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Mormon History

Updated on March 8, 2009
Joseph Smith
Joseph Smith


The followers of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints are known as Mormons. The sect was founded in the United States by Joseph Smith, the first official group being established in 1830. The teachings of the Mormons are based on the Book of Mormon, said to have been revealed to Smith in the form of golden plates given to him by a heavenly messenger whom Smith called Moroni.

He claimed to receive a revelation which enabled him to trace and translate from the "reformed Egyptian" certain gold plates which had been hidden by the angel in a hill in New York State, and on the basis of the contents of these plates, which he published as The Book of Mormon, he developed an elaborate theology and creed which soon attracted numerous followers.

Mormons are divided into six independent groups, most of them formed after a split in the parent Church in 1844. Of a total of 13 million Mormons, the vast majority belong to the Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Other groups are the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, the Church of Christ (Temple Lot), the Church of Jesus Christ (Bickertonites), the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Strangites), and the Church of Jesus Christ (Cutlerites).

Many people violently reacted to the teachings of Smith, especially the practice of polygamous marriage. In 1844, Joseph and his brother, Hyrum, were murdered. Following this, the Mormons travelled westwards and eventually settled in the valley of the Great Salt Lake in the territory of Utah. Under their leader, Brigham Young, 'The Lion of the Lord', they established a self-contained, economically independent society. The teachings of the Mormons caused clashes with the government but in 1896 Utah was accepted as a state and their laws were recognised as binding.


Mormonism believes that The Book of Mormon is of equal authority with the Bible, in resurrection of the body; in the salvation of man through Christ and baptism by immersion; and continued divine manifestation through the ruling head of the Mormon Church.

Mormon beliefs come from Judaeo-Christian tradition combined with five other distinct and equally valued sources. One of these is the King James version of the Bible; three others are exclusively Mormon books. The first of the latter is the Book of Mormon (1830), which Mormons believe to contain a divine revelation of the history and beliefs of Hebrew peoples who came to the New World between 600 B.C. and 420 A.D. and were the ancestors of the American Indians. Two other sacred books, Doctrine and Covenants and The Pearl of Great Price, contain the story of Joseph Smith's life and doctrines based on his revelations. Mormons also believe in the continuing revelation of doctrine from God to man, especially through the prophet-presidents of the Mormon Church.

The existence of God and Christ is central to Mormon doctrine. Unlike the usual concept of a Trinity composed of three spiritual beings, Mormons hold that God the Father and God the Son are resurrected physical beings, whereas the Holy Ghost is the spiritual member. Mormons believe that Christ died to save mankind, that his message was known to Adam, and that the resurrected Christ preached to the Hebrews in the New World. His message is considered to have been forgotten or misinterpreted, however, and to have been revealed once again through Joseph Smith. The Mormon Church and its president are felt to represent the restored authority of God on earth.

Mormons believe that man exists as a spirit before birth, and it is therefore a Mormon duty to marry and produce large families to provide bodies for the waiting souls. Man is born good, a child of God, and without original sin. His free will makes him responsible for his actions. He may receive the power of prophecy, healing, and speaking with tongues. Like other Christians, Mormons hope for salvation. They believe that it comes through faith in Christ and also by personal efforts to obey the Gospel and observe obligations of service to the Church, oneself, and one's fellow man. If one meets these requirements, his immortal spirit and resurrected body will be reunited when Christ returns to rule the earth from Jerusalem and a yet unknown location in America. After this 1,000-year period the good Mormons, now become divine, will dwell in Heaven with God for eternity.

The Mormon Heaven has degrees of glory, attained according to the strength of the believer's faith and the quality of his life. The highest degree includes the reunification of families, which depends on baptism as Mormons and ceremonial marriages "for eternity." The early belief of the Utah Mormon group in polygamy, or the marriage of several women to one man, was based on the Old Testament and was reinforced by the practical need to increase the pioneer population quickly. However, polygamy is no longer an official part of any Mormon creed, although the requirement of marriage for high salvation remains.


The Mormon Church is involved in all vital activity. Its various ranks of unpaid clergy conduct spiritual, recreational, and social programs on local and Church-wide levels.

Church affairs on the lower level are organized around the ward, comparable to a parish, administered by the Aaronic, or lower, priesthood. The priesthood is generally open to morally worthy males over 12. Almost all Mormon men join the Aaronic priesthood, which is divided into the ascending Biblical ranks of deacon, teacher, priest, and bishop.

The whole family participates in Sunday worship at the ward hall, which is a combination of church and recreation center. There is first a priesthood meeting and then Sunday School. It opens with song and prayer by both adults and younger members. Junior Sunday School services are held for very young children. Group meetings according to age follow, and the day ends with evening service for adults and for children.

Members of the Aaronic priesthood perform local ceremonies of the Church, such as ordaining deacons and baptizing eight-year-olds and also adults by immersion. The priesthood urges performance of a Mormon's duties, which include contributing 10 percent of his income to the Church; giving two years of his time at his own expense to missionary work; abstention from liquor, tobacco, tea, and coffee; development of his individual potentialities; and supporting the state and freedom of religion. Aaronic priests administer local social and recreational activities, such as games.

Storytelling for children in the Primary Associations and the Boy Scout and Bee Hive Girl activities included in the Mutual Improvement Association's program for older children are all carried on under the leadership of men and women. Women, although not admitted to the priesthood, contribute to the Church's work in the 215,000-member Women's Relief Society, which operates on both local and Church-wide levels.

