THE CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST OF LATTER-DAY SAINTS
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is commonly known as the
Mormon Church or the LDS Church. Members of the church were the first permanent
non-Native American settlers in the Territory of Utah, and they still comprise
approximately 70 percent of Utah's population.
Organization, Teachings, and Practices
Latter-day Saints believe that their church is the authentic restoration
of the church established by Jesus Christ in New Testament times. Its authority
to perform saving ordinances and do other things in God's name comes from
the priesthood, which was restored to Joseph Smith through heavenly messengers
and is passed on to all worthy male members through ordination. At the head
of the church stands the president of the church, who is considered God's
living prophet. He and his two counselors constitute a quorum known as the
First Presidency. Next to them stand the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles,
and they are assisted in administering the Church worldwide by two Quorums
of the Seventy. A Presiding Bishopric, consisting of three men, administers
the temporal affairs of the Church.
All these leaders are known collectively as the General Authorities of the
church. Other general church officers include the presidency of the Relief
Society (a women's organization founded by Joseph Smith), the presidency
of the young women's association, the presidency of the young men's association,
the presidency of the Sunday School, and the presidency of the Primary (a
churchwide organization for children).
At the local level, church activity is centered in the ward, or, if the
population is too small, a branch. Presided over by a bishop, each ward
generally consists of around a hundred families, although special wards
are organized for students at colleges and universities and for young single
adults in appropriate areas. Five to ten wards constitute a stake, led by
a stake president. Full-time missionary work is supervised by the presidents
of missions. In 1990 there were approximately 2,890 wards and branches in
Utah, about 390 stakes, and three full-time missions. Until recent times,
stake and mission presidents reported directly to the Twelve, but in the
latter part of the twentieth century a new administrative level was created.
By 1991 the world was divided into twenty areas, each presided over by a
presidency consisting of members of the Quorums of Seventy. There were three
such areas in Utah. There is no professional ministry among the Latter-day
Saints, and all missionaries and local officers act on a voluntary basis
and without pay; employees of the church (whether full-time or part-time)
do receive compensation.
The LDS Church operates three institutions of higher learning: Brigham Young
University in Provo, Utah; Brigham Young University, at Laie, Hawaii; and
Ricks College, at Rexburg, Idaho. It also operates several primary and secondary
schools in Mexico, South America, and the Pacific. In addition, the seminary
system provides weekday religious instruction for junior high and high school
students, either on a released-time basis (as in Utah), on an early morning
basis (as in California), or through directed home study. Similarly, LDS
Institutes of religion are operated at colleges and universities where a
significant number of LDS students are enrolled.
Central to the nature of the church is the concept of continuing revelation;
the Latter-day Saints believe that the living prophet receives divine revelation
for the guidance of the modern church. So, too, does the Quorum of the Twelve,
and the First Presidency and the Twelve are sustained by Church members
as "prophets, seers, and revelators." Mormons also hold that the
canon of scripture was not complete with the New Testament. Rather, the
"standard works" (books officially accepted as scripture) consist
of the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants
(a compilation of major revelations and instructions given through Joseph
Smith, with a few additions since then), and the Pearl of Great Price
(certain translations and writings of Joseph Smith).
At the heart of Latter-day Saint belief is Jesus Christ, whose atoning sacrifice
provided for the resurrection of all mankind and forgiveness of sins for
all who repent and accept him as the Savior. Following faith and repentance,
believers are baptized and receive the gift of the Holy Ghost through the
laying on of hands by the priesthood. The repentant believer must continue
to live according to the teachings of Christ, and demonstrate his or her
faith through good works. Ultimately, the Saints believe, people are rewarded
for both their faith and their works, and for this reason there are different
"degrees of glory" that people may earn after departing this life,
depending upon their faithfulness.
