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Mormons:see Latter-day Saints, Church of Jesus Christ ofLatter-day Saints, Church of Jesus Christ of,
name of the church founded (1830) at Fayette, N.Y., by Joseph Smith. The headquarters are in Salt Lake City, Utah. Its members, now numbering about 5.
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Mormons/Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints(religion, spiritualism, and occult)
In 1820 the little town of Palmyra, New York, was typical of the many mill towns dotting the famous Erie Canal. Religious revival had hit the area, the impact of which can still be seen in the small town famous for the fact that its main intersection features a church of a different denomination on each of the four corners. They surround what was, until only a few years ago, Palmyra's only traffic light, making for some interesting ecumenical debates on Sunday morning at about 11 o'clock.
A young man named Joseph Smith, whose family had migrated down from Vermont, was caught up but confused by the religious questions of the day. Every preacher seemed to claim that his own church was the "right" church. Methodists vied with Presbyterians for new converts, and many other long-forgotten sects all added their voices to the spiritual mix. It was typical of the American melting-pot kind of frontier revival that often broke out during those times.
Smith decided he needed to go right to the source for guidance. He began to pray for help in knowing God's will concerning which church he should join:
In the midst of this war of words and tumult of opinions, I often said to myself, what is to be done? Who of all these parties be right? Or are they wrong all together?
In a small grove of trees, now called the Sacred Grove and visited by many tourists every year, Smith received his answer. He later claimed that God the Father and Jesus Christ appeared to him, warning him not to join any church. Just as God had appeared to Moses and Paul in former times, he appeared to Smith with a message: The times were changing. Something new was about to happen.
Instructed to climb Hill Cumorah, a small glacial drumlin just north of Palmyra on the way to the little village of Manchester, Smith there met the angel Moroni, son of the great prophet, Mormon, who showed him where golden plates were buried that would answer Smith's questions. They were written in the language Smith described as "Reformed Egyptian Hieroglyphics," and he was able to translate because along with the plates he discovered a pair of "translating spectacles" that allowed him to read the lost language. When translated, they became The Book of Mormon, Another Testament of Jesus Christ.
The story they told changed Smith's life. When Jesus Christ walked the Galilee, he organized his church to be the vehicle whereby God, the heavenly father, would reveal himself to humanity and welcome them into heaven. The apostles continued this tradition and preached the Gospel during their lifetimes. They were the saints of the former days. But gradually the Church pulled away from the Gospel. It became apostate, and God withdrew the Church from Earth. Now, in these latter days, it was to be restored according to the prophecy given by the apostle Peter in Acts 3:19-21.
Mormon, the author of the record and one of the last of the prophets of ancient America, had buried the plates there in that hill centuries before. They described how Lehi, a prophet who had lived in Jerusalem some six hundred years before the birth of Christ, had sailed with a small group of people from the Mediterranean all the way to the American continent. They had built a great civilization in Central America while trading, and eventually warring, all the way north to the place of present-day Palmyra. After his resurrection in Jerusalem, Jesus Christ had appeared here in the Americas, preaching the Gospel to his "sheep of another fold." Alas, the people in America were no different from those in other places in the world where the Gospel had been preached and rejected. God raised up prophets, but they were ridiculed. War broke out. The last great battle between God's faithful and the apostate took place here at Hill Cumorah. The descendants of those who had fought were the very people Americans called Indians. Although remnants of history and snatches of language remained to hint of the history that taken place so many centuries before, the story was lost.
Lost, that is, until Smith translated the Golden Plates and revealed what had taken place here. He was able to do so, he said, because God was restoring the saints in these latter days, fulfilling the prophecy and preparing the way for the return of Jesus Christ.
Moroni concluded his book with a great promise. He said those who read his words and sincerely prayed about their meaning would be shown by the Holy Ghost that the words were true and that God's promise was being fulfilled. Smith believed. No one was allowed to see the plates except Smith, although he did reveal them to two different groups of witnesses so they could testify to their existence.
The Book of Mormon is used as a third Testament, as it were. It is not meant to replace the Bible but to be used as a companion to the Old and New Testaments. Mormons claim it predicts the history of the Americas for some twenty-five hundred years: the voyage of Christopher Columbus, the fate of American Indians, the coming of the Puritans, the Revolutionary War, and much more.
On April 6, 1830, ten years after Smith received the plates, translated them, and began to preach the newfound Gospel, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was organized in Fayette, New York. It now boasts over eleven million members around the world.
But the church experienced persecution from the very beginning. Threatened and finally driven out of town, Smith led his followers west, joining the great western migration taking place at the time. In 1844 both Joseph Smith and his brother were killed by a mob while imprisoned in Carthage, Illinois, awaiting charges for the destruction of an anti-Mormon newspaper press. Brigham Young took control. Leading the people across more than one thousand miles of unsettled prairie, he finally arrived, in 1847, at the great Salt Lake Valley of present-day Utah. This, Young declared, would be the scene of the New Jerusalem. Salt Lake City was born. From this base, Mormon communities were established in Utah, Wyoming, Idaho, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, California, north to Canada, and south into Mexico. They were united by the Bible, the Book of Mormon, and the Thirteen Articles of Faith that Smith had summarized concerning the beliefs of the new church.
Although the official name of the church is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, they are often called "Mormons" after the name of the one of the authors of the text translated by Smith. They are a Christian church in that they follow Jesus Christ, but they do not consider themselves to be Protestant, because they feel that by the time of the Reformation the true Church had long since been withdrawn from Earth. Restored in the time of Joseph Smith, it now awaits the literal gathering of Israel and the restoration of the Ten Tribes, "lost" since the Assyrian invasion (see Babylonian Captivity; Judaism, Development of). Zion, the New Jerusalem, will be built on the American continent, where Jesus Christ will someday return to rule planet Earth.
