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Latter-day Saints, Church of Jesus Christ of

Latter-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 5.7 million in the United States and 13 million worldwide (2008), are commonly called Mormons.

Beliefs and Organization

Mormon belief is based on the Book of Mormon, the Bible, and various revelations made to Joseph Smith during the course of his life. The Book of Mormon, which is ascribed to the prophet Mormon, recounts the early history of peoples in America from c.600 B.C. to c.A.D. 420. According to Mormon doctrine, these peoples were lost tribes of Israel who had immigrated to America and become the ancestors of Native Americans; they had been visited by Jesus and believed in him. Smith also asserted that God, angels, and human beings were members of the same species, and that God was an exalted Man. He also believed that Jesus was the only Messiah and that God and Jesus were two separate beings.

The Mormon's Aaronic priesthood (deacons, teachers, priests, and bishops), which every worthy male who is at least 12 years of age may receive, is primarily concerned with the temporal affairs of the church; that of Melchizedek (elders and high priests) is concerned with the spiritual leadership. High priests are represented in the Council of Twelve (the Apostles) and in the first presidency (the president and two counselors—three high priests vested with supreme authority). The territorial divisions of the Mormon settlements are wards and stakes. Each ward has a bishop and two counselors; five to ten wards compose a stake.

Significant characteristics of the Mormon creed include the emphasis on revelation in the establishment of doctrines and rituals, the interdependence of temporal and spiritual life, tithing, and attention to community welfare. Mormons practice baptism for the dead; they believe that the deceased soul may receive the baptism necessary for salvation by proxy of a living believer. They also believe in “celestial marriage,” whereby individuals marry for all eternity. Mormons carry out a campaign of vigorous proselytizing which has, in the course of a century and a quarter, raised the church from a handful of followers to its present size.


Founding of the Church

The history of the Mormons began with Smith's claim that during the 1820s in Palmyra, N.Y., the angel Moroni revealed to him that golden tablets containing the Book of Mormon lay buried there. These tablets were translated into a Biblical-like English by Smith and a friend. Smith soon (1831) established a headquarters for his organization at Kirtland, Ohio. His following grew rapidly, particularly from the intensive missionary activity in which members engaged, both in the United States and abroad. Stakes of Zion, as the Mormons called their settlements, were started in W Missouri, and Smith prepared to make the region the permanent home of his people. However, the intolerance of gentile neighbors toward the Mormons's communal economy and unconventional belief system led to persecution and violence. Finally, in 1838–39, Gov. Lillburn W. Boggs ordered their expulsion (see also Doniphan, Alexander William).

Violence in Illinois

The Mormons sought a new Zion in the Illinois town of Nauvoo. There, they received a charter giving them virtual autonomy, with the right to maintain their own militia, their own court, and the power to pass any laws not in conflict with the state or federal constitutions. The town expanded as converts poured in from abroad, and in 1842 it was the largest and most powerful town in Illinois. The growing wealth and strength of the Mormon community caused envy and fear among their neighbors.

At about that time, Joseph Smith, as mayor of Nauvoo, ordered the suppression of church dissidents. Violence resulted, and Smith called out the Nauvoo militia to protect the city. For this, he and his brother, Hyrum, were arrested by Illinois authorities (June 24, 1844), and charged with treason. They were jailed in Carthage, Ill., where three days later they were murdered by an angry mob.

After that many Mormons fled, dissension and suspicion were rife, and there was debate over the succession to Smith's leadership. Possible choices included another brother, William Smith, and several prominent leaders, notably Sidney Rigdon, James Jesse Strang, Lyman Wight, and Brigham Young, whom the church leaders ultimately chose.

The Mormons under Brigham Young

Young proved a forceful and able leader who dominated and worked for the good of his people. Again, it became necessary for the Mormons to find a home. Under Young's guidance, a remote spot was chosen, the valley of the Great Salt Lake in what is now Utah. Those who rejected Young's leadership and claimed the succession for a son of Joseph Smith declined to accompany the main body to Utah; they ultimately constituted themselves into a separate church (see Community of Christ).

In July, 1847, the first settlers reached what is now Salt Lake City and began an agricultural community. The first few years were extremely difficult, but the organization of the Mormons for community welfare, their great industry, and the determined leadership of Young made for their success. Through extensive irrigation, farming prospered.