The LDS concept of the relationship between this world and the next is also
related to the sacred ceremonies of the temples. Only active Latter-day
Saints may enter the temples. Mormons attend the temples to perform baptism,
"endowment," marriage, and "sealing," and other ordinances
for themselves and vicariously in behalf of the dead, especially loved ones
and ancestors, in the belief that the dead will hear the gospel preached,
that these earthly ordinances must be performed for them, and that they
will have their own opportunity to accept or reject. This is why the church
places great emphasis on genealogy work, and in Salt Lake City the Genealogical
Society of the church houses the most extensive collection of genealogy
material in the world, including microfilmed public vital records, church
records, and other materials from every state in the United States and from
many nations around the world.
Other important Mormon teachings and practices include the payment of tithes
(ten percent of one's income) and other offerings, strong emphasis on the
"World of Wisdom" (particularly, abstaining from tea, coffee,
alcohol, tobacco, and drugs), chastity, service to others, regular meeting
attendance on the Sabbath (Sunday), and a commitment to follow the spiritual
directions of the living prophet.
Church activity includes numerous opportunities for service. The "home
teaching" program is designed to see that every family is visited monthly
by a pair of home teachers, who give whatever message or encouragement seems
important, and who provide appropriate help in case of spiritual or other
kinds of crisis. Similarly, through the Relief Society's "visiting
teaching" program, an effort is made to see that each woman in the
ward is visited at least once a month. In addition, most young men, and
a large number of young women, spend two years as full-time missionaries,
and it is becoming increasingly common for retired couples to volunteer
for missionary service. Mormons also go to their temples regularly, and
nearly all have one or more assignments in their wards as home teachers,
visiting teachers, or officers or teachers in various organizations.
Church First Presidency, early Utah years
The church was founded by Joseph Smith, who was born in Sharon, Vermont,
on 23 December 1805. In 1816 he moved with his family to western New York
state, sometimes known as the "Burned-over District" because of
the waves of religious revivalism that periodically swept over the area.
Young Joseph attended revivals in the vicinity of Palmyra and became a devout
believer in Christ, but he was also confused at the conflicting doctrines
he heard. In the spring of 1820 he prayed for guidance as to which church
was right and received a vision in which two persons (whom the Latter-day
Saints accept as God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ) appeared to him,
told him that he was to join none of the existing churches, and assured
him that "the fullness of the gospel" would be made known to him
at some future time.
Three years later, Joseph Smith claimed to receive a series of visits from
another heavenly messenger, Moroni, who informed him of an ancient record,
buried in a hillside near Palmyra. Joseph found the record, written on metal
plates that had the appearance of gold, and later translated it "by
the gift and power of God," and through the medium of two stones, the
Urim and Thummim. It told the story of three groups of people who had migrated
to America in ancient times, focusing primarily on one that arrived about
600 B.C., flourished for a thousand years, and received a visit from Jesus
Christ shortly after His resurrection.
The translated record was called the Book of Mormon, after the prophet-warrior
who had compiled it anciently, and it was published early in 1830. Its primary
purpose, as stated in the preface, was to be another witness to the divinity
of Christ. It soon became the major missionary tool for the Church.
Joseph Smith, meanwhile, became the object of scorn and criticism; but despite
the harassment he gained a number of followers. On 6 April 1830 he and five
other men organized themselves under the name of the Church of Christ. The
church officially took its present name eight years later.
Mormonism came forth at a time when numerous "restorationists"
were seeking to reestablish the original gospel of Christ, when "seekers"
were moving from church to church in their quest, and in a religious atmosphere
charged with millennialism and Christian perfectionism. Its restorationist
message, along with the Book of Mormon appealed to many and the new
church grew rapidly. One early convert was Sidney Rigdon, a restorationist
minister. The conversion of Rigdon and most of his congregation paved the
way for Joseph Smith to move to Kirtland, Ohio: Rigdon himself soon became
a counselor to the Mormon leader.
Less than a year after the organization of the church, Joseph Smith led
most of the Mormons from New York to Ohio, where there were already more
than a thousand converts.
