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Mormonism comprises the religious, institutional, and cultural elements of the early Latter Day Saint movement and its modern denominations deriving from the leadership of Brigham Young and/or the religious innovations introduced by founder Joseph Smith, Jr. in 1840s Nauvoo, Illinoismarker. Most specifically, the term Mormonism is used to refer to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church). The term also applies to Mormon fundamentalism, and to various reformist churches such as the Restoration Church of Jesus Christ and the defunct Godbeites. The term does not generally refer to other branches of the Latter Day Saint movement such as the Community of Christ (formerly the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) that are not "Brighamites" (followers of Brigham Young), even though they believe in the Book of Mormon. The term Mormonism derives from the, Book of Mormon, one of the faith's religious texts. Based on the name of that book, early followers of founder Joseph Smith, Jr. were called Mormons, and their faith was called Mormonism. The term was initially considered pejorative but is no longer considered so.

Theological Mormonism is a form of Restorationism that shares a common set of beliefs with the rest of the Latter Day Saint movement, including use of the Bible, as well as other religious texts including the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants. It differs from other Latter Day Saint movement traditions in that it also accepts the Pearl of Great Price as part of its canon, and it has a history of teaching plural marriage (although the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had totally abandoned the practice by 1904), eternal marriage, and eternal progression. Cultural Mormonism includes a lifestyle promoted by the Mormon institutions, and includes cultural Mormons who identify with the culture, but not necessarily the theology.

Brief history

Mormonism originated in the late 1820s, as Joseph Smith, Jr., founder of the Latter Day Saint movement told his associates and family that he had located a buried book of golden plates written by ancient American prophets. Smith said the Angel Moroni, who was the guardian of these plates, had directed him to these writings and that his mission was to publish a translation of this book. This work, published in 1830 as the Book of Mormon, served as a foundation for Smith's small Church of Christ.

Smith's church grew steadily until his death in 1844, which precipitated a succession crisis. The majority of Latter Day Saints chose Brigham Young as their leader and emigrated to a place in Mexicomarker that soon became the Utah Territory. There, they publicly announced the practice of plural marriage (a form of polygamy), which Smith had instituted in secret some years earlier. Plural marriage would become the faith's most famous characteristic during the 19th century. However, the practice was vigorously opposed elsewhere in the United Statesmarker, threatening the LDS Church's existence as a legal institution. Faced with this pressure, LDS leader Wilford Woodruff felt he had no choice but to issue a 1890 Manifesto officially discontinuing the practice of plural marriage.

In the ensuing years, several smaller groups of Mormons broke with the LDS Church over the issue of plural marriage, forming several denominations of Mormon fundamentalism. The LDS Church has distanced itself from these groups, and has taken to promoting a mainstream American view of monogamous families. Since that period, the LDS Church has become more visible and adopted many political and social viewpoints associated with mainstream American culture. LDS Church leaders have also sought to increase the church's association and cooperation with other elements of American Christianity.

Theological foundations

Relation to Christianity

Mormonism claims to be a literal restoration of the original church of Jesus and his twelve Apostles. Thus, Mormonism classifies itself within Christianity. Mormonism teaches that the traditional Christian orthodoxy has departed from the teachings of Jesus, and that Mormonism therefore is the most Christian of faiths. In many important ways, the religion differs from orthodoxy as held by Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant Christianity. To those for whom Christianity is defined by that orthodoxy, Mormonism's differences place it outside the umbrella of Christianity altogether.

Since its beginnings, the faith has proclaimed itself to be Christianity restored to its original authority, structure and power; teaching that the existing denominations "were believing in incorrect doctrines, and that none of them was acknowledged of God as his church and kingdom", and "all their creeds were an abomination in his sight." Though the religion quickly gained a large following of Christian seekers, in the 1830s, many American Christians came to view the church's early doctrines and practices as politically and culturally subversive. This discord led to a series of sometimes-deadly conflicts between Mormons and non-Mormon Christians. Today, there are no longer violent conflicts between Mormons and non-Mormons on the basis of religious principles. Nevertheless, the religion's unique doctrinal views and practices still generate dismissive criticism, as well as efforts by Mormons and non-Mormon Christians to proselytize each other.

