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The Church of Jesus Christ
of Latter-day Saints

| Group Profile | History | Beliefs | Links | Bibliography |

I. Group Profile

  1. Name: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
  2. Founder: Joseph Smith
  3. Date of Birth/Death: Born December 23, 1805; Died June 27, 1844
  4. Birth Place: Sharon, Vermont
  5. Year Founded: April 6, 1830
  6. Sacred or Revered Texts: The Book of Mormon , The Doctrine and Covenants, The Pearl of Great Price , The Holy Bible . The Bookof Mormon contains writings about ancient civilizations in America between 2200 B.C. and 400 A.D. and includes an account of Jesus Christ's ministry on the American continent following his resurrection in Jerusalem. The Doctrine and Covenants includes revelations and writings given since the restoration, while the Pearl of Great Price is a collection of materials produced by the Prophet Joseph Smith concerning significant aspects of the faith and doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
  7. Cult or Sect: Negative sentiments are typically implied when the concepts "cult" and "sect" are employed in popular discourse. Since the Religious Movements Homepage seeks to promote religious tolerance and appreciation of the positive benefits of pluralism and religious diversity in human cultures, we encourage the use of alternative concepts that do not carry implicit negative stereotypes. For a more detailed discussion of both scholarly and popular usage of the concepts "cult" and "sect," please visit our Conceptualizing "Cult" and "Sect" page, where you will find additional links to related issues.

    According to Church officials (and members themselves), the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as suggested by its name, is a Christian church. What separates them from other Christians is the fact that the LDS Church believes it is "a restoration to the earth of the original Christian church, which was abandoned through apostasy during the early centuries of the Christian era."

    Sociologically and historically speaking, the LDS Church would be classified as a cult because its early history constituted a radical break from the mainstream of Protestant churches. Established Protestant denominations did not recognize it as a sectarian movement. Similarly, the group experienced extremely high tension with the broader culture for almost a century.

    Today, many evalgelical traditions still consider the LDS Church to be a cult because Mormon teaching are at variance with their own. This notwithstanding, the LDS Church stands as the most successful of the several new religions formed in the nineteenth century. Some tension with the broader culture remains, but tension has been very substantially reduced. Unlike the Reorganized Church of Latter-day Saints, which as more ever closer to mainstream Christianity, the leadership of the LDS Church has taken the Church in a direction that is clearly distinct from all other Christian groups. The LDS has an aggressive mission program in many parts of the world and is now approaching ten million members world-wide. Many scholars agree with sociologist Rodney Stark who argues the LDS Church will lose its "cult movement" status within the next quarter of a century, and become recognized as the fourth major monotheistic religion.

  8. Size of Group: 11,068,861 (LDS official web site: figures December 31, 2000). U.S. membership = 5,208,827.

II. History:

    In 1816, Joseph Smith and his family moved to Palmyra, New York, where, in 1820, a religious revival occurred. Joseph, a very young 14-year-old boy, was very intrigued by thenumerous preachers and what they had to say. However, he was also confusedbecause each church claimed to be the "true" one. He decided to turn to theBible for assistance. There he found the scripture: If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraidethnot; and it shall be given him (James 1:5).

    This inspired Smith to go to a nearby grove and pray for guidance. During this prayer, God and His Son, Jesus Christ, appeared to him there and commanded him not to join any of the existing churches because the Church originally organized by God would soon be restored upon the earth.

    In 1823, Smith had another vision, this time of an angel named Moroni. The angel directed Smith to a hill near Palmyra; buried under this hill was a religious history of an ancient American civilization inscribed on golden plates. Four years later, Smith translated this record (which was written in ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics) into what is now known as the Book of Mormon . In 1830, Smith established the "Church of Christ" in Fayette, New York; however, later revelation (in 1838) commanded that the name be changed to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

III. Beliefs of the Group

    The key belief of the LDS church is that they represent a restoration to the Earth of the original Christian church, which was abandoned through the apostasy during the early centuries of the Christian era. Their main beliefs are outlined in thirteen "Articles of Faith" found at the end of the Pearl of Great Price. Several key beliefs are contained in these statements, including a belief in "God, the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost." LDS members believe these three personages are one in purpose, but separate in being. Another unique belief held by the Latter-Day Saints is that continual revelation occurs (ninth Article of Faith) and is, indeed, an important part of their faith.