In 1849, the Mormons wished to have their communities admitted to the Union as the State of Deseret, but the area became Utah Territory instead. Brigham Young was appointed territorial governor and superintendent of Indian affairs, but Mormon isolation was destroyed. Non-Mormons filtered in, resented by the Mormons. Young's formal announcement in 1852 of the doctrine of plural marriage, based on a revelation Joseph Smith recorded in 1843 (but dating to early 1830s), set the Mormons further apart from their fellow Americans. Thereafter, polygamy was luridly discussed in newspapers across the country. The antagonism was very strong in the 1850s, and when President Buchanan sent out Col. Albert S. Johnston with an army force in 1857, Young prepared to defend the Mormon state. The Utah War did not rise to serious proportions, but the bitterness of feeling was shown after the massacre of the members of a wagon train at Mountain Meadows in 1857, for which Mormons have been held responsible.

The question of plural marriage was the important point in Utah's bid for statehood. Congress passed laws against polygamy aimed solely at Utah. Despite persecution, the Mormon community was a thoroughly established commonwealth by the time of Brigham Young's death in 1877. Statehood was finally granted after Mormon president Wilford Woodruff made a statement (1890) withdrawing church sanction of polygamy: Utah entered the Union as the 45th state in 1896. Since then, the church has spread beyond Utah, becoming truly international in the late 20th cent. when church membership roughly doubled. More than half of all Mormons now live outside the United States. The nomination in 2012 of Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts and a Mormon, as the Republican presidential candidate marked a breakthrough for Mormon politicians, but many Mormons from both major parties had long been prominent in U.S. politics and government.

A number of Mormons, generally referred to as fundamentalists, continue to believe in plural marriage, either as members of a splinter church or quietly within the mainstream church, which excommunicates those who adhere to the practice. Some 10,000 people in North America belong to the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, the largest of the splinter faiths. Many of its members live in SW Utah and NW Arizona.


See J. Smith, The Doctrine and Covenants of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (1880 ed., repr. 1971); studies by L. Arrington and D. Bitton (1979), R. Bushman (1984), T. Alexander (1986), J. Coates (1991), D. M. Quinn (1994), R. N. and J. K. Ostling (1999), J. Krakauer (2003), M. Bowman (2012), J. S. Fluhman (2012), P. C. Gutjahr (2012), and L. T. Ulrich (2017); D. H. Ludlow, ed., Encyclopedia of Mormonism (5 vol., 1992).

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Statue of Brigham Young with the Mormon Temple in the background, Salt Lake City, Utah. Fortean Picture Library.

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.

The Religion Book: Places, Prophets, Saints, and Seers © 2004 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(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.


O’Dea, T. F. The Mormons. Chicago, 1957.
Linn, W. A. The Story of the Mormons. New York, 1963.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


religious sect; once advocated plural marriage. [Am. Hist.: NCE, 1833]
Allusions—Cultural, Literary, Biblical, and Historical: A Thematic Dictionary. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
"Brigham Young and the Expansion of the Mormon Faith" addresses such controversial issues as the practice of polygamy (Young himself had fifty-five wives), relations and conflicts between Mormons and Indians, and the circumstances and aftermath of the horrific events of Mountain Meadows in 1857.
Brigham Young and the Expansion of the Mormon Faith details the persecution Mormons faced as their presence increased, including an order by the governor of Missouri that the group be "exterminated or driven from the state." Though Young initially opposed the practice of polygamy, by the time of his death he had over fifty wives.
"While we still consider such a marriage to be a serious transgression, it will not be treated as apostasy for purposes of Church discipline," three Mormon leaders said in a joint statement on Thursday.
Synopsis: In 1856 the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (commonly known as the Mormon Church) employed a new means of getting converts to Great Salt Lake City who could not afford the journey otherwise.
According to the fishermen at Pine River, the Mormons came to Northern Michigan to capture two families who had fled Beaver Island, and the locals were defending the families from deportation.
Ure, Stop the Press: How the Mormon Church Tried to Silence the Salt Lake Tribune, Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2018, 294 pp., $18 (paperback).
The contrasting attitudes toward the Mormon people versus Mormon leadership is established in the opening scene, which shows the Mormons crossing the plains and declares that "their faith never faltered" in spite of sickness, hunger, and injury along the way.
The first wedding gifts my wife and I opened after our Mormon wedding were the ones we had given each other.
Radkey found the names in FamilySearch, a website used by Mormons to trace family lineages and submit requests for proxy baptisms.
Queen Elizabeth's mother has been baptized as a Mormon. The Queen Mother didn't practice the religion when she was alive: she was a faithful member of the Church of England.
The ecclesiastical policy governing the relationship between Mormons and Nazi Germany, according to Nelson, resulted in cooperation and conformity.
5, it issued new guidelines, saying Mormons in same-sex relationships will face possible excommunication and their children will not be permitted to join the church until they are 18--and then only if they reject their parents' relationship.