Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints

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Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints a.k.a. the Mormons or the LDS Church, is either a Christian Protestant denomination or a separate religion depending on which theologian one consults. Although Mormons believe and use the Protestant version of the Christian Bible as a holy book,they supplement it with the Book of Mormon, which they believe was revealed to Joesph Smith in the early 1800s. Smith also wrote "Articles of Faith" in 1842. There are 5.5 million Mormons in the United States and smaller populations elsewhere.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was founded in 1830 by Joseph Smith after claiming to have received a series of visions and revelations over approximately a decade directing him to do so. For various reasons (economic distrust, doctrinal disagreements, 'cultural values' mismatches--anti-slavery polygamists), the main body of the Church and its headquarters was driven to Kirkland Ohio, and again later to Missouri and Illinois (where they founded the city Nauvoo). After the murder of Joseph Smith the main body of the church was again driven across the plains and followed Brigham Young to settle in the Great Salt Lake Valley where they founded Salt Lake City. Other smaller groups remained behind in the Midwest or followed others claiming to be Smith's successor, and the largest of these eventually became the Reorganized Church which is now known as the Community of Christ. The Mormon Church based in Utah is by far the largest of these groups.

The mysterious, if not suspicious nature of its origins, as well as its inherent implausibility, have led to numerous criticisms of the religion since its inception.Of the Book of Mormon, Mark Twain wrote:

If Joseph Smith composed this book, the act was a miracle. Keeping awake while he did it was, at any rate.

In his 2006 book The God Delusion Richard Dawkins describes both Mormonism and Scientology as "purely designed religion"s. For Dawkins, Joseph Smith was "enterprisingly mendacious" who invented "from scratch a whole new bogus American history, written in bogus seventeenth-century English." (page 201).

Contents

Mormon Politicians

Five U.S. Senators and 11 Members of the U.S. Houue of Representatives are Mormons. So too are many members of western state legislatures.

Mormon Cultural Elites

Main Doctrinal Differences

1. "Restoration": LDS theology teaches that the 'Church' fell into apostacy soon after the death of the apostles. The true teachings and authority of Christ was lost from the Earth. These were restored (The Restoration) through the revelations of Joseph Smith and later prophets. The Church of Jesus Christ with full authority to speak and act in His name was restored.

2. Physical God: LDS Theology teaches that God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are three separate beings (in contrast to mainstream historical Christian theology). God has a physical body (though 'perfected'), as does his son Jesus.

3. Progression of man: "As Man is, God once was. As God is, Man may become." LDS doctrine teaches that all souls progress through ever 'unfolding' stages from a 'pre-existence' of spirit with not form or matter before our existence here, to this mortal existence of form and matter, to a more perfect existence of spirit and perfected body in the hereafter. Some souls, through obedience to the "Gospel" (see below), are able to progress to become Gods or Goddesses. God has made this progression and is leading us through the same progression.

4. Modern revelation: LDS doctrine teaches that God has spoken to all people at all times and continues to speak today through his prophets (Presidents of the Church, are often refered to as "Prophets, Seers and Revelators) since the Restoration.

5. Scriptural Canon: LDS accept both the "Old Testament" and "New Testament" of the Christian canon as the Word of God (with the qualifier that it is not complete and as far as translated correctly). They also accept the Book of Mormon as God's word, a book believed to be translated from an ancient record that Joseph Smith was led to through a series of visions. This record is supposed to be the teachings and dealings of God with a population on the American Continent (including a visitation from Christ after his death). Additionally, LDS hold several revelations of Joseph Smith and later prophets as scripture. These are contained in the "Doctrine and Covenants."

