Mormonism, is a religious movement founded by Joseph Smith in the early 1800's. The official name of the church today is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, sometimes shortened to LDS to refer to both the church or its members. Mormonism is one of the few young religions, based on Christianity, along with Jehovah's Witnesses and Scientology, to have survived with any significant membership.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (known commonly as the Mormon church) was orginized on April 6th, 1830 by Joseph Smith, Jr. and several of his followers in Palmyra, New York. Joseph proclaimed himself as a prophet, receiving visions and other revelations from God, angels, biblical figures and even claimed to encounter the Devil. Furthermore, Joseph Smith proclaimed that God and Jesus (although this version of the revelation would be changed many times) told him that he had been chosen by God to restore God's "true church" on this earth. This first revelation is usually set in the Spring of 1820, though the initial versions were not written down until 1828 at the earliest.
Church members are known as Mormons, or amoung themselves the saints. The Mormon Church is officially known as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The Church headquarters are located in Salt Lake City, Utah.
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Great Migration to Salt Lake City
Following the death of Joseph Smith, the Mormons moved westwared and eventually settled in the Salt Lake Valley in what would eventually become the Utah Territory and then the State of Utah. In the decades following, converts to Mormonism migrated to Utah, which is still largely dominated politically by the religion.
Joseph Smith Jr. was born in Sharon, Vermont, to Lucy Mack and Joseph Smith, on December 23, 1805. Smith grew up on a series of tenant farms in Vermont, New Hampshire, and New York. Smith's education consisted of a very limited exposure to the reading, writing, and arithmetic. It is known however that his Father Joseph Sr. was a school teacher.
In 1823, Joseph Smith said he was visited by an angel named Moroni, who told him of an ancient record containing God's dealings with the former inhabitants of the American continent. These writings served as the foundation of the Mormon religion, with Joseph Smith as prophet.
Brigham Young became the second prophet, or president, of the Mormon church after Joseph Smith was killed in 1844. He led the great migration from Illinois to the Salt Lake Valley.
Mormons do not rely solely upon the Bible as a basis for their beliefs. According to Mormonism's Articles of Faith (Articles of Faith (Mormonism)), Mormons "believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly" (Articles of Faith, 8). In fact, Joseph Smith did hazard a retranslation of the Bible. Because Mormons believe in a living prophet and continuing revelation, other official church publications are considered to be part of church doctrine.
Book of Mormon
Initially printed in 1830, the Book of Mormon is the primary holy book of Mormonism, though much of the church's structure and rituals are derived from the Doctrine and Covenants, which were written later. The book is similar in style and content to the Bible, but describes God's dealings with the inhabitants of the Americas, the ancestors of Native Americans. It includes the description of Christ's visit to these people after his death and resurrection, as well as the source of the "dark skin" which they received as a curse.
A foreword to the Book of Mormon contains the promise that readers may pray to God for a confirmation of it's authenticity. This promise is used extensively by Mormons (especially missionaries) in proselytizing.
Doctrine and Covenants
The Doctrine and Covenants is a collection of "revelations" that Joseph recieved from Jesus Christ. It contains amoung other things instructions for how the church should be run. It was originally called the "Book of Commandments"
A key section is D&C 132 which gives the requirements for Polygamy. Specificly versus 61-65.
Pearl of Great Price
The Pearl of Great Price is a collection of books, including translations from Egyptian papyri and the official Joseph Smith History. These books include some of the most exotic Mormon doctrines, including the plurality of gods, the potential for humans to become gods and a different portrayal of the creation story from the Old Testament book of Genesis.
Other official Mormon publications
Journal of Discourses
The Journal of Discourses (often abbreviated J.D.) is a 26-volume collection of public sermons by early leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The first editions of the Journal were published in England by George D. Watt, the stenographer of Brigham Young. Publication began in 1854, with the endorsement of the church's First Presidency, and ended in 1886. The Journal is one of the richest sources of early Mormon theology and thinking. It includes 1,438 sermons given by 55 church leaders, including most numerously Brigham Young, John Taylor, Orson Pratt, Heber C. Kimball, and George Q. Cannon.
While the J.D. is not considered scripture by the modern church it is still important to it's history.
Holy Bible: Joseph Smith Translation
Joseph Smith also performed a "re-translation" of the King James version of the Holy Bible. Mormon's include these translations as footnotes in their versions of the Bible. In his translation, Smith attempts to clarify contradictory passages to fit more precisely with the Book of Mormon and his other writings.
The Mormon godhead
Mormons reject the concept of the Trinity, and thus believe that God, Jesus and the Holy Ghost are three distinct beings. God and Christ both have resurrected bodies of "flesh and bone" (D&C 130:22), but not blood. The Holy Ghost is made of "spirit" (D&C 130:22). Christ, the Holy Ghost and all human souls are considered the literal "spiritual offspring" of God, the Father.
Mormon world view
Mormons believe that human beings have the potential, if they follow God's plan, to become gods themselves(D&C 132:20). In the Mormon world view, the purpose of the existence of this world is as a training ground for new gods. According to that view, human souls or intelligences existed in heaven, with God, before birth. Receiving a physical body, and eventually a perfected body after the final resurrection, is part of becoming like God the Father and Jesus Christ, who both have bodies of "flesh and bones" (D&C 130:22)
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, the largest church devoted to the Latter-Day Saint movement, openly endorsed and encouraged polygamous relationships for nearly the first century of its existence. Early church leaders such as Brigham Young and Joseph Smith, Jr. had as many as 50 wives, and preached that it was the only way to enter heaven. As the Utah Territory, settled by Mormon pioneers, fought the government of the United States for recognition as a state, the Church came under criticism for its practice of polygamy. In 1890, Church president Wilford Woodruff issued a manifesto that renounced the practice, as a condition of Utah's statehood.