The wider unit of Church organization is the stake, composed of from five to ten wards. Stakes are led by the Melchizedek, or higher priesthood. The elders, who are the lowest level of the Melchizedek organization, help high priests and patriarchs administer the stakes. "Seventies," or groups of seventy, help a supreme Council of Twelve Apostles govern the Church as a whole. At the top of the hierarchy is the first presidency, composed of the president and two counselors. The president of the council is usually chosen to succeed to the presidency.

Melchizedek priests conduct special ceremonies in Mormon temples, which may be entered only by Mormons of good repute, with "recommends" from their ward bishops. There are at present 13 Mormon temples throughout the world, the most famous being the huge six-spired granite building in Salt Lake City. Near it is the equally famous Mormon Tabernacle, site of Church conferences and home of the Tabernacle Choir.

The interior of the temple has room for performance of sacred temple ceremonies, in which all good Mormons are urged to take part. The first is the Temple Endowment, a course of instruction describing man's celestial history, earthly struggles, and heavenly destination. The second is a marriage rite held in the Sealing Room, in which Mormon couples both living and dead are united in "celestial marriages." Mormons believe that proxy marriage ceremonies for deceased ancestors eternally seal the marriage of their ancestors. Baptism rites for the dead are held in a large font resting on the backs of 12 figures of oxen, said to be a replica of the font in the Temple of Solomon. Mormons believe that baptism in the temple on behalf of non-Mormon ancestors will give the deceased an opportunity to enter Heaven, assuming that they accept the Gospel in the afterlife.

This concern for the salvation of the dead has led Mormons to establish a huge genealogical research center, open to Mormons and non-Mormon scholars, containing millions of birth, marriage, and death records from all over the world.

Mormons must not drink tea, coffee or alcohol, nor may they smoke. They have a vegetarian diet except in times of extreme cold or famine, when meat may be eaten. They must be prepared to accept any church job assigned to them and must pay one tenth of their income or produce ('tithe') directly to Salt Lake City; they must also liberally support their local church.

A Mormon is expelled if he presumes to question church doctrine and this has caused problems with some Mormon intellectuals, who are unable to reconcile their learning with their religion. However, the simple and austere life continues to be attractive.


Mormon history begins with the religious experiences of Joseph Smith, a New York farmer's son who sought a true faith among the conflicting claims of Congregationalist, Presbyterian, and Methodist revivals. In 1820 he claimed he was visited by God and Christ, who told him that no existing religion contained the true message of God. Later he believed he spoke with Moroni, the heavenly angel, one of the last survivors of the ancient Americans, who finally led him to golden tablets buried in a hill. Smith said that he translated their hieroglyphics into the Book of Mormon, being aided by an instrument, called Urim and Thum-mim, buried with the tablets. Smith also claimed to have been visited by John the Baptist, and later, by the Apostles Peter, James, and John. In 1830 he founded the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at Fayette, N.Y., with five other charter members.

For the infant Mormon Church there followed 17 stormy years of rapid growth and continual search for a place of its own. Settlements were made by them in various parts of the U.S.A., from which they were successively driven owing to public prejudice against their doctrines, which included polygamy.

The often violent persecution that followed the Mormons wherever they settled was probably caused by several factors, including the spectacular strangeness of their religion's origin, their claims to be specially chosen of God, the practice of polygamy by some, and also their startling prosperity. They first moved to Kirtland Hills, Ohio, and then to various sites in Missouri. In 1839 they settled in Nauvoo, "the beautiful location," near Quincy, HI. Within a few years, Nauvoo, with a population of 20,000 Mormons, was the largest and most prosperous town in Illinois. Then Joseph Smith and his brother were jailed where, on June 27, 1844, they were murdered by a mob.

Smith was succeeded by Brigham Young, who became head of the Mormon Church, but several groups, disapproving of his selection and his support of polygamy, broke away. Two years later, 20,000 Mormons left Nauvoo, traveling westward to find what Brigham Young described as a land "so unpromising nobody will covet it." In 1847 an advance party reached the valley of Great Salt Lake, and Young announced, "This is the place." Within 30 years the Mormons numbered more than 140,000 and had built Salt Lake City and more than 350 nearby towns. Strict discipline, hard work, and intelligent use of irrigation won food from the unpromising desert soil. Colonizers, converted by Mormon missionaries, came from England and Scandinavia by every means they could. Between 1856 and 1860, 4,075 men, women, and children pushed handcarts 1,300 miles from Iowa to Salt Lake City.

However, Mormon troubles with the "gentiles" were far from over. Between 1849 and 1890 there was increasing friction with the federal government, chiefly because of the official Church practice of polygamy. In 1887, Church property was seized. Three years later the Church formally renounced polygamy, and in 1896, Utah was admitted into statehood, with all property rights restored.

The Church, one of the richest in the world, has complete or controlling interests in several businesses, including department stores, life insurance companies, bookstores, hotels, farms, and ranches. However, 50 percent of Church income still comes from the individual contributions of Church members.


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    • eovery profile image


      9 years ago from MIddle of the Boondocks of Iowa

      Nice hub,

      There are now, 130 working temples through out the world. The Relief Society is about 2-5 million strong, and is the world largest society for women.

      Keep on hubbing!


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