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MORMONS, or LATTER-DAY SAINTS. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, more commonly known as the Mormons, was founded by Joseph Smith in 1830 (see Smith, Joseph). Non-Mormon scholars say that Smith combined elements of Judaism and Christianity with several distinctive features of his own creation. The organisation that grew out of Smith's teachings differs markedly from traditional Christianity. The basic Mormon scripture is the Book of Mormon. The Book of Mormon is accepted as a supplement to the Bible, rather than as a substitute for it. Other scriptures are the Pearl of Great Price, Book of Abraham, and Book of Moses.

The Book of Mormon was first published in Palmyra, N.Y., in 1830. Mormons accept it as a divinely inspired work revealed to Smith and translated by him. It tells the story of a group of Hebrews who left Jerusalem in about 600 BC and came to North America. They eventually split into two factions, the Lamanites and the Nephites. The Lamanites forgot their ancient Jewish religion and became the ancestors of the American Indians. The Nephites remained faithful and built a great civilization. They were, however, destroyed by the Lamanites in about AD 400.

Prior to this time Jesus Christ had appeared on Earth and given his teachings to the Nephites. These were recorded on gold plates by a prophet named Mormon. His son Moroni buried the plates. They remained buried for 1,400 years, until Moroni returned in the form of an angel and showed the plates to Joseph Smith. After Smith translated them they were returned to Moroni and never seen again.

Mormon teaching states that God had originally evolved from mankind. Therefore present humanity could become gods. Contrary to Christianity, Mormon belief asserts that the three persons of the Godhead (the Trinity) are three separate beings. Jesus Christ appeared on Earth to save mankind, but each person's salvation nevertheless depends on the quality of his own life. A baptism by immersion is practiced, and there is also a baptism on behalf of the dead. Because Mormons believe it is possible for dead ancestors to participate in salvation there is great interest among Mormons in genealogy--the tracing of one's ancestry.

Smith originally believed in a concept of heaven and hell for the afterlife. In 1833, however, he had another revelation that there would instead be three kingdoms to which all people would eventually be assigned after the end of the world. The place of eternal punishment is termed "outer darkness."

Mormons call themselves Christian and share much of Christian culture, even though Mormons consider other Christian churches as being in error. Members of these denominations are called gentiles, a word that means simply, "non-Mormon."

Mormonism believes that it has restored the ancient priesthood of Israel. In so doing, it has erased the distinction between priests and lay members of the church. There have remained, however, significant role differences between men and women. Males at age 12 may become deacons. Two years later they become teachers, and at 16 they are admitted into the priesthood. At 18 they may be admitted to another order of priesthood and be called upon to serve as missionaries for 24 months (18 months for females). Certain ceremonies and rites are performed within the confines of the temple in Salt Lake City, Utah, a building to which non-Mormons are not admitted.

Missionaries have been sent by the thousands, at their own expense, to carry the Mormon message to the world. They have gone to all inhabited continents since the 19th century, but the majority of Mormons live in the United States.

The Mormons have a well-defined doctrine and plan of church government. Through its organisations the greatest possible number of people are given real responsibilities. The local unit is the ward, presided over by a bishop and two counsellors. Wards are grouped into stakes. Each stake is governed by a president and two counsellors. Lives of individual Mormons are closely regulated by these two units.

The authorities who preside over the church as a whole are the president and two counsellors, the quorum of 12 apostles, the seven presidents of the 70 (a group of elders), the presiding patriarch, and the presiding bishops. There is no paid ministry. Headquarters of the church are in Salt Lake City, the location of the main temple and the famed tabernacle. There is a semiannual General Conference open to all Mormons. The church is financed through a system of tithing--giving a percentage of one's income as an annual contribution.

The history of Mormonism was quite turbulent during the 19th century. In the 20th century it has become an established and accepted institution.

Joseph Smith and six associates organized the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on April 6, 1830, in Fayette, N.Y. Smith and his followers soon moved to Kirtland, Ohio, where he established a headquarters. Another center was established in Missouri, to which a number of Mormons had migrated. Wherever they lived the Mormons were victims of persecution by non-Mormons. Armed skirmishes led several thousand Mormons to leave Missouri in 1839 to found Nauvoo, Ill. Following more trouble with nonmembers the Mormon leaders were thrown into jail in Carthage, Ill. On June 27, 1844, a mob stormed the jail and killed Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum.

It was at this point that the Mormons decided to leave Illinois and move to the Far West. Leadership had passed to Brigham Young (see Young, Brigham). In 1846-47 he led his membership on a thousand-mile trek to the Great Salt Lake in what is now Utah. They arrived in July 1847. This first band of emigrants consisted of 143 men, three women, and two children. Thousands more followed in the next few years. It was under Young's leadership that the Mormons built Salt Lake City and founded the state of Deseret (see Utah, "History").

Young became governor in 1851 and instituted the practice of plural marriage, or polygyny, in 1852. This custom, though authorised by Smith, was severely criticized by other Americans. It endured for 40 years in the face of strong opposition from the United States government. In 1890 the president of the church ordered members to refrain from contracting any marriages forbidden by the law of the land. By this time Utah had become part of the United States. Military conflicts led to the end of direct Mormon political control of the state. Plural marriages persist in a few isolated places in the West, though the groups that maintain the custom are not affiliated with the Mormons in Salt Lake City.

The Reorganised Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the largest of several groups that have broken with the main Mormon church. It was set up in Wisconsin in 1852 by members who repudiated Brigham Young's leadership. Joseph Smith, a son of the founder, was president from 1860 to 1914. His son Frederick succeeded him. The headquarters were established in Independence, Mo.

Members of the Reorganised Church deny that Smith had ever advocated plural marriages. They accept the Book of Mormon but deny the notion that God evolved from humanity or that humans will become gods. They also reject baptism on behalf of the dead and mandatory tithing. No secret ceremonies are held in their temple as they are in the temple in Salt Lake City.


Excerpted from The Complete Reference Collection

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