    LDS members have confirmed the purpose of life within the framework of three questions:

    1. Whence did we come?
    2. Why are we here?
    3. What awaits us hereafter?

    It is the firm belief of the members of the Church that they are the "spiritual offspring" of God the Eternal Father and that all people lived as spirit beings with God in a premortal life. In this life, people were taught all of God's plans and purposes. Also, it was here where God revealed his Plan of Salvation to them. This Plan of Salvation is that all children of God could experience a physical existence, including mortality, and then would be able to return to live in his presence for all eternity.

    Life on Earth serves several purposes, the main one being that it is a "test" to determine if people are worthy to return to live with God. According to LDS doctrine, God made several commandments as to what he wanted people to do with their life on Earth: grow in knowledge, develop talents and gifts, to fill and fulfill the missions and callings that were conferred on us, exercise free agency (the right to make our own decisions) without memory of the premortal life, establish the foundations of eternal family relationships. In a sense, mortal life is considered a "dress rehearsal" for the next world.

    After completion of life on Earth, Mormons believe that the spiritual body separates from the physical one and enters the Spirit World. It is here where the person is "judged" and it is determined if he or she is worthy to live with God the Eternal Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, for all eternity.

    LDS members do not believe that if one is judged worthy, he or she is automatically placed into the familiar notion of "Heaven." Rather, they believe that people are placed into one of three "degrees of glory" in the afterlife, which commensurate with the laws they have obeyed on Earth: the Telestial , Terrestial and Celestial Kingdoms. This belief comes from Paul's reference to "three heavens" in II Cor. 12:1-4; however, whereas most Christian denominations believe these "three heavens" to be the sky, outer space, and God's kingdom, LDS members believe them to be three "degrees of glory."

    The Telestial Kingdom is the lowest degree of glory attainable, and is reserved for those who have willfully rejected the gospel of Jesus Christ and commit serious sins such as adultery, lying and murder andwho fail to repent for these sins in mortality. These people are unable to receive either Jesus Christ or God the Father.

    TheTerrestial Kingdom is saved for those who lived honorable lives on Earth but were blinded by the "craftiness" of men and were not valiant in the testimony of Jesus. These people receive the presence of the Son, but not the Fulness of the Father.

    The highest degree of glory, and the one LDS members strive to reach, is the Celestial Kingdom . This Kingdom is reserved for those who received the testimony of Jesus, believed in his name and were baptized after the manner of his burial. Entrance into this Kingdom requires a temple marriage and sealing (see below); people are able to dwell in the presence of both God the Father and Jesus Christ for all eternity. Latter-day Saints believe that eternal life is the greatest of all God's gifts, and the Plan of Salvation is His way of making it available to them. They also believe that every person has the potential to become a God with all the power and glory that God the Father possesses.

    Members are typically baptized at the age of eight, although the age obviously differs for those who convert later in their life. The Aaronic Priesthood is first conferred upon boys at age twelve, and they are ordained to the office of Deacon. They pass the sacrament after it has been administered (blessed) by the priests. At fourteen young men are ordained to the office of Teacher. They prepare the sacrament and teach the Gospel. At sixteen they are ordained to the office of Priest. As Priests, they have the authority to Baptist and administer (bless the Sacrament. After eighteen, the Melchezedek Priesthood may be conferred upon them. The Malchizedek Priestood has the authority to give the Gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands. The Aaronic Priesthood may be understood as an appendage to the Melchezedek Priestoooh and performs the lower ordinances of the Gospel. Each successive office of the priesthoodhas the power and authority to perform ordinances of the lower offices (Doctrines and Covenants , Section 20, verses 38 to 60).

    Another unique belief held by LDS members is that of baptism for the dead. Mormons believe that all deceased beings, dwelling as spirits and awaiting the time of resurrection and judgement, will be given the opportunity to hear and accept the message of the Gospel; whereas ordinary baptisms take place in normal church houses, baptisms for the dead are only performed in the temples.

    Along with these beliefs, LDS members adhere to a strict set of moral codes. They abide by the "Word of Wisdom" which prohibits the use of illegal drugs, tobacco, alcoholic beverages, tea and coffee. Young men and women are strongly encouraged to be honest and chaste; all members must abstain from premarital sex, pornography, foul language and gambling. Members also pay tithing, or 10% of their income; strict adherance to this principle has made the Mormon church one of the wealthiest in the world.

    The church has no paid clergy; rather, people are called to various positions and must fulfill their duties in their spare time.The church has a very successful missionary program in which young men and women, aged 19 and 21, respectively,serve for one and a half to two years (retired married couples may also serve for longer or shorter periods of time). Currently, there are 53,000 missionaries in 160 countries.

