship is a predominantly Latter-day Saint support group for those who have lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender family members. It was founded in 1993. As of 2003, it had a mailing list of over 1,700. The group hosts conferences, open to the public, on various subjects concerning...
, estimates that only 10% of homosexuals stay in the church. Others dispute that estimate, saying numbers in support groups for active Latter-day Saints and for self-identified gay Mormons are comparable. Many of these individuals have come forward through different support groups or websites stating their homosexual attractions and concurrent church membership.
- Liberal Mormons take an interpretive approach to LDS teachings and scripture. They look to the scriptures for spiritual guidance, but do not necessarily believe the teachings to be literally or uniquely true. For liberal Mormons, revelation is a process through which God gradually brings fallible human beings to greater understanding. Liberal Mormons place doing good and loving fellow human beings above the importance of believing correctly.
In a separate context, members of minuscule "progressive" breakaway groups have also adopted the label Liberal Mormon.
- Cultural Mormons are individuals who do not believe some (or many) of the doctrines of LDS Church, but who self-identify as Mormon. Usually this is a result of having been raised in the LDS faith, or as having converted and spent a large portion of one's life as an active member of the LDS Church. Cultural Mormons may or may not be actively involved with the church, and in some cases may not even be officially members of the church.
- Fundamentalist Mormons are Latter Day Saint movement adherents who differ from mainstream Mormonism especially in their belief in the practice of plural marriage. There are thought to be between 20,000 and 60,000 members of fundamentalist sects, (0.1–0.4% of Mormons), with roughly half of them practicing polygamy.
Some fundamentalist Mormons also practice a form of Christian communalismChristian communismChristian communism is a form of religious communism based on Christianity. It is a theological and political theory based upon the view that the teachings of Jesus Christ compel Christians to support communism as the ideal social system...
known as the Law of consecrationLaw of ConsecrationIn the Latter Day Saint movement , the term law of consecration was first used in 1831 by Joseph Smith, it was a doctrine of covenanted Christian communalism....
or the United OrderUnited OrderIn the Latter Day Saint movement, the United Order was one of several 19th century church collectivist programs. Early versions of the Order beginning in 1831 attempted to implement the Law of Consecration, a form of Christian communism, modeled after the New Testament church which had "all things...
. The largest Mormon fundamentalist groups are the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS Church) and the Apostolic United BrethrenApostolic United BrethrenThe Apostolic United Brethren is a polygamous Mormon fundamentalist church within the Latter Day Saint movement. The sect is not affiliated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints...
(AUB). The LDS Church seeks to distance itself from all such polygamous groups.
- Ex-Mormons are people who have left the LDS Church. A poll of ex-Mormons found that a majority do not self-identify as a member of another faith, choosing to describe themselves as agnostic, atheistAtheismAtheism is, in a broad sense, the rejection of belief in the existence of deities. In a narrower sense, atheism is specifically the position that there are no deities...
, or simply ex-Mormon. Others either retained belief in God but not in organized religion or became adherents of other faiths. Ex-Mormon attitudes toward Mormons and Mormonism vary widely. Some ex-Mormons actively proselytize against Mormonism, while some provide only support to others leaving the religion. Other ex-Mormons prefer to avoid the subject entirely.
BeliefsMormons have a scriptural canon
consisting of the Bible
, the Book of Mormon
, and a collection of revelations and writings by Joseph Smith known as the Doctrine and Covenants
and Pearl of Great Price
. Mormons however have a fairly open
definition of scripture
. As a general rule, anything spoken or written by a prophet
, while under inspiration, is considered to be the word of God. Thus, the Bible
, written by prophets, is the word of God, so far as it is translated correctly. The Book of Mormon
is also believed to have been written by ancient prophets, and is viewed as a companion to the Bible. By this definition, the teachings of Smith's successors are also accepted as scripture, though they are always measured against, and draw heavily from the scriptural canon.
that would allow his children to progress and become more like him. The plan involved the spirits receiving bodies on earth and going through many trials in order to learn, progress, and receive a "fulness of joy." The most important part of the plan involved Jesus
, the eldest of God's children, coming to earth as the literal Son of God, to conquer sin and death so that God's other children could return. According to Mormons, every person who lives on earth will be resurrected, and most of them will be received into various kingdoms of glory
. To be accepted into the highest kingdom, a person must fully accept Christ.
Part of Mormons' accepting of Christ is done through formal covenants and ordinances. For example, covenants associated with baptism
, and the Eucharist
(commonly called sacrament) involve taking the name of the Son upon themselves, always remembering Him, and keeping his commandments. Mormons perform other ordinances, such as marriages
in dedicated temples.
Because Mormons believe that everyone must receive certain ordinances to be saved, Mormons perform ordinances such as baptism for the dead
on behalf of deceased persons. These ordinances are performed vicariously or by "proxy" on behalf of the dead. Mormons believe that the deceased may accept or reject the offered ordinance in the spirit world. Ordinances on behalf of the dead are performed only when a deceased person's genealogical
information has been submitted to a temple.
According to Mormons, a Great Apostasy began in Christianity not long after the ascension of Jesus Christ. It was marked with the corruption of Christian doctrine by Greek
and other philosophies, with followers dividing into different ideological groups. Mormons claim the martyr
dom of the Apostles
lead to a loss of Priesthood authority to administer the church and its ordinances.
Mormons believe that the Lord restored the early Christian
church through Joseph Smith. In particular, Mormons believe that angels (Gr. plur. αγγλοι="messengers")
such as Peter
, James, John
, and John the Baptist
appeared to Joseph Smith and others and bestowed various Priesthood authorities on them. Mormons believe that their church is the "only true and living church" because of the divine authority restored through Smith. They view other Christian churches as having a portion of the truth, doing good works, and being led by the Light of Christ
Though the LDS Church has a hierarchical structure with a president/prophet dictating revelations for the whole church, there is a bottom up aspect as well. Ordinary Mormons have access to the same inspiration that is thought to guide their prophets. Mormons see Joseph Smith's first vision
as proof that the heavens are open, and that God answers prayers. They place considerable emphasis on "asking God" to find out if something is true. Most Mormons do not claim to have had heavenly visions like Smith's in response to prayers, but feel that God talks to them in their hearts and minds through the Holy Spirit
. Though Mormons have many beliefs that are considered strange in the modernized world, as well as a complicated and sometimes controversial history, they continue to hold onto their beliefs because they feel God has spoken to them.
- List of sects in the Latter Day Saint movement: Followers of Brigham Young
- The Mormons—PBS American Experience/Frontline: Watch the Full Program Online—Part One: History, Part Two: Church & State
- Patheos + Mormonism - Patheos.com - Mormonism Origins, Mormonism History, Mormonism Beliefs
- lds.org, official website of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
- mormonfundamentalism.com, information on Mormon fundamentalism compiled by Brian C. Hales
- MormonWiki.com, a free encyclopedia about Mormons from the perspective of faithful members
- Mormonism portal