6. Salvation: LDS doctrine rejects a belief in "original sin" held by Catholic and most Protestant churches. LDS theology teaches that humans lived as spirit beings prior to coming to earth in human bodies, and that God put each person here with a physical body as a test of worthiness, giving us free will to live according to his plan or not. Mormons refer to this as "free agency". Each person has the ability to freely choose whether to do right. Mormons believe in three levels of heaven after death, and that most people will go to one of the three levels. The highest level is the "Celestial Kingdom" reserved for baptized Mormons who marry within the church in a temple ceremony and keep all the commandments. The next highest level is the "Terrestrial Kingdom" where baptized Mormons who do not keep all the commandments, and devout members of other faiths, will go. The lowest level of heaven is the "Telestial Kingdom" where unrepentant sinners will go. Mormons do not believe that unrepentant sinners will go to hell. Hell (or "outer darkness") is reserved for Satan and those who consciously choose to follow him only.

7. Other:

  • a. Temples. Main Sunday worship services in church buildings are open to all, but the Mormon church also has other buildings called temples which are only open to church members with "temple recommends" from their bishop. Mormon marriages within the temple therefore cannot be attended by non-church members.
  • b. Distinctive moral teachings: Including abstention from coffee and tea. The "Word of Wisdom" refers to the revelation Joseph Smith says he received from God that tobacco, alcohol, and coffee and tea are not to be consumed.
  • c. Most controversial teachings: Mormon undergarments, physical residence of God near the star Kolob, acceptance of disputed texts such as the Book of Abraham and (sometimes) the Book of Jasher as scripture, Native American Indians as the descendants of a family who migrated to the ancient Americas from Israel, etc.

History of official LDS Church Political Activism

  • 1. Early History (1830-1850
  • 2. Polygamy (1840-1900)
  • 3. Equal Rights Amendment (1970's)
  • 4. Gay Rights (1990's to today)
  • 5. Mormon politicians then and now

Voices in the Wilderness: Modern Mormon liberals and liberal institutions

  • 1. Sunstone
  • 2. Dialogue - Sunstone and Dialogue are both periodicals on Mormon theology and culture known for publishing articles by liberal Mormons and on topics considered controversial by the church leadership.
  • 3. Prominent liberal Mormon politicians
  • 4. Affirmation - support group for gay, lesbian, and bisexual Mormons
  • 5. ExMormon.org and other support groups for those leaving the church
  • 6. "Jack Mormon" is a colloquial term for non-practicing or lapsed Mormons, or church members who don't observe church teachings on such things as sexuality or non-consumption of coffee, tea, and alcoholic beverages. It has also been used at times to describe Mormons who are liberal or who are members of the Democratic Party.
  • 7. other organizations

Offshoots and other 'Restoration' Churches

The main Utah-based LDS church hierarchy considers all of these other groups to be "apostate" and not part of Mormonism, but they all share common roots in the religious movement founded by Joseph Smith, Jr. and use of the Book of Mormon as scripture:

  • 1. Reorganized Church - now known as the Community of Christ, based in Missouri. They are the most liberal of the Book of Mormon-believing churches.
  • 2. Polygamist offshoots - several small groups based mostly in Utah. The best known is the Fundamentalist LDS Church based on the Utah/Arizona state line at Colorado City, Arizona, whose leader Warren Jeffs was recently indicted and arrested for arranging marriages of underaged girls to older men in his congregation.
  • 3. Others - most of these are either small groups based in the Midwest (e.g., the Church of Christ (Temple Lot), Bickertonites, Strangites, etc.) which did not become part of the Reorganized Church, fundamentalist splinter groups from the Reorganized Church which believe that church has become too liberal, or more eclectic splinter groups like the Arizona-based Peyote Way Church of God.

References

  • Richard Dawkins. 2006. The God Delusion. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. ISBN 0618680004.
  • Jon Krakauer. Under the Banner of Heaven, expose of fundamentalist splinter groups
  • Richard and Joan Ostling. Mormon America. A balanced look at Mormonism which takes a tell-all approach to Mormon history and practices but also treats the adherents with due respect and doesn't demonize. Lots of good material on liberal voices within the church and their struggles with more conservative church leadership.
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