    Perhaps the most important and central focus of the LDS church is the family. Marriages performed in the Church's temples do not end at death; rather, both the marriage and family relationships are sealed for "time and all eternity." This idea - of an "eternal family" - governs their way of life; every effort is made to live a life worthy of returning to live with God the Father (and thus their family in the Celestial Kingdom).

    The Church is considered by many to be a cultic movement. However, because of its tremendous growth (it is the fastest growing major denomination in the world today), it is beginning to gain acceptance by more and more people. If the current growth rate continues, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints may become the fourth major monotheistic denomination (the other three being Christianity, Judaism and the Islamic faith).

IV. Links to LDS Web Sites

    The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: Official Homepage
    This is the LDS official website. It contains basic information about the Church, including membership numbers, information about their missionary program and temples, along with basic beliefs held by the Church. The segmententitled "Media Information," off the front page, provides lots of organizationdata as well as currents events.

    All About Mormons
    This is perhaps the most comprehensive and accurate site on the Internet. You can find virtually anything about the LDS religion on this page, and can be confident that it represents LDS doctrine. A major defect in the utility of this site is that it is structured with frames so that every page displays the home page address. In addition, we found the internal search engine to be non-responsive on multiple occasions. These defects diminish the utility of an otherwise wonderful resource.

    Mormon.Com: An Internet Resource for Latter-day Saints
    This site results from an initiative of a Utah businessman named Warren Osborn who visited this address and found the content "utterly appalling." He bought the domain name from the owner and has developed an attractive and reasonably comprehensive site. While much of the content,as indicated in the title page, is "for Latter-day Saints," it is an good source to learn about Mormons and the broad array of LDS Church activities.

    Mormon History: A Research Guide
    This site contains a print bibliography of the sizable holdings of the Research Libraries of the New York Public Library. Also, links to other major collections of archival materials on the LDS Church. An excellent place to begin for those interested in a serious investigation of Mormons.

    Mormons Online
    This is a simple, but useful page for exploring LDS created materials on the Internet. When this link was established, the page contained 216 links of LDS sites, and a gateway to Mormon "chat rooms" and "forums."

    Basic Beliefs of the LDS Church
    This is a good site to go to if you are interested in a basic "list" of LDS Church beliefs. It highlights the main principles the Church is based on.

    ISAR on the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
    J. Gordon Melton, Director of the Institute for the Study of American Religions offers a succinct and authorative essay on the Mormon faith tradition.

    ISAR on Polygamy-Practicing Groups
    The practice of polygamy was one important doctrine that placed the early LDS Church in hightension with the broader culture. While officially outlawed a church doctrine in the early 20th century, polygamy survives in a number of splinter groups. This essay by J. Gordon Melton, Director of the Institute for the Study of American Religion, addesses the persistence of polygamy in sectarian Mormon groups.

    Mormon Fundamentalism and Violence: A Historical Analysis
    This article by Garn LeBaron Jr. examines the case history of a polygamist church groupheaded by Ervil Morel LeBaron. This piece explores the history of Mormon polygamist groups and seeks to explain why and how their doctrines often lead them toward violence.

    Youth Standards Page
    This is the "standards site" and describes in detail the moral codes and "rules" that the youth of the Church are expected to live by.

    Links to LDS Resources
    Another page of links, although substantially smaller than LDS World.

    SHIELDS Home Page
    SHIELDS (Scholarly and Historical Information Exchange for Latter-day Saints) deals mainly with claims made by anti and counter cult movements. A good place to visit if you are confused about accusations made on these types of sites.

    WWW 1ST Ward Homepage
    The "WWW 1st Ward" - this site will give you an idea of Mormon culture as well as what is taught during the 3 hour service each week.

    Utah Missions, Inc.
    This is a typical anti-Mormon page which raises several interesting and challenging questions. Be careful, though, because some of these claims are not in accordance with LDS doctrine.

    Utah Lighthouse Ministry
    The Utah Lighthouse Ministry is the product of Jerald and Sandra Tanner, perhaps the best know anti-Mormons who turned their apostacy into careers. In early December 1999, the U.S. District Court for Utah issued a preliminary injunction against the Utah Lighthouse Ministry for linking to pages posting the Church Handbook of Instructions , a document owned by an LDS organization. They had earlier been barred from posting this same text on their web page. See the Cesnur story for details on this development, as well as a link to the court injunction. The Tanner's on accounting and chronology are presented on their web site at Under the Cover of Light: News

    The Watchman Expositor
    A "counter-cult" history of the church, which specifically rejects several key beliefs of the Church on the basis of Biblical scripture.