Mormons believe in the Old and New Testaments, in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and Savior, the crucifixion as a final offering and his resurrection. However, Latter Day Saints reject the ecumenical creeds and definition of the Trinity taught by the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Anglican Communion, and Trinitarian Protestantism, and hold that the New Testament prophesied both the apostasy from the teachings of Christ and his apostles as well as the restoration of all things prior to the second coming of Christ.Mormons also hold the Book of Mormon to be divine scripture, equal in authority to the Bible. The LDS teach that these keys were taken from the earth with the death of the original apostles, and were restored to Joseph Smith, Jr. by those who held them anciently, resulting in a full restoration of primitive Christianity.

Relation to Judaism

Because of the incorporation of many Old Testament ideas into its theology, Mormonism claims a historical affinity with Judaism. The beliefs of Mormons sometimes parallel those of Judaism and certain elements of Jewish culture. This is primarily from what are historical and doctrinal connections with Judaism.

Joseph Smith Jr. named the largest Mormon settlementmarker he founded Nauvoo, which means "to be beautiful" in Hebrew. Brigham Young named a tributary of the Great Salt Lakemarker the "Jordan River." The LDS Church created a writing scheme called the Deseret Alphabet, which was based, in part, on Hebrew. Currently, the LDS Church has a Jerusalem Centermarker in Israelmarker, at which some college-aged youth study and learn to appreciate and respect the region.

The LDS Church also teaches that its adherents are members of the House of Israel. Patriarchal blessings are received by most individuals in their youth. Among other things, this blessing's purpose is to declare one's lineage; in other words, to which of the twelve tribes of Israel the individual belongs.

There has been some controversy involving Jewish groups who see the actions of some elements of Mormonism as offensive. In the 1990s, Jewish groups vocally opposed the LDS practice of baptism for the dead on behalf of Jewish victims of the Holocaust and Jews in general. According to LDS Church general authority Monte J. Brough, "Mormons who baptized 380,000 Holocaust victims posthumously were motivated by love and compassion and did not understand their gesture might offend Jews ... they did not realize that what they intended as a 'Christian act of service' was 'misguided and insensitive.'". Mormons believe that, when the dead are baptized through proxy, those being baptized have the option of accepting or rejecting the ordinance.

Theological divisions within Mormonism

Mormon theology includes three main movements. By far the largest of these is the "mainstream Mormonism" defined by the leadership of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church). There are also two broad movements outside of mainstream Mormonism: Mormon fundamentalism, representing a conservative reaction to the LDS Church, and liberal reformist Mormonism, which advocates theologically liberal reform. These movements are not mutually exclusive, as many Mormon fundamentalists and liberal reformists remain within the LDS Church.

Mainstream Mormon theology

Mainstream Mormonism is defined by the leadership of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Members of the LDS Church consider their top leaders to be prophets and apostles, and are discouraged from questioning or criticizing them on matters of theology, which can be taken as a sign of apostasy. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is by far the largest branch of Mormonism. It has continuously existed since succession crisis of 1844 that split the Latter Day Saint movement after the death of founder Joseph Smith, Jr.

Partly for public relations and proselytizing reasons, the church seeks to distance itself from other branches of Mormonism, and particularly from the practice of polygamy. The LDS Church practiced polygamy in the 1800s. However, when the United Statesmarker government threatened to dissolve the church and imprison its leaders, the church abandoned that practice around the turn of the 20th century. Today, the church maintains a degree of orthodoxy within the church by excommunicating or disciplining its members who take positions or engage in practices viewed as apostasy. For example, the church excommunicates its members who practice polygamy, or who adopt the beliefs and practices of Mormon fundamentalism. The church also may excommunicate or discipline those within the church who openly oppose the church's top leadership, which is viewed as a sign of apostasy.

Mormon fundamentalism

Mormon fundamentalism distinguishes itself from mainstream Mormonism mainly through the practice of plural marriage. Fundamentalists initially broke from the LDS Church after that doctrine was abandoned around the beginning of the 20th century. Mormon fundamentalism teaches that plural marriage is a requirement for Exaltation (the highest degree of salvation), which will allow them to become gods and goddesses in the afterlife. Mainstream Mormons, by contrast, believe that a single Celestial marriage is necessary for Exaltation.