Today, practice of polygamy can lead to disfellowship (excommunication) from the LDS church, and the church claims it works with the government to stop those who practice polygamy. Nevertheless, many Latter-Day Saint sects, collectively known as fundamentalist Mormons, continue the practice of polygamy. The largest of these groups is the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS Church), which is based in Texas and has approximately 10,000 members across North America.
Temples and ceremonies
As of 2010, the Mormon church had built 160 temples, with 22 more announced or under construction (LDS.org). Mormon temples are the setting for many of the church's secretive rituals, including marriages, sealings and the mysterious Endownment ceremonies. Mormons also perform all these ceremonies, by proxy, for their ancestors who died before Mormonism came into being. Temples are also the setting for baptism for the dead.
The church claims that ceremonies for the dead are limited to people for whom Mormons have discovered as ancestors through the church's extensive geneology program. But the church has been criticized in the past for posthumously baptizing people outside of their members' family trees, including many of the Founding Fathers and Jews who perished in the Holocaust.
Only Mormons, who have been screened by local priesthood leaders for a "temple recommend," may enter the temple to perform ceremonies.
The two priesthoods that the Mormons claim are the Aaronic priesthood and the Melchizedek priesthood, referred to collectively as simply the Priesthood. Both of these priesthoods are constituted by various offices and priviledges, called keys, that constitute the Mormon leadership heirarchy. The priesthood is passed, by the laying on of hands, from one priesthood holder higher up on the heirarchy.
Mormons believe that these priesthoods are the only authentic priesthoods on Earth, and that all other churches claiming divine authority from God are without authority. Mormons believe that Peter, one of Jesus's original apostles, was given the priesthood keys. But they believe that the chain of heirarchy was broken and that the Catholic church is bereft of any authority. God supposedly restored these priesthoods to the earth through Joseph Smith.
All the rituals of the Mormon church are conducted by authorized priesthood holders, including baptisms, temple weddings (known as sealings), and general-purpose blessings.
Women's roles in Mormonism
Mormon society, like most of Christianity, is a patriarchy. Women are subordinate to men in the organization of the church and family structures. Women are prohibited from holding either of the church's two priesthoods, and thus are prohibited from holding priesthood based callings or leadership positions within the church. Women do hold leadership positions in the church's women's organizations, such as the Relief Society.
During the Mormon church's bi-annual broadcasts, known as general conference, the majority of the speakers are the male leaders of the church.
As children, girls and boys are separated by gender into separate Sunday school classes. They also share co-ed classes and meetings as part of the regular three hour block of Sunday meetings.
Church leaders repeatedly recommend that women, when possible, should stay at home and rear children rather than pursue professional carreers.
Brigham Young (who was the 2nd prophet of the LDS church) taught that Adam and God where in fact the same being. He taught that God came with one of his many wives to the Garden of Eden, and he was Adam. - Journal of Discourses, vol. 1, p. 50
Eternal progression refers to as the continual development of the soul. Mormons consider each human soul to be the spiritual offspring of God, the Father. All humans who have lived, or will live on Earth, are considered to have been spiritually conceived, as spirit children, by God and one or more of his presumed wives. Jehovah is considered the firstborn spirit child of God. Satan and his followers are also spirit children. Mormons also believe that there are other habitable planets (such as Kolob) in the universe, also inhabited by God's children, though Christ lived, died and was resurrected only on this planet. Thus, Mormons believe that Jesus died for the sins of all human mortals, on all planets in the universe. Presumably, there would be other gods' children in the universe, all with their own saviours, going through the same cycle of eternal progression. Whether Mormons consider these humans, belonging to other gods, to be in a separate universe of ours is the matter of some debate.
All spirit children have the potential, through eternal progression, to become gods in their own right, provided they follow God's plan. God himself is considered by Mormons to have once been a spirit child of yet other gods, an also passed through a mortal life, gaining a physical body and following his own eternal progression to his current state of godhood. Gods are thought to be eternally progressing, even though they are considered perfect, through the maturation of their spiritual progeny.
The cycle of spiritual death, physical death and redemption from both through a messianic sacrifice is continual according to this model. The goals of the cycle for each individual include: baptism by immersion, receving the gift of the Holy Ghost, achieving the highest levels of the Mormon priesthood and the various Mormon temple rites. Those who follow God's plan will eventually live with God and Christ in the Celestial kingdom. Those who do not follow that plan will receive lesser degrees of glory and live in either the Terrestrial kingdom, Telestial kingdom or Outer darkness.
According to this view -- gods as fully matured human beings -- God is following his plan and issuing his commandments according to the conditions required to nurture his human children into gods. This means that Mormons believe that the "good" is good, not becuase God declares it so, but because he is operating according to a set of requirements or rules not of his making (see the Euthyphro dilemma). This makes it harder for Mormons to explain away immoral actions taken by their god, including murdering millions in the Flood.
Mormons believe that marital and familial bonds can continue beyond death if those family members are sealed in a Mormon temple by a priesthood holder designated as a sealer. Sealed families will remain families in the afterlife, and will be together if they all go to the same kingdom. Deceased family members may also be sealed, provide they have been baptised posthumously, by proxy.