    Mormons in Transition
    This page is sponsored by the Institute for Religious Research. They identify their mission as as "the study of religious claims in light of history, science, and the Bible." They present here a very substantial body of materials aimed at disputing the theological truth of the LDS faith. The site is available in a dozen languages.

    Recovery From Mormonism
    This is an apostate site created by a person who joined the LDS Church in college and left after twenty years. The front page leads with links to more than 95 personal accounts of people who left the Mormon tradition. While the general character of the author's content is civil, the focus on "recovery" and "thought reform" leads us to characterize this page as anti-cult.

V. Bibliography

    Arrington, Leonard J. and Davis Bitton. 1979.
    The Mormon Experience. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
    Bloomberg, Craig L. and Stephen E. Robinson. 1997.
    How Wide the Divide?. Downers Grove, IL.
    Read a review of this dialogue between a Mormon and evangelical in Cornerstone Magazine
    Brooks, John L. 1994.
    The Refiner's Fire: The Making of MormonCosmology, 1644-1844 . New York: Cambridge University Press.
    Cornwall, Marie, ed. 1994.
    Contemporary Mormonism: Social Science Perspectives . Urbana: University of Illinois Press.
    Ludlow, Daniel H. 1969.
    Latter-day Prophets Speak. Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, Inc.
    Ludlow, Daniel H. 1992.
    Encyclopedia of Mormonism . New York: Macmillan.
    McConkie, Bruce R. 1966.
    Mormon Doctrine. Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, Inc.
    Mauss, Armand. 1994.
    The Angel and the Beehive: The Mormon Struggle with Assimilation . Urbana: University of Illinois Press.
    Moore, R. Laurence. 1986.
    Religious Outsiders and the Making of Americans. New York: Oxford University Press, Ch. 1, "How to Become a People: The Mormon Scenario," pp. 25-47.
    O'Dea, Thomas. F. 1957.
    The Mormons. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
    Ostling, R. and J. Ostling, 1999.
    The Power and the Promise: Mormon America . San Fransico: Harper San Fransico.
    Read: New York Times Review (01/09/00) of this book.
    Quinn, D. Michael. 1997.
    The Mormon Hierarchy: Extensions of Power . Salt Lake City: Signature Books.
    Richards, LeGrande. 1950.
    A Marvelous Work and Wonder. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co.
    Shepard, Gordon and Gary Shepard. 1984.
    A Kingdom Transformed: Themes in the Development of Mormonism . Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press.
    Shipps, Jan, 1985.
    Mormonism: The Story of a New Religious Tradition . Urbana: University of Illinois Press.
    Smith, Joseph, translator. 1964.
    The Book of Mormon. Great Britain: University Press, Cambridge.
    Smith, Joseph F. 1971.
    Essentials in Church History. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co.



Chen, Chiung Hwang and Ethan Yorgoson. 1999.
"Those Amazing Mormons:; THe MNedia's Construction of Latter-day Saints as a Model Minority." Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought. Read an excerpt from article.
Kennedy, John W. 1998.
"Southern Baptists Take Up the Mormon Challenge" Christianity Today (June 15: 24- ).
Mauss, Armand and M. Gerald Bradford. 1988.
"Mormon Assimilation and Politics," in Anson Shupe and Jeffrey K. Hadden, eds. The Politics of Religion and Social Change . New York: Paragon House, pp. 40-66.
Neuhaus, Richard John. 2000
"Is Mormonism Christian?" First Things . March: 97-115.
Shipps, Jan, 1998
"Submission in Salt Lake" . Religion in the News . (Fall, 1998). 1:2.
Shipps, Jan. 1988.
"The Latter-Day Saints," in Charles H. Lippy and Peter W. Williams, eds. Encyclopedia of the American Religious Experience . New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. Vol I: 649-665.

  • Contact Information:

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints
Joseph Smith Memorial Building
15 East South Temple Street
Salt Lake City, Utah 84150
(801) 240-2205

Created by Ryan C. Miller
For Soc 257: New Religious Movements
University of Virginia
Spring Term: 1997
Last modified: 09/30/01
Mr. Miller has graduated from the University of Virginia