In distinction with the LDS Church, Mormon fundamentalists also often believe in a number of other doctrines taught and practiced by Brigham Young in the 19th century, which the LDS Church has either abandoned, repudiated, or put in abeyance. These include:

Mormon fundamentalists believe that these principles were wrongly abandoned or changed by the LDS Church, in large part due to the desire of its leadership and members to assimilate into mainstream American society and avoid the persecutions and conflict that had characterized the church throughout its early years. Others believe that it was a necessity at some point for "a restoration of all things" to be a truly restored Church.

Liberal reformist theology

A small movement within Mormonism seeks theologically liberal reform within the religion. Many of these are members of the LDS Church and work for liberal reform from the inside. Others have left the LDS Church but consider themselves to be cultural Mormons. Others have formed new religions. One of the first of these, the Godbeites, broke from the LDS Church in the late 1800s on the basis of both political and religious liberalism. More recently, the Restoration Church of Jesus Christ broke from the LDS Church as an LGBT-friendly denomination. An online church called Reform Mormonism has attempted to reform Mormon rituals and situate Mormonism within rationalism.

Culture and practices

Due to the differences in lifestyle promoted by Mormon doctrine and history, a distinct culture has grown up around Mormonism. Mormons and their culture are primarily concentrated in the Intermountain West, but as the faith spreads around the world, many of its more distinctive practices follow, such as adhering to the Word of Wisdom, a health law or code, prohibiting the consumption of tobacco, alcohol, coffee and tea, and other addictive substances. As a result of the Word of Wisdom, the culture in areas of the world with a high concentration of Mormons tends to be reflected.

See also


  1. The terms Mormon and Mormonism are used by Mormon fundamentalists in reference to themselves. However, the LDS Church encourages journalists not to apply the term Mormon to Mormon fundamentalism, as the LDS Church wishes to distance itself from the fundamentalist practice of plural marriage. According to the LDS Church, the term Mormon is "only acceptable in describing the combination of doctrine, culture and lifestyle unique to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints." See Style Guide - LDS Newsroom. Despite the LDS Church preference, the term fundamentalist Mormonism is in common use.
  2. Terms used in the LDS Restorationist movement
  3. According to one respected Mormon authority, "Mormonism is indistinguishable from Christianity." Mormon Doctrine, by Bruce McConkie, p. 513,
  4. For example, a 2007 poll conducted by the Pew Research Center found that one in three Americans surveyed do not consider Mormons to be Christian. See, for example,
  5. The most prominent of these doctrines and practices included plural marriage and the church's theocratic aspirations (both now discontinued by the mainstream faith).
  6. For more information on historical conflicts, see History of the Latter Day Saint movement.
  7. "...they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof..." Joseph Smith History 1:18-19
  8. "That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand. Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition..." Thessalonians 2:2-3
  9. "Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord; And he shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you: Whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began." Acts 3:19-21
  10. "Upon you my fellow servants, in the name of Messiah, I confer the Priesthood of Aaron, which holds the keys of the ministering of angels, and of the gospel of repentance, and of baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; and this shall never be taken again from the earth until the sons of Levi do offer again an offering unto the Lord in righteousness..." Joseph wrote: "The messenger who visited us on this occasion and conferred this priesthood upon us, said that his name was John, the same that is called John the Baptist in the New Testament, and that he acted under the direction of Peter, James and John, who held the keys of the Priesthood of Melchizedek, which Priesthood, he said, would in due time be conferred on us..." JSH 1:69,72, "And this greater priesthood administereth the gospel and holdeth the key of the mysteries of the kingdom, even the key of the knowledge of God. Therefore, in the ordinances thereof, the power of godliness is manifest. And without the ordinances thereof, and the authority of the priesthood, the power of godliness is not manifest unto men in the flesh..." Doctrine and Covenants 84:19-21
  11. BYU Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies
  12. Pyle, Richard. AP Newswire, May 5, 1995.
  13. (D&C 89)
  14. See Doctrine & Covenants, Section 89.
  15. Salt Lake Tribune Editorial, Liquor stores: Banning phone listings, stores won't stop abuse.

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