It is probably very frustrating to church leaders that, in light of all this history and theology, people seem to have two questions they ask time and time again.
The first is probably more prurient than theological: "What is the Mormon position regarding polygamy?"
The church now forbids plural marriage. Its official position is that at various times in the past, God commanded a few men to take more than one wife. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, and Solomon all did it. So when Joseph Smith and Brigham Young were told to take more than one wife, they questioned the practice but were faithful to God and followed his will. Since 1890, however, when Mormon president Wilford Woodruff received a revelation from God that the practice had to cease, it has been forbidden by official church policy.
Do some Mormons still practice plural marriage? Of course. There are fundamentalists in every religion who believe their church has become too liberal and who refuse to go along. But polygamists are excommunicated by the officially recognized church, the greatest punishment the church can deliver.
The second question comes as a result of recent lawsuits involving people researching their family trees. "Why does the Mormon Church keep such extensive genealogical records?"
Mormons believe in baptism by immersion. That's not much different from some other Protestant churches. But according to Mormon theology, you can baptize the dead by proxy, so to speak. You can stand in for them at the temple and be baptized in their stead. To identify deceased family members in order to baptize them, Mormons have established a huge genealogical data bank.
This project has caused some interesting news reports. Recently Mormons have put prison inmates in Utah to work transcribing, from German records released since the Holocaust, the names of Jewish people to be baptized. This practice has raised serious church/state separation problems, to say nothing of the fact that living Jewish relatives don't want their families being baptized, even if they did die long ago. They rightly feel it is disrespectful. A class-action lawsuit was supposed to have put an end to the practice, but it was recently discovered, according to Jewish complainants, that deceased Jews were still being baptized by proxy. The Mormons had apparently broken their word.
The church has stated that these people were baptized accidentally, claiming that the transcribers could not always tell whether the deceased were Jewish just from their names.
The principle at stake is this: Mormons believe families are united forever, even after death. It is very important to them to discover who their family is and make sure they are baptized, thus fulfilling God's requirements on Earth.
Meanwhile, a lot of Gentile genealogists, given free access to Mormon computer files, are at least happy with the result of the doctrine, regardless of their religious beliefs.
Mormons have endured quite a bit of persecution, yet most who come into contact with Mormons as a group come away with nothing but good things to say. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir is one of the most respected vocal ensembles in the world. Residents of Palmyra, New York, who each summer face an influx of thousands of Mormons arriving to attend the famous Mormon Pageant (a reenactment of the Mormon story that is held on Hill Cumorah), are unanimous in their praise of Mormon visitors. Townspeople claim Mormons are always well dressed, they are always well behaved, and they never drink or smoke. The church erects beautiful buildings and maintains an extremely polished website and visitor center, and its members strive always to be polite and helpful.
Conservative Christians, however, ridicule the religion, labeling it a dangerous cult. Its history is slandered in book and television exposés. Way back in 1832, Alexander Campbell published his Delusions: An Analysis of the Book of Mormon. In it he pointed out that the golden plates seem to have anticipated and given a definitive "answer to just about every error and truth discussed in New York for the last ten years." In other words, according to Campbell, the book was a hoax written by Smith, conveniently kept secret by not allowing witnesses to watch the "translation" process and designed to answer the current theological dilemmas of the day. The idea that American Indians were descended from the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel was a popular one and had been around for a long time. The late Vernal Holley, after a comprehensive study of the geography of the Book of Mormon, claims that a map of the "Holy Land according to Joseph Smith" can be placed right over a map of present-day New York. The two, he claims, including place names, rivers, lakes, and historic landmarks, are identical.
Some who have "come out" of Mormonism insist the public image and theology is a cover for a domineering sect that controls the lives of its members and teaches a totally different set of beliefs from those published for public consumption. Even Sherlock Holmes enters the picture. In Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's first adventure featuring the famous detective, A Study in Scarlet, Mormons are the evil enemy the fledgling detective has to defeat.
While the church has faced persecution since its inception, it continues to flourish and grow. Any visit to its newly completed visitor's center in Palmyra is a treat. Its television cable network is always informative. And its magnificent choir will no doubt continue to make definitive choral recordings for a long time.
(self-designation, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints), members of a religious sect that arose in the USA in the first half of the 19th century. Its founder, Joseph Smith, published in 1830 the Book of Mormon, which he claimed was a translation of the secret scriptures of the prophet Mormon, allegedly one of the tribal ancestors of the American Indians. The Book of Mormon and the Bible are the chief sources of Mormon religious teaching. In Mormon theology a literal reading of the Bible (especially the Old Testament) is stressed. The sect’s early leaders called for realizing the theocratic ideal of the biblical prophets and also introduced the practice of polygamy (abolished only in 1890).
The history of the Mormons is connected with the opening up of the western lands of the USA; in the mid-19th century the Mormon community established itself in the region of the Great Salt Lake (now the state of Utah). The Mormons presently carry on missionary activities in other countries of the Americas, Western Europe, South Africa, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand. Mormon religious preaching is combined with an apology for the ethical “values” of capitalist enterprise. Questions of physical health and personal morality, narrowly interpreted as an ethic of industriousness and frugality, occupy an important place in Mormon missionary propaganda. The Mormon communities are headed by a president and council of 12 “apostles,” who regulate not only the religious but also the secular life of the believers. Besides the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints itself, which claims 2.1 million members (1971), there also exists in the US A the so-called Reorganized Church of Mormons, with over 150,000 members.
REFERENCESO’Dea, T. F. The Mormons. Chicago, 1957.
Linn, W. A. The Story of the Mormons. New York, 1963.
A. A. KISLOVA