In Kirtland, a beautiful temple was dedicated in 1836. It was used mainly
as a meetinghouse and schoolhouse, but it also became the scene of a various
heavenly visions and intense spiritual experiences for the Mormons. Church
leaders were also deeply involved in the economic development of the area,
including the founding of the Kirtland Anti-Banking Society bank. Serious
economic problems beset them, however, which contributed to a growing hostility
against the Mormons as well as extensive dissatisfaction and apostasy among
church members themselves. The bank failed amid the national panic of 1837,
and this along with other problems eventually compelled Joseph Smith and
Brigham Young, one of the most prominent of the Twelve, to flee for their
lives to Missouri. In Missouri, meanwhile, the Latter-day Saints there attempted
to live under the "Law of Consecration," a system of economic
cooperation inaugurated by Joseph Smith that required members to "consecrate"
all their property to the church, then receive back "stewardships"
to work and profit from according to their best abilities. At the end of
each year all surpluses would be given to the bishop to assist the poor
and to promote the work of the church. The Saints made a noble effort, but
in the end their own imperfections made it impossible to achieve the ideal,
and the effort was abandoned.
The Mormons were no more popular as a group in Missouri than they were in
Ohio. Their seeming exclusiveness, their apparent liberal attitude toward
free blacks, and old settlers' fears that the Mormons would soon dominate
the area both economically and politically all led to their forcible expulsion
from Jackson County in 1833. They found refuge in adjoining counties, but
similar problems plagued them everywhere. By 1838 the conflict had reached
a state of virtual civil war as mobs beat, pillaged, and murdered the Mormons.
The state militia entered the fray to keep the peace but was clearly in
sympathy with the older settlers, and Governor Lilburn W. Boggs issued his
infamous "Extermination Order" requiring that the Saints either
leave Missouri or be exterminated. Finally, in the winter of 1838-39, they
were driven from the state.
The next place of refuge was western Illinois where, on the banks of the
Mississippi, the Mormons purchased land and began to build the city of Nauvoo.
Eventually some 12,000 people lived in this well-planned, industrious community
of Saints, and hundreds of Mormons lived in other surrounding communities.
Joseph Smith envisioned Nauvoo as a grand cooperative enterprise where all
citizens would work for the well-being of the community and toward building
the Kingdom of God. The spiritual and the temporal were so closely interrelated
in the minds of the Saints that there was little distinction between religious
and secular affairs. In the political realm, for example, Joseph Smith was
able to obtain a charter for the city that made it practically independent
of the state. He became mayor of Nauvoo, newspaper editor, and lieutenant
general of the Nauvoo Legion. He promoted the economic development of the
city and even became a candidate for the presidency of the United States
in 1844, though he was murdered more than four months before the election.
The Saints built a magnificent temple in Nauvoo, intended not just for meetings
but also for the introduction of the sacred ordinances now performed in
all Mormon temples. Other distinctive Mormon teachings and practices were
introduced in Nauvoo, but none was more controversial, or fraught with more
far-reaching consequences for the church as an institution, than plural
marriage. It began after Joseph Smith received a revelation in answer to
his query about why ancient biblical prophets had more than one wife, and
he was commanded to institute the same practice among the Latter-day Saints.
In Nauvoo it was practiced secretly, and limited to a relatively small number
of selected church leaders. It was first preached publicly in 1852, after
the Saints were securely settled in the Great Basin.
Problems similar to those they encountered in Missouri continued to plaque
the Mormons. Their growing political and economic strength, and rumors of
polygamy, eventually alienated many of their neighbors and led to the threat
of civil war in western Illinois and the intervention of the governor to
try to avert such a catastrophe. Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum were
taken to jail in Carthage, Illinois, and there, on 24 June 1844, they were
murdered by a mob. Some controversy ensued over who should succeed Joseph
Smith as leader of the church, but by the end of August the large majority
of Saints were convinced that the Quorum of the Twelve, under the leadership
of Brigham Young, were the proper successors.
Salt Lake Temple capstone dedication, 1893
Persecution continued, and even as Brigham and the other leaders were
pushing the temple to completion they were also planning the move to the
West earlier envisioned by Joseph Smith. The exodus from Nauvoo began ahead
of schedule when mob activity forced the Saints to begin crossing the ice-covered
Mississippi River in February 1846. They found temporary refuge in various
camps across the plains of Iowa and in eastern Nebraska. In 1847 Brigham
Young led the first pioneer company to the Great Basin. By the end of the
year some five thousand Saints had arrived in the Salt Lake Valley, laying
the foundation for a new and permanent refuge in the Rocky Mountains. Brigham
Young was sustained as president of the church in December 1847. By the
time he died in 1877, he had directed the settlement of nearly 400 communities
in what are now the states of Utah, Idaho, Arizona, Nevada, and California.
Even though the Mormons were seeking solitude and a sanctuary where they
would be free to build their kingdom peacefully, they could not remain completely
aloof or separated from the United States. The "Mormon Battalion"
had participated in the Mexican War (1846-48). As a result of that war,
the territory where the Saints were settled came under the jurisdiction
of the United States, and the problem of government arose. Brigham Young
proposed that a huge area, including part of southern California, be admitted
to the union as the State of Deseret. Congress, however, as part of the
Compromise of 1850, created the Territory of Utah, which comprised a much
smaller area. The Saints began to work for statehood, making at least six
different attempts over the next forty years, for they knew they would be
more independent politically if they were ruled by their own state government
rather than by territorial officials. This was not to be, however, and even
though Brigham Young was appointed the first governor, some succeeding governors
and other federally-appointed territorial officials were openly hostile
to the Mormon community. The Saints, meanwhile, set about to build the Kingdom
in the West. The land and natural resources were considered to be there
for the benefit of all, and in most early settlements each family was assigned
property at no cost. Grazing land, timber resources, and water were considered
community property, and cooperative programs were designed to give everyone
fair use. In the 1870s, after Brougham Young inaugurated a program known
as the United Order, there were a few efforts at complete communal living,
as well as other efforts at various kinds of joint community enterprises.
There were also other cooperative enterprises, such as Zion's Cooperative
Mercantile Institution, designed to keep business in the hands of the Saints
by competing more effectively with non-Mormons. Agricultural price control
was also used at times to regulate economic activity for the benefit of
the Saints as a whole. In general, however, it was the private initiative
of thousands of pioneers and later settlers, combined with a cooperative
spirit, that built Utah's pioneer communities.
Utah's population grew rapidly after 1847, as thousands of Mormon converts
arrived annually from the United States and Europe. The missionary force
increased, and new missions were opened in various parts of the world. Four
temples were erected in Utah before the end of the century. The Church-owned
Deseret News, as well as various other church publications, provided
information and communication. The women of the church played vital roles
in the well-being of the Saints through the revitalized Women's Relief Society
as well as through their role in organizing and directing the Primary organization
for children. The Sunday School and the Young Men's and Young Women's Mutual
Improvement Associations were also organized during this era, each of which
became permanent church-wide organizations. Meanwhile, the so-called "Mormon
Question" remained an American political issue, as reformers periodically
attacked the Church on two issues: polygamy and the influence of the church
on politics and government in the Territory of Utah. The Utah Expedition
of 1857, intended to put down a reported "rebellion" and to insure
the peaceful inauguration of the first non-Mormon governor, resulted in
a three-year military occupation of the territory, and the tragic Mountain
Meadows Massacre of August 1857 did nothing to assuage the negative national
image of the Mormons. In 1862 the first anti-polygamy act was passed by
Congress, but the Saints ignored it because they believed it was an unconstitutional
intrusion into their freedom of religion. The law was finally upheld by
the United States Supreme Court in 1879, and for the next eleven years federal
judges prosecuted, disenfranchised, and imprisoned hundreds of Saints for
"unlawful cohabitation," especially after harsher federal laws
passed in the 1880s. They also confiscated church property. Finally, in
1890, President Wilford Woodruff received a revelation in which, he said
later, he was shown what would happen to the church if the policy was not
changed. As a result, he issued a document known as the Manifesto, which
officially ended the practice of allowing new plural marriages. The federal
government, in turn, did its part in bringing about accommodation when presidential
amnesties were issued to pre-1890 polygamists. Utah was admitted to the
Union in 1896, and church property was returned very shortly thereafter.
All this seemed to portend an important historical trend of the early twentieth
century: a greater accommodation with and involvement in the broader American
society, and a greater acceptance into that society. The Saints became actively
involved in all the political and economic affairs of the larger society,
and within three decades they enjoyed a much more positive image in the
minds of their American fellow citizens. In the midst of the Great Depression
of the 1930s, the church adopted a new program of economic security for
the Saints, now known as the Welfare Program, that soon became one of its
most publicized features. The church also de-emphasized immigration to Utah,
telling the Mormons in foreign countries that the greater need was to build
and strengthen the LDS Church in their homelands.
After World War II, and especially after about 1970, the history of the
church was characterized by unprecedented numerical growth, rapid expansion
outside North America, and numerous administrative and program changes.
Temple building also increased, and by 1991 over half the Church's forty-four
temples were located outside the United States. Mormons, however, seemed
to face increasingly serious challenges as the world around them offered
more and more enticements away from the moral and ethical teachings of Christ.
At the same time, the widespread acceptance of the gospel by people of diverse
ethnic and cultural origins demanded a reexamination by some Saints of their
personal attitudes toward other races and cultures.
A major step toward better intercultural understanding was President Spencer
W. Kimball's revelation in June 1978 that opened the priesthood to all worthy
male Latter-day Saints, regardless of race. Previously blacks had been barred
from the priesthood, a policy that was never fully explained but one that
church leaders felt they could not change without direct revelation. Latter-day
Saints were also urged to become involved in humanitarian, compassionate
service not just within the church but at every opportunity, and the church
itself tried to set the tone, sending relief to a number of areas that had
By 1991 the LDS Church was well on the road toward becoming truly a worldwide
church. It still had only minimal membership in eastern Europe, and there
were no missionaries or organized branches in most of Asia and Africa. Yet,
when compared with its status forty years earlier, the change was dramatic.
In 1950 church membership was about 1,110,000. By the end of 1991 it was
over 8,000, 000. In 1950 about 47 percent of the organized stakes were in
Utah, but rapid growth elsewhere reduced this to about 23 percent in 1991.
Within Utah, the Church continues to play a prominent role in the economic,
political, and social life of the state. Economically, its building programs,
educational institutions, and other activities are major sources of employment,
and the businesses it operated, such as Deseret Book Company, the Deseret
News, and the broadcasting facilities of Bonneville International Corporation,
provide employment as well as an important tax base. In addition, its welfare
program provides emergency care for many Utah citizens who otherwise might
be on the welfare rolls of the state. Socially and culturally, a variety
of church-sponsored dances, plays, and other social activities constitute
an important part of the social life of the state.
In the political realm, LDS Church leaders generally remain officially aloof
from partisanship, but from time to time they take stands on questions they
considered directly related to moral and ethical principles. They opposed
the Equal Rights Amendment, and also opposed legalized gambling and abortion,
called for stronger measures against child abuse, urged parental control
of sex education, opposed the move for homosexual "rights," and
became involved in efforts to stop the spread of pornography. In these and
many other ways the church remained a vital, visible part of the Utah community,
as it will undoubtedly continue to do throughout the foreseeable future.
See: James B. Allen and Glen M. Leonard, The Story of the Latter-day
Saints (1976); Leonard J. Arrington and Davis Bitton, The Mormon
Experience: A History of the Latter-day Saints (1979); Thomas G. Alexander,
Mormonism in Trasition: A History of the Latter-day Saints, 1890-1930
(1986); Milton V. Backman, The Heavens Resound: A History of the Latter-day
Saints in Ohio, 1830-1838 (1983); Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith
and the Beginnings of Mormonism (1984); Richard O. Cowan, The Church
in the Twentieth Century (1985); Jan Shipps, Mormonism: The Story
of a New Religious Tradition (1985).
James B. Allen